Surround Sound: The Big Bang, Part 2

Seven out of the more than 28 soundtracks and scores SE&L will be covering in the next few weeks, including the latest offerings from Carter Burwell and Clint Mansell...

Seven down...21 more to go. That's right, we started with twenty-eight soundtracks when we began this look at the scores that have shuffled through the always open transom of Short Ends and Leader Central in the last couple of months (with more arriving every day). As usual, the extra workload makes it almost impossible to keep up, especially when dealing with the demands of Award Season and the upcoming Oscars. So like our lifetime, the CDs have been piling up, begging us to address them with the usual critical aplomb. So, as part of a February special, every Wednesday will feature a Special Surround Sound column covering this glut of motion picture music. Hopefully, over the course of the next four weeks, we'll be able to access the value in these often overlooked cinematic souvenirs. If the second batch is like the first, there are quite a few gems to be unearthed within this stack.

So let's continue on the stereophonic slog with these seven:

Vampires Suck [rating: 4]

As with most things manufactured by, or in connection with, the unfunny spoof duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the music for this tepid Twilight lampoon is underwhelming, to say the least. Oh sure, you can tell that composer Christopher Lennertz is looking to mimic the broad bombastic and faux epic emotions of Stephanie Meyer's mediocre GothRom, and for a while, we enjoy the goofball charms of "Something Strange...:, "Meet the Sullens", and "Edward Saves Becca." But at 24 tracks, and nearly an hour in length, the feeling of fun quickly dissipates. The patterns of paltriness echo through pieces like "Testing Edward", "Antoine Torn to Shreds", and "Race to Prom". In the end, a potentially viable idea and approach is undermined by a lack of novelty or assured sonic invention.

Faster: Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 7]

It's tough to make out where the Faster soundtrack album is going at first. The first six tracks here are songs from artists as diverse as Iggy Pop ("I Wanna Be Your Dog"), Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition ("Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)") and the superb sonic onslaught of Guido and Maurizio DeAngelis' "Goodbye My Friend." Once Pal of Aronofsky Mansell steps in for the final nine selections, things settle in nicely. Using a piercing electric guitar to accentuate the anxiety of the narrative, there are hints of Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain here. Elsewhere, tracks like "History Lesson" and "The Driver Drives" give the score a formidable blast of pure adrenalin. But it's the quieter moments like "Lovers" and "Family Matters" that really win us over.

Howl: Original Motion Picture Score [rating: 8]

Burwell, typically trading creative barbs with the Coen Brothers, branches out for this evocative low budget indie film. Focusing on the obscenity trial of poet Allen Ginsberg and the creation of his epic free verse masterwork, the award winning composer creates an atmosphere of melancholy, a perfect counterbalance to the confrontation happening onscreen. Softer tracks like "Supernatural Darkness" and "I Saw the Best Minds" are juxtaposed against more menacing bits like "Moloch!" and "Prophecy." There is an evocative, ambient quality to the work here. It is less symphonic than Burwell usually provides, and relies greatly on piano and plucked guitar to give the music weight and range. While it can't quite match the majesty of the work he's done on such Coen classics as Barton Fink or Miller's Crossing, Howl helps cement Burwell's status as one of the artform's best.

The Tillman Story [rating: 6]

You expect a certain amount of aural elegy from a score supporting the story of Pat Tillman, former NFL star and misconstrued casualty of the War in Afghanistan, and for the most part, composer Philip Sheppard delivers on that promise. Five tracks in, and we are dealing with the delicate grief of "Lux", "Background", and "Aria". Bu it's not until selection number eight, "Suspicion", where the score gives us something more than a mere sketch. Indeed, many of the pieces here are less than a minute in length. Some last barely 40 seconds. This doesn't distract from their power, but just as we are getting into the vibe created by "In the Dark" or "Jessica Lynch Waltz", the soundtrack pulls the plug. When it hangs around a while, Sheppard's work is wonderful. Otherwise, it's mere atmosphere.

Mirrors 2: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 3]

While not his best film, Alexandre Aja's Mirrors remains an evocative experiment in setting and structure. There are moments when the abandoned department store backdrop provides a nice level of impending dread. Sadly, nothing about this direct to DVD sequel - including the score - matches the menace of the original. Composer Frederik Wiedmann follows the familiar genre conventions - moments of slow symphonic dirge peppered with orchestral dissonance or routine rhythmic "boos". You can hear in selections like "Slice", "The Murder", and "A Corpse in the Basement." Even when he wants to try and twist convention (as with tracks like "Max's Theme" or "Reflection"), we still wind up with the same old sonic spook show. No matter how necessary it may seem for this particular kind of film, it's still not very compelling.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The Original Soundtrack Album [rating: 7]

Over the years, Brad Fiedel's score for the James Cameron action classic has, itself, become iconic. It's pulsating mechanical beats and strong orchestral blasts accented the high octane elements of the spectacle perfectly. Now, removed from both the film and the feeling, Terminator 2's soundtrack still succeeds. Fiedel avoids trying to give everything a melodic meaning. Something like "Escape from the Hospital" gets by on a single sustained riff and various atonal bleats. Elsewhere, tracks like "Sarah's Dream (Nuclear Nightmare)" and "Our Gang Goes to Cyberdyne" do a great job of mixing a little more music into the melee. Of course, Fiedel flies through aural no-brainers like "Helicopter Attack" and "Tanker Chase" with ease, the march like drum beat delivering the pulsating throb such stunt set pieces need.

The Bounty: Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 8]

Talk about your eccentric collections. Vangelis, perhaps best known for giving Chariots of Fire its electronic pulse and Blade Runner its future shock beauty does something really unusual with this backdrop for yet about look at the classic literary mutiny. Combining his love of synthesizers with several traditional sea shanties (performed by violinist Elizabeth Hedman), we get an evocative combination of the past with the present. As arranger and performer Dominik Hauser handles divergent pieces like "Bounty Leaving England", "Cape Horn" and "Blight to Boat." In between we get era specific selections like "Bonny Kate" and "Drowsy Maggie". There's even a song entitled "She Moved Through the Fair" performed with eloquent grace by singer Katie Campbell. As a way of combining the threat of the narrative with the inherent mystery of the sea, Vangelis' work on The Bounty is brave...and beautiful.

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