CD Review: April Soundtrack Picks
‘Straw Dogs‘ one of the top soundtracks to own for April, 2010
Also worth picking up: Babies, Batman – 1966, Fringe, God Of War III, Grace, Hierro, Kick Ass, Red Riding, White Dog
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
What is it?: Few composers can put musical words into the mouths of “silent” documentaries whose subjects speak their own language like the innovative French composer Bruno Coulais, who’s heard the secret dialogues of birds (WINGED MIGRATION), sharks (OCEANS) and insects (MICROCOSMOS). Now Coulais finally gets to play the gurgling, beauty-filled lives of human BABIES.
Why should you buy it?: While a movie like this, the results are going to be understandably precious. But here melodic sweetness also happens to equate inventiveness from the musician who last heard a precocious girl’s fantasy world in CORALINE. And there’s a lot of similarity between that anything-can-happen animated realm with the constant, surreal splendor that luckier infants experience across the globe. With BABIES, Coulais creates his own, splendidly infantile take on world music as witnessed here through four continents, whose littlest additions experience every note as a magical mystery tour- the soothing gibberish of female voices, tinkertoy percussion and an array of ethnic instruments convey a true sense of childlike wonder.
Extra Special: Indie rocker Sufjan Stevens gives a charming, slightly grungy Simon and Garfunkel vibe to BABIES’ title track “The Perpetual Self, or What Would Saul Alinsky Do” – a song that will appeal to hipster sensibilities as well as tykes.’
2) BATMAN – 1966 (2,000 edition)
What is it?: Remember when the cinema’s Dark Knight and his music were unreservedly fun? You’d have to turn back the clock about 44 years or so to hear the delirious, Shagadelic jazz action that Nelson Riddle spun off BATMAN’s TV series for the show’s one, camp classic shot at the big screen.
Why should you buy it?: Sure BATMAN’s kiddie approach may have set serious superhero-ing back a couple of decades, but the kind of swinging jazz that Nelson Riddle (best known for his classic Sinatra arrangements) put into the caped crusader is timelessly hip, while also taking the show’s identifiable sound into an even fuller bigscreen dimension. But beyond its bat-tastic horn, guitar and organ melodies (not to mention the main, lyric-singing Batman theme composed by Neil Hefti) lies a smartly constructed score, with a wealth of instantly distinctive motifs conjuring an endless array of swaggering villains on the high seas, as well as a romantic sax spreading a Catwoman’s allure on a smitten Bruce Wayne.
Extra Special: Released years ago by Film Score Monthly on an album that’s been squirreled away since in the Ebay batcave, La La Land now re-issues this fan-beloved soundtrack with improved sound and previously unheard cues. Just as cool are new liner notes by Brian Satterwhite, who does the nearly impossible job of putting a new, uniquely personal Texas spin on a score that Jeff Bond had already superbly written about. It’s a retro-event that’s enough to put a nostalgic smile back on Batman’s why-so-serious musical face.
3) RED RIDING
What is it?: The ongoing saga of England’s “Yorkshire Ripper” murders is seen, and heard through three different films and scores, with composers Adrian Johnston, Dickon Hinchliffe and Barrington Pheloung respectively being put on the musical case for years 1974, 1980 and 1983.
Why should you buy it?: It’s almost surprising how simultaneously unique, and cohesive RED RIDING’s scores sound as a straight-on listen, as an eerie, muted tone of suspense and anguish tracks a new Ripper’s reach across a decade. Johnston brings out RIDING’s fairy tale aspect with child-like bells, sampled pianos and pained guitars, his score’s acoustic mood subtly simulating the rock music of the time. Hinchcliffe’s score is the most strikingly thematic, with an off-kilter use of a Hammond organ conveying the menace at hand. Pheloung fills 1983 with a lush, yet disturbing wash of strings with a hypnotic rhythms that bring to ear Phillip Glass’ work. Yet when it comes to playing murder, there are no real “winners” as such in RED RIDING, only composers who seamlessly pick up on the others’ clues, then turn them into their own impressively tonal investigations.
Extra Special: Though you’ll need to grab this collected RED RIDING CD from Amazon U.K., there’s still nothing more gratifying for a soundtrack detective than holding physical evidence of an album, especially when current score releases are mostly wisps of downloadable e-air in America.
4) STRAW DOGS (2,000 edition)
What is it?: Sam Peckinpah was already infamous for his WILD BUNCH bloodletting, but it was 1971’s STRAW DOGS that pushed his visceral filmmaking to a whole new level of creative infamy, especially in the violent musical emotion that the director drew from his favored composer Jerry Fielding. Now Intrada presents a bloody good new mastering of this classic soundtrack, one that still holds a power to provoke intense vibes.
Why should you buy it?: The bad behavior that can be induced on the English moors was very much on Fielding’s mind that year after scoring a similar, darkly bucolic score for THE INNOCENTS prequel THE NIGHTCOMERS. STRAW DOGS benefits from a likewise twisted, and seemingly languid atmosphere as fear and loathing steadily boil in Dustin Hoffmann’s bookish author, and his wife the scummy locals covet. Without ever quite settling on a theme, Fielding’s impressionistic score uses striking brass at string effects, at times sounding like fox hunting music where Hoffmann’s character will be the ultimate bait. After nauseated, disquieting rhythms play his wife’s rape, military brass ensues for the battle where might makes right, with a trumpet playing the resulting field of home invasion carnage.
Extra Special: Fielding’s music provides a disquieting psychological subtext that Peckinpah’s outraged critics never grasped from the visuals. Album co-producer Nick Redman, who’s become a candid authority on the brilliance, and woes of Peckinpah and Fielding with his liners for the likes of THE WILD BUNCH and THE MECHANIC, does another bang up job with another appreciation of the dark magic between these demon-driven artists, and what’s likely their most notorious collaboration.
5) WHITE DOG (3,000 edition)
What is it?: Ennio Morricone might have scored a pissed off killer whale in ORCA, but no animal he’s musically unleashed has matched the ferocity, or poetically tragic implications of a canine programmed to kill black people in director Sam Fuller’s powerful, and unsetting racial parable.
Why should you buy it?: While its misunderstood subject matter denied the film a theatrical release, 1982’s WHITE DOG ended up shocking a generation raised on the early days of HBO. Now the new Criterion DVD also signals the first official release of this essentially hidden Morricone masterwork from Film Score Monthly. And it’s a score that proves to be far more lyrical than savage as the composer’s poignant theme plays the troubled bond between Kristy McNichol’s unsuspecting actress-owner, and Paul Winfield’s dog trainer who’s passion to cure the canine turns him into an ersatz Dr. Frankenstein. Morricone’s legendary talent for melancholy themes makes it into a heartfelt, and doomed effort, with a suspenseful melodic sleekness that also brings to ear the kind of suspenseful scoring that fellow Italian Pino Donaggio was doing at the time for such Brian De Palma thrillers as DRESSED TO KILL and BLOW OUT- except here the murderer is as much an aggressor as it is a victim of hate, a combination between danger and pity that Morricone impressively plays.
Extra Special: Of all the scores that FSM is bringing out of the newly opened Paramount soundtrack mountain, WHITE DOG is certainly one of the least expected, and most welcome entries, with over twenty minutes of alternate score cues and jazzy source abetting this complete, and haunting soundtrack that’s anything but OLD YELLER.
Also for Your Consideration
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: A FANTASIA OF BRITISH CLASSICAL AND FILM MUSIC
Nothing spells the English countryside’s wind-swept beauty like the tone poems of such composers as Edward Elgar, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Stephen Sondheim. Though the latter inclusion might prick up your ears, this FANTASIA shows how the usual tone poem suspects of British classicism are one and the romantic same with scores like SWEENEY TODD, ATONEMENT and THE DUCHESS. It’s a two CD collection that also showcases the admirable musical tastes of Tadlow music producer James Fitzpatrick, whose diversely themed selections get new, lushly robust readings from the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who definitely have an English soul in them. But perhaps none of the selections here speak better for the Moor’s bucolic effect than the titular score by Richard Rodney Bennett, who filled the great John Schlesinger film with a miasma of folk rhythms and gorgeously romantic melodies. It’s a MADDING CROWD suite that captures the verdant fervor that the English countryside inspires in great musical artists old, and new.
After releasing Michael Giacchino’s pulse-pounding work for another little TV show called LOST, Varese Sarabande does another yeoman job of collecting the best music for Giacchino’s latest network sci-fi excursion, this time joined by Chris Tilton and Chad Seiter. What they’ve come with in 24 cues over the course of 71 minutes is a suspensefully cohesive, ear-catching collection of save-the-earth music. Melancholy without being doom-laden, with seemingly every other cue counting down the other-dimensional clock, FRINGE’s scores have a well-produced melodic ether about them that help make this show stand out from such antecedents as THE X-FILES, let alone a time slip island’s. And FRINGE’s striking music occupies its own throbbing niche, one that’s worth picking up for the show’s growing legion of fans, let alone listeners seeking the future of TV’s sci-fi sound, a cosmic realm that Michael Giacchino and company have made a welcome home in.
GOD OF WAR III
The term “berserker rage” takes on a whole new musical meaning with this batshit rampage of a videogame score, courtesy of Ron Fish, Gerard Marino, Mike Reagan, Jeff Rona, and Cris Velasco. What could have been too many soldiers in this excitingly intense bloodbath of brass, chorus and rampaging percussion actually makes for a smooth listen, if your idea of “smooth” is turning the orchestral mayhem up to 11. But for kill-crazy button mashers, this latest WAR entry is impressive, epic stuff that grows with melodic interest for everyone else as Kratos’ journey of vengeance reaches Mount Olympus, with the score ultimately transforming from brute force to epic majesty- an unexpected variation that ultimately puts this GOD over the top in a very good way.
GRACE (1,000 edition)
After his sweeping, sweetly melodic score for CAPTAIN ABU RAED, composer Austin Wintory goes to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum for an unholy, nerve-scratching lullabye to a blood-drinking baby. But thanks to Wintory’s chilling creativity, GRACE never descends to the hell of horror music that thinks dissonance for its own sake is just fine. Here, there’s a clever method to the madness, a strangeness that’s almost comforting in its own sick way as pounding heartbeats and a mother’s reassuring hums dance on top of eerily wavering strings, quickening heartbeats, tribal percussion, a twisted Pachabel Cannon and an underbelly of child-like, Lovecraftian samples that tell an undead tyke that it’s ok to bite down on mommy hard. And if you didn’t think GRACE’s actual score was nightmarish enough, the second half of the CD holds the even more insane music that Wintory composed to be played on-set to give the actors the right, terrifying frame of mind. No doubt they’re still trying to get it out of their heads, though adventurous listeners will likely go goo-goo ga-ga over GRACE.
After putting an eerie, Bernard Herrmann-esque spin into his rivetingly over-the-top score for IMAGO MORTIS, Spanish composer Zacaraias M. De La Riva once again impresses with another psychological thriller that channels echoes of Hermann’s VERTIGO along with the pounding darkness of Howard Shore’s SEVEN. But as always, De La Riva’s homages turn into something fresh and freaky, especially given his chilling gift for melody. Here a woman returns to an island where her son died, with De La Riva letting us know that nothing good will come of her quest for answers, his music’s wailing voices and foreboding, yet emotional tones cueing listeners in to the nasty discoveries that are doubtlessly at hand. De La Riva’s full-blooded (and even classical) orchestrations make HIERRO another impressive psychological horror score to come out of Spanish horror music school, a genre that Movie Score Media continues to thankfully, and enthusiastically release with this and Fernando Velazquez’s SHIVER.
KICK ASS: MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE
A huge amount of KICK ASS’ fun comes from the eccentric mix tape that accompanies its wannabe superhero’s misadventures, let alone the antics of ones who can fight like Big Daddy and Hit Girl. And nothing beats The Dickies’ take on The Banana Splits theme song for sheer absurdity, as their speed freak lyrics turn a saccharine anthem of 70’s kids’ TV into an 11 year old’s fun kill fest. Similarly great choices for hilarious, under-aged ultra violence include Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western theme from FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, The Hit Girl’s “Bad Reputation” and Elvis Presley’s patriotic strains for “An American Trilogy.” KICK ASS’ song album also abounds with hip oldie bands like The New York Dolls and Sparks, while contemporary energy is provided by the techno rhythms of Prodigy while Mika Vs Redone do a catchy, Queen-like take on “We Are Young.” It’s music whose crazed energy pumps you up before some thug pounds you in the chest.
THE SECRETS IN THEIR EYES
The crime, and passion of a decades-old murder blaze their way into present-day Argentina in that country’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, a golden spotlight that’s helped procure a hold-able soundtrack for EYES’ impressive co-score by Argentinean composers Frederico Jusid (THIEVES) and Emilio Kauderer (CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD). Both work together seamlessly to produce a melodically flowing, darkly nostalgic score, full of the kind of boldly orchestral themes that foreign musicians seem to do so well. Yet as emotionally sweeping and broodingly suspenseful as EYES gets, there’s also poetic solitude to be found in its chamber violin and piano work, with even a music box adding to the lush atmosphere. Together, the composers’ EYES is about an emotional time and place rather than the story’s locale- a sound that shall hopefully allow Jusid and Kauderer to break out in Hollywood as they’ve already done in Latin America.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande