May Soundtrack Picks
‘It! The Terror From Beyond Space‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For May, 2011
Also worth picking up: Atlas Shrugged, Bad Manners, The Blob, Fringe: Season 2, Priest, Sleuth, Stake Land and The Tree Of Life
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) CRYSIS 2
What is it?: EA’s biomechanical warrior returns to the ruins of New York to take on all comers, aliens and humans included. And just as warrior and futuristic firepower are merged, the explosive work of main game composers Borislav Slavov and Tilman Sillescu seamlessly join with Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe into one mean musical machine.
Why should you buy it?: It must say something about Slavov and Silescu’s first-gen music to entice Hollywood’s most formidable composer to throw down in a big way with one of his own well-regarded warriors. Yet together, the resulting onslaught of high-tech samples, gnarly guitars, explosively accelerating percussion, slithering alien motifs and Zimmer’s gloriously elegiac main themes speak in one, hugely exhilarating voice. CRYSIS 2 bursts with the kind of massive sonic production values that continue to break down the wall between “video game” music and the real cinematic deal. Yet where this soundtrack starts out as prime first person shooter adrenalin, CRYSIS 2 ups the ante by revealing a true emotional arch to its apocalyptic rumble, with a brooding solo violin and a soaringly tragic orchestra encasing the player in the sound of lone wolf heroism.
Extra Special: With an epic scope that spreads out over two CD’s in a single-priced set, CRYSIS 2’s music only gets more gripping as it goes along, with a booklet that has Zimmer, Slavov and Silescu revealing the secrets of a powerhouse collaboration, one whose example will hopefully draw more Hollywood big guns into a medium that’s all about multiple player creativity.
2) IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE
What is it?: Like foolhardy explorers digging about a black and white crypt (or a Martian rockscape for that matter), Monstrous Movie Music has gone from chillingly re-performing the likes of THEM! and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON to releasing the original tracks of such flicks as THE BLOB and a racist evildoer called THE INTRUDER. Though it seems there’s an eons-long wait between each MMM release, their 1950’s musical beasts are upon us again with the shrieking orchestras of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and THE MONSTER THAT CONQUERED THE WORLD, musical manna from heaven for any score fan that spent the better part of their youth glued in front of TV creature double features.
Why should you buy it?: Subtlety wasn’t a big part of horror scoring back in the day. But where much of modern fright films sound like a behemoth at loose in the percussion section, there was a true art to the kind of symphonic cacophony practiced by MONSTER’s Heinz Roemheld and IT’s Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. Though often allowed less players than the numbers of victims that any given creature munched through during a black and white film, these composers added imaginative weight to their beasts with ominous tension, and the kind of exclamatory brass statements with little room for melodic pleasantries. MONSTER’s notable exception is the radio-ready song “Full of Love,” penned by no less than YENTL songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman (but then, Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote THE BLOB’s catchy theme). While the proto ALIEN called IT might not have received anything you can saunter to, Sawtell and Shefter’s did manage a standout, still-chilling motif in their eerie electric violin, a much-used atmosphere that will be immediately familiar to anyone who watched sci-fi back in the day. But perhaps the most notable, and offbeat release in the latest MMM batch is PROJECT MOON BASE, a delightfully cheesy effort that makes wonderful use of the sing-song ooo-wee-ooo voice of the electric Theremin, performed by no less than THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL’s Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. Herschel Burke Gilbert’s score itself marches along to a manly innocence that’s all about the kind of dinky spaceship models and skintight female astronauts that stirred up all kinds of youthful wonder. Far more serious on that CD is Gilbert’s music for OPEN SECRET, a thriller about Anti Semitism full of noir suspense, along with breathless, brassy action cues that will be immediately familiar to any fan of George Reeve’s SUPERMAN TV show, where most of this score ended up.
Extra Special: While no one did a better job at replaying classic creature scores, MMM’s new mission does the best job possible at giving these original tracks new, growling vitality. And lest anyone doubt the label’s superfan credentials, the lengthy liner notes by producer David Schecter continue to stand as some of the best written, combining geek love with hilariously idiosyncratic observations, along with true musical insight to the frenetic sound of 50’s horror and sci-fi music.
What is it?: While most of us weren’t at the launch night for Los Angeles’ renovated Griffith Park Observatory on October 4, 2009, this excellent recording of the Symphony in the Glen’s accompanying concert under BLUE THUNDER composer Arthur Rubinstein’s baton is the next best thing to being there- a mix of the classical and contemporary music that evokes humanity’s wanderlust for the stars- topped off with Rubinstein’s twenty minute original piece “Observations,” which is narrated by no less than the voice of space logic himself, Leonard Nimoy.
Why should you buy it?: Having released Rubinstein’s WAR GAMES and WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY, Intrada should be congratulated for taking the gamble on one of their more distinctive, and unusual releases. Better yet, Rubinstein’s own musical narrative is enthralling with, and without Nimoy’s voice. Where many movie composers have struck out with similar concept works, Rubinstein’s beautifully constructed music effortlessly conveys the astronomical discoveries of Galileo, the ancients’ fearful wonder of the night skies, and mankind’s new (and hopefully not finished) ventures into the cosmos. Rubinstein’s fluid swings between primitive rhythms, spectral choruses and lush melodies brings to mind similarly experimental work by Sergei Prokofiev, Alex North and Leonard Rosenman, composers who danced between the elegant and the untamed. Except here Rubinstein is using that approach to play celestial bodies that are as awe-inspiring to view as they are fearsome in their power. One can only imagine looking up as Rubinstein’s majestic “Observations” conjure the view from the Observatory’s telescope.
Extra Special: Rubinstein’s programming of the concert’s other astronomy-inspired works is also exceptional as it traces our evolution from Galileo’s first discovery to NASA’s ventures. Opening with fanfare from Claudio Monteverdi’s 17th century opera “Orfeo” (about a star-struck Greek musician), Rubinstein continues on to Jean-Philipe Rameau’s joyous Baroque suite for the constellation twins “Castor Et Pollux,” the romantic wanderlust of Henri Duapre’s19th century play “To the Stars,” and the energized jazz rhythms of Darius Milhaud’s 20th century dance piece “The Creation of the World,” its wild transitions echoing Rubinstein’s own “Observations.” It’s a 79-minute album that’s worth picking up at Intrada. Or better yet, get it in the gift shop of the re-energized Griffith Park Observatory after your visit.
What is it?: When it comes to the musical battle between heaven and hell, Christopher Young plays the clash of Godly might and the unholy’s fearsome forces like few composers in the supernatural scoring business, especially with the massive symphonic and choral power of such soundtracks as HELLRAISER, BLESS THE CHILD, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, DRAG ME TO HELL, GHOST RIDER, etc. Now Young’s religioso voices and snarling orchestras have at it again with terrifically entertaining fury on the future, vampire-plagued Earth of PRIEST.
Why Should you buy it?: It’s one thing to unleash the tropes of musical hell, but it’s another to truly know how to kick ass with them, this time with Crucifix Shurikens and superhuman powers of a hero whose arsenal puts the holy hand grenade to shame. It’s Young’s enthusiasm, not to mention old-school thematic talent with a full-on orchestra that really makes his work in the genre rage like a horror acolyte going for broke, unleashing walls of malefic melody, twisted dissonance and a blessed sense that the angels will come out on top- at least most of the time. Young brings it on here right from the blasting church organs and religioso voices that announce PRIEST’s testosterone ride through the evil badlands. Weird electronic samples signal the movie’s future setting, with triumphant strings and frantic percussion laying darkly heroic waste to the relentless music of the bloodsuckers he encounters. Yet Young is also sure to hear religion’s more beatific side before getting back to the choral and symphonic fighting at hand. Through all the glorious sound and fury, Young brings a real sense of rhythmic development to PRIEST’s lengthy cues that make this soundtrack stand high on his altar of horror action.
Extra Special: Thankfully PRIEST’s score is available in the physical realm as well as the e-ether, something that will hopefully continue to bring converts to Young’s ever-crazier, Dante-worthy quests through the musical underworld.
5) THE TREE OF LIFE
What is it?: When it comes to secretive directors who favor using classical and avant garde music over their striking experimental images, Terence Malick runs a close second to Stanley Kubrick in terms of these jaw-dropping juxtapositions, no more so than over the beautifully interminable artsiness of creation and death that starts and finishes off his TREE OF LIFE. However, that elegant needle drop approach isn’t so great for composers seeking to compete with their own original music, as Alex North found out when he discovered that Kubrick had dumped all of his score while attending the premiere of 2001. Thankfully, Alexandre Desplat’s mesmerizing soundtrack for TREE OF LIFE doesn’t suffer that kind of fate here (though it certainly threatens to until his “score proper” most noticeably arrives at the hour point). That’s because if any composer can create music that matches the classics, then it’s Desplat, whose work truly took root from France to Hollywood with his boldly unique score for the similarly inexplicable BIRTH.
Why should you buy it?: While BIRTH captured fairy tale darkness through its hypnotic rhythms, Desplat’s somewhat similar approach to TREE OF LIFE has a surprising feeling of hope. It’s the contrast between hearing the tension of an overbearing father who talks of his own failed career as a classical musician (while demonstrating that talent to his oppressed family whenever possible) with the carefree magic of youth when they escape from him into their verdant neighborhood. Malick’s film works best when it flows with these lyrical images of childhood joy as opposed to The Big Bang, with Desplat’s touchingly melodic strings, waltz-like themes, gossamer bells and eerie sustains capturing adolescence’s place in our grown-up memories, where thoughts of youth haunt us with its possibilities and abandoned dreams.
Extra Special: In the enthralled service of a director whose work gestates for years in the planning and making, Desplat composed TREE OF LIFE while still in its embryonic stage- an approach also taken by Hans Zimmer for Malick’s THIN RED LINE. Subsequently, Desplat’s score works as its own enthralling tone poem, taking inspiration from Mallick’s surreal imagination in much the same way the mysteries of nature and the Almighty inspired the Brahms’ piece that’s played here. While Malick capably dials in and out of Desplat’s extended cues (while also brilliantly using his an existing classical mix tape), this Lakeshore album allows us to appreciate the movie that existed in Desplat’s own mind, an original, yet accessible musical world that TREE would have benefited more by drawing from. At the least, Malick can be complemented for inspiring melodies of unparalleled richness, and imagination from a composer who’s already carried on the musical bloodline that his director taps all too frequently.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
AGE OF HEROES
James Bond creator Ian Fleming was a real life action hero, forming England’s first commando unit during WWII. And as Michael Richard Plowman’s score tells us, Fleming and his 30 Unit were a bunch of valiant lads, blasting the Nazis for honor and glory in the veteran musical tradition of Ron Goodwin (WHERE EAGLES DARE) and Dmitri Tiomkin (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE). Utterly heroic marches, gripping suspense, tragic sacrifice and hard-hitting battles abound in this thrilling war score that pins the medals on our heroes and gives the Jerries their due. Seasoned in combat from scoring numerous television shows whose subjects ranged from Alexander the Great to seeing who’d come out on top in a fight between the Taliban and the IRA, Plowman certainly knows his way around hearing the idealized sounds of war, and gives this AGE OF HEROES solidly rousing “mission music” that drives much of his score, with powerful emotion that also makes us well aware of the humanity, and sacrifice of the soldiers who’d inspire a larger-than-life secret agent. While he might not have the firepower accorded to Goodwin on THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, Plowman effectively combines his orchestral battalion with string and brass samples to get the most out of his army. But in the end, it’s the music that’s the thing, and Plowman’s driving, noble score makes AGE OF HEROES tonic to anyone who imagined themselves fighting the good fight.
Chugging ahead with all of the proud determinism of Ayn Rand, fellow Iron Curtain émigré Elia Cmiral smacks down the sound of her hard-minded determinism. While Rand’s throttling super train can be heard in Cmiral’s excited orchestral rhythms, there’s also a nice piano theme that gives emotional heart to the film’s blunt businesspeople. With sweeping, brassy Americana on board as well, Cmiral’s expansive work captures SHRUGGED’s aim at being a suspense film about the iron will of the free market, getting across the values our country’s rails were forged with- like it or not how Rand interpreted them. Thankfully, the effectiveness of Cmiral’s ATLAS score is a bit less controversial than the authoress herself, though her fans will surely appreciate how Cmiral musically encapsulates the ideals of the writer, as transposed to this brazen DIY film adaptation.
THE BLOB (2,000 edition)
Ahhh, to be back in the synth-driven days of horror scoring, especially covered in red, keyboard goo, voices, dark strings and feverish percussion that accompanies the 1988 BLOB- all placed into an undulating musical mass by Michael Hoenig. Having played with Tangerine Dream, Hoenig’s first synth credit was gracing GALAXY OF TERROR before establishing his own composing chops on such genre cult favorites as MAX HEADROOM, THE WRAITH, THE GATE and I, MADMAN. While THE BLOB’s music seems to be all effectively shapeless stings dribbling tones, and militarism for the true government bio-villains, Hoenig’s score really kicks into gear during a movie theater onslaught that puts the original’s to shame, creating a rhythmic drive that embodies both the humans’ heroic desperation and a massive sense of relentless doom. It’s the formless being given a taste of thematic purpose, with Hoenig’s suspenseful onslaught leading to a terrifically exciting climax in the town hall. Easily one of the hardest CD’s to find since the movie’s 1988 release, La La Land now does a great job of presenting Hoenig’s BLOB in all of its chilling glory, with perceptive and fun liner notes by Brian Satterwhite that detail how much musical form there actually is to Hoenig’s “sound sculpting.” This score might be as much of a delightful time capsule as Ralph Carmichael’s original 1958 soundtrack, but Hoenig’s BLOB still packs the kind of gleefully sinister Synclavier punch that I’d happily welcome back to ooze through the projection booth windows, let alone one of the genre’s best, if unsung remakes.
Where the music of King Arthur tends to sweep in like a massively noble symphony on steeds, scoring brothers-in-arms Mychael and Jeff Danna do well by playing their leader as a subtler, second coming for another Starz series that sexes up mythic history, this time in the realm of CAMELOT. It’s an intriguing setting for a world music approach that creates its sorcery with Indian ragas, exotic percussion, horns and Celtic rhythms, an approach that’s as timeless as it is lyrical. While the Dannas might not have the magic to get the kind of trumpeting orchestral firepower afforded to the likes of Jerry Goldsmith’s FIRST KNIGHT or Miklos Rozsa’s KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE, they do just as well here with strong, melodic writing for an equally subdued orchestra. Yet it’s work that still carries a heroic, ominous weight to it, poetically well aware of the dire fates lying ahead for most of CAMELOT’s fresh-faced icons. But thought these characters unsheathe the most carnality since sweating armor met nubile flesh in EXCALIBUR, the music’s preponderance of church-like Latin chants and heavenly female voices more than convince of these knights’ spiritual virtue. The Dannas truly bring something new and enchanted to the music of the Round Table, let alone its king.
CAMPA CAROGNA… LA TAGLIA CRESCE (THOSE DIRTY DOGS)
Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western success inspired a wave of Italian composers to feast on his atmospherically dusty plate of flutes, guitars and clip-clop percussion that signaled the music of their country’s unique film genre, a wave that included Luis Bacalov (DJANGO), Bruno Nicolai (100,000 DOLLARS FOR RINGO) and Stelvio Cipriani (BLINDMAN). But Nico Fidenco was as mysterious to me as a Man With No Name, until he came riding into town with Italo soundtrack specialists Beat Records, who’ve now released Fidenco’s thoroughly fun score to 1973’s THOSE DIRTY DOGS, a movie with six-shooters and dubbed dialogue to spare. The usual Spaghetti instrumental suspects are there in enjoyable spades, all given catchy energy with Fidenco’s offbeat approach, an eccentricity that inflects every sound from rattlesnake percussion to wistful harmonicas, whistling and Mexican fandangos. Like the best Spaghetti scores, DOGS has a memorable, fateful theme whose melody shows up from hooting flute to whip cracks and strumming chords, all winding up to the big, snarling electric guitar showdown. But perhaps the most fun thing about DOGS is hearing its melody sung by star Stephen Boyd. With his deep voice intoning about how you can’t trust a woman (while given the back up of their hey-hey vocalese), this OSCAR star actually proves he isn’t just some American gringo with a golden throat, getting across a song-spoken delivery that Shatner would admire.
As far as Latin legends go, the goat-sucking El Chupacabra has it all over the tragic wailing of La Llorona when it comes to horror films. But this tortured spirit of a child killer certainly gets her musical due in the hands of Dean Parker. An assistant to Carter Burwell on such scores as TWILIGHT. Parker’s more than had that composer’s eerier work rub off on him. With the forlorn voice of CRY director Bernardine Santistevan embodying the wailing of this lethally mournful spirit, Parker effectively uses the tinkling sound of a music box to stand in for her downed, small victims. Parker’s music is more about going for the hush than the scream, his subtle, sampled atmospheres and blowing winds conveying an utterly creepy sense of dread, as if cold, invisible eyes were upon you until the spirit’s finally ready to pounce. Though Parker goes for the kind of low, ghostly tones and piano riffs that universally scare us, its specter’s Mexican origins do materialize on a guitar instrumental, then in the anguished performance of Del Castillo and Patricia Vonne who sing the lovely, haunting “Ballad of La Llorona Fe.” The unsettling voice the Parker displays over the THE CRY’s hypnotic 73 minutes definitely deserves to be heard again, whatever the supernatural menace’s nationality might be.
FRINGE: SEASON TWO
Einstein’s answer to the Ghostbusters continue to explore, and combat weird science with the very effective musical proton packs of composer Chris Tilton, who’s been given more than able back-up by Michael Giacchino. Though that composer’s LOST gig has run its course in a place you could remotely call heaven, the island’s unearthly spirit can definitely be heard in three seasons of FRINGE (with a fourth season to come). Yet where Giacchino’s LOST vibe could arguably be labeled as being more darkly adventurous, Tilton’s own equally effective approach for FRINGE is one of haunting, ethereal vibes, the percussive sound of man (and a very capable woman) trying to grasp the unknowable. What makes this second collection of FRINGE music work, for even those who haven’t explored the show’s realm, is the music’s overall tone of melancholy reflection, one that’s about melodic mood as opposed to going for the musically bizarre. Flutes join with somber violins, suspenseful rhythmic pads of percussion count down to doomsday along with guitars, haunted voices and percolating military danger. Having done a yeoman job of assembling LOST’s seasonal albums, Varese keeps things continually enthralling through 29 selections over the course of nearly 80 minutes. But for all the variety of cool strangeness on display here, perhaps the most notable Season Two selection is saved for last in the hard-broiled stylings of the wizened Walter’s sci-noir fairy tale for the “Betty Brown Suite,” an acid trip one-off in the series’ arch that lets Tilton jazzily show his orchestral dexterity in a way that would also certainly accommodate Sam Spade, if he carried a ray gun.
IL SESSO DEGLI ANGELI (THE SEX OF ANGELS)
With an Italian title like this, you know some deviltry will be abounding when a young stud boards a vixen-populated yacht trip to Yugoslavia – with LSD as the boat fuel. It’s certainly way off course than what artier admirers of composer Giovanni Fusco’s work for Michaelangelo Antonioni on RED DESERT and L’AVVENTURA might be expecting. But ANGELS will provide pure catnip for fans of both Mondo Italiano style soundtracks and more straight-laced scoring. ANGELS’ grooviness is embodied by a title track whose beautiful thematic melody is always ready for action, whether it rocks out with fuzz guitars, takes on nubile acoustic and organ shape, forms a woman’s haunting la-la vocalese or swings with a full orchestra. There’s plenty more hipster delight on board with 60’s pop beats ready for shagging, including the song “Pink, Purple, Yellow and Red” that made the London-based Sorrows anything but sad when it came to the charts. Yet far from campy, these ANGELS pack an infectious youth energy, as well as the musical smarts accorded to slightly more moral-minded composers.
MALOS HABITOS (BAD HABITS)
Mexican films have a thing for food, religion and magical realism, an eccentric flavor which Italian composer Daniele Luppi conveys with beautiful, classical elegance in MALOS HABITOS. It’s a moody chamber approach that’s far different from Luppi’s best-known work from “An Italian Story,” his ingenious album of 60’s Euro kitsch that’s provided the groovy tunes “La Nudista” and “Fashion Party” for UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN and INSIDE DEEP THROAT. Yet Luppi is also a composer of astonishing versatility for those in the know, following up his 60’s cocktail score to the criminally unseen WOMAN CHASER with the motorcycle rock of HELL RIDE. Now with this exceptionally well-mannered score, Luppi goes for the tender sound of unbearable heartbreak, lonely pianos and violins graced with lush string arrangements and decorated with gossamer bell percussion and an accordion, all of which play the loneliness of a small girl getting crushed by her mother’s weight obsession- not to mention the somber tones of piety. Exceptionally recorded in Rome, Luppi’s BAD HABITS could easily be mistaken for a concert work, a memorial to good musical taste for a film where sweet is definitely sour.
As far as “drawing room” whodunits go, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s SLEUTH likely remains the mystery to rule them all, the delicious irony of Anthony Shaffer’s stage script at once satirizing this oh-so English genre while playing it for real. And while Intrada’s long-awaited CD for this 1972 film offers extended selections of stars Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine engaging in witty wordplay, it’s John Addison’s Oscar-nominated score that holds center stage here. A master of the rollicking “British” sound with such works as TOM JONES and THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (not to mention writing whimsical music for the distinctly American MURDER SHE WROTE), Addison’s swooning, comic chops are at their Baroque best in SLEUTH. Like such comedy-mystery scores to follow as CLUE, Addison has particular fun playing with aristocratic airs, his strings and flutes conveying a devilish sense of entitlement for a mystery writer with a cruel game in mind for his guest, the ensuing antics of deduction and suspense given the excitement of a circus act, 1920’s jazz swagger, French accordion romance, sinister harpsichords and brass pratfalls that would befit a silent comedy. Like the film, SLEUTH’s score remains a terrifically fun wallow in the kind of cruel enjoyment that’s always been the attraction of discovering who committed a crime most foul, let alone playing the fun and games of those with murder on their minds.
Having mostly put out less sanguine stuff through his Movie Score Media soundtracks, Mikael Carlsson’s release of STAKE LAND starts off the producer’s new, horror-specific Screamworks label with a big, bloody bang. What’s more impressive is that a good chunk of Jeff Grace’s terrific score plays as much like a “horror” score as Nick Cave’s solemn approach to THE ROAD came across as music you’d associate with violent apocalypse. In STAKE LAND’s case, it’s a vampire one. As one of the most interesting rising composers to rise in the horror realm with the diversely stylistic likes of THE ROOST, I SELL THE DEAD and THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (all available on MSM), Grace approaches STAKE LAND with an evocatively downbeat, rural sound in a genre increasingly being assaulted by dissonance monsters who eat themes and melody for bloody breakfast. That’s thankfully far from the case here. Even though Grace is honor bound to deliver the kind of sharp, pounding adrenalin you’d associate with polishing off the undead, he truly unnerves with a sense of loss, as opposed to fear. A tender solo piano, pained violin and a poignant orchestra convey the soullessness that’s afflicted both human and vampire. Yet optimism can be found amidst the bloodlust with a fiddle hoedown and Carl Orff-like bell percussion that even brings DAYS OF HEAVEN to mind. Heaven help us indeed when you often have no idea that the undead are lurking about STAKE LAND’s artistry- an approach I’d welcome into my house any night.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Monstrous Movie Music, Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande