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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mark Snow -- The X-Files: Original Motion Picture Score

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Mark's Snow's soundtrack for the 1998 film, The X:Files Fight the Future, was released more than two weeks before the movie. Befitting the nerddom I have revealed this week, I picked up the album the week of its release, eagerly poring over its music, which, for the next 17 days, would be completely free of associated imagery. Using the track-titles and music, I pieced together what the film could be in my imagination. The weekend of the film's release, my family was vacationing in the "Cajun Paradise" of Grand Isle, Louisiana. I picked up a Nintendo Power on the way there, excitedly read the cover story for Banjo Kazooie, listened to my X-Files CD. To be 16 is a wonderful thing. We got back home Sunday, and I caught a ride to the movie theater (RIP Siegen Village). While I admittedly enjoyed the film, and still do, nothing could have matched the one I created in my head to Mark Snow's music.
Mark Snow had the dual enviable/non-enviable task of translating his music for X-Files the television show to X-Files the movie. Enviably, Snow now had a much larger variety of available tools in his composing arsenal. Unenviably, Snow had to create a huge-sounding orchestral score that could soundtrack a film, while staying true to the tone and sounds of the dozens of hours of music he composed for the soundtrack for the television series. Thankfully, Snow was up to the task.
Snow's The X-Files: Original Motion Picture Scoreis a good one by film soundtrack standards, suspenseful and thrilling, yet ruminative when necessary. It matches executive producer Christ Carter's wishes for atonalism without sacrificing listenability. It is also an excellent translation of Snow's previous work for the show. For example, the The X-Files' main whistle-theme receives a major upgrade at the beginning of the film, but loses none of its enjoyability. Spellcheck says "enjoyability" and "listenability" and even "atonalism" are not words, but I'm gonna go with them.

What's really cool here is how Snow took the percussion, emblematic of his work on the show, but often synthesized, and fully realized it for the film. It's a timpani symphony! The synthesizer translates to strings and horns well, and Snow manages to get some of his distinctive minor key piano work in, as well. Also, as a fan, looking for echoes of themes from the show is quite a treat.
Finally, the way Snow flirts with the melody of the show's original whistle-theme after its dominant announcement in the opening track is particularly satisfying. He often will play a couple of notes from it, then take off in unexpected directions--that way, the few times he allows the orchestra to fully rip into it are more cathartic. While most of the score unfolds chronologically with the film, the producers wisely placed the film-closing, exposition-backing "Facts" as the penultimate track here, allowing the climactic "Crater Hug" to close out the album. As a final statement of Snow's X-Files theme in the film, it is a particularly powerful celebration of the deepened bond between the franchise's leading duo.

Why didn't Scully just look up?! The UFO was right there!!!

1998 Elektra
1. Threnody in X 3:13
2. B.C. Blood 2:26
3. Goop 4:17
4. Soda Pop 4:45
5. Already Dead 1:42
6. Cave Base 1:31
7. Remnants 2:10
8. Fossil Swings 0:58
9. Plague 3:22
10. Goodbye Bronschweig 2:40
11. A Call to Arms 0:57
12. Crossroads 2:17
13. Corn Hives 3:04
14. Corn Copters 2:35
15. Out of Luck 1:00
16. Stung Kissing/Cargo Hold 4:11
17. Come and Gone 5:27
18. Trust No One 2:51
19. Ice Base 1:33
20. Mind Games 3:52
21. Nightmare 2:44
22. Pod Monster Suite 5:21
23. Facts 2:35
24. Crater Hug 2:05

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mark Snow -- The Truth and the Light (Music from The X-Files)

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The next best thing to watching The X-Files is listening to Mark Snow's The Truth and the Light. Mark Snow composed the music for all nine of The X-Files' seasons, but The Truth and the Light, released in late 1996, only covers the first three. Thankfully, those first three seasons contain arguably the show's two best (Seasons 2 and 3), and the music found therein encompasses every mood and feeling the show achieved throughout its nine-year run.
Snow used sythesizers to create a percussive score, thick with atmosphere, punctuating it at times with little touches of strings and voice. Something I forgot until I listened to this album last week in the car with my five-year old: this music is quite scary. By track five, I had to apologize to my son and turn it off, though his eyes were a little bigger than usual for the rest of drive. Snow is heavily responsible for much of the dark feeling imbued deeply into the fabric of The X-Files (of course, along with the subject matter, and the "no lights must every be turned on in any room, ever" direction).
Listening to this soundtrack is like stepping through a window into another plane. It is extremely transportive. Snow also produced the album, along with Jeff Charbonneau, and the duo made the then highly controversial decision to scatter snippets of dialogue from the show throughout The Truth and the Light's 20 tracks. While the critics of 1996 took issue with this choice, here in 2015, it sounds brilliant. By this point, the dialogue spoken and the music itself are so intimately woven together, they are nearly inseparable.
I must not fail to mention that, like the show itself, the moods of Snow's score are actually quite diverse. This music is more than just haunting and creepy. Some tracks hold a plaintive and meditative quality, some a thrilling rush, while some are quite light-hearted, representing the more comedic tones the show was quite capable of creating.
Overall, The Truth and the Light is my favorite of the more than a handful of albums associated with The X-Files. In essence, it is the show, all nine seasons, compacted into one 46-minute wormhole into the unknown. Awesome.

1996 Warner Bros.
1. Introitus: Praeceps Transito Spatium 1:51
2. Materia Primoris: The X-Files Theme (Main Title) 3:22
3. Raptus ("Pilot") 3:16
4. Adflatus" ("One Breath") 4:00
5. Deverbero ("F. Emasculata") 1:28
6. Cantus Excio ("The Calusari") 4:42
7. Mercutura ("Gender Bender", "F. Emasculata") 3:23
8. Lamenta ("Roland") 1:48
9. Insequi ("Oubliette") 1:37
10. Otium ("Conduit") 1:43
11. Dubitatio ("F. Emasculata") 2:49
12. Iter ("Nisei") 1:20
13. Progigno De Axis ("Nisei") 1:35
14. Carmen Amatorium Ex Arcanum ("3") 2:38
15. Facetus Malum ("Humbug") 2:42
16. Memoria ("Shapes") 2:02
17. Mitus Lumen ("Soft Light") 2:41
18. Fides Fragilis ("The Erlenmeyer Flask") 1:35
19. Exoptare Ex Veritas ("Oubliette") 1:30
20. Kyrie ("Grotesque") 1:43

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Various Artists -- Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files

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I have very fond memories of looking at the back of Songs in the Key of X's CD case while hanging out at the Blockbuster Music (later converted to a Wherehouse Music...then FYE) as a teenager. The names of the songs and bands just seemed so dark..."Unmarked Helicopters" by Soul Coughing...a soul coughing?...scary, man! The jewel case featured a parental advisory, and I knew one thing immediately...I needed to start watching The X-Files regularly.
I had watched a couple of episodes before with my good old Uncle Steve, but I was a little scared that if I tried to watch the show at home, my mom would think it was too scary or something and complain about it. But wonder of those days, my mom was almost never home! A few weeks after Songs In the Key of X was released, I became a regular X-Files viewer, and the rest, including naming my firstborn after the protagonist of the show, is history. I have the cover art and tracklisting of this album to thank for all of it.
The funny thing is, I never actually purchased this CD back in the 90's. It wasn't until years later, when the show had been off the air for nearly a decade, that I remembered the impetus for my fandom, and purchased Songs in the Key of X for a penny off of Amazon.
Many soundtracks claim to be "Inspired by the Film," but in this case, the title is true (well, "Inspired by the Television Program"). Most of Songs in the Key of X was created by artists who are fans of The X-Files, and the lyrical subject matter (generally involving strange occurrences) is evidence. The album was released near the end of X-Files third season, in the Spring of 1996. What lovely days those were.
Listening to Songs in the Key of X for this week of reviews, 19 years after its release, the album is...interesting. How about a classic, track-by-track style review. I'm not asking.
-2. Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum by Nick Cave and Dirty Three: Yes, that's right, "-2." Songs in the Key of X exploits the format it was created for to the max, utilizing the compact disc's "pre-gap." This means that if one rewinds the CD right when it is put into the player, one can reach two hidden tracks by Cave and his band of weirdos. This is a nightmare for anyone attempting to digitize the album, but a dream for the ears of anyone with good taste, as this and -1. X-Files Theme Cover, also by Nick Cave and Dirty Three are by far Songs in the Key of X's strongest tracks. They are also its most timeless. While the majority of the songs I'm about to review are performed in the guitar-rock style of the time, Nick Cave and Dirty Three's two tracks here are haunting, violin-led wanderings through a dark, blighted forest. Cave's ghostly lyrics and piano playing on "Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum" set just the tone one would expect for an album inspired by one of the scariest shows to ever air on network television. Following "Time Jesum...,"the group's previously-mentioned cover does justice to The X-Files iconic theme song, while changing it to such an original degree that their version is vital, as well.
1. X-Files Theme (Main Title) by Mark Snow: And speaking of that theme, here it is in all its glory. Placed on as many "Greatest TV Theme Song" lists as "Most Annoying TV Theme Song" lists, the whistle and piano trade-offs of Mark Snow's timeless, most well-known creation are sure to stick in the listener's head. Presented uncut here, the theme's additional two-minutes, not heard on broadcast, feature a more playful vibe only hinted by the opening minute, while not sacrificing any of the piece's darkness or mystery. I've listened to this piece of music about 1,000 times in my life, and God-willing, I'll listen to it 1,000 more.
2. Unmarked Helicopters by Soul Coughing: I mentioned timeless to describe the first three tracks for a reason--large portions of the rest of this album are not. "Unmarked Helicopters" arrives like a falling parachute emblazoned with the words WELCOME TO THE 90's, as Mike Doughty's vocal-style could only have been performed in that decade. "Unmarked Helicopters" is actually an enjoyable song, but it isn't dark in the least, outside of the lyrics, which fit The X-Files quite well.
3. On the Outside by Sheryl Crow: This song is quite a happy surprise. One does not expect "dark" from Sheryl Crow, but the creeping minimalism of "On the Outside" does the trick. Though I'm not a fan of the vast majority of Crow's work (cool last name, though!), I enjoy this song, and I don't hate her theme song for the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. Weird.
4. Down in the Park by Foo Fighters: Recent fans of Foo Fighters may be surprised to hear their raw, fuzzed out contribution to this soundtrack. However, this album hearkens back to a day where Dave Grohl was better known as "the drummer from Nirvana," and Foo Fighters, at least to my recollection of 1996, as "the new band by the drummer from Nirvana." "Down in the Park," a Gary Numan cover, suits this darker, grungier version of Foo Fighters quite well, and Numan's lyrics fit the X-Files bill.
5. Star Me Kitten by William S. Burroughs & R.E.M.: The X-Files is a weird show and "Star Me Kitten" is a weird song. R.E.M.'s music sounds like the backing track for one of those late night "Magic Healing Rag" infomercials, and the opening line, "Keys cut, three for the price of one," seems to support such an idea. The line is read-sung by William S. Burroughs, who sounds like a crazy, end-times street preacher throughout, particularly during the song's profane finale. The music and words clash unsettlingly, though "Star Me Kitten" fits the soundtrack by basis of weirdness alone.
6. Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: "Red Right Hand" is one of the few songs on this soundtrack to have actually been featured on the show beforehand. Indeed, the season two scene from the episode, "Ascension," might be The X-Files most iconic musical moment. Show creator, Chris Carter, actually uses Songs in the Key of X's liner notes to explain how "Red Right Hand" inspired the creation of this collection of music. The bass and organ led "Red Right Hand" is most likely the standout song of Nick Cave's standout career, and one of my favorite songs of the 90's.
7. Thanks Bro by Filter: When I reviewed Filter's Short Bus, I described its "Stuck in Here" as a song where "one can easily visualize sitting in a moldering room housing all the burnt out, barely operating artifacts of the 20th Century, as this crackles from a rusting phonograph." "Thanks Bro" follows suit (there is literally an old song crackling out of a phonograph in the background), forgoing the usual jackhammer Filter sound for brooding minimalism, Unlike "Stuck in Here,"though, "Thanks Bro" builds to a cathartic, if still subdued finale.
8. Man of Steel by Frank Black: I didn't even realize Frank Black was the frontman for the Pixies until I researched the song for this review, and that is because there is absolutely nothing special about "Man of Steel." It is just a generic 90's rock song that slides in one ear and out the other, and it does not match the feeling of The X-Files in any way, shape, or form.
9. Unexplained by Meat Puppets: "Unexplained" does not slide in one ear and out the other because it is absolutely terrible. The only real stinker out of the bunch, "Unexplained" features a cloying, repetitive, circular chorus that just won't end, and I almost ripped the CD out of the player and threw it out the window. These are the same Meat Puppets that filled out Nirvana's live band for their incredible "MTV Unplugged" album, one of my all-time favorites. I have no idea how Meat Puppets composed something so horrible, but if I haven't driven the point home yet, "Unexplained" is really, really terrible, and like "Man of Steel," does nothing to conjure the mood of the show upon whose soundtrack it finds itself...even though the song is called "Unexplained."
10. Deep by Danzig: Now here is a song that sounds like it would be in an episode of X-Files, and indeed, it is (Season 3's "Syzygy"). "Deep" sounds like you are in a dirty, rusty, freak-inhabited hallway at night, and Danzig is chasing you with an axe. Awesome.
11. Frenzy by Screamin' Jay Hawkins: Speaking of freaks, "Frenzy" appears in the classic Season 2 episode, "Humbug." Originally recorded in 1957, "Frenzy" features Hawkins' classic manic, shouted, burbling delivery, perfect for the carnival-set episode it backed, and perfect for this collection. If Screamin' Jay Hawkins doesn't ring a bell, you might know him from his his yesteryear hit, "I Put a Spell on You."
12. My Dark Life by Elvis Costello, with Brian Eno: If you think Elvis Costello's name doesn't exactly scream X-Files, you're on to something. "My Dark Life" is an unusual song, but Costello's smooth, comforting delivery, despite being backed by some decently spooky Brian Eno synths, just does not fit here.
13. Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn) by Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper: "Hands of Death," however, does fit here, with the shock-rock dream-team of Zombie and Cooper sounding the part. Zombie could really produce a satisfyingly meaty guitar tone, and the song is heavy, while still being a lot of fun (it got nominated for a Grammy). My only complaint, and I feel like a grandpa for saying this, is that I can't understand anything the two are singing.
14. If You Never Say Goodbye by P.M. Dawn: Another weird choice...isn't P.M. Dawn a hip-hop group? This is apparently not that "P.M. Dawn." I think I would have preferred the rappers. The lyrics for "If You Never Say Goodbye" are probably the darkest found within this collection, but the song sounds like what would happen if instead of men, Boy George was sexually attracted to flanger pedals.
15. X-Files Theme (P.M. Dawn Remix): After Nick Cave and Dirty Three's outstanding re-imagining of the show's theme, P.M. Dawn, who bafflingly get to contribute two tracks to this disc, try their hand. However, in light of the excellence of the two other version's present on this disc, P.M. Dawn's goofy, disco twist sounds a bit silly. Sorry, P.M. Dawn.
And that's it. If I may, and I will, for who can stop me, I will mention some curious omissions. I really think James' "Ring the Bells," from Season 3's "DPO," should have been included. That moment is incredible, catching my ear back-in-the-day, and my wife's ear years later, when we were in the midst of our three-year long X-Files honeymoon. It is also strange that Filter's "Hey Man Nice Shot," also from "DPO," is not included, though that song was perhaps already too ubiquitous to be featured. "Thanks Bro" fits better, anyway.
Finally, a note on the packaging. My case includes a small catalog insert of 1996 X-Files merchandise for sale, i.e. X-Files' coffee mugs (when you fill them up with coffee, they say 'Trust No One!"), clothing, and an invitation to join The Official X-Files Fan Club, all available by mail order. I wonder what would happen if I sent this off to:
411 N Central Ave #300
Glendale, CA 91203
(Allow 4-6 Weeks for Delivery)
Has someone been sitting in a warehouse for 19 years awaiting my order?
Also, the foldout artwork included in the CD booklet, particularly an illustration of The X-Files Rogues Gallery by Sue Coe, is incredible.
So in conclusion, Songs in the Key of X, despite its considerable week points, really accomplishes what a physical musical release should. It is mainly composed of tracks that can only be found on itself. It includes material that essentially disables the album from being burned, intensifying its importance as an actual physical release. Finally, it includes exclusive, beautiful artwork that fans will want to own. And it costs a penny on Amazon.

1996 Warner Bros
-2. Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum by Nick Cave and Dirty Three 6:26
-1. The X-Files Theme Cover by Nick Cave and Dirty Three 2:52
1. X-Files Theme (Main Title) by Mark Snow 3:24
2. Unmarked Helicopters by Soul Coughing 3:22
3. On the Outside by Sheryl Crow 4:36
4. Down in the Park by Foo Fighters 4:04
5. Star Me Kitten by William S. Burroughs & R.E.M. 3:30
6. Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 6:11
7. Thanks Bro by Filter 4:10
8. Man of Steel by Frank Black 4:59
9. Unexplained by Meat Puppets 3:44
10. Deep by Danzig 3:50
11. Frenzy by Screamin' Jay Hawkins 2:10
12. My Dark Life by Elvis Costello with Brian Eno 6:20
13. Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn) by Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper 4:12
14. If You Never Say Goodbye by P.M. Dawn 4:06
15. X-Files Theme (P.M. Dawn Remix) by P.M. Dawn 3:59

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's the Music of The X-Files Week On The Nicsperiment!

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Above: The worst possible screenshot I could take from the greatest possible television episode of all time.

If you in any way, shape, or form, consider yourself a nerd, and even if you don't, you have most likely experienced several pop cultural touchstones that hold such a revered place in your mind, just thinking their title produces a comforting rush of dopamine, like sinking into an easy chair in a lamp-lit room. If you thought that was a run-on sentence, you've obviously never been here before. Anyway, these things most likely changed your life, the flow of your subconscious, and maybe even conscious thought.
I can think of a few things offhand that ease my mind: travelling through time with my friends in Chrono Trigger. Slacking through space with the crew of the Cowboy Bebop. The strains of John Williams right before Luke Skywalker tells Chewbacca to "take care of himself," about 20 minutes into The Empire Strikes Back. Exploring the mysteries of The X-Files.
The 1990's science fiction program, The X-Files, hit just about every sweet spot the teenage me had. I wanted to be Mulder. I wanted to go out with Scully. I distrusted the government. I wanted to believe in aliens. I liked scary stuff. I liked dark humor. I liked dark rooms, dark alleyways. I was a weirdo. The X-Files was my show.
A half-decade after The X-Files ended, I got married. Shortly thereafter, my wife asked if I had any shows on DVD we could watch together. "Ever watch X-Files?" I asked.
She watched the entire series and both films with me, and when we received the surprise news that we were with child (well, she was with my child...that expression is terrible!), we settled on the name within about five minutes. Yes, my kid is named after a character from The X-Files.
With that said, as I have reached "M" for Mark Snow, The X-Files music composer, I have decided to just review every X-Files album in my collection over the course of the next four days. Enjoy, or wallow in fear at the extent of the nerditry displayed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Marco D'Ambrosio and "The Castle Chaythe"

While I will not review Marco D'Ambrosio's full soundtrack for the anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, I will say that it is a pretty good soundtrack for a pretty good film. Like the movie, though, the soundtrack has some really great standout moments. The film itself does an excellent job of shedding the fan-service moments the original is famous for. Bloodlust also features some incredible animation, and for anime fans, as well as fans of action films in general, it is most definitely worth watching. D'Ambrosio's soundtrack helps mightily: without visuals, the dark mood set by D'Ambrosio's "The Castle Chaythe" can conjure a structure more gothically horrifying than the one in the film.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mae -- The Everglow

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Mae's first album, Destination Beautiful, is just a little too weak for me. Really smooth, bouncy singing, poppy songs, overly simplistic drums. However, Destination Beautiful has its moments, particularly "Summertime," which proves that Mae can rock out if they want to. On sophomore album, the Everglow, they want to, but not too hard, and that's okay. The reason it's okay? Because there aren't many albums that can produce the kind of feelings The Everglow can? What kind of feelings?
Yes, this is one of those wonderful Nicsperiment Q&A reviews. I never actually plan them as such...sometimes they just come out this way. Anyway, what kind of feelings?
WARNING: I'm not gonna put any commas in the following sentence. You know that moment when you tell a girl you like her and then there's that excruciating but wonderful moment immediately after where you wait for her to say that she likes you back?
That's this entire album, with the added bonus of having that "she said yes" high included.
My cousin Jared had The Everglow's "The Sun and the Moon" played at his wedding, as his soon to be wife walked down the isle toward him--perfect, as there is that "Is she going to not show up" moment, immediately followed by that "Wow, she did show up, and she dressed for the occasion!" one.

2005 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Prologue 1:16
2. We're So Far Away 3:50
3. Someone Else's Arms 5:09
4. Suspension 4:00
5. This Is the Countdown 3:57
6. Painless 4:20
7. The Ocean 4:41
8. Breakdown 4:14
9. Mistakes We Knew We Were Making 5:07
10. Cover Me 4:34
11. The Everglow 3:28
12. Ready and Waiting to Fall 4:21
13. Anything 4:03
14. The Sun and the Moon 7:16
15. Epilogue 0:54

Friday, January 16, 2015

M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

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M83's double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, is jubiliant and lovely. It features several key differences from its predecessor, Saturdays = Youth: it does not feature any 10-minute instrumentals solely consisting of two alternating keyboard notes, it flows perfectly, and it includes better, bigger-sounding songs. Actually, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming sounds huge.
I remember an October 2011 night drive with my wife and nearly two-year old son, heading from a wedding rehearsal to a distant restaraunt, blasting this album, everything feeling enormous and wonderful, brilliant payoff to a brilliant year. This is that kind of album. Giant synths, atmospheric guitars, big beats, children telling stories about frogs, funk-slap bass, dreamy lyrics, saxophones. Anthony Gonzales is going to have a tough time topping this one.

2011 Naive/Mute
Disc One
1. Intro 5:22
2. Midnight City 4:03
3. Reunion 3:55
4. Where the Boats Go 1:46
5. Wait 5:43
6. Raconte-moi une histoire 4:04
7. Train to Pluton 1:15
8. Claudia Lewis 4:31
9. This Bright Flash 2:23
10. When Will You Come Home? 1:23
11. Soon, My Friend 3:09

Disc Two
1. My Tears Are Becoming a Sea 2:31
2. New Map 4:22
3. OK Pal 3:58
4. Another Wave from You 1:53
5. Splendor 5:06
6. Year One, One UFO 3:17
7. Fountains 1:21
8. Steve McQueen 3:48
9. Echoes of Mine 3:39
10. Klaus I Love You 1:44
11. Outro 4:07