March 2, 2009

Soundtracks FTW!

As I looked through my "best headphone music" I realized that what Julie says is correct: pretty much everything sounds better on headphones. I probably should have specified music that sounds substantially different on headphones (the kind of thing Mike mentioned, with QSound) but "headphone music" is really too broad a category.

I decided to focus on another sorting criteria for music -- favorite soundtrack instrumental music. So, I've gathered a play list here of my favorite non-vocal soundtrack music. Maybe you can tell me about your favorites as well.

I tried to choose the most varied tracks I could, rather than going with a Top 10, to cover lots of different styles. I focused on Movie/TV themes, and left out video game themes.

Mausam & Escape - Slumdog Millionaire

From my new favorite soundtrack of the moment. There are great vocal tracks on the Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack, but this one is pretty darn cool without lyrics. No, I haven't seen the movie yet and yes I plan to. But I got so many recommendations about the music that I had to check it out, and was not disappointed.

This track starts out very gentle and quickly turns into a gritty (headphone-y) toe-tapper. Great percussion, speedy plucking strings and high octane synth. I expect that Maggie will be asking me to give her this for her workout mix any second now.

Vertigo Love Theme - Vertigo: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1958 Film)

Not all soundtrack music has to be action music to be good (despite what you'd think by looking at the distribution of music on my iPod). In the love theme from Vertigo, Bernstein conveys the gentle, fragile and confusing relationship between our main characters and eventually whips the theme up into a frenzy of frantic craziness. If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to spoil it for you. if you have, then you know what I'm talking about. One of the most messed up love stories ever, and the music paints it perfectly.

Mona Lisa Overdrive - The Matrix Reloaded

We're right back to "high octane" literally, in this synthesized theme from Matrix Reloaded. Unfortunately, this is a remix to which some voices have been added, so you'll have to imagine it without the "kyries." This theme plays during the extended car chase scene from that movie, arguably the best car chase in any action movie. My other contender is also on this list. But it's the music that keeps the tension wound up tight. (This spot was a toss up between this track and "Chateau" also from Matrix Reloaded. Best fight scene from all of the three movies.)

Frankie Machine - Elmer Bernstein by Elmer Bernstein

A jazzed-up theme by the great Elmer Bernstein, who probably wrote most of your favorite older movie themes (like The Magnificent Seven, which could have made this list, but didn't). This theme from The Man With The Golden Arm is for an ex-con drummer who has pumped a ton of gold into his arm.... in the form of heroin. Jazzy and seedy, this theme sounds as dangerous as the addiction itself.

Audrey's Dance - Twin Peaks (Season One TV Soundtrack)

Another toss-up to include this or Laura's Theme from Twin Peaks. Angelo Badalamenti certainly has a unique mind for music. And layering sounds. And stuff. I really think it's genius, but you might not even agree that it's music. Fair enough. Audrey's Dance is as confusing as Audrey herself, if you watched the TV show. Coming up with a soundtrack that'll be noticed in a David Lynch production is a challenge, and I think this is why Lynch goes back to Angelo time and time again. Same kind of crazy.

Hyper Sleep - Alien

From the film Alien. IMHO, Goldsmith did his best work on Alien. This track is actually a suite, made up of themes from Alien. But the first 2 minutes are called "Hyper Sleep" and they're what you hear as the crew is waking up. Out of context, it sounds like morning in a dewy meadow with flowers and bunnies and sunshine. In the film you see computer displays flickering to life. I think it was an inspired juxtaposition.

Dead Like Me

The theme to Dead Like Me had to convey the kooky, upbeat nature of this comedy, which contradicts the "dead" in the title. Andrew Copeland's twitchy piano gave us a carefree feeling, telling us that the life of a reaper wasn't all hard work.

Battle Without Honor or Humanity - Kill Bill, Vol. 1

They used Tomoyasu's kick-ass theme in the trailers for Kill Bill with good reason, it sounds like people getting ready for a fight! It's like a Rocky theme for the new century.

Desert Chase - Raiders Of The Lost Ark

My favorite scene from any Indiana Jones movie was this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, of course, I had to include something from John Williams. In this scene, Indy is trying to steal the Ark back. Of course he succeeds, but he has to defeat a whole troop transport truck full of Germans to do it. If you're an Indy devotee like I am, you can see the whole scene play out just by listening to this track. It's adventuresome and dead serious and humorous by turns. Perfect Saturday matinee fare.

Leaving for Philadelphia - John Adams

Listening with Maggie to Rob Lane's theme at the beginning of every episode of HBO's John Adams became an emotional experience for me. I guess we really connected to his story, and the theme added some real gravity. This track is a modified version of the main theme, a little slower, which makes Adams efforts sound like more of a slog than an action adventure. He's off to Philadelphia yet again to try to form a new country, against overwhelming odds. And he's leaving his better half in Massachusetts to face her own considerable challenges.

Symphony #25 - Mozart - Amadeus: Original Soundtrack Recording

From the beginning of Amadeus. Salieri has slit his wrists. Emergency! What a strange use of the 25th Symphony, but its frenetic strings do the trick. Nice one, Mozart!

Nocturne #20 in C - Chopin - The Pianist: Music from the Motion Picture

From The Pianist. this one is just incredibly beautiful and just a little sad. That is all.

Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence

I think of Ryuichi Sakamoto as the Elmer Bernstein of Japan. That's probably way off, but I had to include one of his themes. here's your hot pentatonic scale action from the movie of the same name.

And three that weren't on iMeem:

The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning

From the horrible Batman and Robin but the awesome Smashing Pumpkins. Re-purposed here for the trailer of Watchmen. This version of the trailer recreates the movie trailer with "motion comics" that are faithful to the images in the graphic novel. Trippy!

Memories of Green

The saddest theme from any movie I know. Vangelis has created a few themes in his day, but this from Blade Runner takes the cake. it evokes a world on life support, slowly dying, nostalgic, remembering better days. The beeping reminds one of mechanical devices intended to sustain life, fitting for a film about artificial life.

The Demon God

From Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime. I had to include it because I love drums, and this is the best use of Taiko drums from any film I know.

Posted by James at March 2, 2009 3:40 PM
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Oh. Speaking of John Williams stuff. I used to blast my ears off listening to "Battle in the Snow" from the ESB soundtrack.

When I bought the SW soundtracks on CD years later, they had changed the track order, track names, and everything else... it's not the same at all.

Posted by: Julie at March 2, 2009 4:47 PM

The Watchmen motion comic is kind of awesome except one significant drawback: it's narrated by 1 guy.

Unless you're familiar with the characters, you might not be able to discern which text goes with which voice. However, you're kind of taken out of the story when the narrator guy uses his "chick voice", especially when Silk Spectre II is talking to her mom. It's so bad.

Posted by: Derek at March 2, 2009 5:14 PM

That is unfortunate, Derek. Some voices can pull that sort of thing off; I've listened to a number of books on tape and readers have varying ability to be convincing. I find that there are some really talented female voice actors that can at least do plausible men to the point where it's not distracting.

Men doing women can sometimes be comical where it's not supposed to be.

Posted by: James at March 2, 2009 8:24 PM

I love Battle in the Snow. Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars soundtrack, IMHO. The Asteroid Field and Battle in the Snow are two highly rated tracks on my all-time favorite sounrdtracks playlist.

Posted by: James at March 2, 2009 8:26 PM

Looks like on the CD I have it's called "Battle of Hoth" but it's broken down into sub-parts. I remember it being Battle in the Snow or whatever on the LP.

Duel of the Fates from the new trilogy was pretty cool, but it just isn't as exciting as the Empire music.

Posted by: James at March 2, 2009 8:29 PM

Thanks for posting that Blade Runner montage. That truly is a sad and haunting theme.

I love that movie. I believe I'll watch it again this weekend.

Posted by: Patti M. at March 3, 2009 7:26 PM

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