CD Review: August Soundtrack Picks

By • August 23, 2010

‘Animal Kingdom‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For August, 2010

Also worth picking up: Cohen And Tate, Deadline, Dragon Seed, Get Carter, George Washington, The Lightkeepers, The Lone Gummen / Harsh Realm, Nanny Mcphee Returns And Piranha 3D


To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover

1) ANIMAL KINGDOM


Price: $14.98

What is it?: After releasing Alan Lazar’s tribal music for the South African gang epic JERUSALEMA, Milan Records now goes down under to import another exotic score about illegal doings- this time finding the similarly impressive music that Antony Partos has unleashed for the primal crime that rules Melbourne’s ANIMAL KINGDOM.

Why should you buy it?: If JERUSALEMA was all about the rhythm of oppression-spawned greed, then ANIMAL KINGDOM is about the murky psychological horror of counting killers as your kin. For where most scores of this type have some sense of joy in their percussive lawbreaking, ANIMAL KINGDOM is an effective flat line of dread and oncoming violence, an elegy to lives wasted in a vicious family cycle of bank robbery. Driven by a striking, yet subtle main theme, Partos varies his score with tender piano and guitar playing, mournful voices, sonic overload, eerie sustains and even an organ to sink in the elegiac feelings, with only ethnic winds and percussion giving a tip of the hat to the film’s Aussie setting. It’s a tonal sadness rules the roost here in Partos’ strikingly effective underplaying.

Extra Special: Released via MP3 and Amazon disc-on-demand, ANIMAL KINGDOM reveals Antony Partos as a composer with a real, unsettling voice that makes the most out of his experimental stalking grounds. Here’s hoping he’ll be doing some of that in America’s musical underworld soon.

2) DRAGON SEED (1,000 edition)


Price: $24.95

What is it?: During WWII, Hollywood was busy making films about our foreign allies’ struggle against the Axis powers. And while China would become our fierce foe right after we beat Tojo, 1944’s DRAGON SEED was a massive populist tribute to its countrymen by Hollywood’s propaganda machine, with Katherine Hepburn in yellow face fighting the good fight against Japanese invaders. And giving her the melodic moral fortitude to face down The Enemy was Herbert Stothart, the composer who’d most famously played the magical underscore for THE WIZARD OF OZ and the tender emotions of THE YEARLING, not to mention having musically visited backlot China before with his score for THE GOOD EARTH (whose author Pearl S. Buck would write this follow-up). Now thanks to FSM, Stothart’s DRAGON SEED is revealed as a beautifully epic entry to his lush resume.

Why should you buy it?
: If the big Hollywood composers of yore shared one thing, it was a powerhouse symphonic sound that effortlessly weaved from one scene to the next. In other words, it’s a big, romantically soothing approach that might not have yielded a lot of radically different music. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t yeomen composers within that studio sound system. And Stothart certainly at the top here with this powerful ode to the human spirit. While there are enough swirling orchestrations here to remind you of the big tornado in OZ, what distinguishes DRAGON SEED is Stothart’s attempt to emulate “Chinese” music in a way that would be far more authentic than Miss Hepburn’s makeup. Translating native hymns, as well a centuries-old lullaby with the help of Chinese instruments, Stothart’s marriage of Asian percussion with waves of patriotic brass and gushing strings certainly does the trick in convincing us in the sweeping veracity of its musical “Orientalism.”

Extra Special: Film Score Monthly has done a great job of releasing many Golden Age scores through the years (including Stothart’s YEARLING). But DRAGON SEED takes both cakes as being one of their oldest, and best-sounding ones. While people might take affront to how much score there is in today’s flicks, studio pictures at the time were also wall-to-wall affairs. And DRAGON SEED is no exception, packing enough music to fill two discs. And nearly of it is pristinely presented in stereo, a pleasure given the usually musty sound quality of recordings from the day. It’s a valiant score that’s enough to get you waving the flag for the country that we’d soon be making far less affectionate films about. And while political correctness might cause DRAGON SEED to escape retrospectives of Miss Hepburn’s films, FSM’s continuing release of Stothart’s stellar soundtracks certainly do much to give new prestige to this unsung giant of the classic, all-enveloping Hollywood sound.

3) GET CARTER


Price: $12.98

What is it?: Next to his recent hard-ass senior turn as HARRY BROWN, no Michael Caine film took names with a vengeance like this classic 1971 thriller- one as notorious for its star’s sinister performance as composer Roy Budd’s driving harpsichord and tabla theme that has since received iconic, sampled stature (as well as a revamp by Tyler Bates for the Stallone redo).

Why should you buy it?: Thought equally good at such eclectic adventure scores as ZEPELLIN and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, no composer’s dark jazz vibes could play the 70’s cinema of anti-heroes like Budd, whose other great work in the genre included the likes of FEAR IS THE KEY and THE STONE KILLER. Yet no score in that genre has the critical cache of CARTER’s sinister, exotic, even classical vibe. Yet for music this notorious, it’s actually the one of Budd’s briefer underscores. But when you’ve got a theme that captures the sleek groove of one of Britain’s greatest cinematic villains, that’s more than good enough.

Extra Special: It was about ten years ago that CARTER and a slew of Budd classics got a deluxe treatment by Cinephile records. Now Silva Screen is using CARTER to unleash the best of Budd’s repertoire all over again, giving GET a pep-up with remastered sound and an even more elaborate booklet. What CARTER’s “new” album (still with the same tracks but sounding better than ever) offers is any number of pop songs that display Budd’s jazz chops in style, period tunes that conjure a natty world of pub—crawling mobsters out to unleash hell at the slightest provocation. So if you missed CARTER the first time out, this new release is the perfect opportunity for collecting some payback.

4) NANNY McPHEE RETURNS


Price: $13.99

What is it?: After his spectacular action work out for SALT, James Newton Howard scores a far less attractive heroine as she faces off against a peril that would send Russian sleeper agents screaming- namely misbehaving English kids. But as every nanny since Maria has proved, a spoonful of sugar makes the musical medicine go down.

Why should you buy it?: Thankfully, James Newton Howard’s proven that he’s definitely above anything resembling musical pabulum with his sweetly magical kidpic scores for the likes of PETER PAN and THE WATER HORSE. And this second NANNY is just about their equal, filled with the delightfully inventive sense of humor this side of Irwin Kostal’s score for BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS. For this heroine out to spread good cheer by hook or crook amidst WWII, Howard summons majestic strings, energetic pokiness, Italian mandolins, Scottish jigs and the jazziest brass and chorus runs that have been heard since James Horner’s CASPER.

Extra Special: In the end, NANNY McPHEE RETURNS’ spell emanates from its a boisterous, old-school sound. It’s the kind of richly melodic music that comes from a real, emotional heart- a score that makes kid’s wishes come true with bright fairy tale colors of shimmering bells, sweeping themes and playful pomp and circumstance. There’s tons of antic charm and reassuring voices in the air for this score that confirms Howard as a fantasy composer par excellence, with a vibe that shows these unruly kids they could be turned into a pig, or worse by the Evelyn Salt of super nannies.

5) NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER


Price: $18.95

What is it?: Back in the Reagan era, synth-pop scores ruled the action arena, especially when it came to Cold War grudge matches fought with fists and feet. And if Sylvester Stallone had Vincent Di Cola pumping out MTV-ready grooves for ROCKY IV as he took on Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, then it’s only a given that Jean-Claude Van Damme would initially get the musical equivalent of buffed-out hair for early entry into the ring as “The Russian” for this cult martial arts flick- as first scored by the infectious, oh-so 80’s electro-rock grooves of Frank Harris.

Why should you buy it?: Though Paul Gilreath would take Harris’ score out in the final round in our theaters, there was no keeping down Harris’ Synclavier groove for NO SURRENDER when the film hit international waters. Now Harris’ work finally gets its due 24 years for American ears. Sure the sound of these “period” action scores have been surmounted by far more sophisticated gear. But if you’re from that HOT TUB TIME MACHINE generation like me that longs for more innocent grooves, then scores in this vein are indomitable, no more so for their variety of pop songs and incredibly melodic beats that turn martial arts stylings into the next best thing to a retro dance-off. From no less than four versions of its catchy song “Hold On to that Vision” (one performed by no less than guitar god Joe Satriani) to seduction numbers, country tunes and breakin’ jams, NO SURRENDER delivers on the MTV-hopeful stuff. And when it comes to the action, Harris knows how to bust a rhythmic move in the Faltermeyer / Moroder / Di Cola style, with a real, catchy energy, not to mention the Zen eccentricity of SURRENDER’s hook of having Bruce Lee’s ghost advise its hero on how to beat the muscle from Brussels. While this all might not be as musically polished as ROCKY IV, it’s this lower-budgeted movie’s quirky, go-for-broke analog groove that makes it just as enjoyable- proving that Harris was more than a contender.

Extra Special
: Perseverance continues to show the musical love to early Van Damme with NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER and their sold-out release of Paul Hertzog’s KICKBOXER. As always, the sound and packaging have a genre geek love punch, especially when it comes to Brian Satterwhite’s entertaining liner notes that extol the virtues of the 80’s action sound, and the history behind the unjust knockout of Harris’ deserving score in US theaters.


Also for Your Consideration

COHEN AND TATE (1200 edition)

Normally known for the bright, brassy inspiration of ROCKY, THE KARATE KID and any legion of underdog hero soundtracks, composer Bill Conti took this decidedly darkly detour with two hitmen in writer-director Eric Red’s thankfully uncomfortable road trip. At stake is the orchestral and piano innocence of a nine year-old boy in the backseat, whose plaintive music wages chilling psychological warfare against the mob killers driving their potential little snitch to his doom. Through symphonically outraged escape attempts to the amazing musical build that miraculously takes its hitmen through a police roadblock, Conti’s COHEN shows a gripping film noir side to the usual happy face we’ve heard, yet does so with the kind of classically-influenced, melodic richness that makes the offbeat journey very much a part of his more musically popular work. For Conti admirers, there’s no risk at all in hitching a ride with this grippingly offbeat soundtrack.

DEADLINE

After releasing the lush horror noir stylings of Alfons Conde’s THE ABANDONED, Christian Henson’s TRIANGLE and Conrad Pope’s IN MY SLEEP, Movie Score Media continues to do a great job of unearthing chilling musical talent with their new discovery of Carlos Jose Alvarez, the Cuban-born composer of DEADLINE. Like those aforementioned spirit guides, Alvarez’s brings forth the melodic ghost of Bernard Herrmann in his eerie symphonic lines, all as his captivating first score guides another innocent to a dark fate. The fact that DEADLINE also repped one of Brittany Murphy’s last film appearances is no less ironic, as her character here continues to show the unwise decision of moving into old dark houses. Yet Alvarez mostly brings out the tender ramifications of said predicament, his impressive string and piano themes luxuriating in the feminine emotion that leads to madness- with the necessary shock chords pouncing in for the specter that lurks just outside of flashlight range. There’s captivating quality to DEADLINE’s languid, yet always suspenseful approach, one that gives new, chilling life to the kind of residence that’s led so many other heroines astray.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Certain labels latch onto an old musical lion with near-patriotic fervor. And when it comes to Intrada, that general who helped lead the good fight for lush, melodic scores is one Laurence Rosenthal. Most famous to your granddad’s generation for his Oscar-nominated score to BECKET, Rosenthal is equally popular among our geek crowd for his mythically rousing score to the first CLASH OF THE TITANS. And while Intrada has released such other acclaimed Rosenthal soundtracks as THE MIRACLE WORKER, WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN and HEART LIKE A WHEEL, no subject the composer’s put his symphonic strains to has stood the test of time like America’s first president. Now after having released the (sold out) score to the TV miniseries sequel GEORGE WASHINGTON II: THE FORGING OF A NATION, Intrada goes for Rosenthal’s work for the first part of the saga. Spread across two discs, Rosenthal’s score to GEORGE WASHINGTON is exactly what you’d expect from this master of the scoring craft- music full of the kind of joyful, thematic delicacy that now seems positively as old-fashioned as George himself. Yet it’s exactly those melodic attributes that bring Rosenthal’s history to life, particularly in its TITANS-like action cues that mix soaring battle music with the spirit of American hymns. Rosenthal might have been scoring for the small screen, but his WASHINGTON has a lavish sound that packs both the kind of commitment to old-fashioned music, and dawning nationalism while it’s at it.

HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING (2,000 edition)

Back in the day, lauded film composers like Jerry Goldsmith had no trouble swinging between major film scores, and then giving equal panache to the kind of television movies that were a stay-home staple of weekday nights. Ditto Jerry Fielding, who’d just made a major break from scoring TV series like HOGAN’S HEROES and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE to compose the shockingly dark, landmark western score for 1969’s THE WILD BUNCH. Fielding returned the next year to the small screen with the contrasting, jazzily bright suspense of HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING. His unique orchestrations make the most of HUNTERS’ smaller orchestral accompaniment, putting a swinging strut into Burt Reynolds soon-to-be-superstar brand of machismo. And fans of Fielding’s “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of classic TREK will be quick to pick up on his similar offbeat brass effects Fielding used here for Reynolds’ just as furry chest-hair. But amidst its innovative small-screen scoring, perhaps the coolest thing about HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING are its bountiful rock source tracks, which display Fielding’s with-it jazz chops, especially in writing for acid guitar, music that puts a subversive counter-culture sheen to this lauded mystery of the week. Things would certainly get darker for Fielding with the cinematic likes of THE GETAWAY and THE NIGHTCOMERS, but never groovier than this music that made the dial stay put.

THE LIGHTKEEPERS

If you’re a fan of nostalgic Americana music a la Thomas Newman’s FRIED GREEN TOMATOES and HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT, than chances are you’ll love Turkish-born composer Pinar Toprak’s swooning salute to a bygone era, in this case 1912 Cape Cod. With her own impressive voice, Toprak hits on a lilting, romantically comforting vibe that varies between a sea of strings and interludes for piano and flutes, with fiddles and jigs giving the score its New England flavor. And with the unapologetically beautiful onslaught of melody here, it isn’t long before Toprak’s heartstrings turns Richard Dreyfuss’ “woman hater” into a big old sop. Chances are this gorgeous bolt-from-the-blue score will do the same for those lucky enough to discover this resolutely melodic score, which immediately conjures a gentle, seemingly simpler time and place where music was feeling, front and center.

THE LONE GUNMEN / HARSH REALM

Mark Snow certainly had way with scoring the overwhelming dread of nine seasons of THE X-FILES and its two movie permutations, not to mention the suicide-inspiring darkness of MILLENIUM. But those shows’ creator Chris Carter did allow a little ray of goofy light to shine from the world of Mulder and Sculley over thirteen episodes of THE LONE GUNMEN. And perhaps none of Carter’s ventures allowed his favorite composer to demonstrate his bugnuts versatility like these conspiracy freaks, whose grunge guitar title spin of “The Star-Spangled Banner” led into outright cartoon pokiness, tango lessons and wacko riffs on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-style percussion. Now La La Land presents delectably unique selections from Snow’s GUNMEN work, along with the more to-form music he’d compose for Carter’s virtual reality, stand-alone show HARSH REALM. For the poor saps who’d never get out of this military simulation, Snow provided a wash of hypnotically eerie sound that marks it as part of the same, pessimistic worldview of THE X-FILES- if one that’s just a bit future-funkier with its high-tech samples and the subtle Latin sound of Terry O’ Quinn’s General Santiago. For with Snow’s talent, these GUNMEN and this REALM are anything but bastard musical stepchildren in the dark musical worlds he conjured with Carter.

PIRANHA 3D (Score CD)

Michael Wandmacher is no stranger to musical savagery after the likes of PUNISHER WAR ZONE and MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D. Now after making an orchestral pickaxe leap off the screen at you, Wandmacher pours on the batshit insane percussive effects of a killer herd of PIRANHA- of course in 3D. If you’re looking for the relatively sedate terror that composer Pino Donaggio gave to the original flick long ago, then you’re in the wrong boat for the shrieking, snarling guilty pleasure that Wandmacher unleashes here. But then again, a movie with this title ain’t exactly going to have a subtle score. And Wandmacher’s clever encapsulation of what you’d likely be hearing if an orchestra and a rock band was dunked in a particularly hellacious part of the Amazon (not to mention Spring Break at Lake Victoria here) will definitely offer fun to fans of in-your-face horror soundtracks, with electric guitar thrash standing in for the film’s splatterpunk attitude, as well as some relatively normal string suspense (you even get a piano) that briefly surfaces before being sonically gnashed to bloody pieces. Next up for Wandmacher: DRIVE ANGRY 3D. Hold onto your scoring seatbelts.

THE TUDORS: SEASON 3

Trevor Morris might be the only person who’s been able to keep his head on whilst being the troubadour for Henry VIII over THE TUDORS’ four seasons on Showtime. Perhaps that’s because he’s been able to make ancient musical history sing again by practicing the vibrantly current, wall of orchestral and sampled sound instilled in him during his own work for King Hans Zimmer. Now Varese releases a third collection of Morris’ pre-Elizabethan hits. And once again, the strings, flutes and chorus that were likely heard around Henry’s court take on new, entrancing life with Morris’ gift for melody that’s already nabbed him an Emmy for the show. The composer’s music hypnotically slinks about here with the simmering sound of conspiracies, lust, greed and murder, without ever raising its voice to the kind of roar we’ve usually heard in such musical tales of England’s most infamous monarch. And at its religioso best, this third season of TUDORS music conveys Henry’s feeling of god-given power to smite down the innocent and guilty, music that in its own subtle way puts his legend in the history books for a new generation of viewers, and a composer, emboldened by cable’s innovative, crown-and-all take on Henry’s game of thrones.

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, PerseveranceRecords, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande 

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