2013: The Year In Review
By Charlie Brigden Well, it's been a bloody good year. Both Hollywood and indie composers have put out some quite brilliant material, even amidst the usual stupid arguments of orchestral vs. electronic. Reissues have been plentiful as well, maybe even too much as people are still complaining that they can't afford everything (which is perhaps a discussion worth having). So let's look back at what turned out to be a pretty spectacular twelve months for the score geeks out there.
Note: There are a few scores I've had to omit due to not being able to hear everything. So please don't be too harsh when I miss out one you're obsessed with.
Reissues of the Year
10. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (Carpenter, Death Waltz)
It's been a hell of a year for London-based Death Waltz Recording Co., and the hits have just kept on coming. And they've ended the year in style with the score that really put John Carpenter on the map, 1976's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Dripping with funk amidst the urban feel of the siege flick, it's also violent, intense and clever, like the JC rosetta stone. Couple this with one of the coolest artworks this year from Jay Shaw and you have one hell of an LP.
9. STUDIO GHIBLI KOKYO KYOKUSHU (Hisiashi/Nomi/Yano, Mondo)
Mondo's practices are usually a pain in the ass, with them not giving an advance sale time and a lack of transparency regarding edition sizes, but they make up for it with some stunning LPs. The music of Studio Ghibli is as revered as its films and the selection here is fantastic, with recordings from Joe Hisiashi's PRINCESS MONONOKE, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, and SPIRITED AWAY, Yuji Nomi's THE CAT RETURNS, and Akiko Yano's MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS. Take into account that both platters come housed in a gatefold cover with beautiful art design by Tyler Stout, and you have an amazing LP that unsurprisingly is getting rarer and rarer.
8. JURASSIC PARK: 20TH ANNIVERSARY (Williams, Geffen)
For years we longed and begged for an expansion to John Williams' classic score, and finally life found a way. Featuring four bonus tracks that flesh it out to near-completion, Williams' majestic and enthralling music has also been remastered, allowing a new appreciation of a score we've been listening to for twenty years. The only downside is that it's a digital-only release, however HDTracks have released a lossless version, and with Mondo hinting that it'll be coming on vinyl soon from them, we may yet see a physical version.
7. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (Hess, One Way Static)
Newcomers One Way Static have already made a big splash on the scene, bringing classic scores such as THE HILLS HAVE EYES. But their debut effort is an incredible release, handing us the incredible soundtrack to notorious Wes Craven shocker THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Composed and performed by the late David Hess - who also played the main villain in the piece - it's a heady mix of hippy-esque songs, dark soundscapes and Scott Joplin parodies that makes the perfect accompaniment to the vicious and nasty nightmare that is Craven's film. Keep repeating to yourself, "it's only a soundtrack..."
6. DAY OF THE DEAD (Harrison, La-La Land/Waxwork)
Following up Goblin is never an easy thing to do, but John Harrison did pretty well with his score to the third picture in George A. Romero's zombie trilogy, DAY OF THE DEAD. A mix of droning synths and surprisingly upbeat melodies (with a reggae edge), Harrison's music is the perfect soundtrack to the zombie apocalypse, and his complete score was put out by two labels this year: La-La Land Records put out a double-CD of the soundtrack, while Waxwork Records issued it on limited edition vinyl. One great work, two great presentations.
5. LETHAL WEAPON: SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION (Kamen/Clapton/Sanborn, La-La Land)
Of all the composers that have gone to the great podium in the sky, Michael Kamen left one of the biggest holes. His work with pop and rock acts has always been a celebrated part of his career as he helped blur the lines between the orchestra and the popular artist, and there's no greater example of his than his work with guitarist Eric Clatpon and saxophonist David Sanborn in the LETHAL WEAPON movies. While the first three films had sparing releases with a mix of songs and score (and the first having an expanded reissue on Kamen's own label), this is the first time the full scores have been released. LLL's box includes eight discs covering all four scores, the original LPs, and all kinds of unused material. An explosive tribute to a talent that defined the action movie score in the 80s.
4. POLTERGEIST (Goldsmith, Mondo)
1982 saw two films produced by Steven Spielberg that have a kind of kinship. But while E.T. went off on a lighter flight of fancy, POLTERGEIST looked at the darker side of surburbia, and that most faithful of electrical appliances in the home: the TV. Backing up this fun yet fearsome adventure was a thrilling score by Jerry Goldsmith, who - while providing the expected dissonant melodies and scary moments - looked at the family unit for thematic unity. What followed was an incredible score that hit every jump and every thrill perfectly for one hell of a ride. The complete score was put out on two LPs by Mondo, with creative artwork by We Buy Your Kids for an excellent package.
3. SOLARIS (Martinez, Invada)
Everyone balked at the idea of Andrei Tarkovsky's classic science fiction epic being remade, but Steven Soderbergh managed to pull it off with an intelligent and thoughtful picture, with great help from Cliff Martinez. The composer himself has named SOLARIS as the score that works the best as its own thing, and it really does. It's hard to describe really, much of it feels ambient but it's all about inspiring discussion and making your own interpretations, so maybe less passive than you immediately think. Whatever your conclusions, it's an amazing work in its own right and certainly a passion project for Invada Records and label manager Redg. They've seen fit to issue the score in three different configurations; black vinyl, white vinyl, and picture disc, all with their own individual cover art. A luxurious presentation for an essential soundtrack.
2. THE FOG (Carpenter, Death Waltz)
Death Waltz cap off a stunning year with a momentous release that is undoubtedly the John Carpenter reissue of the year. THE FOG has always been my favourite Carpenter movie and score, and DW have done it justice with extreme prejudice. A double-LP set, you get the original soundtrack LP (which featured music from the original cut of the film before an unhappy Carpenter re-edited and re-scored it) and the final film score, remastered by Carpenter collaborator Alan "In Association With" Howarth. Add to that amazing new art by Dinos Chapman, and you have a brilliant record that is unsurprisingly on its second pressing.
1. BLADE RUNNER (Vangelis, Audio Fidelity)
Fans of Vangelis' iconic score to Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece BLADE RUNNER are used to being teased; the film's original credits stated the score would be released on Polydor Records only to see an LP released on the Full Moon label that was frankly a let down (it was an adaptation of the score recorded by The New American Orchestra), and the first official soundtrack release came in 1994 on Atlantic Records. That release was this year reissued by Audio Fidelity and it's an incredible record. BLADE RUNNER is a world where futuristic technology sits side by side with the analog and the retro, and the record player is a fitting example of that, and the sound quality on this LP is just amazing. Coming at 180g translucent red vinyl, it's a great score and a fantastic release that deserves to be top of the pile.
Honourable mentions: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (Poledouris, Intrada), THE BEASTMASTER (Holdridge, Quartet), TWINS OF EVIL (Robinson, Death Waltz), WYATT EARP (Newton Howard, La-La Land), RE-ANIMATOR (Band, Waxwork), STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (Various, La-La Land), DRESSED TO KILL (Donaggio, Intrada), THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY (Newman, Kritzerland). Tracks of the Year
10. 'Death Is Only A Door' - Klimek/Twyker/Heil, CLOUD ATLAS 9. 'Asgard' - Tyler, THOR: THE DARK WORLD 8. 'The Book Thief' - Williams, THE BOOK THIEF 7. 'Gravity' - Price, GRAVITY 6. 'Can You Dig It' - Tyler, IRON MAN THREE 5. 'Wanna Fight' - Martinez, ONLY GOD FORGIVES 4. 'Beyond The Forest' - Shore, THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG 3. 'Haunted' - ROB, MANIAC 2. 'London Calling' - Giacchino, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS 1. 'Dance of Lilies' - Ebert, ALL IS LOST Scores of the Year
10. ROMEO & JULIET (Korzeniowski, Sony Classical)
It's surprising how many dilemmas you have while writing this damn things. One of many was which Abel Korzeniowski score to put in, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW or ROMEO & JULIET? While both are amazing works and have pretty different approaches, the latter narrowly won out. And why not, as it's a stunningly beautiful and sublime score that has a complete life of its own outside of the supposedly dreadful film. Brilliant.
9. CLOUD ATLAS (Twyker/Heil/Klimek, Sony Classical)
CLOUD ATLAS was one of my favourite movies of the year, a piece that had the ambition of the MATRIX trilogy but the one thing that I always missed from it: heart. This is absolutely reflected in the score by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and co-director Tom Twyker. It's a work of passion, of hope, of humanity that refuses to bend to genre's will as much as the film does. Startling.
8. LA MULA (Navarro, MovieScoreMedia/Kronos)
Well, you wait your whole life for movies about the equine in the military and two come along at once. And like John Williams' WAR HORSE, Oscar Navarro's LA MULA (or THE MULE as if you couldn't have guessed) is a wonderful homage to the golden age of Hollywood film scoring. Wonderfully thematic and just gorgeous to listen to, it's an inspirational score that I could happily dream to.
7. EVIL DEAD (Banos, La-La Land)
Less dreams, more nightmares with another Spanish composer, this time Roque Banos and his music for the remake of EVIL DEAD. While the film was trash, the score was an amazing mix of sleep deprivingly-creepy scares and beautifully melodic strings. Atmospheric and emotional, on record it's a much more satisfying narrative than the film it's attached to.
6. THE BOOK THIEF (Williams, Sony Classical)
While the film seems to have come and gone with zero fanfare, John Williams' first non-Spielberg score in nearly a decade is worthy of celebration. Maybe more subdued at first than we're used to (the same with LINCOLN), it's nevertheless a beautifully balanced work with amazing piano and string writing. The Williams touches we expect certainly do come out in the end, and it emerges as one of the maestro's greatest works of recent times.
5. GRAVITY (Price, Watertower/Silva Screen)
I'd never really heard much of Steven Price's music until listening to GRAVITY, and now he's forced me to sit up and take notice. A score of two halves (to use a football metaphor), the music intertwines between oppressive electronics and machine sounds and delicate piano and warm strings, feeling like a horror film at times as it threatens to overbear you before peeling back to let you feel the humanity inside. It's an experience, and one that you should subject yourself to multiple times.
4. ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Martinez, Milan)
I love karaoke. Apparently so do Cliff Martinez and Nicolas Winding Refn, judging from the incredibly dark and intense score for ONLY GOD FORGIVES. Perhaps not as divisive as the film itself, it's nevertheless a journey split into episodic material, with layers upon layers giving a labyrinthe structure not unlike the picture. But it's a bold and surprisingly emotional score, with some interesting influences and a helter-skelter feel, leaving you to come down with the greatest Thai torch song I've ever heard.
3. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (Giacchino, Varese Sarabande)
As Hollywood blockbuster scoring falls further under the iron fist of generic scoring, Michael Giacchino is one of the lights in the dark, further demonstrated by STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. Building on his thematic material for the 2009 reboot, Giacchino's score is absolutely enthralling with a killer new theme for the villain of the piece, John Harrison aka You Know Who. The returning themes sound better than ever (the recording sounds great), and the new music is fantastic. My only issue is that there isn't enough of it!
2. MANIAC (ROB, Death Waltz/Hamburger)
Elijah Wood in a remake of one of the nastiest slasher movies around? We were all scratching our heads when this was announced, but boy were we wrong. Much of the force of the film comes from ROB's hypnotic score, a candy-coated masterpiece of grime and sleaze that has real feelings underneath its nasty surface. ROB has a real talent for melody and I'm pretty confident that the entire album could be played at a trendy club without anyone complaining. And as for the song 'Juno', well release that as a single and you have an instant number one.
1. ALL IS LOST (Ebert, Community)
I like it when I have no idea where a composer comes from, it excites me. Apparently Alexander Ebert (just "Alexander" on the CD cover" is from a few US acts but I've never heard of any of them, which is all the more amazing at how good this score is. It's just stunning, haunting and beautiful and angry and idiosyncratic and everything in-between, with an effortless sense of narrative structure and character that some film composers have severe trouble grasping. It has me dying to see the film, but in a way I feel like I've already seen it, that's how good the score is. Absolutely essential.
Honourable mentions: COLETTE (Orvasson, MSM/Kronos), THE CONSPIRACY (Baker, MSM/Kronos), IRON MAN THREE (Tyler, Hollywood), THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Tyler, Intrada), EMPEROR (Heffes, Lakeshore), THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Shore, Watertower/Decca), THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Newton Howard, Republic), ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (Korzeniowski, Sugar Free), UPSTREAM COLOR (Carruth, erbp).
See you in 2014!