JHubner73 Presents : Favorite Soundtracks of 2017

Over the last few years the film score has become very important to me. It was always there, even from a little kid getting goosebumps thanks to John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, and Ennio Morricone, the film score was making its mark on me whether I realized it or not. But just within the last few years I’ve started going back to old horror soundtracks and then new ones and saw such a vast and overwhelmingly beautiful musical world where I could get lost in. Whether it was a progressive rock band, a guy with a synthesizer, or a full orchestra, these composers and musicians not only made the film they were scoring that much better but many stand on their own as impeccable musical art that begs to be played both in context and out of context of the films they were made for.

Not only has it been a great year of music from some of my favorite artists and bands, it’s been a pretty stellar year for film scores and soundtracks. Two of my favorites in a really long time came out this year(well, I bought them this year anyways.) So some of these may not have been released in 2017, but they did come into my possession in 2017. Whether they be reissues or I just happened to stumble upon them finally, these are soundtracks that came into my life this year and I’m very thankful for that.


10. The Void by Jeremy Gillespie and Brian Wiacek and Various Artists

I think Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void was one of the biggest horror film surprises for me this year. It was a low budget, mostly practical effects-filled occult-heavy hard doom flick that in all regards shouldn’t have worked but it did. It did because these guys were pulling from the likes of Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft, John Carpenter, and even Ridley Scott(definitely some Alien love here.) They hit the mood just right, both stylistically, visually, and aurally. The sound design was perfect and the NIN-meets-Ennio Morricone-meets-John Cage soundtrack was a huge part in giving this little, freaky horror film the push it needed into future cult classic territory.

9. Suspiria by Goblin

I know, I know, why didn’t I own this already? It’s an absolute stone cold classic, right? It’s the score to Dario Argento’s masterpiece, right? It’s fucking Goblin, right? Well, while I am quite aware of how great this album is(as well as the film, ya dingus) I never got around to picking up a copy. I’d see OG pressings here and there but never dropped the cash for one or for any of the reissues. Then Death Waltz/Mondo announced they were putting out a reissue at Beyond Fest. I was sweating and panting as I looked at its majestic beauty online. Of course I wasn’t going to be at Beyond Fest so I missed out. But alas, they were selling a limited amount on their webstore so not all hope was lost. Then the goddamn thing sold in like a minute. Good for Mondo, not so good for Johnny Midwest(that’s me.) Fear not, readers. Mondo threw a couple in LIght In The Attic’s direction and I was able to get a copy thanks to my local brick and mortar. I spun it twice last night and it was amazing. And look at that album art by Randy Ortiz. Absolutely amazing.

8. The Thing by Ennio Morricone

I have to admit that the score to John Carpenter’s The Thing was the last thing I noticed about it. This movie scarred me when I saw it as a kid. The kennel scene still burns brightly in my cerebral cortex as one of the most disturbing childhood movie memories(besides Leonard Part 6 of course.) Going back to The Thing as an adult I’m still enthralled with the effects and the Agatha Christie via Sergio Leone via Invasion of the Body Snatchers cinema gumbo Carpenter offered up, but Morricone’s score is a new highlight for me. There’s so much nuance and quiet dread in there that never made its mark before when I was still a pre-teen. Thanks to Waxwork Records I was able to snag a copy of their reissue, complete with absolutely stunning artwork by Justin Erickson of Phantom City Creative. It’s such an underrated masterpiece.

7. Christine by John Carpenter

Another Carpenter classic that far exceeded Stephen King’s source material, this film oozed Carpenter’s stylized camera work and dread-filled synth work. The movie was a fun 80s gem and Keith Gordon’s scene-chewing performance was worth the price of admission alone. I hadn’t really thought much about the movie for quite a few years, until this year when it was announced Varese Sarabande was reissuing the soundtrack. Of course I picked it up on blue-colored vinyl and was immediately taken aback by just how good it was. It sort of feels like an outlier in the Carpenter/Howarth canon. It’s more subtle and quiet than previous work. It sounds darker and more minimalistic than what came before(and after, really.) When I put it on this year I was instantly reminded of the more recent work of Zombi’s Steve Moore. His The Guest S/T owes a big debt to Christine. At least that’s what my ears hear.

6. Before The Flood by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Mogwai, and Gustavo Santaolalla

A soundtrack to a documentary that I really should watch but I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Still, I knew I’d want it with the Reznor/Ross team and Mogwai both contributing. It’s a 3LP set worth of compositions and incidental music for the Leonard DiCaprio-produced doc about climate change. It was directed by actor Fisher Stevens and the score is subtle but moving. Everyone here works well together to make a well-blended collection of pieces that I’m sure help push the narrative along quite nicely in the film. I can say it’s a great listen. Despite the length, it runs along nicely and it holds up to Mogwai and the Reznor/Ross team’s best.

5. Mayhem by Steve Moore

Steve Moore continues to push his film scoring work to bigger heights. His score to 2015s The Mind’s Eye was an impeccable collection of moody synth and this year’s Mayhem is no different. Well, actually it is. Moore has pushed his film music into newer territory with Mayhem, bringing in 80s techno rhythms at times and pushed into more of a pop-centric vibe. It works incredibly well, and I think establishes Moore as one the premier indie film composers working today.

4. Hyper Light Drifter by Disasterpeace

Hyper Light Drifter is a soundtrack to a video game I’ve never played, but that’s okay. You know why? Because the masterful score by Disasterpeace is really all I need. It’s a 4LP behemoth and it’s a sensory overload in the vein of his excellent work on Fez. He works within the realm of chiptune which adds both a child-like wonder and overwhelming nostalgia to everything he does. With the sound of early 80s all over this, you feel like your back in the neon decade watching Saturday morning cartoons and playing on your Commodore 64. But Rich Vreeland isn’t just some nostalgia guy. The work he creates is very serious and can evoke emotions just like someone working with the full symphony. Hyper Light Drifter might just be his masterpiece.

3. Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch

I know I’ll get a lot of flack for saying this, but I was a hell of a lot more hyped about seeing Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins'(his cinematography was as integral as the direction) Blade Runner 2049 than I was Rian Johnson’s Star Wars : The Last Jedi this year. Maybe it was the 37 years in-between, the mystique of the project, or the stellar group involved in bringing that world back to life, but the idea of heading back to that dystopic future seemed like a fitting way to close out 2017(after seeing the newest trailers for The Last Jedi I’m officially at peak hype level now.)

Besides the actors, writers, director, and DP, I was extremely thrilled to hear that Villeneuve also had his composing collaborator Johann Johannsson signed on to score the film. As October got closer and closer the story had changed a bit. It was reported Johannsson was going to share scoring duties with heavyweight Hans Zimmer. While I wasn’t too disappointed, I had hoped Zimmer was going to leave his over-the-top style from the Nolan, Miller, and Snyder films at the studio door, in lieu of something a little darker and more restrained.

Well by now you know that Johannsson was completely off the project by the end of it all and Zimmer took the reigns, with help from Benjamin Wallfisch. What started out as disappointing news and a general bummer turned 180 degrees once I heard the score for the first time. Zimmer and Wallfisch created a moody, melancholy, and spatial musical world for Officer K, Deckard, and Luv to come alive in. There are no huge blasts of over-the-top drama. Hans Zimmer pays tribute lovingly to Vangelis’ original and perfect score while still adding a more modern, darker feel. A post-modern dystopian symphony to get lost in.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts by Cristobal Tapia De Veer

Another cinematic treat this year was The Girl With All The Gifts. A different take on the virus apocalypse that was part 28 Days Later and part road movie, but with a precocious teen at the center. Besides the unique take on a well used story, the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer was an absolute brilliant outing. Part electronic, part voice, but all so one of a kind. There’s something very alien about the use of voice and rhythm throughout, giving the whole thing a very ghostly feel. Part Mica Levi and part OPN, but very much its own beast. An absolute gem.

And now, my favorite score of the year:

Arrival by Johann Johannsson

Arrival is one of a handful of recent science fiction films that I think have retooled the genre and have breathed new life into the science fiction world. It wasn’t concerned with reeling in teenagers or people that need things spelled out for them. It took adult themes, complex storylines, and incredible visuals and created a truly emotional, thought-provoking film. So much of that was pushed forward by Johann Johannsson’s thoughtful and intricate score. He uses an orchestra like one may use a synthesizer. It’s not a conventional score, but it’s filled with so many eerie dynamics that you can’t help but get pulled into the world it makes. It’s like Steve Reich wrote a symphony for whales, with it to be played underwater. It’s mysterious, spatial, and at so many points absolutely beautiful. This is easily one of the most compelling film scores I’ve heard in years.

Last night as I played this for the umpteenth time my son says to me “This part in the movie I cried. It was so sad.” He was referring to the end where Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” played. If you’re familiar with the film and scene you’ll understand my son’s reaction to the piece and the scene. I cried, too. Richter’s piece plays like bookends for Johannsson’s overall score. They both work together flawlessly, which is why this is my absolute favorite score of the year(at least within the year I bought it, that is.)

There were lots of great soundtracks that I picked up this year. Here’s a few others you should check out if you haven’t(especially that Hellraiser. Damn):

Hellraiser by Christopher Young(reissue)

Southbound by The Gifted

Atomic Blonde by Various Artists

Baby Driver by Various Artists

Watchdogs by Brian Reitzell

Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me by Angelo Badalamenti

You’re Next by Various Artists

The Streets Run Red by Timothy Fife and David Ellesmere

Forbidden World by Susan Justin


So the big lists are out of the way. I’ve still got a couple end of year posts I’m going to share. Keep checking back. And go pick up some albums, guys and gals!

“What The Hell Did I Just Buy?” : Adventures In Vinyl

As a vinyl guy, it’s my duty to make things hard on myself. I am quite aware that there are these things called “digital downloads”, where you can receive music right through your computer and put those albums onto a digital listening device. This allows the listener to have hundreds or thousands of albums inside of a device you can fit into your pocket. From what I’ve gathered it’s “the future”. Of course I’m the type of guy that if you tell me to go left you can be goddamned sure I’m going to go right. Just because it’s the trendy thing to do sure as shit doesn’t mean that I’m going to do it. In fact, I’ll probably avoid it.

Yes, I’m aware that listening to vinyl is considered a trendy thing, but that’s not why I buy them. I buy vinyl for the same reason that I don’t read books on a Kindle: I want something I can hold. I like that tactile experience you get from opening a book, just like opening a gatefold sleeve LP and looking at the glorious artwork. I love slipping that disc from its sleeve and laying it carefully on the platter. I love the drop of the needle and those first little pops before the first track kicks in. If the world truly comes to an end and the power grid goes down and we’re all living underground traveling through tunnels dug by worker children and simple adults all those thousands of digital downloads and downloaded books aren’t going to amount to squat. At least if we can find an old crank Victrola I can still listen to my collection of horror soundtracks and Steely Dan. Plus, I’ll never get bored reading tattered Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut novels by candlelight.

Sorry, that’s a lot to take in.

The point I’m getting at is that sometimes I buy records and shortly afterwards I wonder why in the hell did I just spend that chunk of cash on this? The Variety Lights LP at the My Bloody Valentine show back in 2013 is one of those times(though in my defense I was caught up in all the hoopla…turns out I should’ve just bought a goddamn MBV t-shirt instead.) And did I really need all those King’s X reissues? Well of course I did, you idiot! And let’s not even start with my ever growing collection of horror soundtracks(you just try and tell me I’m wasting my money…I’ll take you out!)

Today was one of those days where after leaving my local record shop I had a quick moment of “WTF?!?”, but once I got home and put the vinyl on the platter I felt completely justified in spending that $70.

Ever since I first heard Disasterpeace’s It Follows soundtrack I was hooked on the guy. I really like the cut of his jib. He composes and creates in a very simplistic manner, yet his work is so full, dense, and engaging that you’d never know he’s a full-on PC composer. Musically he works within that 8-bit vibe. Chiptunes is what I believe they call it. His sound harkens back to the early days of home game systems. The music you’d hear on your Commodore 64 or NES systems. There’s something very light and nostalgic about a Disasterpeace soundtrack, yet he never comes across as too childish.

How ironic is it that I’m enthralled by his work, yet I’ve never played any of the games he’s scored? I’m not a video game player, but I totally connect to the sonic world he creates. His Fez score still blows me away every time I hear it. It’s both light-hearted and heavy-hearted. It’s like the musical equivalent of contentment in loneliness. Now, I’ve been stuffing my head with the 4-LP box set of his Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack. This thing is immensely dense, dystopian and vast in scope, and really just one of the major game-scoring achievements in years as far as I’m concerned.

The incidental work on this massive set has the same feeling of walking through a gallery and soaking up beautifully aged paintings that hang on the walls. “Vignette: Panacea” opens the album with a beautiful acoustic piano. It puts me in mind of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and one that seems beyond just a video game(though I know video games offer a whole other level of art I just haven’t been able to explore just yet.) “Wisdom’s Tragedy” almost has this neo-futuristic feel. It would fit nicely amongst the Blade Runner or Ex Machina scores, really. “Seeds of the Crown”, if you’re familiar with Disasterpeace’s work, will sound very familiar. It’s a piece that sonically goes from project to project for him. It carries traits that go easily from one project to the next. Like Jimmy Page’s guitar tone or Phil Collins’ drum sound, this song is the proto-sonic vibe of the Disasterpeace discography. It’s brilliant stuff.

Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, works from a very familiar place. Yet, his sound is also very alien. There’s a uniqueness in his work that’s totally just him, but he’s obviously influenced by the world around him. We can’t help but allow our environment to influence us, good or bad. Disasterpeace’s work, in-particular his work on Hyper Light Drifter, falls into its very own category. There’s dreamy incidental music, then there’s more electronic-based music. Stuff with rhythms and early electro vibes like “Gaol In The Deep”. Then you’re thrown into more Gothic pieces like “Stasis Awakening” and “The Last General”. Honestly, this soundtrack runs the gamut. It pretty much has everything I love. Not just in Disasterpeace’s world, but in scoring in general. It’s a dense, magical musical world that I’ve loved getting lost in.

So yeah, occasionally I’ll have a few moments of buyer’s remorse. I’ll look at the massive chunk of round plastic I just purchased and wonder what in the hell I was thinking. But once I put vinyl to platter and drop the needle things become much clearer as to why I spent my hard-earned cash. Sometimes I need that musical escape hatch in order to deal with the outside world. For a couple hours, escaping this reality for another is the best course of action when ones mental wires are frayed. Hyper Light Drifter is a much welcomed escape. It’s a lovely place to clear those mental cobwebs.

Now lets light that candle and read another chapter of Cat’s Cradle, shall we?

 

The Dead Do What The Dead Do, Dude

George A. Romero had a way with zombies. His first three zombie films, the trilogy if you will, stand as a testament to the whole zombie genre of filmmaking in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were not only horrific tales of the dead rising from their graves(or from wherever they may have dropped dead initially), but there was real biting(no pun intended) social commentary within those two films.

Night came out at a time when the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and segregation were all still very much in the forefront of social and political discussion. He mixed old school horror, new school gore, and very real race issues into a one of a kind late night drive-in flick.

Dawn took a small group of survivors(including two from a news channel and two soldiers) and dropped them in the relative safety of an abandoned mall to attempt to rebuild their lives. It really spoke to a time in the late 70s when malls were becoming all the rage and on some existential level a place where we felt at home. A one stop shopping experience where we could buy clothes, appliances, semi-automatic weapons, jewelry, and grab an Orange Julius while we were at it. As our protagonists found out, no matter how many amenities we may have, life and living can’t be created out of thin air.

So that leaves us with the third film, Day of the Dead. It is obviously the lesser of the three. It had the potential to be another amazing horror film, but the budget was cut drastically which caused Romero to cut down the screenplay significantly which caused his story to lack. Here’s the thing, I think that may be partially true. There’s a feeling that Romero had a lot more to say about the militarization of the country in an apocalyptic situation such as a zombie invasion. And I could see a case for science vs soldiers. These could have been really interesting topics to explore had their been the money and proper resources for Romero to work with. As it turns out he took a 200 page script and cut it down to an 88 page script. I would’ve gladly sat through a 3-hour epic story about zombies, soldiers, scientists, and the battle to save civilization. What we got was a movie with a lot of overacting, scene-chewing, lots of yelling, a strong female lead, stereotypes, misogynistic soldiers, and some of the best gore from the 80s.

So many characters over shot in this film; in-particular Joseph Pilato as Capt Henry Rhodes, Anthony Dileo Jr as Salazar, and the gruesome twosome soldiers under Pilato’s Rhodes. There was just so much chewing of the scenes here that it made it hard to even concentrate on the well done acting that was going on(Lori Cardille, Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard were actually great in this.) I’m not against hamming it up a bit for the sake of fun, but the crassness of the soldiers towards the female doctor was just a little over the top for me. I think it would’ve been more effective for the misogyny to take a backseat to more existential dread of being stuck in an underground base for all eternity.

Despite all that I still love this film.

I recently grabbed the reissue of John Harrison’s excellent score courtesy of Waxwork Records. Putting this on the turntable I was reminded how much I really liked the music in this film. When it starts playing I’m instantly taken to those scenes. The opening scene of Dr. Sarah Bowman’s nightmare, to the title sequence with Tom Savini’s handiwork, to the scenes with Bub re-learning to be human again; the score was a very visceral experience for me. It’s the sort of thing that hits you like something locked away in your subconscious for years that’s set free at the drop of a needle.

Before I oversell this thing, let me first say it’s definitely a dated score. The film came out in 1985 and the soundtrack shows. There’s lots of 80s keyboard tones here. Some of these motifs could have been stand ins for 80s network TV melodramas, but don’t judge it on that. It’s all well done. Harrison made a career out of working with George Romero, having been a Pittsburgh guy himself. He seems to have locked into what Romero needed for his films. As well as Day of the Dead, he scored Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as well as serving as executive producer on Romero’s Survival of the Dead. He had a lifelong connection with the king of the Dead, so he added just the right touches to Day. It’s a very warm score; human, even. It goes a long way to help add humanity to a lot of living characters that come across as dead inside as the zombies they’re hiding from.

Though Day of the Dead didn’t turn out the way the late master of Horror wanted it to, it’s still a solid chapter in the zombie canon of George Romero. It also has some of the best gore from any film in the 80s thanks to Tom Savini. It’s also got one hell of a score by John Harrison.

October is finally here. Let the horror(of the cinematic variety) begin.

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.

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.