Exit…Stage Froese

I don’t think there’s any other band that was as prolific as Tangerine Dream. In the 70s and 80s they were dropping albums once or twice a year. Once they started doing film scores that rate of creativity and productivity increased even more. Edgar Froese and whomever was in the band with him at the time were constantly moving forward, adapting with the times(at least through the 80s.) I have these vague memories of being a kid and having this fascination with the name “Tangerine Dream”. The name evoked so many things in my childhood noggin. Something like this colorful, sweet flavor mixed with semi-consciousness. It was both mysterious and inviting.

I think the first time I actually saw the name Tangerine Dream was when I watched Firestarter for the first time. Drew Barrymore was intriguing, Keith David was a solid dad with telekinetic abilities, and George C. Scott was scary as hell. The music was this hazy calm in a sea of frightening powers and disturbing scenes. In retrospect the movie was pretty terrible, but the music was and still is amazing. It wasn’t until many years later that I bought my first Tangerine Dream LP. It was Tangram and I found it for the low, low price of $1.00. If it hadn’t been that cheap I probably wouldn’t have bought it(sorry Edgar.) Glad I did, though. I ended up loving it and it began my love of all things Tangerine Dream.

I hit up most of the mid to late 70s stuff, and the soundtrack stuff as well. I need to hit up Alpha Centauri and Zeit soon, but on a recent trip to Half Price Books I found an excellent copy of 1981s Exit. Tangerine Dream have once again grabbed my attention and adoration.

Like I said, Exit came out in 1981. They had done the score to Michael Mann’s Thief the same year so they were riding high from that exquisite piece of synth heaven. Exit is decidedly more low key than Thief. There’s a darkness on this record not heard since their work on the Sorcerer S/T. It seems to be a warning kind of album. A plea for the world to get its head out of its ass. This record is just as relevant now than it was then, me thinks.

First track “Kiew Mission” is a slow burner that has one of the few vocal tracks featured on a Tangerine Dream record. An uncredited Berlin actress chants in Russian the names of the continents of the world. It’s a protest song of sorts, as we were in the throes of a pissing match with Russia and the possibility of nuclear war was frighteningly just around the corner. For an album in Tangerine Dream’s 80s collection it’s a very sobering opener.

“Pilots of Purple Twilight” is a little more upfront but still carries with it an air of trepidation. It’s most definitely an “80s feel” kind of track, with Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling digging deep into the sound of the neon decade. It’s reminiscent of Tangram, and really foreshadows the sounds rock bands like Rush and Van Halen would pepper their future records with.

Speaking of sounds, I must share the equipment used on this album. The synths here are like the color palate of a painter. They make up what the record ultimately becomes. On Exit, the following equipment was used:

Moog Modular Synthesizer, Project Electronic Modular Synthesizer and Sequencer, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, ARP OdysseyOberheimOB-X, ARP Pro/DGX, Minimoog, Elka string synth, SynclavierPPG Wave 2, PPG 360 Wave Computer, PPG 340 Wave Computer/380 Event Generator.

Just reading that list makes my palms sweat.

“Chronozon” reminds me of the opening music to some early 80s post-apocalyptic movie. You can see the protagonist driving down dusty open roads in a ’72 Nova with sheet metal attached to it and a flames coming out of the exhaust. Dilapidated vehicles and burnt out buildings pepper the side of the road as a glowing, orange sun drops into the horizon in front of him. As the song plays you can just tell this guy is going to have some great, dystopian adventures with scantily clad she-warriors and kick some serious mutant ass. At least, that’s what I see when I hear this song. Apparently it was used as the opening music for a Hungarian political show called Panorma. Who knew?

Title track “Exit” is glorious in its mournful, analog buzz. It feels like a title track. Le Matos captured this kind of magic with their Turbo Kid S/T. For my money this is where Tangerine Dream are best, wrapped inside a dense, heady melodic piece of music like this. Froese is the master of mood and this track proves that. A little side note about the song, it was used in episode 6 of Stranger Things. It’s okay, I’ll wait while you go cue it up and check it out…..Yes, episode 6……Cool, huh?

“Network 23” sports some four on the floor rhythms and wavering, hypnotic synths that lay in the air just out of reach. Strangely enough, this track sounds like Kraftwerk doing the theme for Law and Order(having just typed that I really want to hear Popol Vuh do the theme music for Barney Miller.) Anyways, this one a great, driving Berlin School slow burner.

“Remote Viewing” is classic Tangerine Dream, regardless of the decade. It’s ghostly and dark, with an almost space western vibe. Sinoia Caves has pulled these vibes for inspiration for sure, as this sound is all over the Beyond The Black Rainbow S/T. Endless black space permeates the song throughout it’s 8 minute time span. Froese, Franke, and Schmoelling let their Komische flags fly high on this excellent album closer.

It took me years to find my way to Tangerine Dream. Like, REALLY find my way to them. They were in my peripherals even as a kid(Firestarter, Legend, Near Dark, Three O’Clock High), but it’s only been the last 8 years or so that I’ve found that real connection with them. It’s like a Vulcan mind meld going on between me and the old TD. I adore the classics like Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear, and Cyclone, but I also like these little records. Albums like Tangram, Le Parc, White Eagle, and of course Exit. They’re like these bite size versions of epic. They show that Tangerine Dream can write a concise, on-point piece of music without using up a whole album side(nothing wrong with that, though.) Exit is turning into one of my favorites.

It’s the Komische mind meld.

 

 

 

 

Oneohtrix Point Never : Good Time Soundtrack

If you told me that Daniel Lopatin was actually from another planet or dimension that wouldn’t surprise me a bit. The music he creates as Oneohtrix Point Never is otherworldly electronic in nature. It’s progressed from drone-y ambient on his debut Betrayed In The Octagon to the more deep space pop ambitions of 2015s Garden Of Delete. From building mystique and mood in his songs to the ghostly production that goes to help create the OPN worlds on each of his excellent albums, Lopatin is one of the most unique and original voices working in electronic music.

Getting to the point that OPN is at, one may wonder where to go from here. Daniel Lopatin went the film scoring route, first working with Brian Reitzell on Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and now on The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. Oneohtrix Point Never always seemed like a good way to go to score a film and this excellent LP proves it. It’s intense, propulsive, and one of the best albums of the year.

If you’re at all familiar with OPN, then you know sort of what to expect when hitting play. Lopatin’s film work doesn’t stray too far from his albums. Listening to albums like Replica and R Plus Seven it’s easy to imagine them scoring some imaginary film. Maybe some dystopian sci fi flick, or some hedonistic, neon-lit trek through a city night life. Good Time is sort of like the latter. It concentrates on two brothers, one of which has a learning disability and is caught by the cops after a robbery attempt. The other brother spends a night trying to locate the funds that would pay his brother’s bail. It seems to be one long panic attack, and Oneohtrix Point Never seems to have scored that attack beautifully.

There’s some great contrast throughout this LP. Something like “Hospital Escape/Access-A-Ride” is sleek and moves along like slow burning dread, while “Bail Bonds” starts with some of the film’s dialogue that begins to warp and melt into a propulsive synth. It dissolves into a distorted beat and what sounds like wavering guitar. “Entry To White Castle” has a Tangerine Dream/Michael Mann feel to it. There’s a real 80s vibe. “Romance Apocalypse” once again summons the great Tangerine Dream here, bringing to mind their work on Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. “The Acid Hits” has the bizarro musical insanity brewing in it that Lopatin cooked up on his own excellent album Returnal.

Daniel Lopatin does what you’d hope he would do, and that’s make an excellent Oneohtrix Point Never record. He does that easily. I haven’t seen Good Time yet, but I can only imagine how well this record and the film work together. For me, though, the absolute highlight is the final track “The Pure And The Damned”. It’s a collaboration with Iggy Pop and it’s pure and weird and beautiful. It’s probably the most upfront song Lopatin has ever written. Pop gives one of his most earnest and honest performances in years. It’s a piano-driven song with lyrics that evoke such huge emotions and this child-like honesty that I think encapsulates the relationship between the brothers in the film. It’s hard to describe. It’s just beautiful.

Daniel Lopatin continues to explore and reinvent his musical alter ego known as Oneohtrix Point Never. His Good Time Soundtrack is one of the most engaging listens of the year; it’s dark, intimate, bombastic, and it beats wildly with an analog heart.

8.8 out of 10

 

 

While My Scanner Darkly Gently Weeps

Sitting here right now I can barely recall a thing about Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. It was a movie that when it came out seemed intriguing. I remember watching his Waking Life on Sundance Channel one bored evening back in the late 90s and really liking it. It had this druggy, existential feel to it with the animation done over the already shot film(a process called rotoscoping.) It was a movie that after I watched it I was happy I had a channel like The Sundance Channel. Without it I would’ve never seen movies like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight, or his short Cigarettes and Coffee. I wouldn’t have seen countless amazing short films with people like Lili Taylor, Michael Imperioli, and Ian Hart. Tree’s Lounge was another one I loved that I caught on Sundance.

But let’s get back to A Scanner Darkly.

I knew it was another movie where Linklater shot it on film then went back and drew animation over the film. I knew A Scanner Darkly was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, so that boded well for me wanting to see it. The movie also touted a pretty solid cast that included Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downy, Jr, and Winona Ryder to name a few. So when it showed up in the mail from Netflix back in early 2007 you’d think I would’ve been excited to watch it, right? Right?

My memory doesn’t serve me very well regarding this movie because when I watched it I was lying in my bed suffering from food poisoning. I’d bought a tainted jar of peanut butter and not only me, but my two youngest(ages 4 and 2) all got a heavy dose of the pukes. I was lying in bed on a Sunday afternoon trying to make sense of this trippy movie in-between trying to ignore those pre-vomit pangs in my gut. It was quite a nauseating afternoon. A Scanner Darkly didn’t go well with my Peter Pan peanut butter salmonella sufferings. I haven’t attempted a re-watch since. Not sure why, really. Maybe there’s some PTSD vibes with the movie now. Maybe not. I haven’t been willing to find out.

So fast forward to now and my recent purchase of the soundtrack to A Scanner Darkly by Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio. Maybe it’s curiosity that made me do it. Maybe it’s my attempt at making peace with a rather nasty experience. Whatever the reason may be, I’m glad I pulled the trigger on this one because it’s pretty damn special.

There’s a certain amount of paranoia that permeates Graham Reynolds soundtrack. It should come as no surprise given the film(and novel’s) story. It’s a story about a future where 20% of the population is addicted to a new drug called Substance D. Cops wear scramble suits which change their looks daily so no one knows their true identity, which is good for Keanu Reeves Bob Arctor as he’s a drug user and addict in his personal life. He was assigned to go undercover to try and bust a known Substance D dealer, a woman Donna whom Arctor has grown feelings for. There’s also Bob’s drug-addicted roommates at his rundown house in Anaheim, California where they sit around for hours and talk about conspiracy theories and how the world as we know it isn’t real.

It’s a pretty crazy story. Add to it the hallucinogenic way it was shot and you’re looking at one crazy film experience. The soundtrack plays on the paranoia, while also laying in some serious beauty. “Strawberry Pie(featuring Golden Arm Trio)” has a “Sleepwalk” vibe. It sound like Texas in a ruminating mood. “7 Years From Now” seeps in slowly like ominous smoke from some distant fire. Lilting cello mixes with vibes and low drones. It sets the mood for what’s to come. “Aphids” sounds like imaginary bugs crawling up your back. Equal parts “Peter Gunn Theme” and Eric Dolphy at his most out there. “The Dark World Where I Dwell” makes great use of strings and vibes, giving this piece a Jon Brion-meets-James Newton Howard feel. There’s equal parts sweetness and darkness here.

The great thing about this score is that Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio really capture the unmistakable paranoia that comes with drugs. You don’t know what’s real and what’s not. There are moments of ecstatic joy and moments of Hellish doom. There’s also a real jazz feel here. Early 60s beatnik stuff that brings to mind guys like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the smokey, dilapidated apartments where these guys created their worlds.

Philip K. Dick came from that world as well, and musically you can feel a real kinship between the story being told and the music. Dick’s work is papered with drug-fueled paranoia. But past the drugs there’s an underlying feeling of understanding what’s real and what’s not. Is this reality, or is reality located on some other plane. Technology plays a big part in his work, as it does here as well. Suits that hide our identity, surveillance, and the overall loss of privacy. Dick was a big picture writer. Look at what’s come of some of his best writing: Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Next, and of course, A Scanner Darkly.

I’ve gotten over my aversion to peanut butter and have once again fell in love with its smooth and creamy pleasures. And I do believe I’ve gotten past my not wanting to watch A Scanner Darkly again. In fact, I think it’s high time to step back into Philip K. Dick’s world via the mind of Richard Linklater. Graham Reynolds’ amazing soundtrack has helped get to this point.

That Dracula’s A Bad Mutha….

Of all the video games I was a fan of, none of them were as fun for me as Super Castlevania. I was never much of a hardcore video game guy. I liked simple stuff, mostly. Mario, racing, fighting, and shooting games were where it was at for me. Even The Legend of Zelda was just too involved for me. Maybe there was a small bit of ADD going on, I don’t know. Side scrolling platform games were where it was at for me, and the Castelvania series of games from Nintendo were the most fun I ever had playing video games.

While I obsessed over that first game on the NES, it was Super Castlevania that was released for the Super Nintendo system that I truly spent many hours obsessing over. I’d played it so much that by the time my wife and I got our first place together I’d already beaten the game, but still would play it obsessively. She worked 2nd shift and I worked days, so in the evenings when the place was picked up I’d sit in our papasan with a terrible Bud Dry on the end table next to me and I’d run through Super Castlevania. I’d play it till I beat it, and usually with the sound turned down and music playing through the stereo. This was summer/fall of 1995, so I was probably listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or Filter’s Short Bus(It was the 90s, so don’t judge me.)

If you were to have told me 22 years ago that I’d be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl I would’ve told you you had the wrong guy. “Why in the hell would I be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl? That’s ridiculous. First of all, vinyl’s dead. MiniDiscs are the future. And second of all, I don’t even listen to the video games. I listen to the Pumpkins and Filter when I play video games.” Well, here we are 22 years later and I’m buying video game soundtracks on vinyl. It’s nostalgia, yes. Maybe it’s living in the past a bit, sure. But you know what? Nobody’s getting hurt here. There’s something about those 8-bit scores to pixelated video games that bring a smile to my face.

After collecting the first three Mondo releases of Castlevania soundtracks I’ve recently acquired what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of Castlevania scores: Super Castleavania.

Of course I share my love of these scores with my son, so that makes it a lot easier to drop $35 on one of these(maybe it even justifies the purchase in my head.) Spinning this after work the other day I was actually blown away by just how good it sounded. It really reminded me of a film score. I was reminded of Disasterpeace’s great work on Fez and Hyper Light Drifter. The tiny, dated sound of that first Castlevania game is gone and in its place is some seriously well-constructed music pieces. I know that sounds ridiculous as I’m talking about a damn video game, but it’s seriously good. It’s a double LP with some amazing cover art and inner gatefold art by Jeno Lab. It puts you in mind of those classic Ralph Bakshi cartoons of the 70s and 80s(think Wizards and his LOTR movies.) The Konami Kukeiha Club really outdid themselves on this game. This was still 1991, so the composition and arranging here is extremely impressive for the times.

I’m sure I’ll probably pick up the Symphony of the Night soundtrack when Mondo drops that as well, but I think that’ll be it for me as far as the nostalgic video game scores go. I may enjoy delving back in time a bit and reminiscing about the old days, but I’ve plugged into as much video game nostalgia as I think I’m going to.

Unless Kid Icarus is a possibility.

Papir : V

The Danish trio Papir have always sounded much larger than you’d expect three guys to sound. With just the guitar/bass/drums rock trio standard set up, these guys make a mountain of sound. At times brash and fuzz-covered, other times dreamy and atmospheric, Nicklas Sørensen, Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen, and Christian Becher Clausen cover terrain as diverse as psych rock, post-rock, and even moments veering on progressive. Their tenure with El Paraiso Records gave our ears classics like Stundum, IIIIV , and their explosive Live At Roadburn that showed they are a force to be reckoned with live. These records set the stage for the trio from Copenhagen to seriously blow minds(and eardrums) for years to come.

Papir have returned from a three year hiatus with a brand new album and a brand new record label. Papir’s V is everything you’d hope from them and more. A double LP that spans over 90 minutes, V is a heady, expansive journey into the cosmos and back. Grab some headphones and a couple beers and get set to take flight.

Papir’s move from the mighty El Paraiso Records to Stickman Records has done nothing to quell the trio’s heady, hazy musical atmospherics. The record is seven songs clocking in over 90 minutes and is easily their most epic set yet. This is their most consistently dreamy collection of songs as well. At times there’s moments of Krautrock repetition(“V.II”), grand moments of blissed-out psychedelia(“V.III”), and epic musical statements(“V.VII”), but nothing ever gets into overdrive here. There are a few moments where Sørensen pushes his amps into overdrive territory, but for the most part this is a groove-driven affair. The rhythm section of Christoffer Brøchmann Christensen and Christian Becher Clausen lay down some solid groove foundations which allow the guitars to float above the proceedings and go where they may.

That’s not to say this isn’t a heavy record.

On the contrary, this album is like looking into some unknown abyss. It’s a beautiful and overwhelming experience. There are moments when everything melts together into one cavernous sound, as if the band are performing in a black hole. I liken it to my experience with vast, open spaces; back when I used to ride rollercoasters and would often go to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio for the non-pharmaceutical thrills. Sitting amidst the gray, ominous waters of Lake Erie, those slow crawls up that first great hill on the Magnum XL-200 were both exhilarating and horrifying. Clear days were okay, but overcast days the lake looked like this endless expanse that would devour you whole in an instant. And at night, the giant ferris wheel sat on what seemed to be the edge of the world. Lights flickered as you were cast up into the night sky to look over into Lake Erie’s beckoning calls. V has moments of that overwhelming vastness.

“V.III” starts out like some great post-rock anthem and then seems to slowly dissipate into that black abyss. “V.IV” is reminiscent of the lighter moments of Stundum. It feels like an early morning buzz as the crisp air hits your lungs and the day unfolds before your eyes. There’s a jazz quality to the drumming here. It’s like Tony Williams getting weird with NEU! in 1973. Opener “V.I” is like a hand guiding you through a technicolor maze. It’s breezy and takes flight many times, with the guitars getting nice and gritty at moments. Nicklas Sørensen seems to be channeling the great Michael Rother at times with his fluid guitar notes. This really is the perfect opener for an epic album like this.

Papir have never come across as a band that feels they need to rush through a song. They start a musical journey and explore like free jazz pioneers did before them. Their music is the wandering kind. You put on headphones, drop the needle, and just go where the music takes you. V is their most expansive set yet, giving us seven worlds to explore and get lost in. And they are beautiful worlds, indeed.

8.4 out of 10

 

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Imagine a future where the population is decimated by a virus that turns people into raving monsters, hell bent on feeding a bloodlust by tearing those not affected limb from limb. Cities overrun by droves of wild children, living like some urban version of Lord of the Flies. Only a small group of military soldiers and scientists are left to try and find a cure for this disastrous disease. They work with a group of infected kids to try and figure out how they can suppress the disease and its effects(aka, stop the kids from eating them all.)

No, this isn’t some real life scenario happening somewhere in a bunker in Washington, DC. And it’s also not the premise of a spin-off of The Walking Dead. This is the story behind the excellent sci fi/horror film The Girl With All The Gifts.

So the ideas that are in this film aren’t new, per say. There’s elements of 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, George Romero zombie films, and even a bit of Let The Right One In, but none of these come close to explaining The Girl With All The Gifts. A fungal disease has nearly devastated mankind by turning people into mindless, fast monsters that devour the living. In a small military base there’s a group of second generation “hungries” that are children who are being studied. They have the disease but can somehow control their urges and can be suppressed by healthy people wearing an ointment to cover their scent. One girl in particular, Melanie(she’s the one with all the gifts in case you were wondering), is extremely intelligent and shows great affection to one of the teachers. This teacher shows her kindness and has grown fond of her as well. The base ends up being overrun and a small group of soldiers, the teacher, Melanie, and an army scientist played by Glenn Close escape in an army vehicle. The film shows the group attempt to find safety in a overgrown London and the world as it is in this dilapidated future.

I found this movie to be an exceptional and original take on the apocalyptic/dystopian future movie, as well as the virus sci fi flick. The acting by Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, and especially Sennia Nanua as Melanie was incredible. Director Colm McCarthy does an amazing job of giving Gifts a truly cinematic feel. It looks great -like a blockbuster- but still feels like a gritty arthouse film. To me, this film reminds me of a movie I’d find sitting on Video World’s wall of sci-fi/horror films. I’d eye it for years and then on some nondescript Friday night I’d whine enough until my mom would rent it for me. It would’ve completely blown me away and I’d carry that film experience with me for the rest of my life. I’d be horrified, saddened, angry, and ultimately I’d want to see Melanie live on and succeed somehow(of course at the expense of mankind.)

And then there’s the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer, which is absolutely brilliant.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a movement of film composers stepping out of the typical symphonic box and doing something original in the field. Mica Levi, Johann Johannson, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Wojciech Golczewski, and Cliff Martinez to name but a few are approaching scoring films in a very unique way. There’s nothing wrong with going the John Williams or Hans Zimmer route, but minimal isn’t always a bad thing either.

Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s approach to scoring The Girl With All The Gifts seems to fall into more of a visceral space. It’s a very percussive musical score, with voices taking the place of what may have been woodwinds and Latin percussion. It sounds electronic and synthetic, but at the same time it feels very organic. Opening track “Gifted” sounds like NIN performed in some Thunderdome-like construct deep in the rain forest. Voices take the place of droning electronic devices as a buzzing of some unseen force begins to envelope everything in a 10 mile radius. It truly sounds like nothing I’ve heard before, and that’s saying a lot. A track like “Pandora” folds in an unmistakable melancholy which leads into “Hunger”, another slow, dread-building track. “Hungry Classroom” sounds like Wendy Carlos performing The Shining score on aboriginal instrumentation and using throat singers.

De Veer doesn’t care about zombies and horror(he says as much in this interview.) What he cares about is getting us emotionally invested in the very unique story that plays out in front of us. He wants us to connect with this young girl named Melanie. A girl that could very easily tear us apart without batting an eye. His score does that, as well as help push the film along in both darker moments and lighter ones.

The score for The Girl With All The Gifts reminds me a lot of Mica Levi’s work for Under The Skin. It feels very minimalist, but it never sounds sparse. There’s darkness there, but not for the sake of being creepy and weird. Like I said before, this music works on a very visceral level. It moves you at your core. Cristobal Tapia De Veer seems to be pulling inspiration from some of his peers, but also from his surroundings. I could see him walking a trail in a woods somewhere and finding sticks, rocks, and a hollowed out tree trunk and seeing a musical score in those items. I’d like to hear that score, too.

The Girl With All The Gifts is well worth your time. It’s a brilliant film, with an equally brilliant score.

Dr. Destructo Strikes Again

Summer break is winding down. It hasn’t really felt like much of a summer break, honestly. Amid an early summer infestation, gutting the upstairs, and just trying to find some kind of normalcy the new school year has snuck up on us without a sound. We hit the southern hills of Brown County for a week’s length of recuperation, and just last weekend my wife took the kids to the great King’s Island in Ohio for some breakneck rollercoasters and much needed mania for a day. Me? I stayed home with the dog and did some much needed R&R. I did some weeding in the backyard early in the day. After that I did a lot of reading, some reconfiguring in the studio downstairs, and listened to some records. I also spent time with the extended cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. I highly recommend it if you can sit through over 3 hours of pretentious New Yorkers, self-centered teenagers, and adults that don’t know what the hell they’re doing with their lives. Despite that description I think it’s a new American cinematic classic.

I also watched Michael Mann’s Thief for the third time.

I bought the Criterion Collection edition of this classic Mann crime film over two years ago after I’d listened to Tangerine Dream’s excellent soundtrack. The film stars James Caan as a professional thief who decides to retire but is pulled back in for one last job. Of course you know how those kinds of stories go. They don’t go well. I loved the movie.

Even when Michael Mann makes a stinker, there’s something to love about it, whether it’s the cinematography or the soundtrack. The Keep was a turd, but it looked great and oozed mood. One thing that The Keep and Thief had in common, besides Mann himself, was Tangerine Dream. They scored Thief first for Michael Mann, and then scored The Keep. I think a lot of what went wrong for Mann’s The Keep was the fact that Paramount took his 210 minute cut and shaved it down to under 2 hours, then down to 96 minutes. They hacked it up so bad that the film had huge plot holes and the ending was even missing. Music cues were ruined as well. It ended up being an absolute mess by the end of it, to no fault of Mann as far as I can see.

Anyways, we were talking about Thief.

So the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is pretty stellar. About a week after I had the movie in my hands I found a first pressing of the score on Discogs for well under $20. I couldn’t pass it up. It really is a classic in the Tangerine Dream discography, and as far as their soundtracks go I think it’s one of their best. Tangram showed a band that was lightening up their sound. The heady atmospheric sound excursions were becoming shorter songs with more of a melody-driven lean. Sorcerer was pretty dark, but Thief saw Froese and company heading into more of a rock sound, complete with drums and electric guitar solos. This didn’t diminish TD’s heady electronic soundscapes. To my ears it felt like they were just trying to accommodate the times and the story. Something like Firestarter benefited from a slower pace and more moody musical pieces, with Thief the rock and roll stance felt like the right feel for a tough Chicago crime story.

For me, Tangerine Dream seems to fill some musical cavern dug out by the slow migration of emotional icebergs over the course of my childhood. Things I never quite understood as a kid remained empty spaces in my head and heart until as an adult music I would rediscover seemed to fill those cavernous valleys in me. I think there needs to be a certain amount of intellectualizing in order for Tangerine Dream to connect with you on an existential level. As a kid they were a huge part of me and I didn’t even realize it. They soundtracked so much stuff that I wasn’t aware of until I was an adult looking to fill some voids of my own. Firestarter, Three O’Clock High, the short-lived TV show Street Hawk and it’s opening theme was Tangerine Dream’s “Le Parc”. Near Dark, Legend, Risky Business, The Keep,….

and of course Thief.

I sat in the family room in the basement writing this and spinning Thief, while upstairs my daughter conversed with old friends she won’t see for some time. She’s heading back to school this Friday. My son sat on the couch next to me catching up on some comic books he hadn’t read in awhile. Summer went by too quickly, as really all summers do. We’ve just got to enjoy the moments as we’re in them, I suppose. Why waste time lamenting about how quickly it goes? As long as we’re in it we can savor it. Summer break may be fading quickly, but there’s still those quiet moments to enjoy. Tangerine Dream is a great way to fill the empty spots and missing dialogue.

Dr. Destructo strikes again, thankfully.