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

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

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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 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

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

The Mandalorian: Chapter 1 – music by Ludwig Goransson

Of all of the elements that have been pored over exhaustively where The Mandalorian is concerned, I’m not sure the music is getting its due. There was an entire episode of Disney Plus’ streaming documentary series Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian devoted to it, making it clear that showrunner Jon Favreau thought that the music was a big deal.

The most obvious antecedent to The Mandalorian’s music would seem, on the surface, to be the two movies subtitled “A Star Wars Story”, which used elements of John Williams’ music as a flavoring, and his style as a template. Composers Michael Giacchino (Rogue One) and John Powell (Solo) struck out in their own Williams-inspired directions. but it still basically sounded like Star Wars stylistically…but that’s not what Ludwig Goransson (who made a fantastic impact with his score to Marvel’s Black Panther) is doing here.

The Mandalorian takes a very bold step beyond the anthology movies’ stylistic parameters. Not only is the show’s music (at least in the first season) free of even so much as a single reference to Williams’ body of work, but it stylistically breaks free of the 19th century romantic musical lexicon that has defined Star Wars until now. Sure, there’s an orchestra (and, given how much money Disney threw at every aspect of The Mandalorian, a decent-sized one), but there are electronic elements unlike anything that has graced filmed Star Wars before. The strongest resemblance I can think of to any prior entry in the franchise’s musical canon would be the computer game Star Wars: Force Commander, which chopped up and sampled Williams’ music before throwing it into a kind of techno-metal stew.

The Mandalorian is unapologetic about leaning hard on otherworldly eletronic elements if the scene calls for it, sometimes in combination with purely acoustic instruments, but never in a way that seems out of place; it enhances some of the colder aspects of the story, such as Mando’s ruthless nature, and often coincides with story situations that are down to pure survival, such as trying to get a blurrg to stop munching on you (as blurrgs are wont to do), or IG-11’s unsubtle approach to the encampment where his bounty is being hidden away, and the resulting high-octane response.

There’s a second flavor at work here, mostly acoustic, that seems to sit more comfortably in a Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone-inspired western vein – just a reminder that The Mandalorian is really more of a modern western with sci-fi trappings than anything. These cues are really among the most fascinating, unafraid to use a momentary silence to build tension rather than slathering on the entire orchestra.

For the big, epic moments, however, Goransson doesn’t disappoint with a full orchestra at his disposal. These three flavors – let’s call them electronic, western, and orchestral for lack of a better set of labels – often occur withing the same cue. “Bounty Droid” starts electronic, but ends with a massive orchestral flourish as Mando commandeers the heavy artillery that, just moments ago, was aimed at him. “The Asset” – the scene which reveals the tiny being whose continued existence is the driver for so much of The Mandalorian’s storyline – starts out in a sparse western vein with electric guitar before culminating in an orchestral conclusion that’s just quite simply magic.

4 out of 4Nearly every aspect of the production The Mandalorian is amazing, and again, nothing less was expected considering that Disney was going to throw everything at the first live-action Star Wars series in an attempt to change course on the franchise after a series of movies that have stirred heated debate among fans (some of whom are, quite honestly, taking the whole thing too damned seriously). The music, either in the show or on its own, is well-judged, perfectly-pitched, epic stuff.

Order this CD

  1. Hey Mando! (2:13)
  2. Face To Face (5:13)
  3. Back For Beskar (2:25)
  4. HammerTime (2:17)
  5. Blurg Attack (1:25)
  6. You Are A Mandalorian (3:55)
  7. Bounty Droid (3:02)
  8. The Asset (1:35)
  9. The Mandalorian (3:18)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 12, 2019
Total running time: 25:23

Alan Parsons – The Secret

It used to be, in the 1970s and ’80s, that you could almost keep time by the release of Alan Parsons Project albums, with a new one arriving every year or every other year. Albums started to arrive more sparsely in the late ’80s, with members of the core group exploring side projects (Keats, Andrew Powell scoring Ladyhawke) and, finally, the album that broke the Project apart, Freudiana (which was released not as a Project album, but as the studio concept album for a stage musical). The seemingly hectic pace was made somewhat easier because the Project didn’t play live, though Parsons assembled a touring band (which wasn’t always made up of the same players he had in the studio) to begin touring in the 1990s. The two-or-three-year gaps between albums made more sense then, and the live show was every bit as good as you’d expect it to be given how artfully Parsons crafted the studio sound that went out under his name. And then, after 2004’s A Valid Path…nothing. A single came out alongside Parsons’ Art And Science Of Sound Recording DVD, and then a couple more singles. It was somewhere in there that I read an interview in which Parsons declared the album, and especially the concept album in which he had specialized, dead in the age of iTunes downloads. I really didn’t expect to hear anything more from him after that. He had moved on to teaching the next generation of studio wizards and no longer seemed to be in the business of making and releasing his own music.

And that’s a big part of what made the announcement that The Secret was forthcoming such a shock, 15 years after A Valid Path saw him dabbling in electronica. Not just that, but The Secret was going to be precisely the kind of concept album that the singles-centric iTunes ecosystem had rendered obsolete. And what’s more, it’s an amazingly good concept album – though all of the “stage magic” imagery may be obfuscating what that theme really is.

Hewing to long-standing Alan Parsons Project tradition, the album has a lengthy instrumental opener, with Steve Hackett shredding “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with an orchestral backing. From there, things get more traditional – “Miracle” is a throwback to the Project of old, with “As Lights Fall” returning to the same mid-tempo musical ground that had proven so effective for songs like “Eye In The Sky”, but it’s in “As Lights Fall” that Parsons – actually doing lead vocals for once – peels back the curtain on what the album’s really about: the imminence of mortality, and the notion that each individual life is really the greatest magic trick of all.

This concept – dressing itself up in allusions to stage magic before revealing the real underlying theme – recurs in “Soirée Fantastique”, “Requiem”, “Years Of Glory”, and “The Limelight Fades Away”. Mortality and the miracle of life itself is the real concept of this concept album – even “Soirée Fantastique” includes the lyric “all the illusions fall away”. So do the allusions: for all of the lyrical nods to performing magic tricks, in the end it acknowledges that mortality is the ultimate disappearing act. With songs like “As Lights Fall” adding an autobiographical dimension, I almost want to call Parsons up and ask, “hey, buddy, is there something you’re not telling us? I’m kinda worried now.” (Parsons is 71 at the time I write this, though he certainly doesn’t sound 71, so yeah, I get it, life and death and legacy are a real concern.)

High points of the album include the return of Foreigner crooner Lou Gramm’s powerful voice on “Sometimes”, the almost Cabaret-esque, burlesque-act-worthy “Requiem”, and my personal favorite, “One Note Symphony”, a song about the Schumann Resonance whose lead vocal is sung in a perfect monotone, while the harmonies woven around it make the song. I could pick nits about the lyrics leaning into some of the more “woo” new-age connotations of the Schumann Resonance (especially at a time when scientific literacy among the public seems to be plummeting more with each passing day at the worst possible time), but it’s a fun listen regardless.

4 out of 4The Secret may be the best album has turned out since the Project’s heyday, and it really does sit alongside the best of the Project’s output in the quality of both the songwriting and the performance and production of the songs, and the degree to which the songs and the underlying theme of the album have been thought out. At numerous points during this album, I found myself thinking that the late Eric Woolfson (composer and theme architect of the Project’s original string of concept albums) would have wholeheartedly approved of The Secret. It’s worthy of sitting alongside Eye In The Sky and I Robot.

Order this CD

  1. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (5:44)
  2. Miracle (3:22)
  3. As Lights Fall (3:58)
  4. One Note Symphony (4:43)
  5. Sometimes (5:08)
  6. Soirée Fantastique (5:27)
  7. Fly To Me (3:45)
  8. Requiem (4:02)
  9. Years Of Glory (4:05)
  10. The Limelight Fades Away (3:36)
  11. I Can’t Get There From Here (4:38)

Released by: Frontiers SRL
Release date: April 26, 2019
Total running time: 48:28

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