Human Target – music by Bear McCreary

Based on the comic of the same name, Fox’s TV series Human Target may have already set a record: according to Variety, its music was recorded by the largest orchestra assembled for an American TV series in well over ten years. Human Target isn’t a terribly high-profile project, and Fox doesn’t reach deep into its pockets for no reason; that huge orchestra was hired because of the acclaimed composer handling the music: Battlestar Galactica alumnus Bear McCreary. It’s a pretty good bet that McCreary’s name is what got this music released, too: Warner Bros. Watertower Music label released two CDs worth of music as a digital download, while McCreary’s home label La-La Land Records unleashed a 1,200 copy run of a 3-CD set covering everything in Watertower’s digital release and then some, including a few work-in-progress sketches created as precursors to the orchestral sessions.

McCreary’s music is flat-out, unabashed action music of a kind that hasn’t been heard since John Williams was in the business of scoring every blockbuster that wasn’t assigned to Jerry Goldsmith. There are, in fact, a few passages of music that bring Star Wars instantly to mind. McCreary establishes the Human Target theme up front in the extended version of the main titles, and uses it as a motif in many, if not most, of the cues from the show’s episodes. Other themes begin to recur for the show’s ensemble of characters.

And if you’re wondering if it makes any difference that this music was recorded by the largest orchestra to record TV music in ages, fear not – you can tell. The balls-to-the-wall action scenes have the kind of full-blooded feel that samples and synths just can’t quite cut (at least not without sounding like a wall of synths). There are still some synthesizers in the mix, along with the usual suspects (i.e. Oingo Boingo alum Steve Bartek on guitar) and the kind of big percussion for which McCreary became known on Galactica, but the orchestra is front and center in the mix. (And for the record, it really doesn’t sound anything like Galactica.)

The show itself failed to grab me, but I continue to find myself humming bits of the soundtrack here and there, occasionally from episodes I didn’t even see. A major turnover of behind-the-scenes personnel between Human Target’s two seasons on the air left both 4 out of 4its original showrunner and McCreary out in the cold, and there seems to be little disagreement that the result was something less watchable (which eventually led to its cancellation) and certainly less listenable. And it’s perhaps just as well: the quality of McCreary’s work makes every released soundtrack a calling card, and it can’t be too long before steady feature work is more prominent than TV scoring on his resume, because this is big-screen-worthy music.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Theme from ‘Human Target’ (long version) (1:31)
  2. Skydive (5:19)
  3. No Threats (4:17)
  4. Military Camp Rescue (4:37)
  5. Motorcycle Escape (5:29)
  6. Monastery in the Mountains (1:41)
  7. Paint a Bullseye (2:19)
  8. The Katherine Walters File (4:30)
  9. Switching Sides (6:09)
  10. This is Awkward (2:11)
  11. The Russian Embassy (3:32)
  12. The Devil’s Mouth (1:21)
  13. Ice Cubes (2:05)
  14. Allyson’s Past (3:05)
  15. Flipping the Plane (10:53)
  16. Driving Away (0:48)
  17. Airborne and Lethal (3:34)
  18. Chance’s Old Boss (3:54)
  19. Old Chance (2:14)
  20. Skyhook Rescue (7:05)
  21. Into the West (1:35)

    Disc Two

  22. New York City Arrival (1:52)
  23. Train Fight (3:33)
  24. Baptiste (2:39)
  25. Tango Fight (1:27)
  26. Maria and Chance (2:35)
  27. Katherine’s Killer (4:10)
  28. Confronting Baptiste (8:51)
  29. Courthouse Brawl (5:09)
  30. Stop Running (3:08)
  31. Not a Pacifist (0:46)
  32. Bullet Train (1:56)
  33. Gondola (8:43)
  34. An Old Life (3:21)
  35. Lockdown (5:02)
  36. A Bottle of Japanese Whisky (1:34)
  37. Victoria (3:29)
  38. The New Champion (5:56)
  39. Emma Barnes (3:10)
  40. Stephanie’s Ring (1:50)
  41. Port Yard Deaths (2:52)
  42. The New Christopher Chance (6:34)
  43. Theme from ‘Human Target’ [Short version] (0:40)

    Disc Three

  44. Flight Attendant Wilson (0:49)
  45. Round One (3:25)
  46. Emma’s Bra (2:24)
  47. Maria Gallego (1:58)
  48. Afraid in Alaska (1:21)
  49. Guerrero and Sergei (2:51)
  50. Chance Takes the Job (0:54)
  51. Tracking Device (3:03)
  52. The Black Room (1:41)
  53. Fighting Kendrick Taylor (1:27)
  54. Bertram (6:59)
  55. Sparring Guerrero (1:46)
  56. Scar Stories (3:35)
  57. Danny’s Killer (2:42)
  58. Chaos in the Cockpit (5:49)
  59. A Mistake (0:50)
  60. Chance’s Theme (Sketch Version 1) (1:17)
  61. Chance’s Theme (Sketch Version 2) (1:44)
  62. Katherine’s Theme (Solo Piano Version) (1:48)
  63. Theme from Human Target (Alternate Short Version) (0:38)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2010
Disc one total running time: 78:16
Disc two total running time: 79:23
Disc three total running time: 47:11

Cloak & Dagger – music by Brian May

Cloak & Dagger - music by Brian MayThe early ’80s saw a spate of video-game-oriented films, trying to cash in on the public’s seemingly unstoppable infatuation with that new entertainment medium. Cloak & Dagger, starring Henry Thomas (still a fixture in the public eye thanks to his then-recent appearance in E.T.) and Dabney Coleman (the king of early ’80s video game / computer flicks, having already appeared in WarGames, was easily the most kid-oriented of the first wave of video game movies.

For some reason, my memory had cheated a little bit in recalling this movie’s music. I hadn’t actually seen Cloak & Dagger since just a few years after its release, and for some reason I had it in my head that the soundtrack was somewhat similar to the music from WarGames, which was constantly on-edge and, thanks to some synth work, hip to the audience’s expectations from a movie featuring computers as a key plot point. In fact, Cloak & Dagger – getting its first soundtrack release thanks to Intrada – is nothing like that. For a supposedly tech-oriented movie, it’s startling just how old-school the soundtrack is.

Scored by the late Australian composer Brian May (not Queen’s lead guitarist, who’s still alive and dividing his time between astronomy and being the world’s best axe man), Cloak & Dagger‘s old-fashioned, strictly-orchestral scoring is almost out of place: it skews a lot older than the rest of the movie. Even the way the music was arranged, and the way the recording sessions were miked and mixed, makes the music sound older than the 1980s – in a strange way, it sounds like a recording from the ’60s or early ’70s, and not like the music from a kiddie techno-thriller at all. It’s nice music, but just seems strangely unhip next to the images it accompanies.

The action sequences fare better than the more contemplative moments. Coleman’s swaggering hero Jack Flack gets a nice signature theme, which gets turned around into a nice reveal toward the end of the movie when Thomas’ character realizes that it’s not military superhero/action figure Jack Flack, but his father (also played by Coleman), who has come to his rescue.

Cloak & Dagger could probably have done with a punchier, “younger” soundtrack, and it’s a great example of how misremembered a piece of movie history can be. As always, Intrada packs the accompanying CD booklet with a wealth of information about the movie (including something I’d missed: the plot of Cloak & Dagger is so close to Hitchcock’s Rear Window that the writer of the short story upon which Rear Window was based actually gets a story credit for Cloak & 2 out of 4Dagger). Aside from a mostly-forgotten arcade game by Atari (whose attempt at a movie product placement for an upcoming Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger game – represented here by footage of the arcade game – turned out to be a product placement for vaporware), this may be the only other merchandise Cloak & Dagger has ever inspired. It’s a decent soundtrack… for the wrong movie.

Order this CD

  1. Jack Flack Arrives (0:59)
  2. The Tower Of Life (3:33)
  3. Help, Police!… Murder (4:13)
  4. Return From The Mission (5:32)
  5. I Guess We’re On Our Own (1:38)
  6. Davey Gets Away (1:20)
  7. Run, Davey, Run (3:34)
  8. Nightmare Drive (5:05)
  9. Parking Lot Chase (3:56)
  10. We Gotta Save Kim! (1:06)
  11. Back To The River (2:01)
  12. Run Like The Wind (1:55)
  13. The Cross Fire Gambit (4:42)
  14. I Don’t Wanna Play (1:10)
  15. The End Of Childhood (2:21)
  16. Airport Prelude (1:28)
  17. Davey A Hostage! (1:22)
  18. Captain Jack Flack (6:49)
  19. Cloak & Dagger (End Credits) (3:49)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 57:13

The Social Network – music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

The Social NetworkThe surprise Oscar winner for best score, this is the soundtrack of the ripped-from-the-headlines-and-then-Sorkinized film about the birth of Facebook, and the tumultuous tug-of-war over the ownership of the ideas and code behind it. With geek DNA permeating the entire story, it’s virtually a no-brainer that the movie would get an electronic score, and with that in mind, director David Fincher turned to Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross for the music.

Where this combination of talent really kicks in is on track 2, “In Motion”, which is a percolating electronic tour de force, piling on more and more layers of complexity and harmony as the tune progresses. It starts to edge into chiptune territory at times. It’s bright and jittery and punchy, and even the multiple false endings don’t become annoying, as it quickly resumes with even more layers of complexity. “Intriguing Possibilities” is another highlight, combining a similarly complex electronic sound with guitar licks that remind me a bit more firmly of Nine Inch Nails.

Other tracks lean a bit more in a retro direction, with the “Pieces Form The Whole” and “Carbon Prevails” combining more recent electronics with retro keyboard sounds. There’s also an ever-present piano in most of the tracks preventing things from sounding too otherworldly. A version of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” is gleefully noisy and nigh-on-epic.

One question I kept coming back to was “Was this an electronic score more worthy of an Oscar nomination, let alone a win, than Tron Legacy?” That’s a tough one. There’s precious little here that’s sonically new if you’ve spent much time listening to Nine Inch Nails at all – in fact, a few of the pieces are 3 out of 4even adapted directly from some of NIN’s more recent output – but for most members of the Academy, the Tron sequel’s music sounds more like what one expects from film music, whereas Reznor and Atticus’ opus doesn’t. Some folks may still be shaking their heads at Reznor winning an Oscar for best film score, but let’s face it: The Social Network sounds like nothing else in recent memory. That the music managed to cut through the sheer density of Aaron Sorkin’s wall-to-wall dialogue in places is almost a wonder. It’s worth a listen at the very least, and probably the trophy too.

Order this CD

  1. Hand Covers Bruise (4:18)
  2. In Motion (4:56)
  3. A Familiar Taste (3:35)
  4. It Catches Up With You (1:39)
  5. Intriguing Possibilities (4:24)
  6. Painted Sun In Abstract (3:29)
  7. 3:14 Every Night (4:03)
  8. Pieces Form The Whole (4:16)
  9. Carbon Prevails (3:53)
  10. Eventually We Find Our Way (4:17)
  11. Penetration (1:14)
  12. In The Hall Of The Mountain King (2:21)
  13. On We March (4:14)
  14. Magnetic (2:10)
  15. Almost Home (3:33)
  16. Hand Covers Bruise, Reprise (1:52)
  17. Complication With Optimistic Outcome (3:19)
  18. The Gentle Hum Of Anxiety (3:53)
  19. Soft Trees Break The Fall (4:44)

Released by: Null Records
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 66:10

The Lone Gunmen / Harsh Realm – music by Mark Snow

The Lone Gunmen / Harsh RealmLook up “SF television scoring of the past 20 years” and you might as well look up Mark Snow, who first brought himself to genre audiences’ attention as the sole musical maestro of every episode of The X-Files. What’s more, during much of the ’90s, he was concurrently working on several other Fox genre shows, also created by The X-Files’ Chris Carter, and more often than not those shows were X-Files spin-offs. This doesn’t even count other genre fare (i.e. UPN’s Nowhere Man). These days, Snow is ensconsed in his own musical fortress of solitude, scoring teen-Superman kinda-sorta-prequel Smallville, but he’s also handed the keys to that fortress to La-La Land Records, who has a number of Snow titles available now or coming soon.

The label has already issued a 2-CD set of Snow’s music from the first X-Files spinoff, the moderately-successful mid-’90s show Millennium, but this CD focuses on the less prominent X-Files offspring, the short-live Lone Gunmen, and another brief Chris Carter creation, the stylized “dystopian future” of Harsh Realm (which wasn’t connected to the X-Files). As different as these two shows sounded, they’re a good fit for sharing a soundtrack CD, as both are fairly atypical of Snow’s usual pad-heavy, atmospheric sound from The X-Files.

The music from The Lone Gunmen takes its cues from its characters, the less-than-deadly-serious trio of conspiracy theorists who aided and abetted FBI Agent Fox Mulder in several X-Files episodes. Now on their own, the Lone Gunmen tried to peel back the layers of other conspiracies with their unique talents, while having to deal with the fact that while they’re perfectly competent “back room guys,” they’re ill-equipped to be action heroes on their own. The show’s theme spoofs the echoing bass guitar of the James Bond franchise after kicking off with a tribute to Hendrix’ electric guitar rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, while the score cues themselves rely heavily on pizzicato string samples, further use of the bass guitar, and piano.

Harsh Realm veers closer to X-Files territory with its more introspective piano/synth material, but it doesn’t exactly lull anyone to sleep. One track in particular, “The Challenge”, is a marvel of pounding industrial percussion samples that could’ve been recorded yesterday.

4 out of 4Standouts from the album include the Lone Gunmen cuts “G.I. Jimmy,” “Elmers” (almost Carl Stalling-esque in places) and “Tailing” (with its surprising minor-key reprise of “The Star-Spangled Banner”), while the Harsh Realm highlights include the unease-inducing “Jump Back”, and “The Challenge”, which almost sounds like a ’90s prototype for the Torchwood theme.

Order this CD

    The Lone Gunmen

  1. The Lone Gunmen Main Title (0:45)
  2. Empty (0:23)
  3. Motiv-8 (1:37)
  4. Just What We Needed (2:42)
  5. Lost Causes (1:05)
  6. Rectal Palpation (1:44)
  7. G.I
  8. Jimmy (2:14)
  9. The Vaults (2:30)
  10. Lost Puppy / Confession (3:30)
  11. Elmer’s (2:28)
  12. Sawsall (5:13)
  13. El Palacio (1:56)
  14. El Lobo (1:37)
  15. Sling Blade (2:23)
  16. Wool / Poly Blend (1:40)
  17. Tailing (3:44)
  18. Memories Of Youth (1:12)
  19. The Lone Gunmen Theme – Alternate (0:49)

    Harsh Realm

  20. Harsh Realm Main Title (0:46)
  21. Overlooking Tradition (1:28)
  22. The Wound (2:35)
  23. Love Letter (2:26)
  24. Virtual Vista (1:00)
  25. Chain Gang (1:45)
  26. Jump Back (5:33)
  27. Harsh Realm Main Title – Long (3:22)
  28. The Challenge (1:57)
  29. Thirsty (2:40)
  30. Trickster (3:47)
  31. Two On A Switch (2:33)
  32. Roadblock (3:50)
  33. The Conspirators (1:22)
  34. Harsh Realm Main Title – Full (3:45)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 77:27

Inception – music by Hans Zimmer

InceptionAccompanying one of 2010’s biggest mess-with-your-mind movies, Hans Zimmer’s darkly atmospheric soundtrack is enjoyable on its own too. Zimmer makes excellent use of his trademark rapid-fire cello section (see also: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, or almost any other action blockbuster Zimmer has scored in the past ten years) as well as some inspired guitar work by Johnny Marr, but for some of the movie’s dreamier sequences (and it really is all about dreaming), he also introduces an unsettlingly unresolved four-chord sequence, providing a thoughtful interlude for the movie’s more thoughtful moments.

That sequence, the backbone of the whole score, either gently hints that something is amiss with what some of the characters (and the audience) perceives as reality, or telegraphs its with gigantic, ominous, end-of-the-world blasts of low brass. On CD, the theme is soft-pedaled a bit until it blows you out of your seat in “The Dream Is Collapsing”.

Other thematic material gradually appears, from the boisterous five-minute balls-to-the-wall action cue “Mombasa” to more strangely unsettling melodies in “One Simple Idea” and “Dream Within A Dream” – again, using chord sequences that seem circular because there’s not an obvious beginning or end. “Radical Notion” slowly brings in a pulsating low string ostinato that grows until it washes everything else out pretty spectacularly. Even when a more positive variation on one of these primary themes appears late in the score (and the movie), it has a bittersweet sound – and it still doesn’t quite come to a definitive resolution.

In some ways, Zimmer’s music for Inception summons up memories of the late, great John Barry’s score for The Black Hole – musically, it’s beautiful, but much of the score inspires a growing sense of pure dread. Considering how highly regarded Barry’s soundtrack has been, this is nothing but a compliment. (Given Zimmer’s trademark sound of 4 out of 4repeating low string ostinatos, the Inception soundtrack should also be on the list of anyone who spent all of 2010 eagerly waiting for the Tron Legacy soundtrack.)

There’s a reason the music from Inception has earned Hans Zimmer an Oscar nomination (one of several for Inception overall, I might add). Even when I’ve liked Zimmer’s work in the past, it hasn’t had quite the depth and epic scale that Inception has. Like the storyline it accompanies, it sticks in your head.

Order this CD

  1. Half-Remembered Dream (1:13)
  2. We Built Our Own World (1:55)
  3. Dream Is Collapsing (2:24)
  4. Radical Notion (3:43)
  5. Old Souls (7:44)
  6. 528491 (2:23)
  7. Mombasa (4:52)
  8. One Simple Idea (2:28)
  9. Dream Within A Dream (5:04)
  10. Waiting For A Train (9:28)
  11. Paradox (3:22)
  12. Time (4:35)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 49:11

Ben Folds / Nick Hornby: Lonely Avenue

Ben Folds / Nick Hornby: Lonely AvenueEver since this album was first announced as a project where Folds would be putting Hornby’s words to music, one question kept running through my head: since when does Ben Folds need help coming up with lyrics for story songs? I mean, the man has practically assumed the story-song-writer throne abdicated by Billy Joel, and almost all of his output is a story song of one kind or another. I mean, if you’re going to have help, you might as well have help from an award-winning novelist, but… Ben Folds needs an assist writing story songs? Really?

As it so happens, it’s not such a bad deal. Folds and Hornby have a mutual admiration society going on, so they’re on each other’s wavelength. And there are some great results from that collaboration, even though at its heart, Lonely Avenue lives up to its name – it’s a bit of a bummer of an album. At the very least, a lot of the songs deal with relationships fraught with mistakes; zoom in a little bit further, and quite a few of them concern themselves with infidelity of one kind or another. Lonely Avenue isn’t the sunniest album to arrive in the past year.

Not that this means there isn’t some great music on there. The highlight of the album is “Password”, which starts out painting its protagonist in a slightly creepy, stalker-ish light as he guesses his way through his significant other’s passwords. His confidence that he knows everything about her vanishes as soon as he gets far enough to figure out that – surprise, surprise – there’s another man. The dramatic payoff is nicely handled musically, and the rest of it is just a gorgeous song with some of the best vocal harmonies anyone recorded in 2010.

A close runner-up for the great harmonizing award goes to “Claire’s Ninth”, which deals with a child of divorced parents wishing she could have “two birthdays” like all of her friends, as opposed to the awkward event that she’s putting up with where various family members are barely maintaining civility.

Somewhat more raucous are songs like “Your Dogs” (a litany of complaints sung to a white-trash neighbor) and the other highlight of the album, “Levi Johnston’s Blues”, chronicling what was likely going through the mind of Bristol Palin’s boyfriend at about the time her mother was announced as a vice-presidential candidate. Its hilarious, not-safe-for-work lyrics are surprisingly apolitical – by the end of the song, no one mentioned in the lyrics really comes across as an angel, not even Johnston himself. And in places, despite the hard-driving chorus, the song is surprisingly pretty.

4 starsOverall, the music is great, and the lyrics are unusually dark – and yes, I do know that I’m talking about someone who once spun a radio hit out of a story about taking his then-girlfriend to get an abortion. Folds has never shied away from heavier lyrical material (and I love him for it), but Hornby’s words seem to lack the deft wit that Folds has used in crafting lyrics before – ironic, since the author of books such as “High Fidelity” isn’t without a sense of humor himself. Lonely Avenue is a lovely ride into some not-so-uplifting territory – music to go along with a rainy day.

Order this CD

  1. A Working Day (1:50)
  2. Picture Window (3:42)
  3. Levi Johnston’s Blues (5:15)
  4. Doc Pomus (4:13)
  5. Your Dogs (3:23)
  6. Practical Amanda (3:52)
  7. Claire’s Ninth (3:49)
  8. Password (5:21)
  9. From Above (4:04)
  10. Saskia Hamilton (3:09)
  11. Belinda (6:13)

Released by: Nonesuch
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 44:51

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Ron Jones Project

Due to the much-longer-than-usual nature of this in-depth review, and in an attempt to save everyone’s sanity who isn’t interested, you’ll have to click on “more” below to read the full text.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Ron Jones ProjectIn the summer and fall of 1990, fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation were in frothing-from-the-mouth overdrive: they were busily speculating about the conclusion of the best cliffhanger that TNG would ever produce, and obsessing over their freshly-recorded VHS tapes (remember those?) of the season finale. Repeated viewing of The Best Of Both Worlds Part I yielded numerous insights, namely that the show really had gotten that good, and that this Ron Jones guy who did the music for the episode was on fire. A year later – an agonizing lag compared to how quickly TV music seems to be released these days – GNP Crescendo gave the world the soundtrack to both parts of Best Of Both Worlds, landing themselves a legion of grateful fans and an award for the best indie label soundtrack release of the year.

Some of us, however, had been paying attention to the music credits for a long time, and Ron Jones had been on the radar of musically-aware fans since season one. The cruel irony, of course, is that 1991 also marked the end of Jones’ involvement with the Star Trek series, and the rest of the TNG music released by Crescendo was from composers Dennis McCarthy and Jones’ replacement, Jay Chattaway, both of whom remained with the franchise until Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005. Barring a short two-part suite of music from the season one Klingon episode Heart Of Glory on 1996’s Best Of Star Trek CD, and despite the fact that Jones had gone through his archives and presented Crescendo with enough material for Klingon and Romulan themed TNG soundtrack collections, nothing else was forthcoming from TNG’s musical golden boy.

He still had fans, though, including yours truly, and including Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall. As Film Score Monthly spawned a label and ultimately ceased to be a paper magazine, the idea of a Ron Jones TNG collection never went away. While even the most expectant fans might have bet on a CD here and there, nobody could’ve envisioned what Kendall had in mind: a 14 CD box set consisting of nearly every note Ron Jones composed and recorded for Star Trek: The Next Generation – in short, the full soundtrack for every episode Jones scored, not just the ones that everyone remembered well. With the possible exception of the (ultimately truncated) series of Babylon 5 episode scores on CD, nothing like this had been attempted for TV music. Read More