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Monday, May 18, 2015

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

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8/10

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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?
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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."
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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).
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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 (Just kidding. Executive Producer, Robert Townson, actually decided on the final tracklist cut). 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.
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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."
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"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.
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(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

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