Funky Fanfares and Half-Forgotten Daydreams: The 'Unusual Sounds' of Library Music

Anthology Recordings releases a curious, surprisingly enjoyable collection of stock instrumentals from a bygone era.

Unusual Sounds
Various Artists

Anthology Recordings

9 November 2018

In its heyday, the art of low budget television and genre filmmaking came with a variety of challenges, most of it centered on finance. For example, equipping these programs and films with memorable music was difficult if you didn't have wads of cash to shell out to big-name composers or the rights to a Top 40 single. Fortunately, help was available in the form of library music.

Library music refers to LPs of stock recordings whose songs could fit any mood, any scene. What started as a quirky niche designed to help producers on shoestring budgets eventually became big business, and it's easy to see why. Not only was demand high, the product itself was top-notch. Library music sounds great. The people at Anthology Recordings are aware of this, and Unusual Sounds is their new collection of 20 songs from the genre.

While the artists hired to compose and perform this music can hardly be considered household names – unless your home turntable has the Gary Pacific Orchestra or Electric Machine in heavy rotation – what you hear on Unusual Sounds is expertly played and meticulously crafted. What's more, hearing this music a good three to four decades later is akin to stepping into a groovy, polyester-lined time machine. Sure, it can be kitschy as hell, but there's no denying the pleasure of dropping the needle on track one and hearing the rich, horn-spiked swagger of Keith Mansfield's "Funky Fanfare", a song so evocative of '70s film and television that you half expect a stentorian announcement that this is "a Quinn/Martin Production!"

Most of the songs are titled in a way that appropriately catches the desired mood. Italian film composer Stefano Torossi's "Running Fast" has the brisk, fluid air of a high-speed chase, with dexterous electric piano combining with strings for a swift jazz-fusion vibe. "Tropicola" by the fantastically named Stringtronics is a lazy, quasi-Latin number with a healthy helping of percussion instruments like guiros and triangles. On "Fancy Good", Electric Machine creates a compact, funky atmosphere where a playful Fender Rhodes, warm bass and wah-wah guitar weave in and out.

Some of the songs are downright bizarre. "Xenos Cosmos" by Janko Nilovic veers between mid-tempo jazz to rapid-fire, trumpet-fueled bebop to odd, almost Gothic choral sections. Not a bad library track if you're producing a psychological beatnik horror film, I suppose. On Joel Vandroogenbroeck & Marc Monsen's "Group Meditation", gongs, synth washes, and light keyboard noodling create a droning, Eno-esque atmosphere that lasts a solid 14 minutes.

The album is a companion piece to the book Unusual Sounds: The Hidden History of Library Music (available now on Anthology Editions), curated by David Hollander as a lush, colorful study of this strange, fascinating subculture. The book features an introduction by the late director George A. Romero, who famously used library music in Night of the Living Dead.

Other highlights among the 20 tracks on Unusual Sounds include the fuzzy, menacing funk of "La Dimostrazione" by D. Pattuchi, the mysterious, futuristic "Survivor", where Klaus Weiss unleashes an arsenal of chest-vibrating low-register synths that sound like Keith Emerson crashing a Wendy Carlos recording session, and Peter Patzer's subtle, oddball "Mild Maniac", with new wave synth sounds that show the library music genre easing nicely into the '80s.

If you're a fan of period instrumentals, peculiar jazz curios, soundtrack oddities or anything that works as "background music" but isn't nearly as dull as that description implies, Unusual Sounds is an absolute goldmine. The Anthology Recordings team has assembled a gorgeous collection of, well, unusual sounds that belong in any adventurous music lover's collection.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.