June 1st, 2011

Princess Mononoke – Joe Hisaishi (1997)

Princess Mononoke

Pure instrumental bliss. Joe Hisaishi takes us on a journey for the soul with the anime film soundtrack to Princess Mononoke. This whimsical treat for the ears has become a well-known triumph in Hisaishi's career and a critical high point in anime film music. The music of Princess Mononoke combines a creative-classical motif with unexpected modern twists. This soundtrack is highly commendable due to its very dynamic and diverse track listing. To demonstrate this diversity, I have focused on five stand-out tracks on the album.

The main theme presented first in the track, "The Legend of Ashitaka", wastes no time encompassing the listener with intense melodic beauty. The theme utilizes a full orchestra to paint the picture of a dreamy time long ago in Japan. The alternating crescendos of the strings and woodwinds are extremely moving here. At times throughout the song, it presents a royal-sounding march filled with the strength and duty of a warrior's devotion.

The track, "Demon God", brings a native video game battle-feel; full of warning and foreshadowing especially in the beginning of the song. The high tempo and troublesome build-ups keep you on your toes as it is different from the other serene themes on the album. The consistent drum beat with overlaying brass horns expands the range in the album's overall sound. This track is so compelling, it's almost as if the instruments are acting out a scene--no words or description necessary. This track is a perfect example of bringing variation to a film score.

In "Kodamas", Hisaishi experiments with plucking percussions and trickling, clicking woodwinds to make imaginations come to life. These unique sounds are used to represent the Kodamas, or spirits that live in trees in Japanese folk-lore. In the film they are portrayed as having large rattling heads and the music precisely embellishes this vision. Just from this track alone, you can see the amount of musical detail Hisaishi puts in to play up the roles of these supernatural creatures.

"Lady Eboshi" is an ambient and abstract classical track that contains a beautifully slow adaptation of the main theme. It brings peace and simplicity in the midst of many adventurous tracks on the album. Again, we see Hisaishi giving each piece of this film its own voice, using a distinguished oboe and flute solo to act as the guiding voice of Lady Eboshi.

Included on this album is one of my favorite Hisaishi's staples: georgeous piano solos. And there is no shortage of gorgeous piano solos in the track, "Ashitaka and San". These grand piano melodies bring with them such a spectrum of emotions; it takes the listener from the depths of an earthy forest to the brightest side of the moon in ten seconds. It brings a much needed romantic interlude to the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans of the Iron Town.

The soundtrack of Princess Mononoke is one of, if not THE, best anime score to date. It is not just background music to an anime feature film- it is an otherworldly experience. I could only imagine how breathtaking this score would be to hear live, in concert. To those lucky few who have gotten this opportunity- I will forever envy you!

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May 12th, 2011

Lonesome Dove – Basil Poledouris (1989)

Lonesome Dove

The late Basil Poledouris, one of the most respected and talented composers in history, shows us his tender side with the romantic western theme from the Lonesome Dove TV miniseries. The music, and especially the main theme, of Lonesome Dove surpasses what most would expect for a miniseries in the late 80's. It shouldn't be considered any less than a timeless work of art.

The main theme is an epic waltz that moves you to the core. This beautiful piece of music tosses you in waves of anticipation until the climactic hook occurs once again. This hook that I speak of is a very playful yet very complicated build-up followed by a majestic release back down. It reaches higher and higher until it soars you down the ultimate happy-fun-slide of the symphonic orchestra genre. It's just pure genius.

After hearing the main theme, however, it is difficult to match that ceiling of emotion. Granted, some of the other tracks have a more action-packed, classic western feel to it almost reminiscing the "Magnificent Seven", and the use of Mexican horns creates an even more intense all-American southern border experience--you actually feel as if you're riding down the scalding Texas terrain with these characters. But the part you are waiting for, that climactic hook, doesn't come soon enough.

As classic and timeless a score this is, the novelty of waiting for the main theme to come back around wears off. At times the soundtrack as a whole lacks depth and variation. It lacks the theme-within-a-theme motif that we all know a fantastic composer like Poledouris is entirely capable of. But perhaps we must remember that this music wasn't made for a timeless film, it was made for a somewhat nondescript TV program. With so much detail in the heart-moving melodies, we can't overlook its acute greatness. The Lonesome Dove score is a beautiful and moving piece with so much passion packed into such a small amount of track-time; which perhaps in the end was ideal for none other than the music of a TV series.

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February 23rd, 2011

Batman Begins – Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard (2005)


Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard are the perfect compliment to each other as they combine their strengths as two of the most talented action and drama movie soundtrack composers. It was time for Danny Elfman's reign of all Batman scores to come to an end, as Christopher Nolan's realistic presentation of Batman differed drastically from what it ever was before. Zimmer and Howard, who had talked about forming a collaboration for some time, have created one hell of a soundtrack and successfully originated the comic book hero's story once again with power and emotional intensity.

The two composers complimented each other while applying their skills to their full potential. Howard focused on the softer, more emotional tracks representing Bruce Wayne, while Zimmer focused on the louder, action-adventure tracks representing Batman. Every track on this album has the power to give you the chills. The main theme, revamped for this darker, deeper interpretation of Batman, at first, seems almost insufficient. It's chord changes are somewhat slow and it does not carry the level of enthusiasm we are used to from the Hollywood-style 1990s Danny Elfman Batman scores. In time, however, the music grows on you and it becomes clear how it fits in with the film itself. The many other emotional, disturbing, and inducing melodies embedded throughout the album, however, keep your thirst for passion and variety quenched.

The Batman Begins soundtrack takes you on a roller coaster ride through the classic super hero tale; and although you may have been in Bruce Wayne's world for a while, Zimmer's action-packed arrangements never fail to take you back to the dark reality of Gotham's unearthly vigilante. Although seemingly uneventful the first time around, the power of the Batman Begins score cannot be denied.

In the track below, titled Corynorhinus, Howard's heart-moving style is highlighted for the first three minutes, then Zimmer's influence really comes into play around the 3:17 mark.

Fun fact: The song titles on the soundtrack are a little out of the ordinary; each one is a Latin word relating to the themes in the movie; for example, "Vespertilio" translates into "Bat". It's a neat idea for a moment, but in the end does not help the average listener remember and identify their favorite tracks.

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November 19th, 2010

Catch Me If You Can – John Williams (2002)


Just when you think you know a composer's style, they will surprise and delight you with something totally unconventional. This happens to be the case with the Catch Me If You Can soundtrack composed by John Williams. When people think of John Williams, they usually think immediately of the heavily orchestrated, classic film themes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Jurassic Park. The instrumental technique used to compose the majority of the songs on this particular soundtrack, however, was completely original from Williams' typical line of work. Catch Me If You Can expresses the cleverness and wittiness of the main character, Frank Abagnale Jr. (who DiCaprio plays in the film), while bringing the listener through the fast-paced, auspicious adventure of successfully committing crime. The element of jazz music and distinct instrumental solos is solid throughout the eleven original scored tracks on the album.

There are two main melodies, the Catch Me If You Can Suite and the upbeat, optimistic tune featured in many of the tracks, but is especially featured in The "Float". The main theme for Catch Me If You Can, or The Catch Me If You Can Suite, sounds just as it should be: mysterious, sneaky and risky. This is the most recognized melody from the soundtrack and was probably the composition that earned Williams an Oscar nomination in 2003 and a Grammy nomination in 2004. This main theme sounds the most unlike John Williams' typical work, while the other melody featured in The "Float" is more signature John Williams. The optimistic tune I speak of is eerily similar to the Home Alone soundtrack with its glockenspiel and bell inspired sounds. Where it does differ is, again, with the jazz inspired instrumental solos. Saxophones and clarinets sporadically perform to represent the levels of unexpected twists and turns in the film.

Williams deserves some praise with this soundtrack seeing as he went out of his comfort zone in order to create a standout main theme that was entirely original. The area in which this soundtrack lacks is the indistinctness of each song. Sure, the two main melodies are intriguing, but they are repeated in a way that does not leave a long-lasting impression on the listener. With the exception of The Catch Me If You Can Suite (that you can play below), the repeated crescendos of bells and whistles just don't leave you breathless.

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August 8th, 2010

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – Harry Gregson-Williams (2001)

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty

After Harry Gregson-Williams collaborated with Hans Zimmer and Trevor Rabin to compose a number of 1990's top soundtracks, he made quite the impression in the soundtrack world by adding an edginess and modern spirit to Konami's original Metal Gear Solid game soundtrack on the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty soundtrack. Gregson-Williams, with some help from Norihiko Hibino (a musician within the Konami corporation), has composed a compelling set of songs to play as background music through the second Metal Gear Solid stealth action game released in 2001. The previous soundtrack for the original Metal Gear Solid game did not captivate much emotion, as the majority of it was composed by obviously inadequate synthetic sounds. Gregson-Williams made the music more futuristic by adding a slight techno/electronica twist to it. He was careful not to go overboard on the techno twist, however, seeing as he included orchestra instrumentals on some of the tracks. The up-beat, up-to-date intonation most likely highly intensifies the stressful situations being played out on the player's screen.

Probably the most widely praised track on this album is the new arrangement of the Metal Gear Solid Main Theme. Although, Gregson-Williams did not compose the song melody itself, he sure did one heck of a makeover on it. Props to Tappi Iwase, another composer for video games at the Konami corporation, for composing such a "solid" main theme to a game series in the first place. But where Harry Gregson-Williams achieved greatness is taking the typical, primitive sound of video game music and turning it into something larger - something you would hear in the movie theater. Now-a-days soundtrack composing has been taken a lot more seriously and with the improvements in technology, it is common for video games to have a thorough score. Back in 2001 applying movie-level theme music to a video game was quite rare. Although somewhat risky, composing the soundtracks for MGS 2: Sons of Liberty, MGS 3: Snake Eater, and MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots turned out to be a very smart career choice for Gregson-Williams. While composing these game soundtracks he was able to be creative, expand his skills and has steadily gone on to compose magnificent soundtracks for some of the most popular video games and movies of the decade.

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July 19th, 2010

StreamingSarah at the Star Wars Concert!

StreamingSarah in a Jedi-inspired outfit before Star Wars: In Concert at the RBC Center in Raleigh July 18, 2010

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Wait! I mean, yesterday at the RBC Center in Raleigh... I saw Star Wars: In Concert! And yes, it was amazing, and yes, it was everything I hoped it would be.

It was an interactive event that featured music from all six of John Williams' classic Star Wars scores. A live symphony orchestra and choir performed along with footage from the films on a huge, high definition LED film screen. They played a selection of tracks from each of the movies in order from Episode I to Episode VI. It also had live narration by the real C-3PO (actor Anthony Daniels) which was well intended but slightly cheesy. I went for the music, not all the other bells and whistles.

Outside around the arena was an exhibit of Star Wars characters, photo ops, costumes, props, artwork and videos from Lucasfilm Archives. I even got in character and was inspired to dress like a female jedi. Accordingly, I went by my jedi name that night, Sarbo Weelaw.

Right before a live orchestra performance of a favorite movie score, it is hard not to be nervous about it matching up exactly to your expectations. But the force was with them and they got it just right. I know every note to every song they played, since they played the most popular songs, and I never once had a flinch of disappointment. They played all my favorites: Duel of The Fates, Across The Stars, Battle of the Heroes, Binary Sunset, Imperial March, Luke and Leia and The Battle of Endor's. The concert also opened my eyes to the individuality of the track, "The Asteroid Field" from Empire; somehow I overlooked that one.

*Update!* Below you can watch two of the videos I uploaded from the concert, the opening "Main Titles" and the awesome "Battle of the Heroes". Quality isn't terrific but it's a good representation of how incredible the live orchestra and chorus sounds--you HAVE to hear it for yourself.

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April 24th, 2010

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Yoko Kanno (2003)

Stand Alone Complex O.S.T.

The other day at work I was trying to think of what song I wanted to request on StreamingSoundtracks.com. For some strange reason, even before I could begin to brainstorm, one of my favorite unique techno-inspired tunes from the soundtrack library started to play out in my head. Then I thought, 'Man, where is that from?' I knew it was a song from an anime and in particular, Ghost in the Shell came to mind. So onto imeem.com I went to search for the mysterious yet incredibly vivid track in my mind. Now, I don't know about you but when I have a part of a song I really like repeating in my head, I am just itching to hear it. After going through a couple of songs, I finally found it; "Inner Universe". It was even better than what I remembered. That's the bittersweet thing about listening to StreamingSoundtracks all day long - there are so many songs you become a fan of that they quickly get lost in the long list of favorites. Today I was just lucky enough to have that song pop in my head and then have the prestigious imeem.com to supply it on demand. After listening closely to the soundtrack that "Inner Universe" came from, I have concluded the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex soundtrack is overall an enjoyable collection of tranquil songs that unfortunately lack in excitement and consistency.

Yoko Kanno, the composer of the anime masterpieces Escaflowne, Cowboy Beebop, and Macross Plus, doesn't quite live up to his name with this album - with the exception of Inner Universe and similar tracks. Inner Universe is the opening theme for the anime series and clearly deserves the most praise. Velveteen and Rise [TV Size] sound very similar to Inner Universe and therefore earn some respect. The fast paced electronic beat in these tracks work well with the other synthesized sounds and euphonious female singing voice. Sure it is a pleasurable album to listen to if your in a mellow mood but as for overall effectiveness, we can expect more from Kanno.

Since two versions of the CD were released, I am going by the track listing as it is on StreamingSoundtracks.com. For the full listing of songs on the other version, see the Wikipedia page for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex O.S.T.

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March 24th, 2010

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 – Bear McCreary (2006)

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2

Presenting a beautiful combination of sensitive strings and powerful percussion, Battlestar Galactica's Season 2 soundtrack will blow you away. Using his unique style of composing music for a television series, Bear McCreary takes the listener into a distressed world of the unknown where anxiety attacks and senses soar. Lucky for us, many of the same distinct sounds from Season 1 were recreated for Season 2. McCreary does not have a long list of clientele but I suppose you could say he has found his niche creating outstanding music for syfy television shows. McCreary continues to build his brand and is currently the composer for another popular syfy TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Stand-out tracks on the Battlestar Galactica Season 2 soundtrack are Colonial Anthem, Allegro, Something Dark is Coming, Prelude To War, and Reuniting the Fleet. (Songs featured in the playlist below.) The first track on the album, Colonial Anthem, is probably the most expected track from this season's soundtrack and includes the original tune Stu Phillips created in 1978 for the Battlestar Galactica movie theme. The recognizable horn-based melody, that starts playing halfway into the song, provides a confident sound that deeply connects the listener to the roots of the show. Allegro is clearly a reprise to Season 1's Passacaglia - and I'm glad McCreary brought those relaxing string harmonies back for round two. Another one of my all-time favorite songs on this soundtrack is Something Dark Is Coming. Even though this repetitive, almost monotone track fills your head with images of gloom and uncertainty, it draws you in by ironically soothing your soul. While it sounds like a song off the Donnie Darko soundtrack, the track stays true to the Battlestar Galactica sound by incorporating the unique string harmonies in random breaks throughout the song. Prelude to War is arguably the most ingenious track on the album. With its intense crescendos of percussion and strings, the listener quickly feels the anxiousness of a war about to begin. The Japanese taiko drums in Prelude to War is astounding; I couldn't imagine how breathtaking a live performance of this track would be! Reuniting the Fleet brings a proud yet peaceful Celtic feel that takes this album to new heights. I absolutely love how McCreary went so many different ways with the songs on the Season 2 soundtrack. I love the originality and overall sensitivity of these songs and they will continue to be some of my all-time favorites to listen to.

The soundtrack received a Sarah Score of 82% because only a handful of songs stand out while the majority of the twenty-three tracks on the album could be deemed as forgettable. The album is perfect background music for a peaceful work environment but, as a whole, it does not create a mind-blowing listening experience. Despite the fact that songs like Prelude to War and Reuniting the Fleet are some of the most brilliant songs ever composed for a television series, points get deducted for not evoking enough energy throughout the entire album.

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January 6th, 2010

The Princess Bride – Mark Knopfler (1987)

The Princess Bride

Some people might argue that the Princess Bride soundtrack is another aspect of the movie that makes it "awesomely bad" - but instead it just subtracts any potential satisfaction out of this movie entirely. The Princess Bride soundtrack is quite possibly one of the worst soundtracks ever made; low quality, little resourcefulness and no consistency. Highly synthesized music from the 1980s was not the best route for Knopfler to choose when creating music for, what some consider, a classic film.

The only songs that are acceptable, but still questionable, are Once Upon A Time...Storybook Love, I Will Never Love Again, and Storybook Love (the lyrical version). Sure, they sound sweet and warm-hearted, but overall creativity with the instrumentals and melody lack significantly. At least these songs give the listener some relief from the insufferable, inconsistent noise that all the other tracks dispense.

To be honest, from the hundreds of hours of listening to movie scores, I'm not sure if I've ever heard a worse soundtrack. I have no idea how this soundtrack got a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on StreamingSoundtracks.com. Most pioneer video games have better quality soundtracks than this! For these reasons, I decided to give the Princess Bride soundtrack a Sarah Score of 14%. To all you Princess Bride lovers, remember, I only assess movie soundtracks not the movies themselves; so please take no offense. But do try to realize that the movie could have been taken 100% more seriously by the general public if Knopfler put the least bit of effort into composing a legitimate soundtrack.

If you are skeptical of my harsh judgements, watch this clip of Cliffs of Insanity and pay close attention to the "music" in the background. It takes away so much from the film.

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November 6th, 2009

Paprika – Susumu Hirasawa (2007)


Paprika has a unique, unmatched sound where human voices create the melody as well as the beat. The seamless blend of synthesized human sounds and symphonic instruments creates a hip-hop/techno twist to a classic Japanese video game ballad. And not only is the sound of Paprika extremely unique, but it's also unbelievably catchy! These songs can stay in your head for days. The first time you hear this album, you may just think of it as literal 'noise' and that it has no flow what-so-ever. But once you listen to it a couple times over, it grows on you, and you begin to hear tiny pieces of the song repeated in your mind. I fell in love with the song Parade after hearing it only two times. I have never heard a song from any genre like it before. With the synthesized/robot-voices and sound clip repetition, some of the songs could easily be the backtrack to a current hip-hop song. I've heard through the grapevine that Paprika is a pretty bizarre anime, and after hearing the soundtrack that's not very hard to believe! Thanks to a wild imagination and today's latest audio effects, Hirasawa has created a special soundtrack that provides an extraordinary listening experience as it takes you away into dream-land.

As much as Paprika's sound is original, it cannot make up for the looped melodies and repetitive-sounding tracks lacking in magnitude. I give a lot of credit to Susumu for his one-of-a-kind work, but in all honesty, the soundtrack alone cannot be listened to for more than fifteen minutes without driving the listener slightly insane.

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August 30th, 2009

StreamingSarah at the LOTR: TTT Concert!

Holy freakin' Frodo! Good griefin' Gandalf! After attending the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers concert live to projection last night, my mind is blown. It was beyond amazing. My heart was racing the entire time. The music to those movies is just so powerful and riveting- I could barely contain myself.

The concert took place in Vienna Virginia at the Wolf Trap Center for the Arts. It was a good four hours away but it was very much worth it. I bought great seats- cost was not an issue when it came to experiencing the ultimate movie score live. I was sitting in row 25 from the stage, slightly to the right. Twas perfect.

I was moved to tears three different times throughout the performance. I can specifically recall these times. And when I say tears, I mean literally, tears streaming down my face because the music is that freakin' beautiful.

1) The 2:30 mark of "Glamdring" when the Chorus comes in for the first time. It was so overwhelming. Their voices were so much louder and precise than I expected them to be. The first bar of notes was just breathtaking. The rest of the song was just as hair-raising after that but I know now when I get to that 2:30 mark I will always get chills.

2) The 1:35 mark of "Theoden Rides Forth" when Gandalf makes his arrival to Helm's Deep and his staff's light blinds the front lines of Saruman's army.

3) The 0:40 mark of "Tales That Really Matter". I can lose it to this one anywhere, anytime. But hearing it live, was just a totally out-of-body, out-of-mind experience. I felt so vulnerable and exposed. I couldn't help but let it out. Thanks, Howard Shore, for making me cry in public!

Here's a clip of "The Plains of Rohan" I uploaded from the concert. Enjoy!

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April 24th, 2009

Transformers – Steve Jablonsky (2007)


Most action/syfy movie makers can only dream of having such an amazing soundtrack as the 2007 blockbuster hit, Transformers. Steve Jablonsky has truly gained his reputation for making high quality music - with this soundtrack acting as strong supporting evidence. I tend to think of Jablonsky's composing experience level very similar to Klaus Badelt's (The Time Machine, Pirate's of the Caribbean) simply because he is another one of Zimmer's relatively new disciples. Both artists are following brilliantly in Zimmer's steps with the continued success of major movie soundtracks. But Jablonsky took this soundtrack to a whole new level that no other composer could, with its emotionally influenced instrumentals and spiritual choral segments. Transformers is a soundtrack that can convey many emotions in just a matter of minutes; emotions like fear, anger, doubt, hope and compassion are encrypted in most of the tracks on the album.

I love when high-intensity, high-action movies have breathtaking soundtracks because it ends up having a powerful, subconscious effect on its viewers. They are sucked in more than usual but cannot pinpoint why. Listen to these songs from the soundtrack and you'll understand why Transformers wasn't only successful because of its special effects and Shia LeBeouf's "breakout performance". Be sure to listen to Track 1 (Arrival to Earth) below; there's a reason it won the 2007 "Track Of The Year" award on StreamingSoundtracks.com. Creating a roller coaster with crescendos and choir, the song's expression of devastation is breath-taking!

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