Category Archives: Soundtracks

Soundtrack Review: Stranger Things 2

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First off, I have a shocking confession to make. I have not seen a single episode of Stranger Things. It’s not that I don’t WANT to, but when it came down to subscribing to Netflix or Hulu…Hulu won. But I’ve heard amazing things about it (most of my friends are in love with the series) especially that the music soundtrack is very good. So when the opportunity came to review the soundtrack for the second season of Stranger Things, naturally I leaped at the opportunity.

The album became available for digital download on October 20th, and a physical CD release will be coming later (along with an LP version).

The first thing I have to say about this soundtrack…it is huge! There are 34 track listings which is a lot of music to find in a soundtrack. The average soundtrack album has around 12-14 tracks (more if it’s a “deluxe edition” or something of that ilk).

The second thing I noticed straight away: none of the tracks are particularly long. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it’s actually refreshing to have a list of tracks that aren’t all ten minutes or more in length. Most of the tracks are between two and three minutes in length, which is more than enough time to get a feel for the music. And speaking of the music…

The music for the second season of Stranger Things sounds amazing! Since the series is set in the 1980s, the music has a distinct 80s sound, which means a lot of synthesizers in the mix. Particular favorites I’d like to highlight include: “Home”, “She wants me to find her”, “The First Lie” and “Connect the Dots.” This last one is particularly interesting to me because the title refers to “dots” and the music itself is full of “dots”, that is to say, there are many plunking sounds that create an aural image of dots in the imagination.

I do have one small criticism of the overall soundtrack. Because so many of the tracks use synthesizers, some of the tracks have the tendency to sound very similar to one another.

Bottom line: if you love Stranger Things, you will definitely love this soundtrack. And if you’re like me and you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, then this soundtrack will make you want to go see it as soon as possible.

The digital album of Strangers Things 2 is available now, keep an eye out for the physical CD release in the near future. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making the soundtrack available for review.

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Soundtrack Review: American Made (2017)

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So to give you an idea of just how crazy the month of October has been for me, I originally wanted to write this review a solid MONTH ago, but then I got sick, and then I got sick some more, and, yea, it’s been insane. But I’m determined to deliver what I promised, so here is a look at the soundtrack for American Made, a film based on the real life of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who became a pilot for the CIA and later got mixed up in the affairs of a drug cartel.

I have to be completely honest, as soon as I saw the track listing for this film, I immediately liked it less than some of the others I’ve seen, and that’s because most of the tracks consist of pre-existing material (this is sometimes referred to as a pop soundtrack). It would be wrong to say that pop soundtracks are inferior to those with freshly composed material, but I happen to prefer the latter.

That being said, I will highlight two selections because I did find their use interesting. The first is “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy and The Big Apple Band. This is a disco remix of Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony and most of you have probably heard it at least once. It is considered one of the most popular pieces from the disco era.

The other piece I need to highlight is “Hooked on Classics Parts 1 & 2” by Louis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. If you haven’t listened to this, you need to because it is kind of funny. Each part of “Hooked on Classics” jams a lot of classical music into a five minute segment with almost zero transition (and it sounds pretty cool). I haven’t seen this film, but I could make a pretty reasonable guess that this music turns up in some kind of montage scene.

Two other songs that sound good are “Black Widow Blues” and “What Makes a Good Man?” (the latter is so appropriate given the story of the film), but other than these I can’t recommend too much about the score.

Now, I have some great soundtrack reviews coming, among them are (hold onto your hats): The Walking Dead and Stranger Things!! I’m hoping to get both out this week, they’re LONG overdue but I hope you enjoy them regardless.

My thanks once again to The Krakower Group for this soundtrack.

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Moana “Where You Are” (2016)

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Considering that I’m a lifelong Disney nerd, I’ve been pretty terrible at catching most of their recent films. I still haven’t seen Tangled (2010, The Princess and the Frog (2009) nor have I seen Frozen (2013) (shocking I know). But when I saw the previews for Moana, I was determined that at the very least I would see THIS one, and boy oh boy, I’m glad I did.

Moana is the first Polynesian Disney Princess and the youngest Disney Princess since Snow White. She is also the first Disney Princess to have no romantic sub-plot in her film whatsoever (which is fine with me).

Moana “Where You Are” (2016)

From the moment I first watched this film in theaters, I fell in love with the soundtrack, which features songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame) among others. And the first big song in the film is “Where You Are” which establishes daily life on the island of Motunui. Moana is (at the time) the toddler daughter of Chief Tui and Sina, and in a surreal encounter with the living presence of the ocean, is chosen to someday return the stolen heart of Te Fiti. Unaware of this, her well-meaning parents determine to do their best to raise Moana in such a way that she’ll never want to leave the island. This is the subject of “Where You Are.”

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“Consider the coconut…” One of my favorite lines in the song

In this song, Tui and the others describe how the island provides everything they need for life: coconuts, fish from the lagoon, palm fronds to weave baskets and other materials, and “no one leaves.” The tone of the song is so happy that you almost don’t realize at first that the sentiment of no one EVER leaving is repeated multiple times. But Moana DOES want to leave, or at least, she wants to explore the ocean. But time and time again, her parents are there to head her off and push her back to the island’s interior, where, as she grows into a teenager, she is prepared to take her place as a young chief on the island.

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Moana doesn’t seem particularly thrilled with this, but then she has an encounter with Grandmother Tala (Tui’s mother), who loves the ocean as much as Moana does, and together the two dance like the waves.

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As time passes, Moana begins to finally accept that, while she does love the ocean, she can be happy on Motunui, she doesn’t have to leave, everything she needs is right here “where you are.” And you almost believe her, except for the side glances she still sends over to where Grandmother Tala is still dancing.

I still believe that Moana is one of the few Disney Princesses who is mostly content to remain in their situation for the good of the family (contrast her attitude by the end of “Where You Are” with, say, Mulan, Ariel or Belle). And maybe if things had stayed in the status quo, she really would have been happy. But of course, this is a Disney movie, things NEVER stay in the status quo for very long.

I feel like I haven’t done a Disney series in ages, so I’m happy to finally be starting up again with Moana. I hope you enjoyed reading about (and listening to) “Where You Are,” there is plenty more to come.

 

For more great Disney songs and films, check out the main page here: Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

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Soundtrack Review: Flatliners (2017)

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Just this weekend, Flatliners premiered in movie theaters and was promptly pronounced DOA. The film is a remake of the 1990 film of the same name and it follows five medical students who decide to find out if there is a life after death by “flatlining” (stopping their hearts) for one minute and then being brought back with a defibrillator. While they do indeed find evidence of an afterlife, they also bring unexpected consequences back with them.

Even though this new Flatliners is turning out to be a dud, I thought it would still be interesting to look at the soundtrack which was composed by the 2 time Emmy nominated composer Nathan Barr (for his work on The Americans and Hemlock Grove).

I started with the “Main Title” which, not surprisingly, reminded me very strongly of a fluctuating heartbeat with the heavy drumbeat mixed in with some minimal electronic music. Considering this film centers around people deliberately stopping their hearts, it makes perfect sense to reference heartbeats in the music.

Another track I checked out was “Stop My Heart.” Oddly (at least to me), this track came across as having a very Eastern type of sound, which I found I really liked. I’m not sure if this track covers the moments leading up to the heart beings stopped or what she saw while she was dead, but I thought it was a good piece of music.

And even as I wrote that last part I discovered I was wrong because “Courtney’s Flatline” just took my breath away. This track HAS to cover what she saw during her near-death experience, it is far too triumphant and wonder-filled to be about anything else. There are soaring trumpets, strings, clearly she is seeing something amazing (and I say that without having seen the film). And then, something interesting happens: the music begins to turn “weird.” Given that this is a semi-horror film where something cool turns out to have terrifying consequences, this is probably the part where Courtney sees something scary or her vision turns dark (or something of this nature). This is definitely one of my favorite tracks from the soundtrack (which makes it a shame that the film isn’t doing well, good music is often buried when a film does poorly).

And just to keep things even, I then had to listen to “Marlo’s Flatline” to see if it differed from “Courtney’s Flatline” and if so, how? Well, it’s similar AND different at the same time. The same “weird” music from “Courtney’s Flatline” reappears, somewhat quicker in tempo, but the main difference is that the “triumphant” music from “Courtney’s Flatline” is nowhere to be heard. Clearly Marlo’s experience is darker than Courtney’s (which makes sense, that’s how films like this typically go).

 

There is definitely some good music in this soundtrack, so if you get the chance, please listen to the soundtrack if you get the chance. Nathan Barr has put in some good tracks here and I really enjoyed listening to them (especially “Courtney’s Flatline.”)

I hope you enjoyed this look into the soundtrack for Flatliners. If you watch the film, let me know what you thought about it (and the music). My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

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Soundtrack Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

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I grew up loving A.A. Milne’s stories about Winnie the Pooh and his best friend Christopher Robin. In fact, I remember being delighted to learn that Christopher Robin had been a real person (he passed away in 1996). So when I heard that Goodbye Christopher Robin would be looking at the story of how the Winnie the Pooh stories were made, and the consequences for the Milne family, I was immediately interested.

The soundtrack for this film will be released on CD on October 13th and was composed by Carter Burwell (he’s also worked on Twilight, The Bourne Identity and Anomalisa, among others). And I have to say, the soundtrack for Goodbye Christopher Robin has been absolutely delightful to listen to. Let me highlight a few of my favorites for you:

First there was “Tree of Memory”, a beautiful track, with primarily string instruments. It was very soothing, very much what you would expect from a film about the origins of Winnie the Pooh. At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice a minor tone begin to creep in towards the end, which might be hinting at the tension that arises in the Milne family as the fame of the Winnie the Pooh stories brings a LOT of attention their way (the real Christopher Robin eventually grew tired of being associated with those books as he grew older).

“Toys and Stars” was another favorite. It starts with a soft guitar ostinato (repeating melody) that is joined by a flute and a clarinet. It feels like music for a lullaby, and by the end of the track all the instruments come together in this perfect harmony.

“Balloons” is a whimsical track that is very short (only fifty seconds in length) and entirely strings. The melody jumps and skips and then it will flow, and it was very fun to listen to.

 

The last track I will highlight is “Into the Forest” and this might be my favorite of the bunch. It would be wrong to call it “dark” but it isn’t “happy” either. It begins with an extremely light air of tension that slowly grows as the track goes on. I would love to know the context of this piece as it is very interesting to listen to. If I had to take a guess, since it’s titled “Into the Forest” I almost wonder if someone (maybe Christopher Robin) is lost in the woods? Anything is possible at this point.

This is just a sneak peek into the overall soundtrack, everything I listened to sounded amazing. I definitely recommend picking up this soundtrack when it is released. I hope you enjoyed reading about the music for Goodbye Christopher Robin. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

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Soundtrack Review: American Assassin (2017)

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I was fortunate enough to be able to experience the soundtrack for the upcoming film American Assassin, due to be released next week in theaters. Directed by Michael Cuesta, American Assassin follows the rise of Mitch Rapp, a CIA black ops recruit, after losing his parents in a car accident and his girlfriend to a terrorist attack shortly after they were engaged.

The soundtrack was composed by Steve Price and is simply amazing. This review will look at several pieces from the soundtrack, to give you an idea of what is to come. The opening track is titled “The Proposal” and begins with a quiet melody, partially played on piano. This is later mixed with a cello; it is simple but romantic at the same time. The twist comes halfway through the track: the music suddenly turns dark (emphasized by very low tones on the piano) and the tension is slowly turned up as the mood turns from light and happy to dark and unsure. Even though the film hasn’t come out yet, the music allows me to visualize what is likely happening: Mitch has just proposed to his girlfriend (or maybe he is getting ready for it), when, according to the music, something terrible happens.

The fifth track is titled “Plutonium” and is not so much a melody as it is a cluster of sound  waves that rise and fall in volume. The opening moments are dripping with menace (appropriate for plutonium, which can be deadly in the wrong hands), and for most of the track there is no motion in the sound, but this begins to change toward the end. I don’t mean to imply that lack of motion is a bad thing because it isn’t. Sometimes the soundtrack just needs to convey the threat of something, it doesn’t necessarily have to move the audience along, so to speak.

The tenth track is titled “I Trusted You” and it might just be my favorite in the soundtrack. The first minute is pure frenetic energy, but then it slides back into a contemplative mode, as if the scene began with a burst of action and then tapered off, perhaps into dialogue. I loved the mix of energy between the different instruments, and how seamlessly it transitioned from action to drama (fast-paced to slow-paced, it’s a slight oversimplification, but it gets my point across).

And that is my brief preview into the music for American Assassin. I absolutely loved everything I heard and I believe Steve Price has done a magnificent job. I apologize deeply for not getting these music reviews out sooner, the dissertation has taken over a large chunk of my life and I was forced to place these reviews on the back burner. But now I promise that if I blog on nothing else for the near future, I will get some reviews out to you every week. I hope you enjoyed this one, there’s plenty to come I promise. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making the soundtrack of American Assassin available. Have a good weekend everyone!

 

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Hans Zimmer talks Inception (2010)

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Hans Zimmer talks Inception (2010)

I have watched a lot of movies, but few have bent my brain more than Inception (2010), a film set in a world where it is possible to enter the subconscious and “extract” information. Cobb, a “dream thief”, is tasked by a wealthy businessman named Saito to perform “inception” on the son of a rival, which is planting an idea in the subconscious mind, and it is supposed to be an impossible task. The stakes for Cobb are pretty high: he’s been on the run for years after being framed for the murder of his wife (she actually committed suicide), and if he succeeds, Saito will make the charges go away so he can return home to his two children. But…in a world where we enter dreams within dreams within dreams, how do we know any of this is even real to begin with? (That question is never really answered by the way, we’re meant to make our own conclusions).

The score for this reality-bending film was composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer, who returned to collaborate again with director Christopher Nolan on this project (Inception marked their third collaboration together). This brief “making of” video shows how Nolan and Zimmer brought this score into existence. Zimmer described the music of Inception as “a very electronic, dense score, filled with nostalgia and sadness.” What I love best about the score is how it changes as the characters move deeper and deeper into the “dream within a dream.” The deeper they go, the more “unreal” the music becomes; this all reaches a head when Cobb and Ariadne are in Limbo (the bottom level) while the other members of his group are moving through three separate dream levels above them.

If you’ve seen Inception, what did you think of the story? And what did you think of the film’s soundtrack? Let me know in the comments below 🙂 And I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at the making of the film score for this film 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Hans Zimmer, see here

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