Castles Made of Pixels

I don’t even remember Castlevania III : Dracula’s Curse. I don’t remember one single thing about the game, not even the music. Yet, I felt compelled to buy Mondo’s double LP release of the soundtrack a couple months ago. Compelled may not be the right word. Possessed to buy it, maybe? It’s like a sickness, folks. An addiction. Maybe it’s because I figured I bought the first two Castlevania releases, so I needed to complete the trilogy? That could be. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Castlevania as a teen. That was one of the few games in my sad game-playing career that I obsessed over, but only three versions of the game. The original Castlevania on NES, Super Castlevania on the Super Nintendo system, and then Castlevania : Symphony of the Night on the original Playstation. Those three versions I loved and played like an idiot into the wee hours of the night. I’d load up on caffeine and frozen pizzas and battle all the ghouls and ghosts hidden away in Dracula’s various castles.

But not Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

But I gotta say, the music in that game was on point. For being 8-bit(or was it 16-bit by then?), the music really grabs you and pulls you into that world of darkness and doomed baroque romanticism. What’s most interesting is that the music reminds me of the neo-classical guitar of Ritchie Blackmore and that Swedish guy Yngwie Malmsteen. When I heard the second release in this Castlevania series I dubbed it “8-bit Yngwie”. It was sort of an inside joke between me and, well, nobody. Just me. Listen to the guitar/organ solos in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” for the neo-classical reference. Imagine that done on 8-bit instruments and that’ll give you a good idea as to what I’m talking about.

The Konami Kukeiha Club is responsible for the music to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I’m not sure if they’re an actual club, like with member cards and funny hats. I think they’re just an in-house music department at Konami that were responsible for creating music for Konami’s games. The list of club members is exhaustive, so I won’t list them. I’ll just say that there was a lot of work that went into creating the musical world in not only Castlevania, but so many other classic games that Konami gave us in the 80s and early 90s. What games? Contra. And a bunch more…probably.

I suppose I’ll just continue to keep buying these soundtracks up until I’m broke and selling them on Ebay in order to pay for college tuition or a ham sandwich for lunch. That’s what people with vinyl problems do. We justify these purchases with words and phrases like “nostalgia” and “childhood memories” and “collecting” and “I earned it, dammit!” I’ll have excuses till the cows come home as to why I need to buy these lovely pieces of plastic that are adorned with eye-popping artwork. Why?

Because I earned it, dammit!

Alien Boy Scouts and Dark Knights

An idea can be an exciting thing. You get this spark of something and it lights up your brain for days. You think if you can pull this idea off it could be the greatest thing ever. You plan and mull the idea over in your head and map out how you can make this thing happen for days, weeks, months, and even years. Maybe you give the idea up and pass it onto someone else who may have the means to make this idea sprout from your meager beginnings into something close to what you’d imagined in the first place. Or maybe you just pack the idea away for a time when you can make something of it. Or worse yet, maybe that idea’s spark fizzles. Maybe it never sees the light of day.

After having lived with Zach Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice for a year I’m starting to feel like maybe the spark of that idea needed to have been put on hold a little longer. At least until that story could’ve been pounded out a bit more…or a lot more. That movie had so much potential to be great had they just followed the blueprint left for them by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. That story would’ve been an amazing intro into the dynamic between Batman and Superman. The dichotomy between the alien boy scout and the American vigilante. The first half of the story was an all out Batman tale, with Bruce Wayne now in his 50s coming out of a drunken retirement(10 years after the death of Jason Todd) to help stop the rampant violent crimes of “the mutants”, a new gang in Gotham. Batman must defeat their leader in order to stop them. There’s also a Joker confrontation at an amusement park, with occasional shots of Superman meeting with President Reagan about the problem in Gotham. He is eventually is asked to “take care” of the problem, leading to a battle between Batman and Superman at the end.

If you haven’t read the book I won’t tell you how it ends. I’ll just say from there they could’ve worked in the Justice League, and maybe even gone full circle with The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Sure, it would’ve started out as more of a straight up Dark Knight film, but who would be complaining about that? Not me. The best bits of Batman V Superman, in my opinion, were the Bruce Wayne bits anyways. I thought Affleck did a pretty damn good job, despite the boos from the Peanut Gallery. Jeremy Irons as Alfred was on-point, and the shots of the burnt out Wayne Manor worked well to fold in Nolan’s films. The shot of Todd’s bloodied Robin suit in the Batcave could’ve foreshadowed a future Under The Red Hood film which I would’ve been extremely happy with. Instead of staying true to a certain comic writer’s vision they whip up this comic book gumbo of a film that throws in all these different storylines(The Dark Knight Returns, Doomsday, and even hints of Under The Red Hood) and create this colossal mess of a film. At times engaging with some great looking shots here and there, but for the most part lacking any light, humor, or steady footing.

But hey, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL hit it out of the ballpark with their soundtrack!

If there’s anything truly redeeming about the film besides Gal Gadot in that Wonder Woman outfit(pants uncontrollably) is the score. Beautifully constructed more like a classic film score with grand orchestration and dramatic twists and turns, it pushes all the right emotional buttons without getting schmaltzy. To me, thanks to Junkie XL’s modern touches and percussive additions this album sounds more like an industrial take on the classic John Williams score. It’s very doom-laden, but with shards of light pushing through the muck and mire. You never get the feeling these guys called this score in(unlike the film itself at times.)

The gentle piano refrain of “Day of the Dead” works into something more triumphantly morose and almost has hints of post-rock inside of it. “Do You Bleed” is all swirling synthesizers, tribal beats, and doom-laden voices. You get the feeling that something bad is going down here. “Black and Blue” is that which action sequences are made of. It’s over 8-minutes of propulsive orchestration and darkly lit percussion. “Is She With You(Wonder Woman Theme)” is probably the most well-known piece on the soundtrack as it’s Wonder Woman’s intro music. It’s probably the catchiest thing as well with it’s Middle Eastern slant and tribal percussion. You could definitely see this one following the character into many adventures(and sequels.)

So what you have in this score is a beautiful collaboration of modern and classical touches. “This Is My World” is as dramatic and melancholy as things can get, while “Men Are Still Good(The Batman Suite)” is a 14-minute piece that exemplifies the best of dark and light. It’s simply magnificent. I think Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL are two of the best working in film scoring today. They seem to be fans of Snyder and Christopher Nolan films, too.

Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was a grave disappointment. An overshot. An overstuffed mess of a film, but not without its tiny pleasures. My son and I enjoyed seeing it together in the theater. It was an excuse to get out and enjoy the cinema. The Batman segments were pretty great, too. And of course the Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL score. Well worth the price of admission.


Sounds In The Ether : Science Fiction and Johann Johannsson’s ‘Arrival’ Score

One of the best science fiction movies I’ve seen in awhile is Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. It’s one of those films that after you watch it you sit and ponder it on and off for days. The implications it possesses, the scope of its reach, and the overall emotional heft it lays on your head and heart. It’s not a perfect film by any means(a recent comparison to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact by a friend had me second guessing Arrival‘s overall approach…for just a second), but some of the best films aren’t perfect. They create the environment and give us the ideas to mull over and think about obsessively for days, weeks, that allow us to decide whether they’re perfect in their own imperfect way. Science fiction allows each of us experiencing it to decide just how perfect or imperfect it is. I’ve never been a fan of hard science fiction. I don’t necessarily need a story to be based in some sort of factual reality. I mean, isn’t the appeal of sci fi the escapism aspect of it? I don’t even need a well written story to be honest. As long as there’s a definitive mood, look, sound, and feel that pull me out of the moment for a bit then I’m good(see Beyond The Black Rainbow.)

Another friend had told me he wasn’t a fan of Christopher Nolan’s hard science fiction approach, both in his Batman films and especially Interstellar. I can understand that. I watched his Batman films prior to reading the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Dark Knight stories so I appreciated the films on a cinematic level. After reading those excellent books the films seem to have a certain detached brilliance to them. The fantastical ideas behind some of those great villains seems too grounded in our real world reality now. I still love the movies on a filmmaking level, but they seem slightly “colder” than before.

When it comes to Interstellar I have to disagree with my friend(who knows quite a bit more about sci fi then I do, honestly.) While the film is certainly steeped in a heady dose of real science and actual time travel theory, I feel the human aspect of the story trumps the hard science fiction approach Nolan uses to tell the tale. At the base of the story is a father wanting to save his daughter, and he’ll sacrifice his own life for hers. It’s pretty simple. If that means traveling to the far reaches(literally) of the universe to do so then so be it. I felt there was a perfect balance of emotion and intellect in that film. There’s lots of black hole theories, space/time paradigms, and general poindexter jargon to satisfy the Stephen Hawking in all of us, as well as plenty of emotional heft to satisfy the person looking for a deeply heavy film.

So Arrival. Well for those that are reading this that haven’t seen the movie I won’t talk about any of the heavy details. It’s best to discover things naturally as you’re watching. In a nutshell, the film is about a handful of oblong UFOs that land at various points around the world. The US military bring in a nationally renowned linguist and a physicist to try and figure out how to communicate with the creatures that live inside these objects that seem to float above the ground like skyscraper-sized cocoons. You’re given hints of some tragedy that occurred in the life of one of these experts, which the lifeforms in these ships seem to be connected to. Are they trying to bond with the human? Or manipulate? As the late Chuck Berry once sang, “you never can tell.”

The film has a dreamy quality to it. In Villeneuve’s direction, Bradford Young’s cinematography and the acting of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, there’s a truly impressionistic approach to storytelling. There’s nothing bombastic here. It’s all very quiet, with muted colors and quiet conversations. The film feels very meditative. For those that like their science fiction with Will Smith and Luc Besson, you may not get the proper thrills out of this. But for fans of Blade Runner, Under The Skin, Ex_Machina, Beyond The Black Rainbow, and even A.I., I think you’ll love this film.

Johann Johannsson’s score to Arrival is just as big a character as Adams, Renner, or the Heptapods. He creates both quiet beauty and shaded dread. He uses both traditional orchestration, as well as vocalization, electronic manipulation and loops to create this musical world. But his approach is anything but “traditional”. You feel like you’re in another world listening to his beautiful music. Opening piece “Arrival” drones along and is accompanied by what sounds like whales communicating(strangely, the alien objects look a bit like whales floating vertically above the ground.) “Heptapod B” brings Steve Reich to mind, especially in the looping aspect of the piece. This piece feels like a hallmark of Johannsson’s score, which in turn makes the overall sound seem like something new and exciting. Johannsson turns the traditional film score on its head. It runs the gamut from incidental to emotionally crushing.

I recently picked up this score on vinyl via Deutsche Grammophon and its a beautiful piece of vinyl. The sound is pristine, with Johannsson’s work coming through exquisitely. And the last song is the beautiful Max Richter piece “On the Nature of Daylight” which the film dons both at the beginning and end(unfortunately, because of the inclusion of Richter’s piece Johannsson was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination.)

I guess it doesn’t really matter how you take your science fiction, just as long as you take it. It’s important to open your mind a bit and delve into some critical thinking once in a while. Even if you don’t understand it right off the bat, give it a shot. Ponder it, re-watch it, read Dune again, buy The Criterion Collection edition of  Solaris and put that in your skull. Go to your locally owned used book shop and buy a stack of Philip K. Dick paperbacks, hit a coffee shop, and jump into his world. Let Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson tickle your frontal lobe, then jump into some classic Terry Gilliam fare. Just step out of the intellectual meat grinder known as modern entertainment for a bit and go somewhere in your head. Somewhere strange, hard to grasp, and uncomfortable.

Stretch your brain a bit. Your heart will follow.



The Satanic Path Is The Right Path

The Satanic Path(1983) -courtesy of Gorgon Video

A young woman named Jamie, after just turning 18 years old decides to leave her cushy Midwestern upbringing after her mother dies from mysterious circumstances. She moves to Europe in order to search for her biological father whom she has never met. Her search leads her to a small village in the River Avon valley named Hedonshire where she encounters a mysterious and beautiful older woman called Zans who tells Jamie she knows the young woman’s father and that she can lead her to him, but for a price. That price? Jamie’s eternal soul? 

The Satanic Path works off the whole “Satanic Panic” fears of the 80s beautifully by incorporating the loss of innocence with also thea2059325644_10 liberating possibilities of “finding oneself” through spiritual, sexual, and even self-destructive means. The protagonist, the innocent and naive Jamie, knows there’s something dark and mysterious about her mother’s death and the man who is Jamie’s biological father whom her mother kept secret all these years. But after Jamie’s mother’s funeral Jamie comes across a letter hidden in a locked cedar chest in the basement of her grandmother’s home. A letter written to her mom by a man named Ezekiel. Ezekiel speaks of a forbidden love and of rituals, blood sacrifices, and wanting to see his daughter, whom Jamie realizes is her. The return address is Bristol, England, which is Jamie’s first stop on a journey for the truth. She finds the truth; as well as a coven of witches, Satanists, a demonic monastery, killer lesbians, a portal to an alternate universe, horny backpackers, a possessed church organ, dim-witted occultists, and a gateway to the “Dark Realm” where all of Jamie’s deepest, darkest desires come to life, but at a very steep price.

The Satanic Path was written and directed by Roberto Bava, the famous Italian B-movie director of such lurid(and at times X-rated) horror and occultist films The Dead In Your Bed(1965), Souls For Sale(1969), Bravo, My Dear(Fear Eater)(1973), and his game changing My Lesbian Summer(1976). The Satanic Path marked Bava’s return to the genre he helped to define after several softcore film adaptations of Shakespeare plays in the late 70s and early 80s and one catastrophic, orgy-filled production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream that played one time and one time only at the Herzog Theater near his home in Cologne, Germany.

The idea for The Satanic Path came to Bava after dropping his daughter off at her private school in the Swiss alps. He immediately returned to Cologne and spent the better part of September of 1981 writing. After securing funding from Spanish film producer Diego(Diablo) Garza and a small group of Italian investors filming began in the summer of 1982. Shot on location in both Columbus, Ohio, the River Avon Valley, and Zurich, Switzerland, the film was complete and edited within a mere 3 months.

The biggest change with The Satanic Path in regards to Bava’s previous work was with the film scoring. His brother-in-law, the famous German film composer Herman Wagner, had scored nearly every Bava picture since his 1959 debut Sisters, Lovers. With Path, Roberto Bava felt he needed to step away from the romantic, wind-swept drama of Wagner’s more traditional approach to scoring and he instead went with the mysterious Pentagram Home Video. He wanted the film to have a more modern feel, so the cold, detached sounds of analog synthesizers seemed to be the way to go. Pentagram Home Video would go onto to score the cult film Who’s Out There(1986) and most recently the short Slumber(2015). But with The Satanic Path, Pentagram Home Video would create a dark and foreboding aural companion to what might be Bava’s best work(it was his last as he died in 1985 at the age of 73 in a boating accident.)

PHV went about creating the musical pieces for The Satanic Path much like they created dark, dance floor ambient techno they used to perform in the dingy, smokey clubs of London in the late 70s and early 80s. Their approach is a minimal one, but one that pulls maximum reaction. With just simple synth lines and programmed beats, Pentagram Home Video can create a sense of dread and dark emotion. Pieces like “A Satanic Perspective On Youth Television”, “A Problem For The Occultist”, and “The Black Mass Part I/II/Leviathan” build upon Bava’s moody scenes, set designs, and help to fill the gaps that are apparent in Roberto’s sometimes thin script. PHV’s “The Parallel Realm” exquisitely captures the luridness and dark sexuality that surrounds Jamie’s quid pro quo near the end of the film. The music turns what could’ve been an exploitative scene of dark lust and sexual shock into something far deeper.

Overall, Pentagram Home Video helped turn Roberto Bava’s swan song of a film into something far richer, deeper, and compelling.

The Satanic Path will not make someone who’s not a fan of the genre a fan. It’s still lurid, exploitative, hedonistic, filled with sex and nudity, and can be quite shocking when it wants to be(Hell, what’s not to like about any of that?) If anything, it may have you searching for those old Pentagram Home Video soundtracks, as they’re absolutely stellar albums. The Satanic Path is one of the best. Look around, you may be able to find a copy…if you’re lucky.

Nuts & Bolts & God Complexes

As I’ve gotten older I’m finding myself more drawn to the world of science fiction as opposed to the world of horror. As a kid I was all about horror films. That’s where it was at for me. I liked science fiction, as long as it was based in jump scares and gore. Yeah, I wasn’t much of a scholar. I wanted some visceral experiences while I enjoyed VCR time. I didn’t want to have to think about this stuff. Existential dilemma? Morality? The battle between what we CAN do and SHOULD do? Pfft. I want half naked chicks being chased by a chainsaw/electric drill/machete/razor glove-wielding psychopath. And a frozen pepperoni pizza. And a two-liter of Mountain Dew. That’s entertainment, dude. Not morality plays and technical jargon about man’s ego getting the better of him and making contact with lifeforms from deep space. Some intellectual sci fi/horror did make its way into my brain as a kid, but those movies were few and far between.

Then my junior year of high school a few friends and I went to see Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. It was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who up to this point had made a name for himself by writing the screenplay for the Patrick Swayzee goo-fest Ghost. While that film wasn’t a horror or sci fi necessarily, it completely blew my mind(Jacob’s Ladder, not Ghost.) The idea of redemption, the pain of letting go, and the struggle of figuring out reality from fantasy. It was a stunning work and still is to this day. It was also a movie that opened my mind to other possibilities in film. The “psychological drama”, as they say.

Now that I’m in my 40s I’ve completely made a turn in my cinematic proclivities. I seek out the intellectual story. A film where stunning visuals collide beautifully with thought-provoking storytelling and mind-altering ideas. 2015s Ex_Machina was one of my favorite films in 2015, and one of my favorite films in general in recent years. Alex Garland, who’s collaborations with Danny Boyle have been some of my favorite movies in the last decade, made a science fiction classic with Ex_Machina. Beautifully shot, written, and acted it pulls you into the world of a madman with delusions of grandeur.

The story, in case you haven’t seen it, is about a brilliant and enigmatic CEO of a software company who invites one of his employees to stay with him for a week at his isolated mansion/bunker in the woods to help him on a project. The project is a female humanoid robot named Ava that the CEO, named Nathan Bateman(played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac), is working on. He wants the employee named Caleb Smith(played by Domhnall Gleeson) to talk with Ava and figure out if she has developed her own conscience and free thoughts. Of course, there’s much more going on and Nathan Bateman is far more than just eccentric.

As far as maniacal evil scientists go, Bateman is one of the more interesting. He drinks too much, punishes himself for it by excessively working out and drinking protein shakes to cleanse his system. He’s incredibly smart and equally full of himself. His gestures of friendship towards the mildly skeptical Caleb feel anything but earnest. He’s one of the more endearing genius creeps I’ve seen in film for quite a long time.

Caleb Smith is the patsy in this. He won a drawing at work that allowed him access to his bosses stunning and luxurious bunker in the middle of nowhere(you can only get to this place by helicopter.) He’s thrilled to be a part of whatever is going on, but soon enough paranoia and skepticism seep into his brain when he realizes that Nathan Bateman is equal parts Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.

Ava, the humanoid robot of which the story and experiment evolves is so convincing it’s not hard to understand how the lonely Caleb would fall for her. Played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander as both a robotic babe lost in the woods and a sly machine pulling one over on the naive and lovestruck Caleb.

Kyoko is a Japanese assistant/lover of Nathan Bateman that we later realize there’s more to her than meets the eyes.

What’s amazing about this film is how we start out with a sense of awe with Caleb as he first arrives at Nathan’s fortress of solitude in the woods. The excitement for Caleb at being involved in such a forward-thinking and pivotal experiment, and the feeling that this brilliant and successful guy wants lowly office worker Caleb to assist in such an important scientific endeavor. But that excitement quickly turns to tension as we figure out CEO Nathan Bateman is suffering from a serious God complex. His drive to create life through his brains and circuits overpowers what humanity the guy may have started out with in life. The effects are stunning and realistic as Ava sits and talks with Caleb. You see the mesh body she sits in with the face of a beautiful woman. A scene in the film where she slips on skin and picks out a pretty dress to wear in order to impress is just incredible. What Alicia Vikander can do with just facial expressions is unbelievable.

The score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is a less-is-more affair and that works perfectly for this film. It’s quiet interludes are occasionally interrupted by blasts of noise and heavy synth. For the most part it’s subtle enough that you don’t notice what’s really happening until it creeps up on you. Having recently picked this score up and I can say it works beautifully as a standalone. Much like Cliff Martinez’ Solaris S/T and Ben Lovett’s Synchronicity score, Salisbury and Barrow keep things at low boil for the most part, which allows the story to pull you in. On its own it’s an incredible mix of ambient tones and slow-churning tension.

When I look back on all the film’s I watched in my teen years that I thought were great horror films there were a few that were also great science fiction. Movies like Hardware, The Hidden, Altered States, Scanners, Phantasm, and Alien were great science fiction disguised as horror. More recently films like Beyond The Black Rainbow, Synchronicity, and both of Shane Carruth’s films Primer and Upstream Color are fine examples of great modern science fiction.

And of course, Ex_Machina.

Bulletproof Love

Listen up, fools. There’s a new badass in town. His name is Luke Cage. Yeah, if you’re up to no good Cage has got your number, you dig? So don’t be gettin’ up to nasty shenanigans, you hear? Don’t be grabbin’ purses or snatchin’ wallets….don’t be pushin’ that smack or knockin’ up those shops down on 123rd St. You know why? Cause the Powerman goin’ to put you through a wall…across the damn street, dig? Think you goin’ to shoot that fool? Think again. He’s got impenetrable skin, he can toss a car like a damn kick ball, and bullets fall off him like gnats. Hell, some damn fool brought a building down on Luke Cage. Powerman crawled out of the rubble like he was getting up from a Sunday afternoon nap! So next time you at Pop’s getting a new do, you make sure you say hi to that fella sweeping the floors. His name is Luke Cage, and he’s makin’ the city a whole hell of a lot safer, dig?

dsc05121Of all the soundtracks to hit my ears this year, I’d have to say the Marvel/Netflix Luke Cage S/T is probably the best. I know, you’re saying to yourself “But J, you put out your favorite soundtracks list and this wasn’t on there! What gives, man?” Well, Luke Cage hadn’t arrived before I posted my list. Sure, I’d watched the series and loved it prior to writing up the year-end list, but until I can sit and let the music soak into my brain with the vinyl spinning on the platter I can’t truly “get” the music. I did notice the score while watching the series. The opening credits were tight as hell, and the ending credits were funky, too. Certain quieter interludes got to me as well, with many pertaining to the villain Cottonmouth being particularly great. But in order for me to rank a score, I need to be able to spin it on its own. It needs to move me separate from the work it’s scoring. Luke Cage S/T, by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad is a masterwork, in my opinion. The creator of the show, Cheo Hodari Coker could’ve gone in a completely different direction and filled the show with just straight up hip hop tunes and breakbeats and most people watching the show wouldn’t have known the difference. But instead, Coker enlisted music producer and arranger Adrian Younge and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and they turned the musical score inside out. They created a hip hop-inflected score out of spaghetti western scores, string-inflected soul, and down ‘n dirty funk.

dsc05122I’ve never been a hip hop guy. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to dig into the world of hip hop. A Tribe Called Quest have always been one of those revered bands that seem to set the hip hop bar incredibly high. I’d love to check out the documentary that came out a few years ago about them that was directed by Michael Rapaport. Anyways, after experiencing what Muhammad did with this score, I’m ready for A Tribe Called Quest. There’s an incredible flow to the whole thing. Beats are throughout, giving the feeling of constant movement, much like characters walking the streets of Harlem from scene to scene. It’s orchestrated beautifully, too. It’s built like a classic film score, but with the heartbeat of the city at it’s core. It’s always classy, but there’s always a bit of urban grit that covers the proceedings. They truly capture the vibe.

dsc05126The show, besides being a Luke Cage story, is really a love letter to Harlem. Despite drugs, crime, and political corruption, Harlem thrives on the folks that live there and love there. Despite the violence and greed, the folks of Harlem stick with it because that’s where they grew up, and their parents grew up. Despite the dangers, they’re not going to run from their city. Luke Cage is an indestructible man, for sure. But more than that he’s the embodiment of Harlem’s struggle to keep it together. He’s the embodiment of the culture and the art; the shop owners and folks trying to do good. Through the score, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Mohammad have layered a rich musical history on top of this simple comic book hero origin story. The music elevates a mere TV show to something far greater.

But it’s also a hell of a good time, too.

Each show was soudtracked like an album, according to Younge and Mohammad. So 13 albums worth of music were created. In a Spin interview, Mohammad said,

“Each episode has roughly more than 20 minutes worth of music, which is a lot of music to cover in just a short amount of days. Music is a huge part of the series; it’s like a character. Usually it takes, for me, at least 12-18 months to record one album. This one was 13 albums in nine months.”

He went onto to say,

“When you make an album, it’s not about the one song. You want people to listen to the whole album, unless it’s just mashed up pieces of music that you’re calling an album. But this is an album you want to go from beginning to end to really understand the body of work.”

They were asked in the interview if Luke Cage was renewed if they would be interested in working on that season as well. The answer was “hell yeah”. My response to that? Hell yeah!

If you haven’t yet watched it, make it one of your New Year’s resolutions to watch Luke Cage. It’s not only absolutely stellar TV, but it’s top shelf art. Writing, acting, cinematography,…and of course the music. It’s always about the music.



Jhubner73 Presents : Favorite Soundtracks of 2016

Besides being a pretty amazing year for new albums, there have been some amazing film and television scores that have come out in 2016. Now a couple of the soundtracks I picked up this year technically were released in 2015, but that’s merely a technicality. I bought them and loved them in 2016 so they’re ending up on this year’s list.

Here, without further adieu, is my list of favorite scores of 2016.

10. The Dust Brothers : Fight Club S/T

dsc05012Fight Club hasn’t aged all that well with me. I discussed this in great length just a couple weeks ago, but that was only in an effort to praise just how good the score by Michael Simpson and John King, aka The Dust Brothers was. Due to the film’s dark humor and overall dreary atmosphere the soundtrack needed to facilitate the mood in that direction. The score is like a dark trip-hop album, with bits of light and gallows humor dispersed throughout. If it wasn’t called Fight Club S/T it could just be considered a great trip-hop album. The Dust Brothers are no strangers to creating mood through a musical patchwork of loops and samples, and here they work to make David Fincher’s cult hit much better than it really was.

9. Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL : Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice S/T

dsc05018I’ll be perfectly honest here, the only reason I bought this album was because of my 11-year old son. We saw the movie in the theater and he was much more of a fan than I was. When the record was released I had no intention of buying it, but when he saw it he was like “That would be great to have, wouldn’t it?” I can’t deny my son’s enthusiasm for vinyl buying, so I chucked the $35 at my local record store guy and grumbled to myself as I walked to my car. Truth be told, it’s a pretty amazing score on its own. Zimmer knows how to create mood for a film, and with Junkie XL adding a bit of ADHD energy to the whole affair it turns out to be a damn good score. It’s sprawled across five sides of vinyl, with the 6th side being a killer etching.

Be prepared to have some serious play fighting in the living room and some fist-to-pillow violence when you play this one in the house.

8. Mogwai : Atomic S/T

dsc05021Mogwai have found something that can keep them working until they want to retire: film scoring. If they grow tired of trying to reinvent what they started nearly 20 years ago they can write someone else’s vision. Atomic is the score to a documentary about the bombs being dropped on Japan and it paints a subtle musical interpretation of the film’s darker themes. With their score of Les Revenents and the new Leonardo DiCaprio documentary Before The Flood, in which they collaborate with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, they show that they’re far more than purveyors of the post-rock crown. In fact, they’ve melted the crown down and made really nice cufflinks out of it. Something they can wear when they’re nominated for their first ‘Best Film Score’ award.

7. Kreng : Camino S/T

dsc05020I first heard Kreng, aka Pepijn Caudron, last year when he created one of my favorite scores for the horror/comedy Cooties. This year he scored the thriller Camino. I have not seen Camino, but if the score is any indication it’s one hell of a ride. Kreng shifted gears this time around and went for a more orchestral sound, leaving the trip-hop vibes for another project. There’s lots of shrieking strings and tense use of sound effects, with an overall heavy vibe. Kreng has become one of my favorite composers and I look forward to whatever he has coming up next.

6. Kurt Stenzel : Jodorowsky’s Dune S/T

dsc05017Kurt Stenzel created an intimate synth score for Frank Pavich’s doc about the Alexander Jodorowsky’s doomed attempt at bringing Frank Herbert’s Dune to life. Stenzel uses pieces of conversation from the film and works them in seamlessly to space-y synth and guitar that at times almost feels mystical in its use. It’s an existential trip that I think Jodorowsky would be quite fond of, if he hasn’t yet heard it.

5. Various Artists : Lost Highway S/T

dsc05019I think it’s safe to say that David Lynch’s Lost Highway was one of the most batshit crazy films of the nineties, and one of Lynch’s most absurd films(that’s saying a lot, people.) But if you looked past the doppleganger twists, noir-in-Hell story, and Robert Blake’s frightening makeup the movie had a pretty solid soundtrack. Bowie, Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkins, Lou Reed, NIN, and Angelo Badalamenti. The soundtrack was produced by Reznor and it has the flavor Reznor holed up in a house freaking out. It’s great having this thing finally available on vinyl.

4. Ben Lovett : Synchronicity S/T

dsc05014I hadn’t heard of the film prior to seeing that it’s score was being released by Mondotees/Death Waltz, but all it took were a couple snippets on Soundcloud for me to engage my Paypal acct into buying mode. The score is exquisitely classic neo-futuristic synth. A cross between classics like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream with some more modern touches, in-particular Sinoia Caves work on the Beyond The Black Rainbow. Lovett made the film much better than it deserved to be. It wasn’t horrible, but too convoluted for its own good(great casting though, with Michael Ironside and AJ Bowen in supporting roles.) If you like listening to Blade Runner as much as watching it, you should already own this score.

3. Cliff Martinez : The Neon Demon S/T

dsc05013Cliff Martinez can do no wrong in my eyes. His work only elevates whatever film it’s accompanying. He’s created this symbiotic relationship with director Nicolas Winding Refn, much like he did with Steven Soderbergh, where everything work together and becomes all the better by that artistic relationship. The Neon Demon is over-the-top and over indulgent, but that’s how it should be. Any kind of restraint and it just wouldn’t work as well. Martinez turns the score into a thumping techno musical world where dream and reality collide and embrace, bleeding all over each other. It’s his most intense score yet.

2. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein : Stranger Things S/T Volume 1 and 2

dsc05009This will be the last you hear me utter “Stranger Things” for the rest of the year. I’m sure once season 2 hits I’ll start yacking about this show again, but until then this is it. The Duffer Bros locked into something with their debut show that a whole hell of a lot of us absorbed and took in like clean oxygen after being under a heavy quilt for too long. It was a refreshing take on the 80s kid films where everyone wasn’t a model and happy endings weren’t always a given. Stranger Things took the “rag tag group of outsiders” storyline and gave it new life with some new faces and some underused ones as well. Science fiction colliding with horror colliding with friendship created this year’s best television. To authenticate the nostalgia factor the Duffer Bros tapped Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin synth band SURVIVE to score their Netflix original series. The results? Classic 80s sound with deft modern touches. The score grabbed me before I saw a single shot of the actual show. The opening credits scene with the pulsating synthesizer hooked me instantly. The show could’ve been just okay and I would’ve continued on because of that music. Fortunately the show was spot-on.

Truly top notch.

And last but not least, the best among a sea of best: Mac Quayle : Mr. Robot S/T Volume 1 and 2

dsc05008No show surprised me more than Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot. Both season 1 and 2 were original pieces of television, putting the dark world that David Fincher has created in cinema and put it smack dab on cable TV(it’s on USA Network.) One of the most important aspects of the show is the music. It creates this world of musical ones and zeros that go to enhance the paranoid world of our protagonist Elliot Alderson. The music is this electronic pulse that seems to push the characters along in strange and dark places. You don’t know who to trust or what to believe is reality and what is part of the character’s failing mind. Mac Quayle’s scoring technique takes a few cues from the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross playbook, using vintage sound and posing them in a modern world of tech geeks and international computer hacking. Quayle works subtly. It works so well that you don’t notice how good it is till you can enjoy the score completely on its own. It’s a riveting musical world that would appeal to electronic music fans and fans of background noise while you study or melt into the furniture.

Mac Quayle takes the prize as far as I’m concerned. Can’t wait to see what he does from here.

I bought a lot of soundtracks this year, and none were disappointing. These were the 10 that I obsessed over the most, but here’s a few more that were pretty great.

Angelo Badalamenti : Twin Peaks S/T – David Lynch. Angelo Badalamenti. Agent Cooper. ‘Nuff said.

Daredevil S/T : John Palesano and Jessica Jones S/T : Sean Callery – Arrived late into the year, but incredible scores to some more amazing television. Plus bonus for some incredible artwork.

Atticus and Leopold Ross & Bobby Krlic : Almost Holy S/T – Intense score for the intense doc Almost Holy about a priest trying to save drug-addled teens in the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine. The score has the electronic leanings of the Ross bros with Krlic’s darker, gothic tones of The Haxan Cloak.

Howard Shore : Nightcrawler S/T – Score for the 2015 thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Released this year through Invada Records, this score stands out as a more leaner, grittier sound than Shore has done in the past.

Brad Fiedel : The Terminator S/T – C’mon, why wouldn’t this end up on a list of favorite scores? It’s been long out-of-print, so some geniuses decided to put it back out on vinyl because they knew suckers like me would buy it up. They were right. I did. And I have no regrets. Fiedel knocked it out of the park with this one. Don’t agree? Then “f**k you, a**hole”.

Up next: Favorite records of 2016(numbers 25-11)