February Soundtrack Picks
‘Drive Angry‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For February, 2011
Also worth picking up: Battlestar Galactica, Black Ops, The Devil Is A Woman, Doctor Who: Series 5, Gnomeo And Juliet, La Sombra Prohibida, Lesbo And Rango
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) BATTLESTAR GALACTICA VOL. 1
What is it?: No expense was spared in ABC’s answer to STAR WARS, especially when it came to the music budget of its three-hour pilot. And if John Williams made a go of cosmic myth making with the London Symphony Orchestra, then Stu Phillips would get the full disposal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. “TV” music rarely had this kind of impact, and Phillips’ symphonic power was certainly rousing as it blasted through then-small television speakers, and the vinyl of the re-recorded 40 minutes that Phillips culled from this “Saga of the Star World” for an MCA LP. Now those legions who still worship at the altar of O.G. GALACTICA will be blown through the roof to hear Phillips’ complete, original score like never before, its master tapes finally salvaged from the ruins of the colonies (and Universal’s vaults) by Intrada Records. It’s a major sonic revelation of Phillips’ feature-worthy thematic writing that firmly silences critics who viewed GALACTICA’s music as a STAR WARS also-ran back in 1978.
Why should you buy it?: Sure Gene Roddenberry described his show as “WAGON TRAIN to the stars.” But no TV sci-fi motiff so memorably encapsulated a gigantic spaceship’s chugging march to adventure like Phillips’ noble GALACTICA theme, an almost prerequisite approach with BONANZA’s Lorne Green at the helm. And that’s just the tip of the rich, melodic tapestry that served as GALACTICA’s musical bible over the original show’s only season. Like Williams, Phillips was a master of conveying brassy heroism and villainy with instantly memorable melodic shorthand. Yet beyond the swirling space battle music, there’s much new poignancy to be hard as the colonies’ survivors reflect on the show-making Cylon assault, a sense of bravery with the unexplored prairies of the galaxy awaiting them. Lying ahead are icily menacing Cylon electronics, with fun pit stops to the space disco along the way. It all makes for a big dark sky yearning that shows Phillips’ approach as far more of a western in space than what Williams was going for, a striving sci-fi GUNSMOKE as opposed to the Korngold-Wagner clash of Empire and Rebel.
Extra Special: With all respect to the unplugged musical innovation of Bear McCreary for an arguably far superior take on producer Glenn Larson’s material, there’s still no rush like hearing this full-on return to the glory days when TV sci-fi was played for all of its orchestral worth, but never before with the resources that Phillips was afforded. Big screen or small, there are few better exemplars of rousingly traditional writing than the music that launched Phillips into the TV genre stratosphere of BUCK ROGERS and KNIGHT RIDER (and yes, even GALACTICA 1980) than this lush, extravagant score, a space oater whose majestic force is now truly unleashed.
What is it?: For all of the toy-to-movie adaptations ever made by Hollywood, 1985’s CLUE still stands as the only one done from a board game (sorry doubters, but JUMANJI was made up for that film). Director Jonathan Lynne’s staging of CLUE’s lethal antics as an all-star bedroom farce further propelled the picture to cult status. Now a phenomenon that’s grown to ROCKY HORROR stage show heights gets another wonderful knife in the attic with the release of John Morris’ wonderfully antic underscore, a Baroque-style dark and stormy night of screwball music.
Why should you buy it?: As the prime musical suspect behind such Mel Brooks satires as BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, John Morris was particularly well-suited to join the all-star rogues gallery of this Agatha Christie-style spoof. Indeed, murder most foul has never sounded peppier, almost as if this movie-cum-stage play was a Broadway musical waiting to happen. Morris darts about Lynne’s lightning-fast dialogue with ironic, overly dramatic bolts of suspense, even going into the rhythm of a saber dance for the butler’s breathless round-up of the film’s knowingly convoluted plot. Buoyed by a memorable theme, CLUE is awash in droll melody, an elegance carried by a diabolically plush orchestra that also pays hip homage to the gothic mysteries of yore with 80’s-style synth harpsichords and Theremin-like shrieks as more bodies bite the dust.
Extra Special: La La Land has done an exceptional job of compiling CLUE’s dozens of bits of musical business into a smooth, pleasingly cohesive listen, complete with numerous alternates of its main theme and a new liner note interview with Jonathan Lynne, who expounds on the CLUE cult phenomena will thankfully never say die.
3) DOCTOR WHO: SERIES 5
What is it?: Where some other hugely popular sci-fi series are basically stuck in time and space, DOCTOR WHO is blessed by its ability to jump all over the two in an English phone booth. That’s been a particular mitzvah to composer Murray Gold since he jumped aboard the TARDIS’ sassy reboot so many series ago. Now the CD hand strikes 5 with a two-disc compilation that continues to show off WHO scoring as the Gold standard when it comes to some of the most delightfully inventive TV scoring in any one’s universe, music that mostly packs a rambunctious sense of joy to embody its eccentric Gallifreyan, especially in an age where a hero’s worth is measured by how dark and conflicted his vibe is.
Why Should you buy it?: Past WHO composers like Ron Grainer and Tristam Cary did their limited music budget best to create a cosmically epic sound out of the cheesy special effects, which were always part of the show’s charm. Yet it’s doubtful the “new” WHO would have taken off like it has without the producers’ desire to make everything just as much fun, with top-flight production values that had the splendid odor of Camembert. Yet it’s one thing to have the wonderful resources of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (conducted by Ben Foster), and another thing to have the melodic chops to use them in surprising ways. Thankfully, that’s never been Gold’s problem, who continues to make WHO’s music blazingly cinematic, no more so than with SEASON 5. While his numerous episodic selections have their own distinctive themes, Gold ties every musical arch into a splendid whole. “The Eleventh Victim” employs a zany organ, haunting voices and lullaby twinkling, while the rousing strings of “The Victory of the Daleks” could just as well accompany the Brits triumphing over the Huns- that is if the good guys were boiler-plated villains. But perhaps the best selection accompanies “The Vampires of Venice,” a salute to classic bloodsucking music, complete with haunting Gypsy violins and a Grand Guignol orchestra. But if there’s one episode that salutes Gold’s delight in conveying The Doctor’s eccentricity, then it’s “The Lodger,” which varies MAN FROM UNCLE spy jazz with woozy tango rhythms.
Extra Special: Half of the fun of Gold’s WHO compilations are his acerbic liner note commentaries, which SERIES 5′s glossy booklet offers again as Gold sorts through the ten story arcs on hand. It’s music that shows off his clever audaciousness over the course of two hours and change. Given the way that the Doctor, and Gold’s music keeps regenerating with even more impressive results for each series, there’s likely to be more sci-fi delights to come.
4) DRIVE ANGRY
What is it?: As a practitioner of the martial arts, Michael Wandmacher is one of the few composers who can literally kick your ass- or at the least score the legions of bad-asses he’s building his rep on without feeling like a poser. For with the likes of DRUNKEN MASTER, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE and PIRANHA 3D under his black belt, Wandmacher is rapidly becoming the king of A-level grindhouse scoring, churning out gnarly, gun-blasting, bra-ripping, head-exploding music that now reaches its hellbilly zenith with DRIVE ANGRY.
Why should you buy it?: It’s almost a given that you’re going to be jamming with a metal guitar when someone bent on revenge gets behind the wheel. DRIVE ANGRY certainly doesn’t disappoint on that end. Going from zero to a hundred mph as its eerie tones explode into madness, Wandmacher lays down the outlaw vibe of the 70’s road carnage exploitation flicks this film’s paying homage to. In fact, ANGRY just might be the mother of all badass metal guitar action scores. Imagine Z.Z. Top jamming with Guns N’ Roses whilst in the throes of ‘roid rage, and you’ll get an idea of the score’s mean attitude that straddles the blistering landscape between southern rock and spaghetti western. Yet for all of its white trash madness, DRIVE ANGRY remains very smart for just how much dumb fun its listen is. In between the blistering riffs, Wandmacher manages to get in healthy doses of supernatural, old scratch atmosphere that plays like the ultimate battle of the long-hair good and evil bands, while also managing to get in such niceties as throat singing, dulcimers, piano and coin tosses amidst the ripping chords you really laid your bucks down for.
Extra Special: Like the best adrenalin action scores, DRIVE ANGRY is exactly the kind of music you play loud and hard with flashing police lights in your rear window. No doubt it shall encourage you to step on it even harder.
What is it?: After scoring 2-D critters in the African savannah, under the sea and bounding about the tropics of Madagascar, Hans Zimmer takes a three dimensional trip South of the Border to come up with his most delightfully hip soundtrack yet for funny animals- in this case the pistol packing cold bloods and carrion who inhabit the range of RANGO.
Why should you buy it?: Applying the same in-your-face zest that gave a major shot of new musical life to the warhorse of SHERLOCK HOLMES, Zimmer has his way with the old west’s movie music clichés, infusing the shoot-out trumpets, electric guitars, player pianos and every other Morricone-ism you’d expect with brash, nutty energy- and that’s not even counting his bat-riding prairie deconstruction of “Ride of the Valkyries.” It’s an energy that’s consistently clever as opposed to being just smart-assed, More importantly, its immediately recognizable music just might serve as a gateway drug for kids to discover the joy of Ennio that Zimmer conveys in enthusiastically silly spades here.
Extra Special: RANGO’s songs are in equal cahoots to this album’s enjoyment as they unravel the story of its ill-fated lizard, mariachi-style balladeering that gives the music a particularly cool sense of black-humored storytelling (complete with the word “bordello” thrown in). Credit Green Car Motel singer Rick Garcia, music editor stalwart-turned songwriter Ken Karman, and the legendary Mexican band Los Lobos, who turn the strumming theme tune into a surf rock arrangement, complete with the trumpeting of Arturo Sandoval to make RANGO the BLAZING SADDLES of the toon score animal kingdom.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
You know the musical drill for just about any of today’s military shooters, an ordinance checklist that includes lots of ethnic percussion, electric guitar, techno beats and a heroically rousing orchestra. But come to think about it, isn’t that the order for every kill-crazy action film score as well? Though Sean Murray’s BLACK OPS fits that bill to a tee, the composer who last hit the CALL OF DUTY franchise with WORLD AT WAR still finds ways to get new juice from the videogame warhorse approach, even if the copious OPS music at first seems like it won’t be breaking the mold. What allows OPS to become far more interesting is the game’s drug-addled set-up, which sees a captive officer pumped for intel as his recollections jump around such Kennedy-era hotspots as Cuba, Russia and Vietnam. It’s this hellzapoppin, hallucinatory approach that ends up making BLACK OPS weirdly energetic stuff, as moaning voices, discombobulated samples and grinding metal conjure creepily dark suspense, giving the sense that something truly apocalyptic is around the corner. As Murray speeds through mind-bending cut scenes to solve its mysterious codes, BLACK OPS manages to deliver on the adrenalin of the expected body count goods, while also expanding the sonic theater of battle into strangely intoxicating new parameters.
THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN
The genre of nun-sploitation certainly caught on in Europe, so it only seemed natural that a composer as busy as Ennio Morricone would contribute a memorable entry into the unholy doings of women of the cloth (personified here by Glenda Jackson no less). While black Latin masses reached Oscar-winning popularity with Jerry Goldsmith’s score to THE OMEN, Morricone’s brilliantly blasphemous use of religious chants is impressive in equally unnerving ways. Here’s its a church organ, strident pianos, a dark male chorus and sweetly angelic voices of “Veni sancte spiritus,” while rapid, overlapping repeats of “Victima Paschali laudes” suggests some unholy fever dream. Beyond creatively using Liturgical verses as percussive instruments, Morricone also twists about Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The result is a theme-driven score that’s unique in Morricone’s cannon, conjuring a sense of diabolical religious transcendence for an Italo cinema obsessed with nun issues.
FROZEN (500 edition)
While he’s used to scoring the more straight-ahead slice n’ dice oeuvre of HATCHET writer-director Adam Green, what distinguishes FROZEN for both men is that it’s a genre piece that’s not quite fish or fowl. Instead, they’ve conjured a nastily clever survival drama where gory lupine demises wait below a chairlift in which three friends are stuck. But beyond the queasy makeup effects, what truly elevates the already airborne FROZEN is a strong, healthy dose of feeling that Garfield conveys with striking orchestral chops. It’s a melodic sound that definitely elevates what could have been a gimmick film, and score, in lesser, frostbitten hands. While there are definitely the gnashing horror effects you need to pay off the ersatz genre thrills, Garfield’s strikingly thematic score is far more a case of cold hands and warm hearts, as a surprisingly moving cello and piano topped strings tick away the desperate hours, and the characters’ increasing truth-telling and self-sacrifice that comes with them. Braving bad weather has rarely sounded this elegiac in a movie that shows off Green and Garfield as risk-taking artists, whose movingly unusual work proves that frozen tears as far more powerful instruments than an axe through the head.
GNOMEO AND JULIET
There might not be a kitschier combination than the pairing of garden gnomes and Elton John, or in the case of GNOMEO AND JULIET, a more unexpectedly winning one. For when you add up the soothing, soulful sound of the 70′s pop-rock icon with the orchestral bells and whistles that composer James Newton Howard is duty-bound to deliver for the plaster faerie figures, you end up with a musical confection only slightly less eccentric than the classic song mash-ups of MOULIN ROUGE- made far less maddening here by the fact that it’s only Elton John’s immortal tunes that are being thrown into the blender. Not only does GNOMEO offer a greatest hits package that includes the still-terrific “Your Song,” “Rocket Man” and the apropos “Tiny Dancer,” but the melodies themselves play delightful havoc with Howard’s sprightly animated score He deftly uses John’s immediately recognizable riffs as if they were movie themes, making melodies from “Benny and the Jets” and “Your Song” do the elfdance. Though there’s the inevitable Disney pop riff (in this case Nelly Furtado making Chipmunks-like mincemeat out of “Crocodile Rock,” John himself contributes a nice, original ballad with “Love Builds A Garden.” The final touch of delight is ending the album with Disney’s music for the animatronic bird-filled “Tiki Tiki Tiki Room,” a final touch of sweet, post-pop irony that makes GNOMEO’s a true delight that’s as nostalgic as it is hip.
LA SOMBRA PROHIBIDA
Movie Score Media unleashes more Spanish horror music goodness, with their latest arcane discovery being Arnau Bataller’s score for THE FORBIDDEN SHADOW, itself a sequel to his soundtrack for THE VALDEMAR LEGACY. Having started his career as an orchestrator on the satanic board gaming of OUIJA and the prison-set madness of BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR, Battaler certainly knows his symphonic way around VALDEMAR’s murderous mansion, a place whose eldritch chants, rousing waltzes and swirling orchestral Armageddon a la HELLRAISER come across as the pre-show music for a convention of the old gods- that is until the majestic sound of goodness triumphs at the finale. While I’m not aware of either VALDEMAR film beyond this particular soundtrack, Bataller’s formidable black magic certainly urges the fear-inclined listener to venture inside with cues like “Necronomicon,” “The Ritual” and “Cthulu.” Battaler can proudly join a coven that includes Javier Navarrete (PAN’S LABYRINTH), Alfons Conde (THE ABANDONED) and Fernando Velazquez (SHIVER), composers who’ve tapped the old-school lifeblood of Hollywood’s classic horror sound directly to Spain, where it seems to be a lot more appreciated now.
LESBO (500 edition)
After having their way with the musical world of BLACK EMMANUELLE, Beat Records continues their journey through the wacky, wild world of Italian nudie scores, or at least the serious come-hither same sex music of LESBO. Yet for its tastily provocative cover, Francesco De Masi and Alessandro Allesandroni’s score has the charm of a swinging 60′s Euro-pop travelogue. Shagadellic singers get it on with Zorba-worthy Greek dances, cocktail pianos segue to tender flutes, and an enticing groove is provided with druggy folk guitars, lush strings and enticing vocalese. Holding its bikinis together is a truly memorable theme, which is taken on equally unusual dramatic detours for organ and pleading strings. In fact, for a title that would signal throwaway salaciousness, LESBO has much musical worth to offer, food for melodic thought as the tender sounds of two women engage in the love that dare not speak its name- at least back in a time when movie posters weren’t ashamed to attract all-male audiences with a big titular shout out.
A MAN CALLED HORSE (2,000 edition)
From the emotionally turbulent breakwaters of EAST OF EDEN to the experimental innards of FANTASTIC VOYAGE and the primal tones that lay BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, Leonard Rosenman continues to stand as the harbinger of applying avant garde techniques to film scoring- music whose clash of Stravinsky-esque dissonance with traditional melody was just as suited for the concert stage as it was a movie screen. So when given the task of applying a truly authentic American Indian sound to this classic 1970 wilderness adventure, the last thing Rosenman was going to do was go for the soaring, symphonic melodies practiced by so many other white men, with just a tip of the hat to “injun” rhythms. Instead, Rosenman dug deep into native ceremonies and chanting for music that would represent the culture clash, and ultimate understanding that comes from a tribe and their captive Englishman. The result is a striking mix of noble orchestrations with native voices and percussion, music that at once conveys the beauty and tenderness of the Indian’s natural world, while also portraying its seeming savagery, particularly in the grueling, modernistic music for HORSE’s notorious “Sun Vow” ritual. Film Score Monthly’s powerful release not only releases Rosenman’s unabridged score for the first time, but the Indian dances that gave the composer the inspiration to write a true “western” score, a soundtrack that remains one of the most striking meetings between melodically “advanced” technique and music that goes back eons before orchestras existed.
YESTERDAY WAS A LIE (1,000 edition)
Kristopher Carter, a composer best known for his adventurous music to any number of animated superhero shows like TEEN TITANS and BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD shows off an entirely new, atmospheric shade to his talents with one of the more evocative alternate universe film noir scores to be heard since Mark Isham’s TROUBLE IN MIND. Mind-bending samples, the pitch of rubbed glass, and menacing percussion prowl streets that the Dark Knight would be proud to call home. But it’s Karter’s smoke-filled grasp of seductive, femme fatale jazz melody with its melodic sci-fi elements that makes LIE come across like a VR CHINATOWN- if Neo happened to be hanging out in a danger-filled nightclub. Abetting the throwback future mood is a surprisingly lush orchestral sound that adds no small amount of budgetary color to this stylistically desaturated movie. But any noir score has got to have its Velma, a mysterious chanteuse personified with the beautifully intoxicating voice of DEEP SPACE NINE’s main Dabo girl Chase Masterson. Half singing, half speaking any number of well-arranged, sultry stand outs, Masterson more than breaks the STAR TREK golden throat expectations here with songs that range from the haunting ballad “Where Do You Start” to the uptempo contemporary “He Won’t Forget You,” all while Simon Shapiro’s throaty “City Talks” comes across like the best power ballad that Ryan Adams didn’t perform. A top-notch indie score in all respects, YESTERDAY WAS A LIE is the real future noir deal.
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