Top Vinyl Soundtrack Releases of 2015
1. Phase IV / Brian Gascoigne (Waxwork Records) This release scored gangbusters across the board (using my criteria of points for music, art/packaging and 'personal reasons'). A blend of early 70s BBC Radiophonics, sly nature-doc orchestral and fuzzed prog/psych, underpinning a creepy cult Antsploitation flick from Saul Bass (his sole feature, compromised by Paramount and its creator and still unreleased with its original psychedelic trip ending). Waxwork kicking off their new sub with this previously unreleased score was breath-catching enough, but they really outdid themselves with the package too - featuring world-beating Moebius-style art by Killian Eng and a revelatory 12-page booklet packed with rare photos and designs. For someone like myself, obsessed with Phase IV since seeing it as part of a late night BBC science fiction strand in the early 80s, this practically defines Holy Grail.
2. Interstellar / Hans Zimmer (Watertower Music) Both movie and score seem to really divide, but right from my first open-mouthed 2D Imax experience I was completely transported and moved by the latest Nolan/Zimmer collaboration. Reaching for a Pure Cinema of science fiction not seen since Kubrick’s groundbreaking outer space saga, Nolan controversially pushed the score faders right up to 11, pummelling us with music in a way not experienced since Argento and his demon/muse Goblin. With clear nods to Philip Glass (esp. Koyaanisqatsi) and giving us the best music cue of the year (Day One Dark), the composer continues to takes chances and experiment at the highest level, at a point in his career when he could so easily rest on his expansive laurels. A clever (though completely frustrating) feature of the double vinyl was dileneating the different sides/centre labels with morse code.
3. Ex_Machina / Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury (Invada) Alex Garland’s modestly budgeted (yet highly ambitious) chamber piece is filled with big ideas, and gets into genuinely disturbing psychological gender-war territory in the final act. The team behind the alt-Dredd soundtrack DROKK painstakingly sculpt emotionally restrained yet subtly affecting synth soundscapes to personify dispeptic wunderkind Oscar Isaac’s miraculous A.I. doll – fused perfectly with controlled direction, seamless visual fx and Alicia Vikander’s sweetly nuanced embodiment of AVA - the sexiest, most motivationally-complex Replicant since Hauer’s Roy Batty. Invada deliver a superb wax package (including best variant of the year: ‘frosted/blue clear splatter’ vinyl recalling AVA’s gelatinous A.I. brain) even delaying the release until the pressing dynamics were perfected. In any other year less crowded with outstanding soundtracks this would have taken top slot on my list.
4. C.H.U.D. / Martin Cooper & David A Hughes (Waxwork Records) As with the film/score that commands my pole position, Waxwork seem to have directly accessed my cerebrum. Making do for years with a self-ripped copy of score snippets straight from home video, my jaw dropped when they revealed that they were big fans of “the best underground toxic-waste-cannibal movie ever made.” The music previously credited to ‘Cooper Hughes’ is finally revealed as an amalgamation of two former members of OMD, using bits of Joy Division’s gear whilst they were out of the studio. It’s pure early-80s synth horror bliss, with squealing, reverb-drenched guitar stabs, pulsing electro-drones and a killer main theme. I was tempted to score this lower just to look a bit more cultured, but with yet another stunning, on-point sleeve by ‘Ghoulish’ Gary Pullin (including THE best picture disc concept you’ll ever see) and great wax variants (I have the ‘Toxic Puddle’…it makes me laugh every time I take it out of the sleeve) there was no keeping these stretchy-knecked, glowey-eyed critters away from the top half of my list.
5. It Follows / Disasterpeace (Milan) While all of my top choices scored very highly in the ‘personal reasons’ category, I suspect this one will be hitting a great many year-end lists. The movie knocked us out, an astonishingly assured mood-piece which created an entirely new horror mythology and delivered superbly surreal shock moments (even if it didn’t quite live up to it’s premise by the final act). Driving the whole thing forward was chip-tune master Rich Vreeland’s bold, brilliant electro score. Referencing the golden era of synth horror music in the best way, from Carpenter to Nightmare On Elm Street and beyond, he doesn’t bring the baggage of having grown up worshipping those touchstones – instead, his background in games and minimalist sensibility produced a score which referenced-without-apeing, delivering great themes and a new, fresh sound palette to the genre. 8-bit horror? 1000% yes!
6. The Red Queen Kiils 7 Times / Bruno Nicolai (Dagored) This was the year that Nicolai fans were abundantly gifted with a good selection of his work on vinyl, from Finders Keepers’ All the Colours of the Dark and Case of the Bloody Iris to this lovely pressing from the prolific Dagored. As with many Nicolai scores, you get a superbly sinister-yet-easy main theme treated in a number of styles (which can sometimes get a little tiring with some Italian scores - the recent ‘Eyeball’ by the same composer is a cracking theme, but loses marks for this reason as a standalone listen). I once ignorantly considered Nicolai to be Il Maestro’s wing-man, but since plunging boots first into his own sound world I’m more and more convinced about how much he was actually bringing to the non-stop Mondo Morricone party of the 60s/70s.
7. Victoria / Nils Frahm (Erased Tapes) A late entry. I caught the film in December and became evangelical about spreading the word. Totally caught up in the story and characters, not to mention the astonishing technical achievement (it was shot entirely in one take around nocturnal Berlin), it wasn’t until my second viewing that the score leapt out and seized my heart. Fortunately Frahm is long associated with the label Erased Tapes, and I was overjoyed to discover a vinyl release. A small ensemble essentially improvised along with the film in real time creating many pieces, a la Miles Davis' Lift to the Scaffold, and the ‘mic’d-room’ ambience of the final score really adds to the fragility and tension of what’s happening both in front of and behind the camera. Frahm’s first film commission, I strongly suspect he’ll be joining Johann Johannsson as a go-to guy for nuanced modern underscoring.
7. The Mask - Soundtracks / Myron Schaeffer / LARVA (Ondes Positives Recordings) A cheeky one, as this is the first release from my own label! I debated including it, but after running through my own criteria it was clear this would make the list, regardless of who was behind it. The Mask is a cult Canadian 3D horror flick from 1961, famous for three incredible psychedelic 3D sequences which encourage the viewer to “Put The Mask on NOW!” (ie. a special anaglyph 3D ‘Mystic Mask Viewer’) whenever lead character Dr Barnes dons the ancient Aztec mask of the title. The early electronic score by unsung Toronto experimental music pioneer Schaeffer is the main event here – a terrifying maelstrom of reverb-drenched electroacoustics which owes more to Musique Concrete than traditional horror scoring. This is backed with a newly commissioned live score by the group LARVA (‘mask’ in latin) which draws from the original’s sound palette whilst adding some dynamic sophistication using treated guitar, analogue synths and sound foley. It’s all pretty damn intense stuff. The whole thing is wrapped in the years’ most insane packaging – an ‘Eyes of Hell’ die-cut gatefold with label-less red/blue discs, housed in a screen-printed overbag and stuffed with replica lobbycards and other film ephemera. Limited to 300 numbered copies, still available at time of writing heh heh…
8. Manos - The Hands of Fate / Russ Huddleston & Robert Smith Jr (The Ship to Shore Phono Co.) This may not have been on everybody’s radar, and it’s certainly a very unique listen. Long considered right up there in the pantheon of Most Inept Commercial Feature Films Ever Made, this first-ever-release coincided with the restoration and re-appraisal of the film, and as it’s taken from the 35mm magnetic film soundtrack (complete with effects and 'wtf?' dialogue) this comes over like a demented radio play – a cocktail album for sociopaths! Musically it’s actually very good, with lost-to-obscurity Texan jazzers Huddleston & Smith providing a spikey lounge trio counterpoint to the baffling goings on. Sometimes akin to early Komeda, with occasional maddening piano arpeggios which trill the classic ‘Torgo Theme’ – a caretaker character who, for absolutely no explicable reason, is a Satyr bestowed with cumbersome horse knees! Ship to Shore have lavished this singular oddity with genuine love and care (as they did previously with their Tiny Tim ‘Wax Cylinder’ release) delivering by far and away the year’s most niche soundtrack LP. It’s one strange beast, however, that you owe it to yourself to submit to.
9. Spasmo / Ennio Morricone (Dagored) Dagored are one of the busiest soundtrack reissue labels, and they certainly didn’t let us go hungry this year, plundering the rich vaults of the like of Cinevox to bring us terrific Italo-gems the original releases of which are often high dollar-value collectables. Spasmo was only ever released as a promo 2-track 7 inch, then a limited CD in the mid-2000s, and they went to town on this edition for Record Store Day – two sleeve variants featuring wonderfully surreal original 70s sleeve art, following up quickly with a special repress announced as an ‘X-Ray Edition’: a printed vinyl sleeve housing a frosted clear 180g disc. Morricone is firmly in his mid-70s groove here, orchestrating a classic giallo score for Umberto Lenzi’s kill-flick which runs from the melancholy harpsichord-backed swing of ‘Bambole’ to dissonant experimental pieces redolent of his work with earlier avant garde ensemble Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza.
10. Dance of Reality / Adan Jodorowsky (Finders Keepers) This release was over-shadowed by the much desired first ever vinyl issue of Jodorowsky’s monumental Holy Mountain soundtrack, when FKR released them both into the wild together like father and son. Which is kind of exactly what they are. Once the psychedelic dust of HM had settled, I gave Dance of Reality my full attention and found it to be a truly lovely surprise – equal parts knowing reference to Fellini/Rota and his old man’s previous body of work (as both filmmaker and co-composer), along with Adanowsky’s own musical sensibilities (he is an established Electro-Pop artist of some repute), as a standalone listen this score delivers a variety of moods and themes which perfectly conjure the whimsy, powerful familial themes and trademark balls-out surrealism of Jodorowsky Snr’s long-awaited return to cinema.
OTHER NOTEABLE NEW RELEASES:
Kill List / Jim Williams (Rook Films) Mark of the Devil / Michael Holm & Various (One Way Static) Slime City / Robert Tomaro (Strange Disc) Antwerp Killer / Eric Feremens (Finders Keepers) Last Year at Marienbad / Francis Seyrig (Doxy Cinema) RE-ISSUES
1. The Holy Mountain / Alejandro Jodorowsky & Don Cherry & Ron Franjipane (Finders Keepers) Batting 10s in every category, this release is undeniable. If you haven’t yet taken the plunge into the celebrated Chilean surrealists’ psychedelic world, this top-notch release by Votel & Co. might well be just the gateway drug that you crave. Because let’s face it – if this astonishing assemblage of early 70s free jazz, trance drones and fuzzed out psych/electronics doesn’t stir your deepest essential being, you should probably steer well clear of the film too!
2. Belladonna / Masahiko Sato (Finders Keepers) Another classic example of FKR doing humanitarian work in the crowded soundtrack world, re-issuing this wildly rare OST from a cult 70s Japanese occult/sex anime so that everyone can experience this masterpiece, and not just those lucky enough to score the $1000 plus original. I’ve been waiting for this for a decade, so it’s slot near the top of the list was a given. It just so happens that it’s also sonically stunning, with 7 minute psych-rock epic ‘Take it Easy’ a bludgeoning standout track.
3. Nosferatu / Popol Vuh (Waxwork Records) Two labels finally brought together all of the disparate releases of this legendary score in 2015, creating definitive packages. As much as I love the original release art used by Spain’s Wah Wah Records, Waxworks’ stunningly intricate commissioned art by Jessica Seamans is amongst the most successful re-designs of the year.
4. Once / Aminadav Aloni (Dual Planet) A ‘lost’ science fiction film. A one-off electronic score by an obscure classical composer. And a brilliant choice of release from the ever intriguing Dual Planet (who also bought us all that Ozploitation goodness a while back). I live for discovering early electronics and this is brilliant, with the bubbly EMS/Synthi warmth of Radiophonic-era experimentation, melding field recordings and haunting liturgical music. Great original film art on the sleeve too.
5. Legend / Jerry Goldsmith & The Fog / John Carpenter (Silva Screen) Silva Screen do great pressings, with solid sleeves using both original and newly commissioned art, and they have an extensive catalogue to draw from. All good news for soundtrack fans who want high quality and diverse releases. Both of these expanded classic 80s scores have never sounded better on wax, dare I say cornerstone pieces for any serious collection. 6. Phantasm / Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave (Mondo) Hallelujah! Someone HAD to do it, and who better than Mondo right? Beautifully pressed and presented with really solid, creepsome new art by Mike Saputo, this is everything we could hope for this killer horror score repress, the original Varese Sarabande pressing of which has slowly been creeping up in price in recent years as new collectors enter the field. Once again, any other year and this would have been No.1 with a bullet. My favourite horror score of all time, hands down.
7. Tacet / Jean Guerin (Soufle Continu) Somewhat out of nowhere, this appeared at the end of the year and stole a lot of deck time. It’s the score to a bizarre-sounding early 70s French flick, composed by experimental jazzist Guerin and sounding like Ornette Coleman jamming with Brian Eno whilst they both watch different films. Which actually turns out to be a GOOD thing. I heard nothing this year that made me say “where has this been my whole life??” as much as Tacet.
8. Martin / Donald Rubinstein (Ship to Shore) Another super-solid repress of a classic, sought-after Varese edition. The beautifully melancholy, menacing score to Romero’s own favourite of his films is served full justice by S2S - it sounds great and looks stunning, with graphically concise new art by the brilliant Brandon Schaeffer and movingly candid sleeve notes from the composer. The main title is one of the all-time great horror themes, mainly because it doesn’t sound much like a horror theme at all. Yet it’s shiveringly appropriate for the pathetically sad story of proto-emo bloodsucker Martin.
9. Robocop / Basil Poledouris (Milan) Under their ‘Nicolas Winding Refn Presents’ strand, Milan have been shining a light on some of their catalogue and really went to town on this beloved future shocker. Poledouris’ expanded score, previously only on CD, is bold, brassy and bombastic, matching Verhoeven’s ridiculously entertaining movie at every outré turn. And under designer Jay Shaw’s steely gaze, it gets the ‘definitive’ treatment - employing mirrored silver packaging and showcasing Shaw’s original take on the poster and OCP-brand graphic elements.
10. Shock / Libra (AMS) An original pressing of the Goblin-related score to this Mario Bava thriller will set you back a fair penny these days, so AMS have once again provided a great service to soundtrack collectors old and new with this superb release. Housed in a triple gatefold sleeve brimming with lobby card images and ephemera from the original theatrical release, this pressing of an important and fully funktastic Italian banger sounds very crisp too. The main theme is just one of the very best. OTHER NOTEABLE RE-ISSUES:
La Double Vie de Veronique / Zbigniew Preisner (Because Music) The Crow / Graeme Revell (Varese Sarabande) Army of Darkness / Joseph Loduca (Mondo) 30 Days of Night / Brian Reitzell (Invada) Wicked City / Osamu Shoji (Tiger Lab) Scott Johannsson is a filmmaker and musician, co-host of the vinyl soundtrack-centric podcast The Damn Fine Cast, and co-founder of independent label Ondes Positives Recordings. www.soundcloud.com/thedamnfinecast (also on itunes) www.ondespositivesrecordings.com