What We Left Behind – music by Dennis McCarthy and Kevin Kiner

What We Left Behind soundtrack cover

If there was ever a way to gauge how passionately fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were willing to go to bat for a series that remains something of the bastard stepchild of the franchise, all one had to do was promise a documentary interviewing all of the major players, and then crowdfund that documentary. Then you just sit back and watch how many of the stretch goals go whizzing by as the production is funded.

One of those stretch goals was to hire the original composer of the Deep Space Nine theme and most of the series’ episodes, Dennis McCarthy, to score the documentary, What We Left Behind. McCarthy was not only game for returning to the Star Trek universe, but he brought with him Kevin Kiner, a frequent collaborator from McCarthy’s years providing music for the ratings-challenged, budget-addled Star Trek: Enterprise. As that show’s music budget was repeatedly slashed, McCarthy would lean on Kiner to bring the music to life electronically, since the money for an orchestra was no longer necessarily on the table. By the time McCarthy brought Kiner in the perform much the same function on What We Left Behind, Kiner was a composer in his own right, having scored nearly the entirety of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, numerous early episodes of Stargate SG-1, and a second animated series, Star Wars: Rebels.

There’s one component of the documentary where bringing McCarthy back into the fold really pays major dividends. The show’s storied writers’ room is reassembled – a room now made not of rookie TV writers, but of high-powered Hollywood showrunners in their own right – with their old boss, Ira Steven Behr (also the frequent narrator/muse of the documentary), to break down the story for an entirely hypothetical season 8 premiere. As they devise the story, it’s brought to life by artwork and by McCarthy’s music, which is authentic as one could get without actually digging up McCarthy’s 1990s session tapes. The result is an authentic Deep Space Nine story with authentic Deep Space Nine music, one of the highlights of the whole project. In a few other cases, McCarthy ends up rescoring scenes he originally scored in the ’90s. With Kiner’s considerable skill at electronically recreating orchestral bombast, the results are genuinely thrilling.

McCarthy and Kiner bring more modern sensibilities to tracks like “Mr. Brooks”, “Killing Will Robinson”, and “Racial Inequalities”. From the jauntiness to the electronic percussion elements of these tracks, there’s a clear musical dividing line between “documentary” and “breaking the story for an unmade season 8 premiere”.

The all-star barbershop quartet of DS9 veterans – Casey Biggs, Jeffrey Combs, Armin Shimerman, and Max Grodenchik – also appear on the soundtrack with their renditions of classic standards (now with Deep-Space-Nine-inspired lyrics, i.e. “I Left My Quark And Captain Sisko” to the tune of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”). These interludes were a highlight of a documentary that tried very hard to give the impression that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously, and is an extension of Biggs’ and Grodenchik’s convention party piece. (It’s especially nice to have these songs handy in a year where conventions have abruptly become as much a distant memory as the show itself.)

4 out of 4So if you were wondering why you should bother with a soundtrack that isn’t even from one of the Star Trek series, but rather a documentary about that series, it’s pretty simple: by bringing Dennis McCarthy and Kevin Kiner back into the Trek universe, the result is something that earns its place alongside the music from the series itself. Much like the entirely hypothetical season 8 premiere, it’s a tantalizing glimpse into a Star Trek tale that could’ve kept on going.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (0:12)
  2. Through A Glass Darkly (0:57)
  3. I Left My Quark and Captain Sisko (2:10)
  4. Reunion (2:40)
  5. Big Space / Fun Voyages (0:37)
  6. Mr. Brooks (3:03)
  7. Concept Art / Production Design (2:47)
  8. Actor Interaction / DS9 Renaissance / Promise to be Back (3:05)
  9. Writers Intro / New Episode (4:58)
  10. Explosion (1:33)
  11. Evolving Characters I / Friendship to Romance (1:32)
  12. Grey Character (2:54)
  13. Evolving Characters II / Recurring Characters (1:46)
  14. Killing Will Robinson (2:29)
  15. Galactic War Saga / Sacrifice of Angels (3:04)
  16. Writers’ Room I (2:48)
  17. Haven’t Advanced Much (1:33)
  18. Racial Inequalities (1:45)
  19. Writers’ Room II (2:30)
  20. Action Barbie / Being Heard (3:03)
  21. Intro Ezri (1:28)
  22. Bashir (1:16)
  23. The Cost of War (1:16)
  24. Real World Issues (2:53)
  25. Section 31 (3:49)
  26. Finale (5:58)
  27. What We Left Behind (Vocal) (2:48)
  28. In Memorium (0:43)
  29. End Credits (3:12)
  30. DS9 Rocks (1:29)
  31. What We Left Behind Trailer (2:27)
  32. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Main Title for Solo Piano “After 3:00 AM at Quarks” (5:09)

Released by: BSX Records
Release date: October 11, 2019
Total running time: 1:17:54

[…]

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu – music by Henry Jackman

I all but had to invent a new movie category for Detective Pikachu, because this is a movie that falls under the “well, that worked so much better than I was expecting it to” category. Given that the Pokemon IP holders were going to throw whatever was necessary at this film to make sure it didn’t fail, I wasn’t expecting abject failure, but I wasn’t expecting a movie that I’d be so utterly engrossed in.

Henry Jackman’s score was a big help in that regard. While it does have some synth elements lending it something of an “old video game” feel (and Jackman has become the de facto “video game movie” composer in recent years, with the Wreck-It Ralph franchise and Pixels under his belt), the bulk of the score wisely plays to the movie’s emotional core. You know, that thing that I wasn’t expecting to be there, and wasn’t expecting to be engrossing.

The music also does a lot to play up the sheer wonder of the movie’s universe, a world where Pokemon do, in fact, exist and have always been there alongside human beings. Absent from this universe are cats, dogs, and other familiar animals; in their place are the fictional creatures from the Pokemon franchise down through the years – Skitties and Growliths instead of cats and dogs.

Some of my favorite music cues are those, like “Apom Attack”, “The Roundhouse,” and “Pikachu vs. Charizard”, accompanying scenes that really highlight what that kind of a world would be like (in both good and bad ways). Taking a world of trainers and gym battles and so on into something resembling our physical reality is not an easy task; the score sells the viewer on these things as a reality (maybe not the viewer’s reality, but a reality for the characters in the movie). Some of this music gets almost hyperkinetic, bordering on dubstep, and it’s fun to hear that colliding with a more traditional orchestral treatment.

4 out of 4Other tracks, like “Embrace” and “Digging Deeper”, to name just a couple, have more traditional supporting roles to play in underscoring the emotional thrust of their respective scenes, helping lend weight and menace to the movie’s central mystery (what happened to Pikachu’s former partner?), which, if the whole movie hadn’t hung together so well, might have been seen as a really silly solution to that portion of the plot. Overall, Detective Pikachu is as engrossing a listening experience as it is a viewing experience, and one can certainly hope that Jackman is on board for whatever next installment might be waiting in the wings to happen.

Order this CD

  1. Mewtwo Awakes (1:19)
  2. Catching A Cubone (2:05)
  3. Bad News (1:17)
  4. Howard Clifford (0:56)
  5. Ryme City (2:11)
  6. A Key To The Past (2:06)
  7. Aipom Attack (1:58)
  8. On The Case (1:26)
  9. Childhood Memories (1:42)
  10. Buddies (1:08)
  11. Interrogation Of Mr. Mime (1:53)
  12. The Roundhouse (1:50)
  13. Pikachu vs. Charizard (3:06)
  14. Embrace (3:07)
  15. Digging Deeper (3:55)
  16. Unauthorized Access (3:38)
  17. Greninja & Torterra (2:59)
  18. The Forest Of Healing (3:53)
  19. Shock To The System (1:19)
  20. Save The City (1:07)
  21. True Colors (2:11)
  22. Merge To One (2:08)
  23. Game On (1:05)
  24. Ditto Battle (2:26)
  25. Howard Unplugged (2:35)
  26. Epiphany (2:22)
  27. Together (2:20)

Released by: Sony Classical
Release date: May 3, 2019
Total running time: 58:02

Space Station 76 – music by Marc & Steffan Fantini

Ah, Space Station 76 – I hadn’t even thought about this movie in years when the soundtrack popped up out of nowhere in 2020, six years after the movie itself met with some minor film festival buzz before becoming a creature of the streaming media ecosystem. Filmed on a bunch of gorgeously retro-futuristic sets – evoking that ’70s sci-fi vision of what the future might be – Space Station 76 was a joy to look at, but there wasn’t much to actually watch. It was as much a retro sci-fi parody as it was a parody of the entire decade whose sci-fi it was spoofing, poking fun at the “I’m OK, you’re OK” vibe of the 1970s. It’s a pity it just wasn’t that funny, especially since it was billed as a comedy. The score, however, serves as a pleasant reminder that the movie’s music may have been even more successful than its look in evoking that decade.

While there are bits that sound like they’re reaching, in a tongue-in-cheek way, to meet the vibe of a serious sci-fi score of that era, much of the score takes on a laid-back, mellow, ’70s pop vibe, a sound carefully constructed to sit comfortably alongside several vintage slices of Todd Rundgren and Ambrosia that punctuate the proceedings. The blend of new score and older songs is reasonably successful, helping the movie to conjure a lot of its retro vibe. (The Rundgren and Ambrosia selections are not included here, and that’s okay; they’re readily available elsewhere.)

3 out of 4It’s perhaps not the best plaudit for a movie that its most memorable elements are its score and its production design (shame about the story and the characters, though), but the score’s release is a nice reminder that the movie was an audiovisual feast, even if it forgot to stick the landing with a satisfying story.

Order this CD

  1. Introduction (0:55)
  2. Title Sequence (Alien Ship) (1:55)
  3. Roller Skating (1:43)
  4. Irregularities (0:33)
  5. Stressing Me (0:35)
  6. Here Comes The Delivery Man (0:42)
  7. 70’s Joy’nt (0:53)
  8. World Of Fantasy (0:47)
  9. Hello (0:38)
  10. Sunshine, No (0:45)
  11. Asteroidal Pocket (2:18)
  12. Sex and Death (1:09)
  13. Never Been To Earth (1:09)
  14. Romantic Joy’nt (0:51)
  15. Last Gerbil (1:25)
  16. Mail’s Here (0:29)
  17. Home Movies (1:08)
  18. Mom In Pod (1:07)
  19. Budding Romance (1:19)
  20. Logan Is Coming (0:16)
  21. Asteroid Hits (2:25)
  22. Asteroid Misses (2:15)
  23. Sunshine Floats (0:51)

Released by: Madison Gate Records
Release date: April 3, 2020
Total running time: 26:06

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – music by John Williams

Star Wars fandom may never be a cohesive whole again once the post-original-trilogy trilogy wraps up. The Force Awakens was knowingly derivative – on purpose, so we’re told in hindsight – to bring a new, younger audience into the familiar story beats of a Star Wars movie, while The Last Jedi‘s iconoclastic approach to the story’s remaining original trilogy characters seemed to split Star Wars fandom down the middle. The one unchanging constant in this whirlwind, however, has been John Williams, the architect of the orchestral Star Wars sound.

The soundtrack from The Last Jedi, appropriately for the middle chapter of a trilogy, leans heavily on themes already established. Themes for Rey, Kylo Ren/the First Order, and Poe/the Resistance are holdovers from The Force Awakens, with Rey’s theme given a great deal of development here. From the original trilogy, the Force theme (also frequently associated with Obi-Wan Kenobi) gets plenty of play here, as does a theme for another Jedi Master long past. The TIE Fighter battle theme is back as the Millennium Falcon shakes off its pursuers on Crait, with maybe two seconds of whimsy dropped in for Chewie’s new Porg sidekick. (Not heard on the album: the re-use of the Emperor’s theme for Snoke – perhaps a tacitly tuneful admission that the two were nearly interchangeable?) Luke and Leia’s reunion gets a somber, low-key treatment of their theme from Return Of The Jedi, tagged out by a short reference to Han and Leia’s love theme before Luke strides into battle against Kylo Ren.

Virtually the only truly new theme here is reserved for Finn’s winsome new partner, Rose (though that description should, perhaps, be the other way around). This leaves the movie’s major action setpieces for the majority of “new” material – percussive, raging battle music for Rey and Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards, Finn’s final fight with Phasma, and naturally Luke’s climcactic duel with Kylo Ren. “The Battle Of Crait” rolls out a low, threatening motif for the oncoming First Order forces, as well as a choral interlude for Finn’s futile attempt to sacrifice himself for the Rebel cause.

The introduction to Canto Bight has an opulent opening (hearkening back to some of the “Coruscant” music from the prequel trilogy, which then segues into a boisterous jazz tune that sounds like it’s played by the same ensemble as the original Star Wars‘ Cantina Band music. It’s not a callback to that specific tune, but very much a delightful callback to its style. “The Fathiers”, accompanying the scenes of Finn and Rose lowering Canto Bight’s property value with large, four-legged help, is a callback of another kind – it sounds like a theme from an Indiana Jones movie slipped into the Star Wars universe.

I can handle a soundtrack falling back on old favorites more gracefully than I can handle the entire script of a movie doing so, and – spoiler alert – John Williams gives Luke Skywalker and Leia a truly epic sendoff, the 5 out of 4former with a mythic choral treatment, and the latter with her theme from Star Wars arranged for piano during the end credit tribute to the late Carrie Fisher.

With J.J. Abrams back in the driver’s seat for Episode IX, the question isn’t whether John Williams’ final Star Wars outing is worthy of the franchise. The question now becomes whether or not the movie itself will be worthy of Williams’ grand finale.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title and Escape (7:26)
  2. Ahch-To Island (4:23)
  3. Revisiting Snoke (3:29)
  4. The Supremacy (4:01)
  5. Fun with Finn and Rose (2:34)
  6. Old Friends (4:29)
  7. The Rebellion is Reborn (4:00)
  8. Lesson One (2:10)
  9. Canto Bight (2:38)
  10. Who Are You? (3:04)
  11. The Fathiers (2:42)
  12. The Cave (3:00)
  13. The Sacred Jedi Texts (3:33)
  14. A New Alliance (3:13)
  15. Chrome Dome (2:03)
  16. The Battle of Crait (6:48)
  17. The Spark (3:36)
  18. The Last Jedi (3:04)
  19. Peace and Purpose (3:08)
  20. Finale (8:28)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: December 15, 2017
Total running time: 77:49

L’uomo Puma (The Pumaman) – music by Renato Serio

Known to the English-speaking world as the infamously cheesy, MST3K-mocked movie Puma Man, L’uomo Puma boasts a score that, heard in isolation, outclasses its accompanying movie in nearly every inportant way. Well, for the most part.

Let’s quantify the outclassing being done by the score here: this isn’t “the first Star Trek movie was okay, but Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking score made it even better” territory. Instead, the orchestral portions of L’uomo Puma‘s score class up the adventures of Tony (the hapless nerd who receives “the powers of a puma”) and Vadinho just enough to give the perhaps mistaken impression that money was spent on the movie as a whole (spoiler: it really wasn’t).

This long, long overdue CD release – this score’s first release on any format – was issued by Italy’s Beat Records in late 2017 in a ridiculously small pressing of 500 units, and to be quite honest, its track titles are opaque and unhelpful at best, managing to completely obscure where that track falls in the movie unless you’re a Puma Man scholar who has memorized the movie (a status which your reviewer is slightly embarrassed to admit he may be approaching).

There are three primary themes in the Puma Man score: a noble-but-mysterious theme for the alien visitors who conferred “the powers of a puma” upon a selected member of the human race, an ominously menacing theme for the machinations of the character played by Donald Pleasence (whose sole instruction from the movie’s director must have been “that’s nice, but can you do it more like Blofeld?”), and of course, the goofily late-’70s-supermarket-commercial-jingle feel of Puma Man’s theme.

The former two categories of music are where the most praise is deserved; they’re nicely composed, marvelously played, and well-engineered. The hollow echo treatment on the cellos lend them more menace than usual. Composer Renato Serio, known primarily to Italian audiences, wasn’t fooling around here; this music outclasses the movie it’s in easily.

If you’re even slightly enamoured of late ’70s scoring that tries to force an orchestra to play to a disco beat, then you’ll be a sucker for the Puma Man theme, a cheery recurring theme that seems oblivious to 3 out of 4the fact that its hero seems to have stumbled upon his superpowers and doesn’t really know how to use them. There’s something hilariously compelling about it – you’ll find yourself humming or whistling it for days afterward.

Earlier, the small pressing of 500 copies of L’uomo Puma was described as ridiculously small; maybe it is. Or maybe it’s just right, given how far underground this movie’s cult following must be. But for those who enjoy this slab of finest Italian-made cheese, it’s almost certain to earn a place of honor on the soundtrack shelf.

Order this CD

  1. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 1 (2:14)
  2. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 2 (2:13)
  3. Puma Man #1 (2:03)
  4. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 3 (2:38)
  5. Puma Man #2 (2:07)
  6. Puma Man #3 (3:13)
  7. Puma Man #4 (1:43)
  8. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 4 (2:04)
  9. Puma Man #5 (2:26)
  10. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 5 (2:36)
  11. Puma Man #6 (2:28)
  12. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 6 (2:07)
  13. Puma Man #7 (2:26)
  14. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 7 (2:40)
  15. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 8 (2:24)
  16. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 9 (1:42)
  17. Puma Man #8 (1:57)
  18. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 10 (2:15)
  19. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 11 (2:22)
  20. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 12 (2:14)
  21. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 13 (1:35)
  22. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 14 (2:03)
  23. Puma Man #9 (2:38)
  24. Puma Man #10 (1:49)
  25. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 15 (2:46)
  26. Puma Man #11 (2:13)
  27. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 16 (2:08)
  28. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 17 (2:38)
  29. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 18 (1:54)
  30. L’Uomo Puma – Seq. 19 (2:04)
  31. Puma Man #12 (3:14)
  32. Puma Man #13 (2:45)

Released by: Beat Records
Release date: October 20, 2017
Total running time: 75:12

Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey

You can probably be forgiven if the name of this movie – shown primarily in museums and other educational venues – doesn’t ring a bell. Animated in Taiwan to accompany an all-star voice cast that included the likes of William Shatner, Chris Pine, Mark Hamill, Samuel L. Jackson, Brent Spiner Robert Picardo, Hayden Christensen, Jason Alexander, James Earl Jones, future Star Trek: Discovery star Doug Jones, and rookie first-time actor Neil Armstrong, Quantum Quest incorporated real-time data from a number of NASA missions that were then ongoing: Cassini, the sun-watching SOHO, Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER, Mars Odyssey, and ESA’s Venus Express and Mars Express orbiters. I’m kind of sorry I missed this one, because the real-time, interactive nature of it precludes any kind of home video release (or at best would result in a home video release robbed of its most compelling features).

But there’s the soundtrack. Shawn K. Clement (composer on several early episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer) pulls out all the stops, with the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra delivering a score worthy of a sci-fi epic (complete with theremin performed by Clement himself). With a barrage of percussion and occasional ethnic flourishes, Quantum Quest‘s score shows a bit of Battlestar Galactica influence (but then, so does a lot of other post-2005 sci-fi scoring). But it’s a very different animal, leaning more heavily on traditional 19th century orchestral influences and using the other elements as flavoring rather than foregrounding them.

4 out of 4Given the subject matter and the talent involved, it’s a bummer to have missed Quantum Quest while it was still a current concern. (Even the spacecraft upon whose data the movie relied are not all there now: Cassini, Venus Express and MESSENGER have all ended their missions by crashing into their respective planets.) The soundtrack makes quite a souvenir of both the movie and that very busy era of interplanetary exploration.

Order this CD

  1. Cassini (0:47)
  2. Anti-Matter (1:34)
  3. Sun City The Game (3:11)
  4. Opportunity To Serve (0:45)
  5. Departure Station (1:45)
  6. The Core (1:11)
  7. The Battle (1:14)
  8. Ignorant Moronic Fools (1:05)
  9. The Void (1:39)
  10. Ghost Fight (0:44)
  11. Incoming (0:55)
  12. Fate Of Trillions (2:06)
  13. Dave In Space (1:05)
  14. Fear / The War Machine (3:25)
  15. Ring City (0:35)
  16. Are You Milton? (1:18)
  17. Destroy The Dave, Destroy The Light (1:54)
  18. Cassini Commander (0:44)
  19. Flipping Switches (1:25)
  20. Destroy Me (1:02)
  21. Operation Photon Extermination (3:17)
  22. The Message / Dave Delivers (4:18)
  23. Universe Of Possibilities (2:18)
  24. The Quest (remix) (5:23)
  25. The Message / Dave Delivers (demo) (4:11)
  26. The Message (remix) (6:32)

Released by: BSX Records
Release date: September 1, 2011
Total running time: 54:23

Beep – music by Leonard J. Paul

The soundtrack for a documentary about the evolution of sound in video games, Beep is very much an exercise in electronica, with a healthy dose of chiptune. That seems like an almost obvious way to go, right? Except there’s a bit more to it than that.

Many of the tracks on the Beep soundtrack album are ethereal and just a little bit hypnotic – repeating musical figures that sort of draw you into their sonic spiral. That’s no accident: these sequences were built on a foundation of procedurally-generated tunes. The repeating sequences were created at random by a program (given certain parameters), and then everything on top of that was the work of the film’s human composer. It’s an interesting way to have man and machine working together, and for the subject matter of Beep, it works. Even as a listening experience with none of the context of the movie, it’s very relaxing.

There are a few places where it gets a bit more active, though. There are two versions of “Half Steppin’/Freaky DNA”, a tune that sets up a funky groove, and there’s an ode to game music’s 4 out of 4less melodious early years in the form of “Dave’s Atari”, which gives you a really good idea of an Atari 2600’s actual range of notes and octaves. (And it’s still musical in its own way.) “Wood Bug” has a feel similar to “Dave’s Atari”, but with a more modern sound palette.

Beep may not be everyone’s cup of pleasantly arranged sine waves, but it’s mesmerizing and yet unmistakably pays tribute to the 8-bit sound of the early video gaming era. Those are two really strong selling points for a listener in the right frame of mind for something different.

Order this CD

  1. Beep Movie – Main Theme (1:17 )
  2. Banana Seat (5:28)
  3. Karin Originals (5:21)
  4. Orange Shag (3:31)
  5. Buckwheat Pancakes (4:03)
  6. Riverbank (4:10)
  7. Ankylosaurus Almonds (2:12)
  8. Rotary Dial (3:07)
  9. Dave’s Atari (1:58)
  10. Skipping Rocks (7:45)
  11. Half Steppin’ (Genesis Remix) – Freaky DNA (1:21)
  12. Help Steppin’ – Freaky DNA (3:07)
  13. Beep Logo (0:06)
  14. Magic Hour (4:20)
  15. Pluto (4:43)
  16. Galaxies (2:30)
  17. Googol (3:31)
  18. Crusin’ The Cosmos (4:50)
  19. Quadra Sunrise (3:54)
  20. Wood Bug (2:06)
  21. Backyard Flight (4:10)
  22. Beep Movie – Closing Theme (2:40)

Released by: Bandcamp
Release date: September 16, 2016
Total running time: 1:16:10