51 Shades of Geek

Rob Dougan – The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions

The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time SessionsIf you’re a fan of the music from The Matrix trilogy, you’re probably a fan of Rob Dougan without realizing it: the first movie’s music for the woman in the red dress, The Matrix Reloaded‘s scenery-destroying all-out melee in a museum-like space – basically, where you heard almost James-Bond-cool strings overlaid with a trip-hop techno beat, that was Rob Dougan, an Australian DJ whose work had gained a cult following nearly a decade before The Matrix hit theaters.

But Dougan has always had more artsy ambitions: sampled strings aren’t good enough for him. That’s the theory behind this EP, which continues his neo-classical (no Matrix pun intended) fusion experiments. The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions see Dougan’s compositions played by a real orchestra: “Frescobaldi’s Toccata” is stately, “Vale (Ave Atque Vale)” and “A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico” are sedate, while the more driving “The Return” is presented both with and without a drum overlay. There are no lead vocals on any of the songs; this is a strictly instrumental (and occasionally choral) experience.

4 out of 4This is the first we’ve heard of Dougan since his knockout 2004 solo album Furious Angels, and hopefully it isn’t the last – indeed, he’s working on a full album even as his fans listen to The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions and ponder how much he’s been missed. This is classy, retro-cinematic cool at its finest.

Order this CD

    Frescobaldi’s Toccata (Orchestral Session) (4:38)
    Vale (Ave Atque Vale) (Orchestral Session) (4:46)
    The Return (Orchestral Session) (5:02)
    A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico (Orchestral Session) (6:24)
    The Return (Orchestral Session) (Alternative Mix) (5:00)

Released by: robdougan.com
Release date: May 9, 2015
Total running time: 25:50

Doctor Who: The Rapture – music by Jim Mortimore

Doctor Who: The RaptureIn 2002, Big Finish Productions released The Rapture, a Doctor Who audio play which had the distinction of being the first professionally-published work by one Joe Lidster (who went on to do more for Big Finish before being snatched up by the BBC itself), and of being one of the most controversial things the company had produced up to that point. Plucking the seventh Doctor and Ace out of tea time TV and dropping them into a storyline at an all-week rave complete with sex and drugs was too much for some fans’ tender sensibilities. And The Rapture had some awesome music – real club music, not some soundtrack-composer-for-hire’s second-hand impression of real EDM. Composer Jim Mortimore, in addition to having written Doctor Who novels and audio stories in the past, had also enjoyed a second career, playing live music at raves through much of the 1990s. To say that The Rapture‘s music is merely authentic is probably underselling it. It’s the real deal.

In 2012, via Bandcamp, Mortimore released three CDs’ worth of music from an audio story (whose narrative running time was only enough to take up two CDs). Drawing from his ’90s recordings as well as concocting an entire CD worth of new music, and bringing collaborators Jane Elphinstone and Simon Robinson on board, Mortimore presented Big Finish with a series of pieces that would be excerpted as needed for The Rapture, with some music heard only briefly in the background mix at the story’s titular nightclub and with other pieces – the specially composed ones – more prominently placed in the foreground. A few Rapture tracks had previously been presented on a Big Finish soundtrack CD in the past, but were savagely edited down to two and three minute running lengths: most of the tracks in their original form run close to eight minutes long, and are better for it, with the melodies developing a bit more naturally. Tracks such as “Over Me” show much deeper layers and arrangements than the edited-down versions hinted at.

The “A Side” covers all of the music composed expressly for The Rapture, while the “B Side” tracks are the full-length tracks Mortimore presented from his ’90s work for inclusion in the background of several scenes. (Again, the average length is about eight minutes; most of the excerpts of these pieces in the finished audio play could be measured in seconds or maybe as many as a couple of minutes.) The “E Side” consists of downtempo tracks, one of them quite lengthy; whether the “E” is for “epic”, “ecstasy”, or “etheral” is up for you to decide.

4 out of 4Many times over the years I’ve dragged out that Big Finish soundtrack and its woefully truncated soundtrack for The Rapture because it’s ridiculously good music by which to write. Color me “E” for “elated” that the full tracks – and more of them – are now available. And gloriously, “Doctored Who” gives us the full-length rave remix of Delia Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme. Whether or not the story of The Rapture is worth the listening time is something that’s still hotly debated in Doctor Who fan circles, but its soundtrack is undoubtedly worth the listening time for audiences far beyond Doctor Who fandom.

Order

    “Side A”

  1. Over Me (7:02)
  2. On The Beach (6:01)
  3. Rebirth (7:46)
  4. Brook Of Eden (8:07)
  5. Freestyle (6:34)
  6. Sorted (6:31)
  7. Jude’s Law (9:09)
  8. Pink Pulloff (4:52)
  9. Music Of The Spheres (6:10)
  10. Gloves Off (3:40)
  11. Doctored Who (2:10)
  12. “Side B”

  13. Kanhra (8:18)
  14. Udu (8:08)
  15. Uracas (8:16)
  16. Xanthulu (7:17)
  17. Mahser Dagi (8:07)
  18. “Side E”

  19. Sven’s Wrath (3:39)
  20. Radio Beach (5:32)
  21. Ice Floes At Twilight (35:20)
  22. Phases Of The Moon (3:58)

Released by: Jim Mortimore via BandCamp
Release date: October 28, 2012
Total running time: 2:36:37

Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

The Race For SpaceA concept band tackling a concept album, Public Service Broadcasting applies its quirky style (mixing amazing musical proficiency with clips and samples from vintage public information films) to a singular topic: the technological sprint that took humanity from Sputnik to Tranquility Base in just over a decade. Individual tracks are devoted to everything from the earliest spacewalks to Valentina Tereshkova to the Apollo 1 fire.

The technical and musical highlight of The Race For Space is “Go!”, a rapid-fire piece built around the machine-gun pacing of the Apollo 11 flight director getting go/no-go reports from his room full of controllers. The result is that these rocket technicians are basically rapping over a piece of music built around their responses (which have been only slightly edited to keep a steady tempo). “E.V.A.”, “The Other Side” and “Gagarin” are upbeat numbers that combine vintage sound clips with musical virtuosity.

The most haunting piece is “Fire In The Cockpit”, which PSB has vowed never to play live out of respect to the Apollo 1 crew. The title track is a little bit on the ponderous side – I think that it’s a given that 3 out of 4Kennedy’s public urge for NASA to reach for the moon was a monumental moment, so piling a choir on top of that comes very close to over-egging the pudding.

It’s a neat history lesson, and one to which you can tap your toes or play a little air guitar. Public Service Broadcasting has carved out a fascinating little niche for itself, and I’m curious as to what they’ll do next after the remix album built around The Race For Space, due very soon.

Order this CD

  1. The Race For Space (2:39)
  2. Sputnik (7:09)
  3. Gagarin (3:48)
  4. Fire In The Cockpit (3:01)
  5. E.V.A. (4:15)
  6. The Other Side (6:19)
  7. Valentina (4:29)
  8. Go! (4:12)
  9. Tomorrow (7:22)

Released by: Test Card Recordings
Release date: February 23, 2015
Total running time: 43:14

Star Trek: Insurrection (Newly Expanded Edition)

Star Trek: Insurrection (Newly Expanded Edition)GNP Crescendo’s final remastered score from one of the TNG-era Star Trek movies, Star Trek: Insurrection is a boisterous score to a movie that was trying so hard not to be a traditional action movie. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), Jerry Goldsmith was now the default option when it came to Star Trek movie music, having scored the previous feature film (1996’s Star Trek: Final Conflict to much acclaim. Goldsmith, this time operating on his own (First Contact had included significant input from his son, Joel Goldsmith), turned out a score with pastoral elements not unlike the main theme of First Contact, as well as the brand of pulsating action music which had been one of his hallmarks throughout his career.

The expanded release covers all the ground of Crescendo’s roughly-45-minute release from 1998, and fills in the blanks by completing the score and offering a few alternates and early takes on cues that were revised at the studio’s request. The difference between early drafts and final versions isn’t huge, as it turns out, but they offer some insight into the process of creating the movie’s music. Among the unreleased material, there’s quite a bit of repetition of the movie’s main action motif as well as its more serene themes for the peaceful Ba’ku, but at this point in the saga, the previously unreleased material isn’t as revelatory as it was with, say, Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek II. Goldsmith completists and Trek completists will be happy to have the unreleased segments of the score, but other than the upgrade in sound quality, there’s not much here to compel owners of the original 1998 release to upgrade.

One thing I noticed in listening to the full score: from an audio engineering standpoint, the entire score seems to be drenched with what can be most charitably described as an obnoxious amount of reverb. The orchestra is simply too echo-ey – it’s almost as if the microphones placed over specific instrument groups 3 out of 4didn’t record a signal, leaving the recording engineers with nothing but the wide-area room mic. At about 20 minutes in, I was growing very tired of that element of this soundtrack. I don’t recall if Insurrection always sounded this way, or if the shorter length of the 1998 release didn’t give the effect time to sink in. Insurrection is music that any action film would be happy to have, but by the high standards set by his other work in the franchise, it’s probably the dimmest corner of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek constellation.

Order this CD

  1. Ba’ku Village (6:56)
  2. Out of Orbit / Take Us In (1:45)
  3. Come Out (2:36)
  4. In Custody (1:16)
  5. Warp Capability / The Planet / Children’s Story (2:27)
  6. The Holodeck (4:36)
  7. How Old Are You / New Sight (6:11)
  8. Lost Ship / Prepare the Ship (2:40)
  9. As Long As We Can (1:35)
  10. Not Functioning / Send Your Ships (2:48)
  11. Growing Up / Wild Flowers / Photon Torpedo (2:43)
  12. The Drones Attack (4:12)
  13. The Riker Maneuver (3:10)
  14. Stay With Me (1:44)
  15. The Same Race (2:52)
  16. The Collector (1:10)
  17. No Threat (4:11)
  18. Tractor Beam (0:40)
  19. The Healing Process (revised) (5:04)
  20. The Healing Process (original version) (7:15)
  21. End Credits (5:29)
  22. Ba’ku Village (alternate ending) (3:52)
  23. The Holodeck (alternate ending) (1:33)
  24. Growing Up (alternate) (1:18)
  25. Tractor Beam (alternate) (0:41)

Released by: GNP Crescendo Records
Release date: August 6, 2013
Total running time: 1:18:44

Doctor Who: Day Of The Doctor / Time Of The Doctor

Day Of The Doctor / Time Of The DoctorSo it turns out I owe Murray Gold an apology.

As I watched Day Of The Doctor for the first time, I was mildly annoyed that its score seemed to be a cut-and-paste of “greatest hits” of themes from the modern series dating back to 2005. Not new versions of those themes, mind you, but the same recordings we’d been hearing for years now. It seemed like an uninspired choice, but as it was already known that the BBC had asked for an episode 30 minutes longer than the usual 45-minute shows, in 3-D, with big-name guest stars, without increasing the budget much beyond that of the typical 45-minute episode, it seemed likely that the decision had been made to edit together a score from the music of past episodes. After all, what’s a decadal Doctor Who anniversary special if it’s not a kiss to the past?

As it turns out, the truth is even sadder than that: Day Of The Doctor did have a brand-new score custom-made for its requirements, and a dandy one at that. In various interviews, Gold has hinted that the heavily-promoted special had more cooks in the kitchen than usual, resulting in Hollywood-style second-guessing of creative decisions that rarely occurs with the series’ weekly episodes. Reading between the lines, the answer is simple: some BBC suits, freaked out by a fantastic original score which not only brought back numerous musical themes but paid homage to the show’s long history by incorporating various vintage synthesizer sounds into the orchestral mix, insisted that Day Of The Doctor should largely be “tracked” with existing music, not unlike the original Star Trek. The result is a soundtrack which was either buried in the sound mix or, in some instances, not used at all.

Some of the most eye-opening fun you can have with the Day Of The Doctor half of this 2-CD set is to cue up the DVD to key scenes, turn your TV down, and let the music be heard as originally intended. “He Was There”, which takes us from outside the National Gallery into the three-dimensional painting of the Time War, is a knockout cue that works outstandingly well; the rising howl as we zoom through the painting until we settle on the War Doctor is hair-raising stuff. On TV, this material was dropped in favor of the choral Dalek music from The Stolen Earth, but in the original unused cue, Gold holds off on quoting that theme until the Daleks show up in person. His opening volley, meant to accompany Clara’s motorcycle ride into the TARDIS control room, is an electro dance piece omitted in its entirety. A great many of his more interesting, “radiophonic” sounding pieces were either savagely dialed down in the sound mix or covered/replaced with “whooshy” sound effects to emphasize the show’s all-important (for one night only before the BBC abandoned the technology) 3-D. Even the final scene – all the Doctors dreaming of home – was scored differently, building up to a triumphant flourish that quotes the Doctor Who theme itself as a heroic fanfare: all left on the cutting room floor.

The second disc contains the music from The Time Of The Doctor, and in this case, at least, what you hear is what was heard in the show itself – unless it’s just not on the album, such as the criminal omission of the haunting choral piece heard as Clara bellies up to the crack-in-the-wall that has follow the eleventh Doctor through his entire tenure, appealing to the Time Lords to help the Doctor survive. How that didn’t make the album, I’ll never know.

Highlights of Smith’s final episode as the Doctor include “The Crack” and the bite-sized but propulsive “Rhapsody Of War”. Even some of the more obscure cues, like the John-Williams-esque morsel “Papal Mainframe”, are fun. But the show is stolen by the solid wall of music that takes up the last 25% of the show; “Never Tell Me The Rules” is the accompaniment of modern Doctor Who’s extension of the “explosive regeneration” to ridiculous extremes, while “Trenzalore / The Long Song / I Am Information” – its title giving away that it’s a mashup of themes already established in the previous season of the show – accompanies Smith’s record-settingly long send-off speech. “Hello Twelve”, naturally, rings in the Doctor’s new face in the form of Peter Capaldi.

4 out of 4So it turns out I owe Murray Gold an apology. Here I thought that, out of budgetary necessity, he’d had to phone in one of the most pivotal installments in the entire series, but whether it’s the seventh Doctor’s straw hat, the eleventh’s Fez, or the first Doctor’s shapeless lump of an astrakhan hat, I hereby eat that hat – Murray Gold did his best to honor the show’s sonic history, only to be let down by the marketing department. At least this 2-CD set lets us hear it all in its original intended glory.

Order this CDDisc 1: The Day of the Doctor

  1. I.M Foreman (1:10)
  2. Will There Be Cocktails? (0:40)
  3. It’s Him (The Majestic Tale) (2:04)
  4. He Was There (4:22)
  5. No More (1:05)
  6. The War Room (1:42)
  7. Footprints In The Sand (1:42)
  8. Who Are You (4:37)
  9. England 1562 (1:02)
  10. Nice Horse (1:43)
  11. The Fez And The Portal (2:44)
  12. Two Doctors (1:01)
  13. Three Doctors (1:56)
  14. Somewhere To Hide (1:50)
  15. Rescue The Doctor (1:08)
  16. 2.47 Billion (4:28)
  17. Zygon In The Painting (1:34)
  18. Man And Wife (1:32)
  19. We Don’t Need To Land (2:27)
  20. We Are The Doctors (0:49)
  21. The Moment Has Come (3:06)
  22. This Time There’s Three Of Us (The Majestic Tale) (7:03)
  23. Song For Four/Home (3:41)

Disc 2: Time Of The Doctor

  1. The Message (1:15)
  2. Handles (2:07)
  3. The Dance Of The Naked Doctor (2:12)
  4. You Saved It (0:56)
  5. Papal Mainframe (0:44)
  6. Tasha Lemm (1:06)
  7. Bedroom Talk (1:48)
  8. The Mission (0:54)
  9. Christmas (2:26)
  10. The Crack (5:24)
  11. Rhapsody Of War (0:52)
  12. Back To Christmas (3:09)
  13. Snow Over Trenzalore (Song For Four) (2:45)
  14. Beginning Of The End (2:46)
  15. This Is How It Ends (3:06)
  16. Never Tell Me The Rules (3:11)
  17. Trenzalore/The Long Song/I Am Information (Reprise) (4:03)
  18. Hello Twelve (0:39)

Released by: Silva Screen Records
Release date: November 24, 2014
Disc one total running time: 53:26
Disc two total running time: 39:23

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe

Alone In The Universe15 years after his last album that took 15 years to arrive, Jeff Lynne is back, once again operating under the ELO banner, with an album that straddles his own tendencies toward classic rock and the trademark sound that his fans all but demand anytime he surfaces.

It’s not as if he’s been completely dormant during this time: an album of re-recorded-all-by-himself ELO covers, some of them fairly close to the sound of the originals, as well as an album of rock covers of classic hits and standards, done in Lynne’s trademark style. Armchair Theatre, his 1990 solo album, was reissued with bonus tracks. He’s also been producing albums for the likes of Joe Walsh and Bryan Adams, so it’s not as if he and his sound have gone completely underground.

But what has been missing is Jeff Lynne, writing new songs and performing and producing them himself. Long Wave and Mr. Blue Sky, nice as they were, were covers albums. Alone In The Universe is what Lynne/ELO fans have really been waiting for: new music from that familiar, laid-back voice. “When I Was A Boy” opens the album with languid nostalgia, perhaps as autobiographical a song as we’re ever likely to hear from Lynne, chronicling his childhood love of music that led to a life of writing and performing. There are hints of strings, all synthesized/sampled, though they’re kept far enough in the background that it doesn’t break the song.

“Love And Rain” picks up the tempo with a guitar groove reminiscent of “Showdown”‘s clavinet, while “Dirty To The Bone” bestows a cheerful sound upon some surprisingly biting (and occasionally silly) lyrics. What follows next is a one-two punch of two of the album’s best numbers, the mesmerizing “When The Night Comes” and the strangely relaxing and uplifting “The Sun Will Shine”. “When The Night Comes” takes some tried-and-true elements, such as a chorus that owes more than a little bit to the chorus of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Not Alone Any More”, and sets them to a beat that’s as close to reggae as Lynne’s ever likely to stray. “The Sun Will Shine” is a gently uplifting song with some of Lynne’s best lyrics in ages, with a soothing synth-and-guitar wash in the background. (In the electronic press kit interview for the album, Lynne says he wrote it to help a friend who was depressed; I can tell you that it does work in cheering up someone in dire straits.) “Ain’t It A Drag” is a delightfully cheery song about karma catching up with someone who’s done you wrong, while “All My Life” is a more plaintive, idealized love song, but a very pretty one.

“I’m Leaving You” sees Lynne going for the full Orbison, which is a gutsy thing to do because, as Bruce Springsteen himself once said, no one can sing like Roy Orbison. Still, this is a better approximation than most could manage. “One Step At A Time”, added at a late stage out of concern that the album didn’t have enough upbeat tracks, is a curious mix of a driving rhythm that wouldn’t have been out of place on Discovery, slathered with languid slide guitar that is simultaneously at odds with that rhythm and yet fits over it nicely. (And, for the first time in many years, it’s an ELO song with more cowbell!)

“Alone In The Universe” brings the album to a close in its intended configuration, Lynne’s ode to – of all things – space probe Voyager 1, outbound from the edge of the solar system, and it turns out to be the most ELO-ish song of the entire album, in both subject matter and presentation. Where Zoom might’ve left some fans thinking that it was an ELO album in name only, this album’s title track demonstrates that ELO is back in more than name only, even if it’s just Jeff Lynne in his studio. The sound of ELO is back as well.

Various deluxe versions of the album somewhat jarringly add anywhere from two to three extra songs after that perfect closure, from the country-rock of “Fault Line” (probably inspired by Lynne’s proximity to San Andreas), “Blue” (an addictively Wilbury-ish number), and the very ’80s-ish “On My Mind” (whose production touches include helicopters flying overhead for some reason).

4 out of 4Assembled as a musical package, Alone In The Universe is almost everything I’ve missed about ELO, tied up with a bow – this is why I still get excited to hear about Jeff Lynne heading into a studio, and why I hope he doesn’t keep taking off 15 years between albums.

Order this CD

  1. When I Was A Boy (3:12)
  2. Love And Rain (3:30)
  3. Dirty To The Bone (3:06)
  4. When The Night Comes (3:22)
  5. The Sun Will Shine On You (3:30)
  6. Ain’t It A Drag (2:36)
  7. All My Life (2:51)
  8. I’m Leaving You (3:08)
  9. One Step At A Time (3:21)
  10. Alone In The Universe (3:55)

    Bonus Tracks

  11. Fault Line (2:07)
  12. Blue (2:36)
  13. On My Mind (3:09)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: November 13, 2015
Total running time: 32:23 (standard edition/LP), 37:06 (deluxe CD/download), 40:23 (Japanese Blu-Spec CD)

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