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.

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!

Timothy Fife : Black Carbon

Timothy Fife seems to have locked into another realm on his Mondo/Death Waltz Originals debut Black Carbon. Within these three key tracks there seems to be worlds and entities that bubble up from the cascading synths and eerie oohs and ahhs he creates with nothing more than circuitry, wires, and electrical impulses. You get a feeling of traveling through space and time as you let the album roll over you. There’s both a sense of new age enlightenment and darker cult realms, sometimes in the same song. Fife is a student of both music and of the macabre, and he works them both into one momentous work of art on Black Carbon.

I first came to know Fife’s work on last year’s excellent Form Hell, a release by Fife and fellow synth enthusiast Christopher Livengood’s project called Victims. With Form Hell, Fife and Livengood released two immense tracks on the world that brought to mind the best of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and even John Carpenter. My eyes were opened to what serious voodoo Fife could summon with analog devices. When I’d heard Timothy Fife was releasing his solo debut album with Death Waltz Originals I knew it was going to be one of the best of the year. Well Black Carbon is here and it lives up to all my made up hype, and then some.

“Sydney At Night”, even before the music starts, sounds like an epic journey. It opens with the sound of evening overpowering you. Chirping creatures, distant winds, then electrical disturbances slowly take over in your head. Buzzing feedback, horror film dissonance, and eventually a synth melody makes itself known. Propulsive, electronic rhythm moves you along through a makeshift night sky. Blackness pushes over your face as chills take over your body. Musically we’re in komische territory, all bubbling synths and desolation. Beautiful, beautiful desolation. Fife has worked out a krautrock masterwork here. All 17 minutes are vital to the overall atmospheric beauty here. A frayed psyche never sounded so good.

For the digital-only crowd there’s a bonus track in “Alebedesque”. It’s a dreamy, hallucinogenic track that feels like you’re slowly falling through space. It suddenly switches gears and turns into an almost industrial noise track before dissolving into the atmosphere.

Lead track “Black Carbon” powers through a mere 3 minutes and some change, but what it accomplishes in those few moments feels like one hell of a journey. Those familiar with the Victims EP will find “Black Carbon” familiar and inviting. It’s an ominous riff with bits and pieces bobbing in and out of earshot that make you look around the room thinking someone is sneaking up on you. It’s short and sweet, but nonetheless overpowering.

We finally arrive at album closer “Low Plain Landscape”, a sort of aural journey into the ether. It carries new age tendencies; swaths of dense soundscapes that swell and collapse onto themselves, revealing new layers and emotions the deeper you get. It’s this gentle walk through the mist. “Low Plain Landscape” is the peace and enlightenment we searched for through the darker journeys taken before.

We began in the dark and have now reached the light.

Black Carbon is a stunning debut from Timothy Fife. He brings to mind many of the greats that came before him, but brings something completely his own to these excellent songs. There is a flow and continuity here that makes this record an engaging listen from start to finish. So put on your headphones, close your eyes, and get lost in Black Carbon.

8. 3 out of 10

Simon Belmont Blues

I remember it like it was yesterday(or maybe last week.) I spent a week at myCastlevania-image4 uncle Mark’s house in the summer of 1987. I went straight from the last day of school to his place where we’d hang out, eat junk food, and play video games. What I didn’t know was that my older brother was also heading over, though later in the evening after he got off of work. It was three dudes hanging out, stuffing their faces with pizza, watching horror movies, and playing NES games till the wee hours of the morning(I recall one night where my brother and I stayed up till my uncle got up to go to work the next morning playing 1942…oh, to be young again.) We’d rise around noon, eat a bologna sandwich, and do it all again. My brother and I would pile into his 1977 Cutlass and cruise over to the Concord Mall when we’d get bored. He bought Metallica’s Master Of Puppets on cassette that week, which then began my love of thrash and speed metal. We’d already gotten into Megadeth, Anthrax, and Suicidal Tendencies by then, but hearing “Battery” for the first time solidified the appreciation for all things heavy, loud, and scary for me. It was a week of learning, growing, eating, sleeping, and more eating and sleeping.

14017663_1066668100107102_1069778144_nOne night after my uncle got home from work he said he wanted to run over to the mall because there was an NES game he’d heard about and thought we might have fun playing it. We jumped in his car and headed to Kay Bee Toys and my uncle picked up what would end up being one of my all-time favorite video games. It was called Castlevania, and up to this point I was only a video game fan from a distance. Mostly because my parents refused to buy my brother and I a system, but also because I could never find a game that enthralled me enough to get obsessed with it. I’d rather be doing something else than sitting and playing digital basketball or riding a pixelated bike. I’d find out that Castlevania was different. We got home, popped it into the NES and what we found was another world. A Gothic realm where we played the protagonist Simon Belmont as he traveled the many layers and levels of Count Dracula’s castle, searching for the King of the undead himself. Each level has a boss you must defeat, and with each level defeated the bosses got harder(well, duh!). You battle Frankenstein and Igor, Mummy men, a giant bat, Medusa, the Grim Reaper, and then finally the big guy himself, Dracula.

The game immediately sucked me in and we spent the remainder of that week sinking into an NES abyss. I can only imagine we all looked like a bunch of bums sitting around in 2 day old clothes, hair a mess, and empty containers of bologna cascading from the trash can. It didn’t matter, because we had a goal: defeat Dracula. The game’s colors were bright and popped out of the screen, and the music was just as intense. For the time, it felt like an 8-bit symphony. All baroque and melancholy with intense bursts of energy when the game called for it. This was a game that begged to be played for hours and hours. Before Castlevania, games seemed to geared to either little kids or sports people. Nothing really combined horror with platform gameplay like that before. The goals were simple; walk along, whip the ghouls and monsters, collect hearts and extra weapons, kill the bosses, and don’t die. For me, this was the ultimate gaming experience. We didn’t beat Dracula that week, but we got pretty damn close.

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Back cover artwork by Becky Cloonan

There were other games that came afterwards that tickled my fancy; games like Kid Icarus, Trojan, Contra, and even a couple Castlevania sequels were fun and had a similar approach to gameplay, but none hit me like the original Castlevania. After finding a glitch in the game where the system would freeze up as you threw the death blow at the Grim Reaper(the last boss before Dracula), I figured out if you paused the game just as you entered Death’s lair and let it sit for a few minutes the game would have a much less chance of freezing. I beat the game finally, and life in the village turned peaceful once again.

Many years later(30 to be exact), I see that Mondo is releasing a 10 inch of the soundtrack to the original NES Castlevania with beautiful new artwork by Becky Cloonan. The first thought that pops into my head is “I must own that.” Why do I need to own a 10″ record with 8-bit music from a 30 year old video game? Why would a 42 year old man need something like that? Let me explain something to you, there is no “why?” when it comes to your childhood. There is no “why?” when it comes to nostalgia. There is only “because”. There is only “mind your business, pal.” Am I going to be throwing this thing on the turntable every couple of days and pretend whip at imaginary ghouls as the chiptune music blows through my 3-way Pioneer tower speakers? More than likely no(though I have already done that.) But will I pull this record out occasionally and play it to remind myself of all the fun and anger I felt over the course of my teen years playing and dying and starting over and dying again whilst attempting to rid the world of the evil Count Dracula? You bet I will.

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Inside gatefold sleeve by Becky Cloonan

I’m a collector of things I like, not things I’ll resell eventually, or use as collateral. I don’t buy something unless I’m going to enjoy hearing it. I don’t buy to buy. I don’t own museum pieces. I buy things that make me feel good and take me to a specific place in my head. Things that mean something to me. Castlevania exists in a chunk of my childhood that I look back at fondly and with much love. That week at my uncle’s house is one of them. Another is playing this Konami classic with friends stuffing ourselves with pizza and soda till 2am trying to beat the game. The anguish as the game would freeze on us one level before the end, and then the exhilaration of finally getting to the big man himself. This game didn’t make me into a video game lover by any means, but it did make me feel like I was a part of something. It was straightforward, simplistic in its goals, but hard enough to keep you coming back until you won. There were no fairies telling you to go the blue house in the haunted forest to find the purple key so you can open the green door in order to save the polka dot princess. Sorry, I don’t take orders well, especially from digital characters in a video game. Castlevania was simply walking through a castle killing monsters, devouring the hearts they left behind, and putting a stake through some bloodsucker’s heart. Simple. I wish real life were that simple.

So what happens if Mondo decides to put out Super NES’ Goldeneye? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Until then, I’ve got some ghouls to whip.

Long Arm of the Law

For a few weeks now I’ve been working on a new musical project. It’s a collaboration with one of my oldest friends. This friend is an amazing artist and illustrator. He’s created almost all of the album art for the Goodbyewave albums I’ve put out over the years. He’s also put me onto some amazing graphic novels since I’ve started that whole obsession. We’ve decided to collaborate on an audio/visual project together, where I will create musical pieces and he will use those pieces as inspiration to create art. I started a similar project with another old friend last year, and hopefully that will see the light of day at some point. Since starting this new venture, however, I feel I’ve been more inspired to create and my good friend seems pretty inspired by what I’ve created so far. Where that previous project was mainly me creating layers of guitar loops exclusively, this new venture is steeped in analog and digital synth, with guitar and electronic percussion layered throughout. It has been a long time since I’ve been this inspired and ready to create, so this has been an exciting time for me. I can’t wait to share this one when it’s done. It’s going to be pretty amazing. Trust me, folks.

IMG_2189So speaking of collaborations and musical inspiration, I dug out an album I bought way back in January called Law Unit. It’s a mega dose of heavy synth and ominous vibes. It was part of a group of LPs I picked up a couple weeks into the cold of the New Year that I’m just now starting to digest. Law Unit was sorely ignored until recently and I’ve come to appreciate and delight in its creamy, synth-y center and oily, grimy slickness.

Law Unit is the collaborative effort of Antonii Maiovvi and Umberto(Matt Hill.) Both of these names may not mean much to you, but on their own they’ve been creating Giallo-inspired heavy synth and Gothic music for years. Both names bring up visions of sweaty Italians on the dance floor under a mirror ball and horror icons Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Of course those names are supposed to make you think of Italian discos and the macabre masters of Italian horror. I have a feeling these two guys(Maiovvi is actually British producer/musician Anton Maiof) spent lots of time watching VHS copies of horror films and possibly indulging in plenty of 80s French club music and Giorgio Moroder. Nothing wrong with that. On their own, Umberto and Maiovvi make fine music. Umberto’s Gothic leanings are fun for those dark and dingy nights alone with nothing but you and the TV playing old 80s slasher films. Though, Umberto likes to throw in some bits of New Order and Depeche Mode to give the music a dance-y feel. Maiovvi on his own is more along the lines of house and techno music when not turning up the creepy factor(his split on the Foreign Sounds imprint with Slasher Film Festival Strategy is damn brilliant.) His Bandcamp page is overwhelming to say the least. But with Law Unit these two form a truly creepy and ominous duo.

The music? It’s heavy on the synth and tribal rhythms. It sounds like the soundtrack to some lost Abel Ferrara exploitation flick or some cult slasher film. Alien sex fiends, serial killers, creepy voyeurs, and demented cellar dwellers would surely blush at the sounds on this LP. Titles like “Gold Digging”, “Taxidermy”, “Butcher”, and “Defenestrate Thyself” pretty much sound like they read, as do “Icebox”, “Bonethugs”, and “Bloodsucker”.

Death Waltz Originals knows what their patrons like, as does Law Unit. They can also explain their artist better than me, too. So, let’s hear it Death Waltz/Mondo:

LAW UNIT feels like exactly that; to paraphrase a certain TV show, “a lone crusader in a dangerous world”. Like a one-car journey into the night of Hades, dissonant synths and intent percussion surrounding you at every move. The cacophony at times is terrifying, the apocalyptic feeling echoing through distant electric guitars and sampled vocal chorus, following you, hunting you. Or are you hunting them? But what makes this record doubly worth your time are the snatches of beauty, of wonder, hidden within Reflective synth lines, guitar, sometimes ambient, other times in the foreground. LAW UNIT is a masterpiece of hard beats and harder synths that you’ll want on your stereo when you’re making that next trip into the dark unknown. -Mondotees Website

I also quite like this quote, as I think it sums the record up nicely:

The resulting album is made up of ten dangerously cool and evocative cuts, the kind of tracks that put you in the mood for LA circa 2019, or the Detroit of 1987.

IMG_2191So yeah, Law Unit is this mix of industrial, dark wave, and experimental music that hits both ambient and melodic, brooding moods. I have to say that while I dig the work of Antoni Maiovvi and Umberto on their own, I feel that together they bring out the best in each other. This record is a great moment of collaborative artistic highs.

It had been awhile since I’d talked some heavy synth, so I thought I better make up for that.

So if you’re into this sort of thing, you should pick up a copy. There’s still some available on Mondo’s site. My local record guy snagged this for me from Light In The Attic, so there’s no excuse. Get this delightfully orange circular chunk of dark synth goodness and get lost in its Gothic world. I mean, LA circa 2019 is only 3 years away. And Detroit 1987? Yeah, I could see Robocop clomping around the Motor City annihilating thugs and crooks to the sounds of Law Unit.

Couldn’t you?

STOP. IN THE NAME OF THE LAW....UNIT.
“STOP. IN THE NAME OF THE LAW….UNIT.”

 

 

Panic Music : Pentagram Home Video’s ‘Who’s Out There?’

Do you remember that obscure film Who’s Out There? from back in 1986. It was one of those sleazy, creepy flicks released by Pentagram Home Video. According to the info found on Pentagram Home Video’s archived web page:

“There are many rumours about the production of the 1986 film ‘Who’s Out There’ but information is scarce. Released on VHS by Pentagram Home Video the film follows a soldier sent back from a future war to 1986 to prevent an alien bounty hunter from tracking and destroying his target. A relentless pursuer emanating a powerful telekinetic wave of hallucinogen that frighteningly alters reality for anyone within its range. The story unfolds over the course of one night, across the streets & through the underground bars & clubs of New York.” – Pentagram Home Video.

It was sort of like The Terminator-meets-The Keep-meets-The Hunger, or something to that affect. Besides all those neon-lit city street shots, the soundtrack was what I remembered the most. Recently Mondo reissued the soundtrack and I was able to grab a copy and relive the first time I watched that classic cult flick….but wait. There was no movie called Who’s Out There? from 1986. In fact, there’s no movie company called Pentagram Home Video. This is all just a figment of my imagination. Right? It’s just some strange, twisted dream. It has to be. Or maybe that evil telekinetic wave has penetrated the walls of my house! Maybe that alien bounty hunter is right outside my house! He’s here because of all those VHS copies of Pentagram Home Videos I never rewound when I returned them!

Well, not really.

IMG_1869Pentagram Home Video isn’t a movie company, it’s actually the name of a music project. Who’s Out There? is the name of its debut album that was in fact released on Death Waltz Originals just a couple of weeks ago. But the person behind Pentagram Home Video does an outstanding job of creating the feeling of listening to an actual score from some obscure little sci fi/horror flick from the 80s. Much like Slasher Film Festival Strategy, PHV likes to create worlds with these faux scores to films that only exist in the mind and imagination of the composer of said album. SFFS has done this beautifully on records like Crimson Throne and their newest, Psychic Shield. PHV is following suit and wonderfully. Who’s Out There? is this mix of eerie synths and minimalist dance beats. The songs are structured much like a score of some classic, creepy late night flick you’d come across while searching for some seedy T&A trash. The heavily edited softcore thing you come across on Cinemax isn’t cutting it, so you shift gears and land on the The Movie Channel and you find this creepy old 80s movie you think you might remember seeing as a kid. Vaguely familiar actors step in and out of the screen as their dead expressions are caught by nightclub mirror balls and strobe lights. Faces turn to hues of green, red, and purple as they walk down gritty, rain-soaked sidewalks with some ominous force following a few yards behind. Conversations are pointless and the dialogue cheaply written and delivered, but you stick around because there’s something alluring about the trashy celluloid that runs in front of you on your ancient tube TV.

And then there’s the score to this cult-y film classic.

The music pulsates and throbs along underneath the grimy exterior of the movie. It seems to pull you into the story. “Vision 1/The Ocean” sounds like it’s emanating from another dimension or from under ice, as “Opening Titles” makes this obscure piece of exploitative film seem much better than it deserves to be. Of course, this exploitative film only exists in your imagination, but the music on this album helps you suspend your disbelief and allows you to create scenes to get lost in. Most of these pieces are barely over a minute in length, but there’s a few that go on for longer. “The Pursuit” is over 7 1/2 minutes long and sounds like The xx scoring The Exorcist. There is a constant feel throughout this LP. It’s this electronic claustrophobia. It’s a melancholy madness.

IMG_1868I think what separates this LP from other like-minded efforts is the minimalist quality of the pieces. There’s something quite unique about Pentagram Home Video’s Who’s Out There? that keeps me dropping the needle on it. Nothing feels fussed over or overcooked here. Every beat and every synth engaging our minds has a purpose. Not too much and not too little. Nothing showy or cheesy. “A Powerful Hallucinogen” is one of my favorite pieces on this album. It’s a relentless excursion into the “Dark Passenger” in us all. By the end of it’s 4 minute run you feel the song is falling into absolute madness. A telling and beautiful piece. “End Credits” does feel like the end of a film. Gritty film running by the screen as a grainy sunset freeze frames with words slowly crawling from the bottom to the top of the screen.

It may not be a real soundtrack to a real movie, but sometimes those imagined pieces of art can be just as engaging. Very happy to have taken a chance on this one, and a great album for an overactive imagination to get lost in.

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