May Soundtrack Picks
Soundtrack Picks: ‘From Inside‘ Is One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For May 2012
Also Worth Picking Up: Battleship, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, From Inside, Moon 44, Once Upon A Time, Silent Hill: Downpour And Starhawk
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
What is it?: When it comes to playing Big F’n Machine Things and slo-mo shots of beautiful heroes looking very concerned as the world appears to be ending in effects Armageddon, Steve Jablonsky remains the unstoppable equivalent to Optimus Prime, blasting out irresistibly catchy rhythms for the Michael Bay school of visual overload.
Why you should buy it?: What makes Jablonsky’s work supreme for the multiplex is his ability to run a marathon of hyper-notes with a heroic, thematic hook, breathlessly going through every motivic permutation possible when the score isn’t allowed to stop- yet still making that exhaustion fun. On that end, “Battleship”’s music beds are perhaps even more gonzo-exhilarating than his “Transformers” work, letting loose the rock guitar of Tom Morello for that Go Navy spirit in taking down a horde or armored aliens, whom he personifies as well as any Hasbro robot with musical sound design full of piercing clangs and echoes. Driven full speed ahead by another catchy theme, Jablonsky merges the musically organic with the state of the electronic art like no one’s business, literally beating the listener into enjoyable submission. Thankfully, the rah-rah human element that’s the spirit of sea valor ends up winning the day here, even when pitted against impressively ludicrous opponents that a good cannon synth shot, or board grid call can’t fail to sink.
Extra Special: If you dig this kind of non-stop percussive adrenalin, then the over-70 minutes of rocking orchestral and sample testosterone offered on “Battleship” will tweak sci-fi action ravers with delight.
2) DIRK GENTLY
What is it?: Novelist Douglas Adams’ “holistic detective” turned quirky BBC sleuth solves his cases through quantum mechanics, or the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” as he puts it in befuddled layman’s terms. Ditto the seemingly crazy-quilt musical ideas that have no doubt filtered through the prolific documentary and TV credits of British composer Daniel Pemberton, a potpourri that coalesces into a singularity of unique, and charmingly hip sound for this neatness-challenged Sherlock and his consistently amazed Watson
Why you should buy it?: Think the zither quirk of Anton Karas’ “Third Man” as pumped up with the rhythmic retro r & b of David Holmes’ various “Oceans 11” scores, and you might just grasp the anachronistic swing of Pemberton’s work. Like such other BBC musical wonders as “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock Holmes,” Pemberton’s “Gently” cheekily throws the age-old sound of fantastical adventuring and detective work through a blender of old and new school musical approaches, combining Baroque chords with throwback sci-fi synths, voices, oddball orchestrations and percussion (involving kitchenware)- an innovative mix that becomes something akin to a stripped-down, acoustic geek jazz set.
Extra Special: “Dirk Gently”’s jam session flows quite nicely to capture a season’s worth of ironic Victoriana stuff for this Movie Score Media album, resulting in toe-tapping, too cool for school spooky-fun weirdness that will make the listener question what the heck this soundtrack is about, let alone their interest in watch both the show, and hearing what other quirky tricks that Pemberton might have up his sleeve.
3) FROM INSIDE
What is it?: If you’re a pregnant woman on a post apocalyptic train ride to hell, then the least you deserve is a first class ticket, especially when it comes to setting the musical mood while traveling past oceans of blood, festering corpses and nuked landscapes. Much like the expectant mother who can only watch in transfixed horror, composer Brett Smith conveys a sense of nightmarish wonder to match the beautiful, depressing damnation of graphic novelist-turned animator John Bergin’s award winning feature “From Inside.”
Why you should buy it?: There’s nothing easy about absorbing “Inside”’s shocking, Francis Bacon-like imagery. But far from reveling in the excesses of the end of days, Bergin wants to go for artistic impressionism at every twist of the tracks- a responsibility that perhaps weighs heaviest on music that has to fill a soundtrack that’s otherwise composed of first-person narration and a few sound effects. To go for outright, shrieking horror would be death itself for an already relentless picture like this. But Smith makes absolutely the right choice by employing a minimal approach that hears the dread, and wonder of life growing inside one’s body, as contrasted with the bigger picture of a world without hope. Indeed, the spark Motherhood and hope subtly fill his score, from baby-like music box chimes to a tender piano and the religious transcendence of a woman’s voice. But the light also can’t help but be tainted as well with such self-explanatory cues as “Wasteland,” “Bodies” and “Slaughter,” as aching violins join with twisted, scraping samples to create a mesmerizing sense of tragedy. Smith’s score isn’t afraid to shrink back from outright ghastliness either, using percussion to relentlessly drive the charnel train ahead to its fateful destination, smashing through barriers with rock guitars and chattering with gnarled string voices that only our heroine can make sense of. “From Inside” ends up as a nightmarishly transfixing tone poem, riding proudly alongside such other hypnotically atmospheric scores as Mark Isham’s “The Hitcher,” John Murphy’s “28 Days Later” and even the bliss of Lisa Gerard’s “Whale Rider.”
Extra Special: While Brett Smith’s ambience washes over you in a way that bears repeated listening, it’s likely that even the stoutest viewers couldn’t take more than one trip with the picture itself. But what a captivatingly bleak and impressive voyage it is, as John Bergin creates “adult animation” in the best, and most troubling sense of the word. Be sure to check out the film’s visceral shock and visual awe as a YouTube rental, or get your ticket for the hellride on DVD by going to frominsidemovie.com.
4) MOMMIE DEAREST (2,000 edition)
What is it?: As a composer whose beautifully lush music is the equivalent of gauzy cinematography from Hollywood’s romantic era, few musicians were better suited than Henry Mancini to contrast the sound of the picture perfect studio system with the unwholesome activities of one of its biggest starlets. But then, perhaps the scream of “No more wire hangers- EVER!” sums up the disconnect between an 8 x 10 glossy of Joanne Crawford and the alleged dragon lady behind it, let alone the camp appeal that her biopic “Mommie Dearest” has gotten since its 1981 release. But if there’s one person who helped bring this unjustly, and endearingly maligned film a straight face (let alone sympathy), then part of that credit would also fall to Mancini, whose impeccably coiffed, and subtly seething score is finally freed from Paramount’s closet by La La Land Records.
Why should you buy it: Though best known for his effervescent Blake Edwards’ scores like “The Pink Panther” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the prolific Mancini had equal aplomb for the far more serious material like “The Days of Wine and Roses” and “The Molly Maguires.” But whether he might have been dealing with alcoholism or miner’s rights, the composer’s great talent was not to turn melody into melodrama, an ability that was likely put to the supreme test on “Mommie Dearest.” In thematically personifying Crawford, Mancini comes up with one of his most beautifully heartbreaking themes, unmasking the emotion behind Crawford’s made-up façade and a desperate need to be loved that she could only act out with superficial charm and fearsome anger. For within his soothing arrangements for piano, flute and strings, Mancini lets us hear the anguish of a little girl lost, who only succeeds in royally screwing up her daughter. It’s music that’s as tender as it is tragic in its high living sort of way, a musical star filter suffused with sadness. And when it comes to Crawford / Dunaway’s memorable beat-downs, Mancini’s raging orchestra is a frightening thing to behold, conjuring shades of the space vampires he’d later score for “Lifeforce.” Except here the monster is the biggest mother of them all.
Extra Special: The gorgeous sound of the long-awaited “Mommie Dearest” is as picture-perfect as any of Joanne Crawford’s publicity masquerades, offering the complete score and its alternates along with source cues. Mancini evokes Hollywood’s bygone era with a piano rendition of “Isn’t It Romantic?” big band jazz and Oscar fanfares, along with deceptively pleasant Christmas and calliope music. The result is anything but campy, with Jeff Bond’s appreciative liner notes bringing some respect to a “Mommie” that sorely needs it.
5) MOON 44 (1,500 edition)
What is it?: It’s not easy being in the shadow of a man who made history, whether in world events or the creative arts. It’s even bolder to follow in that father’s footsteps, knowing that it’s nearly impossible to scale the same heights, no matter how talented you might be. So props can certainly be giving to the recently departed Joel Goldsmith for choosing his father Jerry’s profession, especially the son didn’t achieve the kind of bigger budgeted projects his work warranted. Yet that never stopped Joel from particularly excelling in the genre with such scores as “The Man With Two Brains,” “Watchers,” “Kull the Conqueror,” “Man’s Best Friend” and the numerous episodes of “Stargate” that would finally bring him Emmy recognition. It would ne that series’ co-creator Roland Emmerich who gave Goldsmith one of his biggest scores, as well as his first official CD release when they partnered on 1990’s “Moon 44.” Now Buysoundtrax scrubs up the sound of that original Silva Screen CD, giving even more impressive power to Goldsmith’s full-throttle sci-fi action score.
Why you should but it?: “Moon 44” was all about using technical cleverness to give real dimension to this relatively low-budget movie that pitted lunar flyboys and their nerd technicians against their evil corporate masters. In that respect, Joel Goldsmith’s work is a great example of musical smoke and mirrors. Though the performance and recording of the Graunke Symphony Orchestra might be shaky, Goldsmith wings it with the sheer scope of his music, his driving brass and dynamic orchestrations recalling his dad’s talent for military showmanship and rhythmic percussion, with the action even hinting at the dance-like movements of “The Wind and the Lion.” But though the champion gene is definitely on display in Goldsmith’s work, his own, heroically thematic voice is more than impressive on its own- big, brawny and brassy stuff that thrills with the passion of a young composer finally getting to create an epic on a relative shoestring- something that soon wouldn’t be a problem for Emmerich.
Extra Special: Not only would “Moon 44” be ironically re-issued just before Goldsmith’s passing, but a complete edition of “Star Trek – First Contact” would be as well (available at http://store.gnpcrescendo.com/new). With Jerry’s multiple projects at the time making him unable to solely finish the score, Joel was given the opportunity to step in and write numerous, important cues that would necessarily be in his father’s “voice.” “First Contact” was all the more prestigious for making the elder Goldsmith’s return to the franchise in the years since his “Star Trek V.” It was an equally momentous occasion for Joel in terms of the musical scope and responsibility he was given. And the younger Goldsmith rose to the challenge, with the cold, industrial feel of “Moon 44” certainly heard in his personification of The Borg. The climactic “Flight of the Phoenix” makes for “Contact’’s most dazzling set piece as humanity’s noble warp breakthrough is contrasted with the suspense of a possessed Enterprise bent on destroying the much smaller ship (played complete with Alexander Courage theme), before conjuring Picard’s cliff (or pipe) hanging triumph against the Borg queen. Rightfully regarded as one of the best “Trek” pictures and scores, this complete “First Contact” showed a touching musical symbiosis between father and son, now both having ascended a stairway to heaven. Both lives may have been cut short, but their essence very much alive in their music, especially this month for Joel Goldsmith with “Moon 44” and the complete “First Contact.”
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
From the dangerous Chinese chase of “Red Corner” to the bizarre Arabic rhythms of “Jarhead” and the indigenous Australian music of “Oscar and Lucinda,” Thomas Newman is one of film scoring’s most ethnically idiosyncratic world travelers, a musician to whom rhythm is his eccentric lifeblood. So what better place for a stay then in a land associated with the birth of plucked harmony itself? Newman’s right at joyous home with a first class room in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a movie that’s about how the country’s vibrantly tuneful culture brings new life to a bunch of British fogies. The score is a virtual bazaar of ethnic instruments, a mélange that includes the tabla, handclaps, sitar, violin and mandolin. But Newman’s unique touch has always been mixing the beats of east and west in electric and symphonic measure, a rocking approach that puts a new spring in these retirees’ steps, while also providing a restful air that’s as much about India’s mystical enchantment as its colorful hustle and bustle. Perhaps the biggest treat in Newman’s positively youthful wallpapering is how “Marigold” recalls such early alt. comedy scores of his as “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Real Genius,” as filtered through a matured, off-the-wall raga that’s now translated into the cartoon likes of “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E.” A delightfully intoxicating musical voyage that luxuriates in discovery and joy, one couldn’t ask for a better postcard from Thomas Newman’s ethnically eclectic sound than this “Hotel.”
. CONQUEST 1453
Turkish nationalism gets a powerhouse score from English composer Benjamin Wallfisch, who turns sultan Mehmet II’s invasion of Constantinople during that titular year into a first-rate, rah-rah epic that’s made his country cheer like never before at their cinemas. It’s a considerable step up in musical scale for Wallfisch from the idiosyncratic music he provided for the exceptional prison break movie “The Escapist.” With “Conquest 1453,” it’s all about bringing out the symphonic artillery, conjuring a siege of heroically mighty themes, raging brass, beating drums, a biblical chorus, and proud ethnic identity – music mighty enough to reduce any infidel city wall to smithereens. But it’s one thing to be loud and proud, and a whole other to be intelligent about knowing how to space the boisterous peaks and more restrained emotions. Thankfully, Wallfisch is definitely in the latter camp with his strong melodic command. He gives further vibrancy to an event hundreds of years past by judiciously employing modern-day sample rhythms and shredding guitars, bringing the “Conquest” rippingly up to date for the western language of action scoring, while always having a firm foot in the rousing Hollywood historical epics of yore.
. ONCE UPON A TIME
ABC’s fractured fairy tale show couldn’t have asked for a better composer than Mark Isham to tread between fantasy land and the “real world” of Storybrooke. Now with “Time”s yarns looking like they’ll be flipping for a while on Rumplestiltskin’s wheel, Intrada compiles the best of Isham’s episodic enchantments for an album the show’s fans will appreciate, as well as those appreciative of his cinematic stories. And therein lies “Time”s best spell at fully bringing together those two worlds with Isham’s lush, yet melodically delicate sound. For while he might not have scored this kind of live action fantasy on the big screen (though he did collide the toon world and Vegas for his terrific score to “Cool World”), Isham has had plenty of experience in verdant, family friendly lands from “Nell” to “A River Runs Through It” and “Dolphin Tale.” “Once Upon A Time” luxuriates in this kind of rhythmically bucolic sound, with rich strings, sparkling bell percussion, dulcimers and ethereal voices expertly creating a children’s book section worth of iconic characters, and making them emotionally adult in the bargain. For whether he’s play black-hearted evil or gossamer goodness, Mark Isham never quite tips the balance into seriously drama or outright fantasy scoring, a wise choice that makes his enticing work for “Once Upon A Time” its own, enticing wonderland.
. DAYS OF GRACE
While Mexico City might be a hive of scum and villainy, it’s also a criminally fertile location for multi-character movies like “Amores Perros,” where jumping between time and stories are par for the criminal course. While this kind of fluid structure now almost the norm for morality fables on any side of the border, “Days of Grace” (or “Dias de Gracias”) has the novel idea of having different composers segue between the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup games, each bringing their own unique tones to the kidnapping, torture and murder within. Up for the first goal kick are Aussie musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who bring their agonized strings, distended pianos and tortured samples to bear. If Cave and Ellis had achieved an experimental weirdness with “The Proposition” and “The Road,” “Days of Grace” pushes their nerve-rending sound to even more unsettling places. Ditto the angry, evocative approach taken by Claudia Sarne, Leopold Ross and Atticus Ross, the latter being the co-composer of “Social Network” and “Dragon Tattoo” fame. Ross and his players employ a rhythmic, rock-oriented approach that’s no less disturbing, if a somewhat less apprehensive listen- one that you could definitely imagine playing on Elisabeth Salander’s iPod. But just when you think “Days” is heading into utter hopelessness, the three-part score (with judicious bits of Latin dialogue) makes its field goal into slightly more conventional territory, courtesy of Shigeru Umebayashi (“House of Flying Daggers”). Aching violins, percussion, a solo piano and a poignant orchestra powerfully convey “Days”’ wages of sin, finding tender, melodic poetry in the worst humanity has to offer. Topped off by the most surreally anti-romantic version of “Summertime” heard yet (intoxicatingly rocked out by Scarlett Johansson and Massive Attack’s Robert “3D” Del Naja), “Days of Grace” proves to be both an enthralling concept album that ties together its pained viewpoints of the criminal underbelly into an alternately harsh and soulful musical meditation on the human condition.
. SILENT HILL: DOWNPOUR
Daniel Licht certainly knows clever ways to kill people in the company of “Dexter,” not to mention a gore-splattered musical past that includes “Hellraiser: Bloodline,” “Thinner” and “Bad Moon.” It’s a set of eerie skills that suit him well for entering the video game netherworld for the first time with two entries into the “Silent Hill” mythos. Up first is “Downpour,” which has an escaped convict being thrown into this twisted Twilight Zone after a Richard Kimble-style bus crash. Starting off “Downpour” with a bang is a catchy theme song by Korn’s Jonathan Davis, whose thrash makes it play like some great tune that somehow didn’t make it into the vinyl of “A Nightmare on Elm Street: Part 4.” After that, it’s creeping through Licht’s atmospheric score, which seems to take place in the surreal Ozarks with its country-inflected vibe that employs a number of twangy strings instruments from mandolin to guitar, all eerily mutated and abetted by a background of death-rattle percussion. Voices moan, clock-beats tick and other slithering effects abound, giving listeners the impression of creeping through a haunted house. Yet Licht’s weird experiments make it all more interesting, and subtler than other typical jump-and-boo neo-musical horror shows. Licht takes a second trip into “Silent Hill” with “Book of Memories,” a musical sneak peak of the PSVita game that hits later this year. Far more in your face than “Downpour,” “Memories” provides a mad diary of rock-influenced percussion, slashing heavy metal and tonal washes that make particularly chilling use of the solo piano. Ending the album is “Now We’re Free,” with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn giving eerie vocal soul to Licht’s main “Memories” theme, along with the uptempo rock ballad “Love Psalm” allowing her powerful voice makes good use of unholy literary imagery.
Though Christopher Lennertz is prolifically onscreen with the comedy-centric likes of “Horrible Bosses” and “Hop,” it’s the videogame arena that truly lets this composer strut his creative stuff beyond giving humorous oomph to male bad behavior and talking animals. You can tell the first-person blast he has at the controls, often when bringing new energy to musical styles set long ago in the traditional movie realm, whether it’s the military action of “Medal of Honor”’s European and Pacific assaults, the grooves of classic and current 007 music for “From Russia With Love” and “Quantum of Solace,” or being far more than a couch potato with “The Simpsons.” But the most dynamic example Lennertz’s FPS inventiveness just might be the new kick he brings to the sci-fi western realm of Sony’s “Starhawk.” Given a game that throws a kitchen sink of transforming robots, laser shooting and vehicle blasting amidst the do-it-yourself “Build & Battle” defenses of a planetary badland, Lennertz runs with the mix-and-match possibilities of combining symphonic adventure with the dust-weathered tropes of a horse opera. Hence fuzz guitars, fateful harmonicas, clopping bells and dusty fiddles rain from the sky (captured by such Spaghetti-playing greats as George Doering and Tommy Morgan), seamlessly jamming with electro-rhythm adrenalin, heavy metal riffs and the full-blast heroism of the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. It’s dizzyingly fun stuff that’s truly glued together by Lennertz’s strong themes, melodic construction that proves to be the best example of this hybrid outlaw-alien musical genre yet, one that’s likely to live on far longer in the video game arena than the big screen. But whether you’ve got a PS3 or not, “Starhawk” proves a terrifically fun, furiously galloping listen on any old CD console.
. TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME
For a label that’s continually unearthing a certain generation’s cult obscurities like “Hardly Working” and “Starchaser: The Legend of Orin,” Buysoundtrax makes one of their most pleasurably eccentric discoveries with 1982’s “Tag: The Assassination Game.” Written and directed by former Shape star Nick Castle to capitalize on the then-phenomena of “Assassin” games sweeping college campuses, “Tag” of course has those suction cup hijinx turn to real ammunition, the game going awry to the alternately satirical and lethally chilling strains of composer Craig Safan. Like the crazy kids who play at being as cool as the murderous big boys, Safan is given the budgetary resources of a small ensemble to capture the cat and mouse contest where there’s only one winner. But that small orchestral size is right in tune with “Tag”’s winning black comedy, its music successfully navigating the danger zone between being funny and serious, with even the most menacing passages carrying a bizarre wink. But beyond its unhinged string suspense and bubbling clock-tick samples, what really distinguishes “Tag”’s score is Safan’s jazz chops that manage to hit the bulls-eye from 40’s film noir to “Casablanca” piano bar stylings, as well as Stephane Grappelli violin swing and moments of Inspector Clouseau-worthy craziness. With bigger targets just ahead of Safan like “The Last Starfighter” and “Remo Williams,” “Tag” is number one with a quirky bullet.
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