The Mandalorian: Chapter 4 – music by Ludwig Goransson

The fourth chapter of The Mandalorian opens in a positively pastoral musical setting, with acoustic guitars setting a less menacing and less frenetic pace than the beginning of any episode of the show so far with the “Ponds Of Sorgan” track – so it can’t last, right? Of course not – within that same track, the agrarian village we’ve seen is attacked, and it’s kind of like the best cold open that a TV western could give you: before we even catch up with our hero(es), we are already acquainted with the situation that requires their intervention.

After Mando’s ship arrives, the peaceful sound returns (“Can I Feed Him?”) as he and the Child settle in with their new hosts. The action and tension return with “Training The Plebs”, and then chaos sets in with the inevitable “Camp Attack” and “Spirit Of The Woods”, the latter of which sees the raiders’ AT-ST come out of hiding and hesitate before plummeting into the trap set by Mando and Cara Dune.

A more relaxing pace returns in “Stay”, as the Mandalorian is tempted with the opportunity to stay on the planet, secluded and off the radar…until a burst of musical tension heralds the appearance of another bounty hunter trying to track down the Child; 4 out of 4it turns out this chance to find some peace was only a limited time offer.

A nice change of pace musically, Chapter Four is a reminder of the vast breadth of musical styles that Ludwig Goransson brought to bear on something that a less talented composer would’ve just tried to make sound like cut-rate John Williams; instead, as is always the case with this series, he carves out his own path and really sets the stage for the story in the process.

Order this CD

  1. The Ponds Of Sorgan (3:09)
  2. Off The Grid (1:47)
  3. Can I Feed Him? (3:34)
  4. Training The Plebs (3:10)
  5. Camp Attack (2:22)
  6. Spirit Of The Woods (5:10)
  7. Stay (2:21)
  8. Mando Says Goodbye (1:20)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 29, 2019
Total running time: 22:53

Crowded House – Afterglow (Deluxe Edition)

Released several years after the breakup of the original lineup of Crowded House, Afterglow was a collection of songs that had been relegated to B-sides, to soundtracks, and sometimes to the cutting room floor, never making it to an album but becoming a favorite in the band’s live show. There was material concurrent with all four of the band’s studio albums at the time, and it was something of a bittersweet revelation of how prolific the band was.

But if the original release was a fond reminder of that, the deluxe expanded 2-CD edition is a jaw-dropping revelation. It was known that, after the departure of Paul Hester from the drum seat, an attempt was made to soldier onward with Peter Jones, who had toured with the band after Hester’s abrupt mid-tour exit in 1994. Jones was heard on drums on the original Afterglow‘s incredibly atmospheric track “Help Is Coming”, so obvious some recording was done with him. But the biggest surprise of the second disc is a stretch of material revealing just how much was recorded with Jones – a series of songs that basically amount to an album side. So yes, the deluxe edition of Afterglow brings us half of a Crowded House album that could have been, and really should have been, because the studio demos are so polished – and just as atmospheric as “Help Is Coming” – that they’re sharper than some bands’ final studio masters, and they reveal a band that could very well have continued despite the unplanned personnel change.

After Neil Finn’s home demos of such songs as “Instinct” and “Everything Is Good For You”, the Finn/Seymour/Hart/Jones lineup returns with “Anthem”, a song Finn unearthed from the archives as a charity single a few years earlier, and while it lacks the polish of a finished track, it does show an arrangement that’s been worked out an honed, complete with vocal harmonies. The next track by this post-Together Alone lineup is even more surprising, featuring Mark Hart singing lead on a song that he wrote, “I Don’t Know You”. Again, the song is presented in a somewhat rough state, but one with a lot of promise. Hart eventually reclaimed “I Don’t Know You” for his solo album Nada Sonata, but there’s something stripped-down, bluesy, and incredibly catchy about the Crowded House rendition that may well make it superior to Hart’s final studio version. This should’ve been a single, though one wonders how a single without Finn’s voice (or writing credit) front and center might have been able to navigate the band’s complex internal politics.

Even more songs follow, including the trippy “A Taste Of Something Divine”, which could almost be in late ’90s U2’s wheelhouse rather than what anyone would’ve been expecting from Crowded House. If this is what the band could’ve accomplished with Jones on drums, it’s kind of a glimpse into an alternate universe where Together Alone was followed by even edgier, more out-there changes in style.

Following a nice, folksy rendition of “Spirit Of The Stairs” (a favorite in the Crowdies’ live set), this lineup drops one last surprise with a hard-hitting rendition of “Loose Tongue”, a song which eventually migrated to Finn’s first solo album, 1998’s Try Whistling This. Upon hearing that album in 1998, I remember asking myself “Why was it necessary to break up Crowded House to do this album?”, and this version of “Loose Tongue” really brings that question back. There was very little of Try Whistling This that couldn’t have been done by the full Crowded House lineup.

But the alternate timeline in which Crowded House with Peter Jones in tow ventures into more adventurous musical territory ends there; the rest of disc two is rounded out with the three “new” songs from the 1996 greatest hits album, “Instinct”, “Not The Girl You Think You Are”, and “Everything Is Good For You”, all of them “safer”, more traditional Crowded House songs with 4 out of 4Mitchell Froom at the mixing board and Paul Hester on drums.

The musical equivalent of deleted scenes is what Afterglow was always about, but the expanded edition offers a truly eye-opening glimpse into what could have been if Together Alone had been but the beginning of an experimental phase, and not the end of one. Very few expanded reissues of existing albums justify the double-dip like this one does.

Order this CDDisc One

  1. I Am In Love (4:37)
  2. Sacred Cow (3:36)
  3. You Can Touch (3:45)
  4. Help Is Coming (4:48)
  5. I Love You Dawn (2:33)
  6. Dr. Livingston (3:56)
  7. My Tellys’ Gone Bung (3:10)
  8. Private Universe (4:07)
  9. Lester (2:19)
  10. Anyone Can Tell (3:35)
  11. Recurring Dream (3:23)
  12. Left Hand (2:57)
  13. Time Immemorial (4:06)

Disc Two

  1. I Am In Love (Home Demo) (2:07)
  2. Instinct (Home Demo) (2:03)
  3. Spirit Of The Stairs (Home Demo) (3:39)
  4. I’m So Scared Of Losing I Can’t Compete (Home Demo) (2:11)
  5. Everything Is Good For You (Home Demo) (3:14)
  6. Not The Girl You Think You Are (Home Demo) (3:00)
  7. Anthem (3:31)
  8. I Don’t Know You (Studio Demo) (3:40)
  9. A Taste Of Something Divine (Studio Demo) (4:14)
  10. Spirit Of The Stairs (Studio Demo) (4:55)
  11. Loose Tongue
  12. Rough Mix (3:51)
  13. Instinct (3:06)
  14. Everything Is Good For You (3:52)
  15. Not The Girl You Think You Are (4:08)

Released by: Capitol Records
Release date: November 18, 2016
Disc one running time: 46:51
Disc two running time: 47:31

[…]

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

[…]

Rob Dougan – Misc. Sessions

From 2016 through 2019, Rob Dougan – an artist who had been absent since making a splash in the early 2000s when instrumental versions of some his music were included in key scenes of The Matrix Reloaded – resurfaced in the crowdfunded music arena to see if there was support for him to make new music. With Dougan, whose signature style is to add his rough-and-ready, almost-spoken-word vocals to a string section and either a live drummer or a drum machine, this was going to take a bit of investment from his fans. (As someone who enjoyed Dougan’s previous solo effort, Furious Angels, I was one of those pitched in.) The result was a series of EPs, released as the songs were recorded two, three, or four at a time.

The Misc. Sessions was my runaway favorite of this series of EPs. It’s the one that bears the most resemblance to Furious Angels in its lyrics and music, and it forms a kind of short, bittersweet song cycle unto itself, chronicling either the end of a relationship or perhaps the simultaneous end of several relationships. “She’s Leaving” is pretty self-explanatory, a kind of musical travelogue of what’s left of a home once shared by two, name-checking the things that she deemed unimportant enough to leave behind as reminders.

But the next two songs, “Undone By London” and “Open Sore”, are the real heart of the song cycle, dealing with the aftermath of what was described in the previous song. These two songs flow together nearly seamlessly – one begins in the same key and the same chord with which the other ends – and Dougan’s vocal delivery in “Undone” borders on unhinged the further he gets into the song. “Open Sore” is a bit more calm and accepting of what’s happened, but still darkly bittersweet. “Miscellaneous” is a bit more light-hearted, catching up with where she winds up next, and then we revisit the unhinged anguish of “Undone By London”…by playing it backward as a kind of twisted coda.

If Dougan’s voice doesn’t do it for you – which I get, his tuneful-but-about-as-smooth-as-sandpaper delivery is an acquired taste – the entire song is then repeated in two forms: instrumental (everything except Dougan’s voice and any backing vocals) and “orchestra only” (eliminating not just vocals, but drums, piano and other more conventional “band” instruments). These repeated tracks boost the EP to LP length, while also offering those interested a chance to study Dougan’s orchestral writing and arranging more closely. (It’s here that you really get a feel for how seamlessly “Undone By London” segues into “Open Sore”.)

4 out of 4It’s a lovely package, though for me the appeal is…I really like the songs. They hit me at a time when I myself was recovering from being undone (though not in London), from walking into a home that was suddenly empty of other people, and this little abbreviated song cycle helped me work through some of that. There may have even been a few cathartic, bloodletting singalongs – you’d have to ask my cats.

Order this CD

  1. She’s Leaving (4:19)
  2. Undone By London (4:27)
  3. Open Sore (4:58)
  4. Miscellaneous (3:53)
  5. Undone By London (Reprise) (4:01)
  6. She’s Leaving (Instrumental) (4:03)
  7. Undone By London (Instrumental) (4:25)
  8. Open Sore (Instrumental) (4:59)
  9. Miscellaneous (Instrumental) (3:56)
  10. Undone by London (Orchestral only) (4:02)
  11. Open Sore (Orchestral only) (4:40)
  12. Miscellaneous (Orchestral only) (3:51)

Released by: Rob Dougan
Release date: October 23, 2016
Total running time: 51:34

The Mandalorian: Chapter 3 – music by Ludwig Goransson

The third chapter of The Mandalorian really sets up the core conflict of the entire show: having retrieved “the asset”, Mando delivers it as promised…and then, feeling remorse because he too was once a child rescued from near-certain death, he ends his career as a bounty hunter by doubling back to rescue his quarry – in short, by caring.

Since the story deals with a decision that is, at its most basic, an emotional one, the music is surprisingly clinical for this episode, leaning heavily on electronic minimalism. That in itself is not entirely surprising; since this is a conflict playing out in the Star Wars universe, there are going to be blasters and explosions involved, and anything too musically involved would wind up getting severely dialed down in the final sound mix.

That said, the music does have its moments. The somewhat dissonant theme for the Mandalorians as a whole, the musical signature of the Mandalorian way of life, makes itself known as Mando’s new suit of armor is being forged, and to a lesser extent as the Armourer has to smooth over a disagreement among her fellow Mandalorians on the subject of accepting work from a leftover remnant of the Empire. But after a tender statement of the Child’s theme, the “Mandalorian Way” motif finally gets a bold, triumphant, major-key statement as the entire Mandalorian covert makes itself known, turning Mando’s hopeless attempt to reach his ship with the Child into an even fight. It’s a fight that’ll have serious consequences later in the season, but here it’s good news, and it’s got a hell of a scene to accompany, with Mandalorians dropping into a fierce firefight the likes of which had only previously been achieved in animation (or by nine-year-old kids playing with a 12-inch Boba Fett figure and wondering 4 out of 4what the jet pack accessory was all about – or, um, so I’ve heard). The more celebratory tone continues into the episode-closing “I Need One Of Those” cue.

I try not to recommend an entire soundtrack on the basis of a single track, but in The Mandalorian, it was such a rarity to hear something in major keys that this one really stands out. The series and its composer really succeeded in redefining the music vocabulary of Star Wars. In short, you need one of these.

Order this CD

  1. A New Day (5:30)
  2. Mandalore Way (3:21)
  3. Signet Forging (2:02)
  4. Second Thoughts (4:19)
  5. Whistling Bird (2:22)
  6. Mando Rescue (2:14)
  7. I Need On Of Those (1:34)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 22, 2019
Total running time: 21:22

The Lickerish Quartet – Threesome, Vol. 1

Lickerish Quartet is a collision of former members of Jellyfish and/or offshoots of Jellyfish, two categories you’ll often find in the same record collection. Jellyfish lasted long enough for two albums; a posthumous box set of live cuts, demos, and collaborations rounded out the band’s legacy, but still left a lot of potential on the table. Many a Jellyfish fan (like the scruffy fellow I occasionally spy in mirrors and other reflective surfaces) obsessively follows the individual former members of the group through their solo careers and later work with other artists – and sometimes minor family reunions like this one. With Jellyfish founding member Roger Manning and Spilt Milk-members (and former Umajets) Tim Smith and Eric Dover aboard, Lickerish Quartet is indeed something of a family reunion. The plan is for the band to gradually write, record, and release a series of EPs, each supported by fan pre-orders, so that the end result will be about an album’s worth of music.

Threesome Vol. 1 is the first of those, with the “threesome” in the title describing the band; “quartet” is actually a better description of the number of songs on this first volume, somewhat confusingly. But that’s the kind of perversely anarchic humor that we’re expecting from Jellyfish alumni, right?

That sense of humor also extends into the first song, “Fadoodle”, whose lyrics can best be summed up as “I cleaned house and did some chores, can I get laid now?” (Pro tip: guys…you should be doing your share of the housework because it’s part of the unspoken social contract of sharing space with other human beings, not because you’re expecting sex at the end of said chore.) Maybe I’m just showing my age here, but these lyrics and their dancing-between-sung-and-spoken-word delivery didn’t land with me, even though the music itself is fine; there’s a great bass line that makes it all incredibly catchy, and the instrumental bridge may be the best thing about the song.

“Bluebird’s Blues” is a definite improvement, and perhaps should’ve been first song (though I do get it, if you’re banking on the Jellyfish connection, “Fadoodle” sounds more whimsical and Jellyfish-esque than anything else here). Together with “There Is A Number”, “Bluebird’s Blues” really digs into that ’70s power-pop sound, which is really what I hope to hear out of a reunion of any configuration of Jellyfish, a lot more than I hope to hear whimsy. They’re both excellent songs, though I get a chuckle out of the first lyric in “There Is A Number”: “I never meant to cause you too much pain.” Is there really some acceptable amount of pain one can cause others before a line is crossed? (As with the playful lyrics of “Fadoodle”, I’m probably overthinking it here.)

“Lighthouse Spaceship” was the song most heavily promoted prior to the EP’s release, and with good reason: where “Bluebird’s Blues” and “There Is A Number” are classic bittersweet ballads, “Lighthouse Spaceship” is a straight-up, unapologetic rocker that reaches for – and just about achieves – a late ’60s/early ’70s psychedelic rock flavor with both its lyrics and its 3 out of 4instrumentation. At over six minutes, I get why this wasn’t the lead track, but it seems obvious that the band realized this was the strongest thing in this particular track listing.

It’s all worth a listen, and perhaps best of all is the promise that more from this lineup – and perhaps even better material – is yet to come.

Order this CD

  1. Fadoodle (3:46)
  2. Bluebird’s Blues (4:31)
  3. There Is A Magic Number (4:14)
  4. Lighthouse Spaceship (6:26)

Released by: InGrooves / Label Logic
Release date: May 15, 2020
Total running time: 18:57

[…]

The Mandalorian: Chapter 2 – music by Ludwig Goransson

If there was an episode of The Mandalorian in which Ludwig Goransson could shine brightly, Chapter 2 was definitely it – there’s a lengthy stretch of the episode where not a word of English is spoken, and the story is punctuated by grunts, groans, and Jawa-speak. It’s not until Mando returns to Kuill’s settlement to ask for help that anyone in this episode talks. Everything during that time is conveyed by body language, visual effects…and the music.

That’s part of what makes “Jawa Attack” such an unashamedly big piece of music. Aside from sound effects, the show’s main character grunting as he tries to muscle his way through his opposition, and the Jawas doing what Jawas always do in Star Wars mythology – namely, stripping ships and vehicles and leaving them on blocks – there’s nothing in the music’s way. Though not as action-packaged, “Trahsed Crest” is also a musical moment that gets to happen with minimal interruption. “To The Jawas” is an in-your-face travelogue that takes the Manadlorian from Kuill’s settlement to the Jawas’ sandcrawler, with echoes of “Jawas Attack” thrown in as a motif. The Jawa motif returns in full force at the beginning of “The Egg”, which then gradually becomes more moody and electronic as Mando (and the tiny child who is now, almost inexplicably, tagging along on one of Mando’s most dangerous encounters).

“The Mudhorn” is largely electronic, giving the beast a truly otherworldly yet primal rhythm, an element that is brought up short when the child brings the Mudhorn to a standstill with the Force, culminating in a much more full-bodied version of the theme for the child hear at the end of the show’s first episode. “Celebration” brings the Jawa motif back in a major key, as we discover that they sent the Mandalorian into a life-threatening situation to fetch them a snack. I mean, really, it’s like he got them a bag of real Cheetos instead of the store brand bag that doesn’t quite taste the same. Remind me never to go 4 out of 4grocery shopping for Jawas.

This episode may well be the strongest, musically, until the closing two episodes of the season, giving Goransson a chance to go nuts and really lay out the show’s musical manifesto with a minimum of spoken dialogue to get in the way. This was where we really found out that this show’s musical voice was an amazing character in its own right.

Order this CD

  1. Walking On Mud (1:38)
  2. Jawas Attack (3:46)
  3. Trashed Crest (2:18)
  4. To The Jawas (1:35)
  5. The Egg (2:54)
  6. The Mudhorn (3:00)
  7. Celebration (3:31)
  8. The Next Journey (2:35)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 15, 2019
Total running time: 21:17