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Monday, May 18, 2015

Michael Giacchino -- Lost Season 2 (Original Television Soundtrack)

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8/10

 photo Lost Man of Science Man of Faith Record Player_zpsidmcznss.jpg
Lost found itself in a bit of a conundrum after its first season. It had achieved blockbuster (couchbuster?) viewer numbers, helping to bring glory back to the once slumping ABC, and earning a place atop the heap of pop culture. One thing, though...Lost isn't really that kind of show. It's not the popular kid...it's the freak. But ratings...high ratings are so awesome. The second season of Lost finds the showrunners timidly raising their freak flags, while still trying to maintain some modicum of populist identity. Yeah, there might be a computer in a deep underground bunker, and the characters might have to type numbers into it every 108 minutes to prevent the end of the world, but hey, there are still a bunch of good-looking people hanging out on the beach...you guys like good-looking people hanging out on a beach, right?
 photo Lost One of Them Countdown_zpsuewpq9cp.jpg
I feel like this juggling process hinders Season Two a bit in comparison to its five (season) siblings. Don't get me wrong, Lost's second season contains more high-water marks than most shows have to show for their entire run, but in the grand scheme of Lost, Season Two is lacking. There's a sense of aimlessness, like the show is merely biding its time. A handful of major characters are introduced--in a season's time, all but one bite the dust. Several major characters who enjoyed nice arcs in Season One get either sidelined, or placed on a treadmill. What the season does with Charlie seems particularly wasteful. His featured episode, "Fire + Water," regresses the character for no logical reason, and features strange dream sequences that feel out of place with the show. They're weird, but they're not "Lost Weird."
  photo Lost Fire  Water Dream_zpskcp0dyrr.jpg
Also, the entire season revolves around "the hatch" (a nickname for the underground bunker)--by season's end, the hatch is a smoking crater. This is a majorly flawed season of television.  Still...there's something there.
Michael Giacchino's score follows suit. It feels aimless at times, particularly its wandering, too quiet midsection, but its high-points are major.  Let's intertwine the up and downs of Lost Season Two with the high and low of Lost Season 2 (Original Television Soundtrack).
 photo Lost Orientation Marvin Candle Dharma Film_zpsroaluhao.jpg
Season Two begins with a virtuoso, completely out-of-left-field sequence,  featuring a guy waking up and working in what looks like a nicely stocked 1970's apartment, all to the sweet sounds of Mama Cass' "Make Your Own Kind of Music." A sudden rumble stops the record, the man snaps into action, the camera pans through the apartment, up a mineshaft, and up-and-up, all the way to low-and-behold, our main characters from the last season. Turns out that hatch they dynamited leads to this tweaked out man, Desmond, his groovy underground chamber, and the computer referenced above.
As cool as this opening sequence is, the show drags the night it takes place in out to three episodes...eventually feeling like a soap opera in its lack of egress. Giacchino, who also produced the album, only includes two musical cues from this opening episode trio. The first is the action-packed  (2) "Peace Through Superior Firepower," an adrenaline-pumping action piece featuring some frenetic percussion-work. The next is the more drawn out (3) "The Final Countdown," featuring a reference to "Locke's Theme" from Season One.
 photo Lost ...And Found Teddy Bear_zpsurxsyskt.jpg
The scary teddy-bear above makes an appearance, but not on the soundtrack. One of the show's best qualities early in this season is creating a feeling of all out horror surrounding the survivors' nemesis, The Others. The Others seem to be everywhere, soundlessly, and always in greater numbers than the survivors think.
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Giacchino comes up with a dastardly, classic theme for these guys' leader, and a great one for The Others as a group, as well, but that music doesn't appear in full this early in the soundtrack.
For now, at track four, Lost Season 2 (Original Television Soundtrack) completely changes gears, featuring a trio of more whimsical tracks in service of an episode centered on the light-hearted Hurley. The third of these, (6) Hurley's Handouts," is a gentle piece based around the acoustic-guitar, a nice breather, though a breather isn't really needed when the album hasn't even taken off yet....but take off it is about to do.
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That was a visual gag, by the way.
Anyway, Season Two finally gets its legs, and perhaps peaks at the thrilling "The Other 48 Days," which reveals what happened to the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815's tail section (the protagonists up to this point have all been survivors from the middle-sections of the plane.) These harrowing 42-minutes show that, while our heroes have had it rough at times, they've essentially been on a 48-day vacation in comparison to these tail-section survivors, headed by Ana Lucia Cortez. Giacchino pays nice homage to "World's Worst Beach Party" from Season One's soundtrack, with (7) "Just Another Day on the Beach." Scoring the immediate moments after the tail-section's crash on a far part of the island, "Just Another Day on the Beach" sounds like a nightmare version of the already nightmarish "...Beach Party." "Just Another Day..."'s final fifteen seconds is some of my favorite Lost soundtrack work, as Giacchino ends with a version of Season One's "Survivor's Theme" that sounds as if it's been set on fire. (8) "Ana Cries," a short piece of emotional music, comes next, followed by the terrifying (9) "The Tribes Merge."
 photo Lost The Other 48 Days Tailies_zpss3jyhvvq.jpg
"The Tribes Merge" features a slow, steady, hammering percussion that sounds like the oncoming steps of doom, backed by menacing strings. It soundtracks a horrific montage, showing how the "tailies," accompanied by the middle-section survivors whose raft washed up on the tailies' beach at the start of the season, make it to our protagonists' beach. Things don't go...well.
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Giacchino follows this brutal track (as brutal as classical music can be) with "The Gathering," another complete change of pace. Scoring the scene where the raft survivors meet back up with their middle-section friends, and featuring a reunion of husband and wife, Jin and Sun, "The Gathering" is a beautiful piece of work. The track works as a payoff to the first season soundtrack's high-point, "Parting Words," repeating its themes, developing them more fully, and providing that piece a sort of beautiful sonic catharsis.
 photo Lost Collision Sun and Jin_zpsc0qi9aae.jpg
(11) "Shannon's Funeral" follows...uh, spoiler alert...Shannon dies. She was dead weight as it was, and really only became sympathetic during the episode that killed her (actually, she became EXTREMELY sympathetic in the episode that killed her...poor Shannon). Anyway, "Shannon's Funeral" is a really lovely piece of music, a delicate piano and strings display with a lovely peak 1:20 in, and a piano-led outro, as the strings perform a subtle rendition of the "survivor's theme."
After these slower tracks, Giacchino amps things up a bit with...just kidding. The next track is "All's Forgiven...Except Charlie,"  just a lighter version of "Hurley's Handouts," replete with the acoustic-guitar and the "everything's going to be alright vibe." Unfortunately, that's not what the album needs at this moment. It needs a kick in the pants. Unfortunately, it will be a whopping eight tracks before that happens. The album mid-section is completely aimless, sharing the same flaw as the season it was created for. However, like the Lost's Season Two, even this overly quiet dearth of tracks is full of high-points. In fact, none of these songs are bad, per se. They all just run-together, generally starting with gentle piano, and then just moseying around. Repeat listens does help to separate them from one another.
(14) "Charlie's Dream," coming from the previously mentioned "Fire + Water," does reach a rather unsettling dissonance halfway in.
(15) "Charlie's Temptation" fully develops Charlie's theme, a low-register six-note string motif that conjures the troubled character's possible paths as an agent of good or evil.
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(15) "A New Trade" similarly lays out the enigmatic Sayid's theme, taken from a scene that ironically, is a conversation with Charlie. The theme is initially stated with four uncertain piano notes, before the keys are relieved by strings which fully explore the melody's possibilities. It's almost like the soundtrack for the color gray, the world within Sayid often finds himself, containing a hopeful mid-section before delving deeper into darkness.
In the show, "A New Trade" followed an incredible scene where Sayid beats someone who may or may not be evil. That someone ends up becoming one of the most significant characters on Lost...actually, the non-tailies introduced in this season all end up becoming pretty significant...making Season Two more significant than it appears on the surface...those introduced with little fanfare become the greatest. Also, Michael Emerson may Lost's casting director's greatest find. And this face Emerson made creeped me out severely.
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(16) "Mapquest" is a quiet, suspenseful, very short track, followed by (17) "Claire's Escape," which follows in the same quiet, suspenseful tone. It very faintly reminds me of John Williams' "Velociraptor Theme" from Jurassic Park.
Up next are two romantic themes. (18) "The Last to Know" represents Sun and Jin's burgeoning relationship--the two are married, but had been growing apart before the crash. Life on the island has brought the two closer together, and Giacchino's hopeful piano and string theme suits their relationship well. (19) "Rose and Bernard" is a gentle, more mature theme, fitting for a couple twice Sun and Jin's age. If you can tell me of another action/adventure/drama/mystery program that will stop to tell a thoughtful tale of a middle-aged interracial couple who found each other late in life, you're probably lying to me. Giacchino's music for the duo is mostly piano-based, with a hint of strings at the end, and lacks the more tentative nature of Sun and Jin's theme, as Rose and Bernard's love for one another is a steady and unmovable rock.
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Actually, as I type this, I can't think of any other show that pulled off so many successful ADULT romances. I don't mean like, pornographic romances, I mean believable, realistic romantic relationships between adults. Sun and Jin, Rose and Bernard, Desmond and Penny, Sawyer and Juliet...hey, even Jack and Kate when the two finally decide to grow up. And of course Libby and Hurley, who don't really get a theme here, but c'mon, look how cute.
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Not just Hurley and Libby, but the latter part of the season as a whole gets short shrift on this soundtrack, as the final six episodes before the finale are represented by only one track, the aforementioned "Rose and Bernard." That's a bit shocking considering that during that span of episodes, this happens:
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I just got sidelined from an album criticism, though. I love "Rose and Bernard" and "The Last to Know," and really, all eight of the tracks that come before (20) "Toxic Avenger," but together, these eight create a major problem--they're eight mostly quiet, non-action cues in row on an hour long, 26-track disc. That's simply too much downtime, and makes listening to Lost Season 2 (Original Television Soundtrack) in one sitting a bit of a slog.
The rest of the album does pick up the pace, though, big time. "Toxic Avenger,(21) "I Crashed Yo Plane, Brotha," and (22) "Eko Blaster" introduce panicked percussion, violent start and stop strings, and a sudden sense of urgency. The tracks soundtrack Season Two's two-part finale, and are followed by three more that score its final half-hour. First up is "The Hunt," an absolutely excellent track. It sounds like its name, as Sawyer, Kate, Jack, and Hurley are ambushed by The Others. Giacchino finally unleashes The Others' leader's theme in full-force here, a lecherous little muted-trombone line. It's reminiscent, to me at least, of William Alwyn's music for the pirates of Swiss Family Robinson, or really any music for villains from classic nautical cinema. Up above I asked the question, "can classical music be "brutal?"" "The Hunt" is savage.
(24) "McGale's Navy" and (25) "Bon Voyage, Traitor" also contain repetitions of this motif, as well as another theme for the Others in general, featuring a woozy, disorienting string pattern (and a sort of subtle, shifting, aquatic rhythm underneath). "Desmond and Penny's theme" is also introduced on "Boy Voyage Traitor," with a short statement at the beginning, followed by music for The Others, and then a more full statement. The viewer doesn't get to know Desmond very well at the start of the season, as he is neurotic and paranoid from being stuck alone in an underground bunker for three years. In fact, Desmond leaves for the rest of the season, and I had completely forgotten about him, but in a masterstroke, his storyline, with the exception of several of our main protagonists' journey to a far part of the island, takes precedence in the finale. Desmond's tale is gripping, incredible considering he wasn't even a starring character before this moment. As I said, it's the new, non Oceanic 815 characters introduced by Season Two that end up becoming the most vital.
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The more definitive statement of "Desmond and Penny's theme" is then following by an evilly triumphant statement of The Others' leader's music, intertwined with the Others' theme, as Jack, Kate, and Sawyer are shockingly defeated, the music growing more frenzied and panicked as the protagonists look at each other, the viewer expects them to find a way out, they don't find a way out, the bag guys win, cue that Lost classic episode-ending sound of a giant stone locking into place, the end.
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A strong moment in a season and soundtrack full of them, despite the fact that the wholes don't quite add up to what came before, or what lies ahead.

2006 Varèse Sarabande
1. Main Title (Composed by J.J. Abrams) 0:17

From "Man of Science, Man of Faith"
2. Peace Through Superior Firepower 1:26

From "Orientation"
3. The Final Countdown 5:48

From "Everybody Hates Hugo"
4. World's Worst Landscaping 1:17
5. Mess It All Up 1:27e
6. Hurley's Handouts 4:42

From "The Other 48 Days"
7. Just Another Day on the Beach 2:47
8. Ana Cries 1:48
9. The Tribes Merge 2:03

From "Collision"
10.The Gathering 4:19

From "What Kate Did"
11. Shannon's Funeral 2:12

From "The 23rd Psalm"
12. All's Forgiven... Except Charlie 5:19

From "Fire + Water"
13. Charlie's Dream 1:50
14. Charlie's Temptation 0:51

From "One of Them"
15. A New Trade 2:39

From "The Whole Truth"
16. Mapquest 0:39

From "Maternity Leave"
17. Claire's Escape 3:44

From "The Whole Truth"
18. The Last to Know 2:21

From "S.O.S."
19. Rose and Bernard 2:39

From "Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1"
20. Toxic Avenger 0:42

From "Live Together, Die Alone, Part 2"
21. I Crashed Your Plane, Brotha 1:45
22. Eko Blaster 1:44
23. The Hunt 3:57
24. McGale's Navy 2:22
25. Bon Voyage, Traitor 5:30
26. End Title 0:32

Friday, May 15, 2015

Michael Giacchino -- Lost (Original Television Soundtrack)

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9/10

Lost. It conjures strong emotions. Love. Hate. Indifference, only from those who haven't seen it.
Lost. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to a lot of people. It hurts a little to know there are people out there who hate the show so much.
Here's the thing with Lost...from multiple perspectives:
The opening logo was just too weird. Isn't Survivor premiering tonight? You'll get your island fix there. Click.
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You thought this was going to be like Gilligan's Island. This is not like Gilligan's Island. You're gonna put it on Matlock now.
You were skeptical about the show from the get go. Popular things are stupid. You didn't see what the big deal was right off the bat. You weren't surprised at all that people were disappointed with how the show ended. You stopped watching it during the first season because you could already tell how stupid it was.
You loved the first season of Lost. Sure, it bothered you that mysteries weren't explained right after they were introduced...but they'll probably explain all that stuff in the second season, right? Except, now it is the second season, and they aren't explaining anything. Just introducing new and weirder mysteries. Now this opening six-episode pod for Season Three is just introducing more, and you can't tell what is going on. Back to CSI!
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You loved (X-actor or actress). You watched the show for (X-actor or actress). (X-actor or actress) just got killed off the show. See you later, Lost.
You started watching Lost on the Internet after the first season hoopla. It was cool. You kept watching it, even though each season seemed to be stranger than the last. You make it to the last season. You watch the last episode. You do not understand the last episode. You hate this stupid show.
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You've loved Lost from the beginning. Maybe you started watching it from the premiere. Maybe you binge-watched the entire show after the fifth-season ended, and then only watched the sixth one live. You may have just binge-watched the entire series for the first time last week. Whatever the case may be, you loved it. You can admit that certain stretches of the show were stronger than others, but you love the show as a whole. You paid close attention. Maybe you were one of those people who cataloged every detail. Maybe you didn't catalog every detail, but you sure were observant. You enjoyed the mysteries, but your main take from the show wasn't how well or badly, or how much or little of the mysteries were resolved. Your main take was that a television program created 25+ flawed, severely-screwed up people, made you care about them like they were your own family, and then proceeded to develop them in a way that every single character's end seemed completely justified and in line with where they had been headed all along. You cared more about what episode flashbacks revealed about the character of Lost's protagonists than what it revealed about their connection to the island. You didn't watch the first season thinking things like, "for the love of my TV, are they going to explain that damn polar bear already?!" You instead watched with intent focus on moments like this:
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, listened to John Locke bellow "I've done everything you've wanted me to do, so why did you do this to me?" over Michael Giacchino's soundtrack, and felt complete emotional devastation. You cared more about the characters than the plot, but the plot didn't disappoint you, either. After the series finale, you most likely called everyone you knew who watched the show, explained the ending to them, and they most likely said "Oh! Okay, I get it." But they didn't really get it. They'll probably never get it. You don't understand why. It wasn't that complicated. At least the friendly confused are not as bad as the haters who didn't understand the ending but WON'T let you explain it to them. Most importantly, through the six years that Lost aired, it felt like a vital part of your life. It still feels like a vital part of your life.
Lost is not my favorite show of all time, but it is in my top ten. The last, Times New Roman perspective is most definitely mine. I am not even going to pretend that I will be objective when it comes to the show in these seven Lost album reviews. Cat's out of the bag: I love it. That said, I think I can be pretty objective about these Michael Giacchino soundtracks. Let's begin with Season One.
Lost starts off with a bang.
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Michael Giacchino's score follows suit. After the atmospheric :16 (1) "Main Title" (written by JJ Abrams, who writes the opening theme for every show he creates), and the subtle electronics and impressionistic, building strings and rising trombones of (2) "The Eyeland,"(3) "World's Worst Beach Party" explodes with moody trombones, rowdy percussion (Giacchino had his percussionists bang on plane parts), and the strains of Psycho-esque, sometimes stacato strings. The trombones suddenly go from forlorn to rising in sudden suspense, and "World's Worst Beach Party" ends--
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a fitting musical backdrop for a scene where survivors panic around the chaotic wreckage of their crashed, fiery, exploding plane. Also, it may sound like I just said "trombone" a lot, but the fact of the matter is, over the next six seasons of television, they are the only horn you'll hear. This is a brave choice by Giacchino, which helps lend Lost's soundtrack its own unique identity.
(4) "Credit Where Credit Is Due" introduces the weary, string-led "survivors theme" (more fully fleshed out on (11) "Departing Sun"), a piece that's both contemplative and determined, and a direct counterpoint to the following (5) "Run Like, Um...Hell?" Lost hooked many viewers during its Pilot episode with its mysterious monster, and "Run Like, Um...Hell?," like the beast that inspired it, smashes along nicely. It features ramming percussion, and panicked harp-playing straight out of Jaws.
Speaking of John Williams, "Hollywood and Vines" is a serious march in the vein of the master. Clemmensen says "Hollywood and Vines" reminds him of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I won't argue with that, but to me it's a lot closer to the darker, more percussive work Williams put in for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. And that's it. We've covered the two-hour pilot-episode.
Lost's first season actually contains 25 episodes (the pilot accounts for two, as well does the finale), and 17 of them are represented here.
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Over the course of these mid-section (non premiere, non-finale) tracks, Giacchino crafts subtle themes for each of the show's multitude of characters, as well as themes for certain events or emotions. For instance, Giacchino crafts a "death theme," composed of a somber, yet respectful and a bit sentimental piano line, and gently swelling strings, utilizing it on (10) "Win One for the Reaper," (12) "Charlie Hangs Around" (as a bit of a musical red-herring), and most significantly, "Life and Death," which soundtracks the first of many major character deaths. Giacchino also creates a stormy, slightly menacing theme for the troubled his girl Friday of Lost, Kate Austen, mainly featured in (23) "Kate's Motel." This theme explores Kate's troubled past, musically explaining why she tends to run.
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However, I think Giacchino's finest character-theme work on this first Lost soundtrack is for John Locke. Locke, who has been beat down most of his life, slowly becomes the island's servant, and chosen son. Giacchino creates a beautiful theme that begins with a sort of searching piano line and strings, almost as if the two are together asking a question. The piano and strings continuously build upon one another, swelling outrage and heartbreak at the indignities suffered by this noble, diligent, yet long-suffering man.
 photo Lost Pilot Locke_zpsormfnjuw.jpg (19) "Locke'd Out Again," which soundtracks the Locke-featuring scene I referenced in my opening statements, fully expresses Locke's theme, building and building until it seems that everything in the world will break, but fittingly for the character, falling out before any catharsis is given. Then the trombones suddenly rise in the final second, and the track ends. This is a trick Giacchino would play on listeners' ears throughout the show's run, especially in an episode's final seconds.
There are many other character themes introduced and more fully explored as the show goes on, and we'll get to those in subsequent reviews, but respect must now be given for what is perhaps Giacchino's crowning achievement, (26) "Parting Words." In a surprisingly poignant scene during the first part of Season One's two-part finale, the survivors complete work on a raft, and send several of their members on a mission to find help.
 photo Lost Exodus Jin_zpsjsunlt8u.jpg
As the raft-riders say goodbye, raise their sail, and safely pass through the surf, Giacchino backs the scene with a stirring piece of music. He employs an emotive string melody, falls out to let a piano take it, comes back more powerfully with the strings, repeats the line again and again with building power, moves to a counter-melody, comes back to the melody, continues to build, then alternate between the two, building and building, adding thundering percussion, lending power from the trombones, until the emotional goodwill of the scene is flowing over--yet if you are only listening to his soundtrack absent the images, the music works just as well on its own.
 photo Lost Exodus Sun_zpsc9kevox8.jpg
I want to conclude by adding a note that, over the whole of this soundtrack, Giacchino gives a subtle island flavor to the proceedings, with the sometimes wandering nature of the orchestra, and the percussional tones (especially when he uses the airplane parts).
Overall, Lost (Original Television Soundtrack) is an exciting album, with some blood-pumping action pieces, counter-balanced with some really beautiful, gentler, contemplative work. The mid-section sags just a bit, perhaps under the weight of the sheer length and scope of the album, but overall, I've greatly enjoyed the dozen or so listens I've put in for this review.
*    *     *
I'll review Season Two's soundtrack in several days. The final seconds of this album rather brilliantly segue to that season for me, the dread-filled, spidery conundrum of Giacchino's "hatch theme" (on (27) "Oceanic 815") leading the soundtrack out, and into the unknown.
 photo Lost Exodus Hatch_zpsn3lgfqyi.jpg

Of course, if the hatch isn't enough to get you to come back for Season Two, there's always this incredible, haunting image:
 photo ef3034d5-f052-46be-bc1a-f28bfedfd629_zpsyzsgkcak.jpg

Also, I've been looking for an excuse to post this video for a very long time. One of my favorite TV shows + one of my favorite bands = the best television advertisement I've ever seen. Wish someone would post it in high-def!


And finally, here is "Parting Words"


2005 Varèse Sarabande
1. Main Title (Composed by J.J. Abrams) 0:16

From "Pilot"
2. The Eyeland 1:58
3. World's Worst Beach Party 2:44
4. Credit Where Credit Is Due 2:23
5. Run Like, Um... Hell? 2:21
6. Hollywood and Vines 1:52

From "Tabula Rasa"
7. Just Die Already 1:51
8. Me and My Big Mouth 1:06

From "Walkabout"
9. Crocodile Locke 1:49

From "White Rabbit"
10. Win One for the Reaper 2:38

From"House of the Rising Sun"
11. Departing Sun 2:42

From "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues"
12. Charlie Hangs Around 3:17

From "Whatever the Case May Be"
13. Navel Gazing 3:24

From "Hearts and Minds"
14. Proper Motivation 2:02
15. Run Away! Run Away! 0:30

From "Homecoming"
16. We're Friends 1:32
17. Getting Ethan 1:35

From "Outlaws"
18. Thinking Clairely 1:04

From "Deus Ex Machina"
19. Locke'd Out Again 3:30

From "Do No Harm"
20. Life and Death 3:39

From "The Greater Good"
21. Booneral 1:38
22. Shannonigans 2:25

From "Born to Run"
23. Kate's Motel 2:07

From "Exodus"
24. I've Got a Plane to Catch 2:37
25. Monsters Are Such Innnteresting People" 1:29
26. Parting Words 5:30
27. Oceanic 815 6:11

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wii U Game Reviews: Metroid: Other M (Review)

I've been working on this one for the past month or so. Might be the last thing from me for a little while, as I am working really hard on getting the tone right for the next batch of reviews...and also because I apparently have arthritis in my early 30's.

Ow.



Wii U Game Reviews: Metroid: Other M (Review): Metroid: Other M  Released on the Wii, August 31, 2010, by Nintendo, Team Ninja, and D-Rockets  Retail: $19.99 Wii U Game Reviews Score:...

Friday, May 08, 2015

Final Exams Are Done!

I'm done with finals! Now, I can get back to having friends! Woohoo! First, though, I'm gonna lie low for a bit...lay low...can anybody sort out those two words?
But even before that, here is my Finals Week in Music.
Started off staying up late, listening to slow jams. Y'all know I love slow jams.
Of course, after the first few nights of little sleep and high stress, my ability to slow jam wore thin. I had to go with something nostalgic, yet admittedly over-emotional and melodramatic.

Finally got a good night's rest, and I knocked out all but one final. Everything had been going well (this entire semester has gone incredibly well, actually!). I decided on my drive to this morning's final, I'd listen to some old-school hip-hop to pump myself up.
Plus, I feel like I generally have to name-drop "Father Time" at least once a year because it features the best beat of all time.
Anyway, I just took my last final, and it went exceptionally well. As I walked to the Business Complex to hammer out this "Final Exams Are Done!" post, I suddenly had a beautiful song of completion in my head.

Which is ironic, considering what I said about this very song on the first day of the semester!
Sorry, Anthony. I understand its power now.



Songs featured in this post:
"Bet" by Tinashe, featuring Devonté Hines
"Chrono Trigger: Schala (Trance Remix)" by Unknown, but if you know the author, let me know!
"Father Time" by Saukrates
"Midnight Souls Still Remain" by M83

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What the Heck Is a Yooka-Laylee?


Who are those weird characters up above this text?
Who cares!
The majority of the original Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country teams have reunited to make an independent gaming company, Playtonic Games, in service of the creation of titles like the two I just mentioned! Yooka-Laylee is their first project, and they've somehow also acquired both Grant Kirkhope (Banjo Kazooie) AND David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) to score the music. In case you haven't connected the dots, the author of this blog REALLY, REALLY enjoys both the Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country series. Check out my review of Banjo Tooie, Kazooie's sequel, for the Nintendo 64 Museum. Thankfully, a lot of other old gamers feel the same, as Playtonic has already destroyed their original fundraising goal on kickstarter. The next stretch goal to reach is a fully orchestrated score. I am so psyched. If you are, too, and somehow were not aware of this best possible situation, check out the link above.
Now, back to studying...one more test, but I've got Kirkhope and Wise keeping me company.

Monday, May 04, 2015

I'm Sorry, Mama

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When I review albums for my "Every Album I Own" series, I pull the "to be reviewed" list from a digital database I've created of all my digitally formatted albums (CD and MP3). Vinyl is not digital. It is analog. Therefore, my vinyl albums are not in my database. I've reviewed few of them here, outside of those by bands whose albums I also own on digital: The Beatles, Springsteen, Creedence...
Unfortunately, that means I've missed just about every album by bands whose albums I only own on vinyl. The most recent casualty? The Mamas and the Papas excellent 1966 debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. Before I begin my "Every Album I Own: Redux" series (tentative, fall of 2018, if I'm still alive), I'm going to make a database of every album I solely own on vinyl. Hopefully, I won't leave anyone out. Cheers. Back to studying.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Michael Giacchino -- Alias: Season Two [Original Television Soundtrack]

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8/10

My review for Michael Giacchino's soundtrack for the first season of Alias was as much about me as the music. I sacrificed certain details about the show's plot so you could instead discover how much I like to talk about myself. For this review of the second season soundtrack, the last soundtrack ever released for the five season series, I would like to shine the focus on the show itself. After all, Season Two is Alias' landmark season.
SPOILERS, DAWG:
Alias is about double-agent, Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), and her attempt to take down rogue intelligence agency, SD-6, through her work with the CIA. She is aided by her father (Victor Garber), a fellow double-agent, as well as her CIA handler, Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), and Vaughn's own partner, Eric Weiss (Greg Grunberg). Her SD-6 partner, Marcus Dixon (Carl Lumbly), has become suspicious of Sydney's activities, though he himself is unaware of SD-6's true nature. Dixon, along with the majority of SD-6's agents, have been led to believe they are working for the CIA. SD-6 is run by the slithery Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), who manipulates his patriotic agents into fighting against the very country for which they believe they are fighting. Sydney is given spy gadgets by SD-6's innocent and goofy Marshall Flinkman (Kevin Weisman). To further complicate matters, Sydney must also face off against the suavely dastardly bastardly Brit, Julian Sark (David Anders), a wild-card villain who works for the highest bidder. To blow off steam, Sydney relaxes with her roommate, Francie (Merrin Dungey), and their friend, Will (Bradley Cooper). Francie is oblivious to Sydney's day job, but Will, through much personal harm, discovered the secret near the end of the first season. There, I think I've mentioned everyone.
Season Two sees Sydney continuing her original mission, after making the soul-crushing discovery that her mother, Irina (Lena Olin), who supposedly died in a car accident years ago, and who Sydney has held on a pedestal, is not only still alive, but doing some wicked, wicked things. Turns out Irina, whose actual last name is Derevko, was an undercover KGB agent, assigned to marry and manipulate Sydney's father. After her faked death, Irina went into hiding. Now Sydney must grapple with the fact that she is the progeny of a false union--however, now she also knows why her father, who has long known the truth, is such a distant, hard-edged sourpuss who would fight a great white shark, underwater, with his bare hands, to protect his daughter. Garber brings an incredible gravitas to this role. Check out a clip of Garber in real life, then check out a clip of him as Jack Bristow, torturing someone who is trying to hurt Sydney. That dude is an actor (he also made a swell Jesus in Godspell). Anyway, Sydney is forced to come to terms with her evil mother to an even closer degree, when Irina inexplicably shows up at CIA headquarters to turn herself in. As Irina, Olin does several miraculous things: she brings a fierce sensuality to the role, but also menace. It's strange to see Garner (in an award-winning performance), who is not only beautiful in this role, but equally vulnerable and dangerous, completely overshadowed in the scenes she shares with Olin, who is somehow more beautiful and more dangerous, despite the fact that Olin was pushing 50 when this season was filmed. She is such a formidable figure, looming high over Sydney's life.
The second season takes off from there, as Sydney fights to undermine SD-6, while fighting to keep her sanity in meetings with her locked up mother, and persuading the doubting Dixon that she means America no harm. Sydney's relationship with Vaughn deepens (Garner and Vaughn, dating in real life, had incredible chemistry during the show's first two seasons), she begins to understand her father more, and it looks like everything is going to be status quo, and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. I went to two Super Bowl parties, co-hosted my weekly radio show at KLSU, and figured out the bassline to Coldplay's "Clocks," but by far, the most thrilling moment of that night for me was watching my VHS recording of the Post-Super Bowl Alias episode, "Phase One." I got home close to midnight from the radio station, but didn't even think of going to bed without catching up on Alias. That Superbowl may have been forgettable (Tampa Bay crushed 'em), but I will never forget Alias' second season's insane thirteenth episode. Here's the best comparison I can make:
Imagine instead that this is E.R., Season Two, episode 13. Here's what happens: The hospital blows up, and everyone moves on to much bigger, more epic things, as a prophecy portends the end of the world. George Clooney and Julianna Margulies finally get together. Anthony Edwards is murdered and replaced by a doppelganger. Gloria Reuben finds that she didn't even have AIDS in the first place. Everything is thrown into complete chaos. That's Alias' "Phase One."
At this point, the show, which has functioned as a season-and-a-half non-stop episode concerning Sydney Bristow's batle against SD-6, completely changes course. Til this point, I've neglected to mention a major component of Alias: Milo Rimbaldi. Rimbaldi, in the show's mythology, was a renaissance figure, comparable to Leonardo Di Vinci, except he also made a bunch of prophecies about the end of the world, and also, possibly, found the secret to eternal life. Turns out Arvin Sloane's main goal is not so much destroying the CIA as it is collecting Milo Rimbaldi artifacts that lead to Rimbaldi's great secret--possibly the discovery of the aforementioned immortality. The rest of the Season Two is a race to figure out just what it is Sloane is doing and then to stop him. I make this Rimbaldi stuff sound more random than it should, but the show has been building a foundation for it throughout the first 1.5 seasons. Truth be told, Rimbaldi's mysteries dominate for much the rest of the show's five season run (sans the first half or so of Season Four)...so, if you didn't want any sci-fi in your action-packed spy show, sorry, and go watch something else. Know, though, that Alias, particularly its first two seasons, received much critical acclaim. If life were fair, the public would recognize Alias' second season as one of the best television seasons of all time. Unfortunately, life's not fair, and Alias was a low-rated network program that arrived just before the age of online viewing. It just missed the window that would have granted it Rimbaldi-like immortality. I guess it's up to me.
Anyway, I guess I should start talking about the music.
Composer, Michael Giacchino, takes Alias' musical identity in a slightly different direction for Season Two, just as JJ Abrams did the actual program. While the first season was musically backed by a lot of techno-esque beats and soundscapes, augmented by orchestra, Season Two's soundtrack is mainly orchestra, augmented by some techno-esque beats and soundscapes. As the orchestra is more greatly utilized, Giacchino's orchestral compositions have grown far more complex and sophisticated.
The Giacchino produced Alias: Season Two [Original Television Soundtrack] starts off with the JJ Abrams penned electronic ditty, "Main Title," just as its predecessor did. Following that is Giacchino's first original piece, "On the Train." "On the Train" flows naturally from the first season's sound, starting with a techno beat, strings, and bawdy brass. I failed to mention it in my Season One soundtrack review, but there are times, much like in the James Bond films, where Alias' horns sound like they could be backing a burlesque show. Actually, there are plenty of Bond comparisons to make, which I failed to do in my first review, as well. With that said, John Barry's orchestral work on the 60's Bond pictures is influential here, as well as David Arnold's attempt to infuse those classic sounds with the modern electronic music of the 90's for Pierce Brosnan's Bond (good Bond, bad movies, with the exception of Goldeneye). With that said, I feel like Giacchino has more success with this idiosyncratic melding than Arnold did. And now, let's get back to "On the Train."
Halfway through the track, the beat and brass fall out, leaving nothing but contemplative strings and subtle horns. This is a sign of things to come, as is the way the beat comes back slowed down and more sophisticated, to end the track. This leads directly into "Mother of a Mother," introducing Irina's theme, a motif played by seductive, yet plaintive cellos, backed by mysterious Middle-Eastern-style singing. Speaking of Middle-Eastern, "Rabat" comes next, kicking of with Middle-Eastern instrumentation, before climbing up to a stylish beat and violins that sound about as dancey as violins can sound. The song then enters an ambient midsection before the beat comes back, and the violin-theme returns. It's quite an atmospheric piece, yet also a bit of a counter to Season One's track four, "Spanish Heist." Both are album standouts, but where "Spanish Heist" was fast-paced, light-hearted fun, "Rabat" is more slowed-down, mysterious, and hypnotic, yet equally evocative. Like "Spanish Heist," it's also fitfully representative of a globetrotting show.

Track five, "Over the Edge," is most representative of Season One's techno side, but it leads directly to track six, "Emily's Eulogy," a slow, emotional orchestral piece. Season Two's emotional stakes are far more vast than Season One's, and Giacchino's moodier, more orchestral approach, along with his further mastery of classical composition, are necessary. They translate as well to the show as to disc. Some have criticized this soundtrack for not being as fun as Season One's, lacking its faster pace, and that may be true, but Alias: Season Two [Original Television Soundtrack] certainly makes up for those things with its beauty, sophistication, and emotional depth. I think "sophistication" is my soundtrack review go-to word.
Giacchino continues in this vein, not completely discarding the techno elements, but rarely letting them dominate ("Going Down" and "I'm So Screwed" are notable exceptions).
Track twelve, "Aftermath Class," which soundtracks the closing moments of "Phase One," features a beautiful, definitive rendition of Sydney's "emotion theme" on strings, but also segues to a dark, final passage, representative of the show's shift into a much darker organism in the season's second half. These tones are quite reminiscent of John Williams' work during the Sith meeting at the end of Star Wars: Episode Two, a film which was released a year before this season of Alias aired. Later Williams' is actually a good reference for some of the things Giacchino does here, as well, and if you reference anyone in your soundtracking career, you're best off with him.
"Sarkavator" continues the strains of darkness with stabbing violin reminiscent of Bernard Herrman, as do the techno and orchestro trilogy of tracks that follow, "I'm So Promoted," "I'm So Screwed," and "I'm So Demoted." The next track, "Inferno," is an absolutely gorgeous piece for strings, further showcasing Giacchino's increased composing skills. A couple tracks later, on "Something Fishy," Giachino references Williams again, this time with opening strings that remind of Williams' work on Jaws...not the main two-note theme, but the frightening strings found in the film's more suspenseful scenes...think Brody's and Hooper's investigation of Ben Gardner's boat.
Even as the darkness mounts, the latter part of Alias Season Two takes on a dreamlike feeling. As such, Giacchino's score becomes a bit more impressionistic. Check out "Sloane's Revelation"'s blurry reverie of strings, suddenly giving way to a terrifying chorus of rising voices.

The quality of this music is far higher than what one would usually expect to hear on television. Honestly, this music is better than a lot of what one hears in a cineplex. Yeah, "cineplex" is a word. I remember early into the first season, coming to the conclusion that I had never heard anything like this on TV, just as I had never seen anything quite like the show itself. I hoped for a soundtrack, but as that was rare for a television show, I wasn't optimistic about the chances. As much as I'd now like soundtracks for Alias' final three seasons, I'm thankful for these two. Perhaps the producers knew they were never going to top Season Two's finale, "The Telling." JJ Abrams-created television programs can claim two of the greatest season finales of all time (along with many other season finales that are just plain old ordinary "great")--"The Telling" is the first of those two...the other I'll get to later. "The Telling" (along with Season Two's latter episodes) swells tension and expectation until the viewer is standing on a skyscraper of it...then Abrams and company spend the episode's final ten minutes pushing the viewer off.
This nightmarish turn of events begins with the major villains escaping, then moves to the best fight sequence ever filmed for television. I know some people will say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured a couple fights that were better, but the fact of the matter is, Buffy relied heavily on stunt doubles, and was never too great at disguising them. "The Telling"'s climactic fight pits Garner's Sydney against an actress one would never suspect could throw a punch. However, the actress (SPOILER: IT'S DUNGEY) found out about the season-ending events well before filming, and spent the entire season leading up to them training with a fight coordinator (youtube is full of behind-the-scenes footage of this), so stunt-double use would be minimal. That last sentence was ironic considering the scene I'm describing.
I've heard that fights in American cinema differ from those in Asian cinema for one major reason: in American cinema, the two enemies fight because they hate each other; in Asian cinema, they fight because they respect one another. "The Telling"'s climactic fight posits another scenario. Two people look at each other and come to the same conclusion at the exact same time: If I do not kill this person, this person will kill me. And yet, simultaneously, there is so much more to it, and yet nothing more to it than that...check Garner's expression when she sees what's in the bathtub :59 in on the clip below. She feels an entire world's emotions in a millisecond, compartmentalizes, and returns to the fray-an excellent bit of acting on Garner's part.
For three minutes, Garner and Dungey go at it with such an intensity, it's a wonder someone didn't kick in the camera lens. Sydney's and Francie's house turns into one giant weapon, as Garner and Dungey rip anything off the walls that won't stick. By the end of the fight, they are shredded to bits--there used to be a rule on television stating that blood could only appear on an actor's face if it was dried--it's pouring off of Garner's and Dungey's in torrents.
Alias spent a year-and-a-half convincing the viewer that a 120-pound woman could stomp the shit out of anyone who dared point a fist at her. It only takes three minutes to make believable that she could be completely dominated by her roommate. Enough of me yakking about it, though. Just watch the fight:

Check Giacchino's massive cue at the end of the clobbering, "Balboa and Clubber." Beside being titled with an awesome Rocky III reference, "Balboa and Clubber" puts a huge exclamation on this otherwise music-less battle royale.
The episode doesn't end when the fight does, though. Sydney wakes up to find herself in something worse than a nightmare. All of the impressionistic tones click into place. Giacchino's "Almost Two Years" feigns comfort before pulling the rug out. Garner's horrified expression. Season Two ends. The show does not, though.
While Alias went on for another three seasons, it could never get out of the massive shadow of Season Two's creative success. While Season Three is quite thrilling in its attempts to reconcile the events of "The Telling," it buckles during its finale, having a character who is so minor betray Sydney, the betrayal does not emotionally register, and gives sense that the show is grasping at straws. Season Four is an attempt to simplify Alias' chaos, and it used a self-contained episode formula, along with a sexy new timeslot after ABC's new hit, Lost, to achieve the best ratings of Alias' run. Unfortunately, for those who fell in love with Alias' breakneck pace, this viewer included, the more procedural episodes of Season Four felt like a bit of a drag. Season Five is a shot in the arm, a return to the crazier pace of earlier seasons, and plot twists that actually land, It also features a pregnant Garner, and a fun side-story about a wet-behind the ear's agent who tries to step into her shoes. While Season Five's final episodes take the Rimbaldi thread to soap operatic proportions, the overall season is a fun ride. Then, the show is over. Season Five received dismal ratings, just as much of the rest of Alias did (for example, "Phase One" received the lowest viewer-percentage of any show to air after a Super Bowl in nearly two decades).
Alias has been forgotten by the public. Life isn't fair. But I will not let this stand! Myself and others like me will keep its memory alive. Most of the major publications who gave Alias stellar reviews when it aired still have the articles posted to their websites. All of the awards and award nominations are recorded. Alias may never get the recognition it deserves, but as long as Google exists, and this blog's URL is not destroyed, it will be recognized here!
Oh, yeah, and this is a very good soundtrack.

2004 Varèse Sarabande
1. Main Title (Written by JJ Abrahms) 0:28
2. On the Train 3:01
3. Mother of a Mother 1:40
4. Rabat 2:22
5. Over the Edge 3:03
6. Emily's Eulogy 3:06
7. Fond Memories 2:16
8. Post A-Mortem 1:32
9. Syd's Best Alias Yet 3:44
10. Going Down? 0:53
11. Sydney Implores Dixon 2:42
12. Aftermath Class 4:16
13. Sarkavator 0:33
14. I'm So Promoted 2:28
15. I'm So Screwed 2:47
16. I'm So Demoted 1:41
17. Inferno 2:35
18. Do I Have to Do Another Eulogy? 6:16
19. Something Fishy 2:37
20. Sloane's Revelation 2:50
21. Hitting the Fan 4:22
22. Balboa and Clubber 1:12
23. Almost Two Years 4:58