Feb 4, 2009

Soundtracks: Best Albums

Based on how popular my last soundtrack post was, I thought I'd do another one.

Today I thought I'd fire up a list of my favourite albums. Now when I talk about an album I mean listening to a soundtrack CD from start to finish in its entirety and judge the the overall listening experience.

In other words this doesn't take into account amazing singular tracks or mean these are my favourite soundtracks. Rather these are CDs that I feel have a high quality no matter what track you happen to listen to from them.

With this criteria it was a little difficult to come up with the list. I eliminated about 6 scores from this list when I realized I was subconsciously picking them for their highlight tracks, and not thinking about the other tracks I don't normally listen to.

So here they are in no particular order (other than by composer):

Lady in the Water by James Newton Howard.

Though I said these were in no order, if I had to pick the most consistent album for delivering great music it'd be this one. Though the movie it comes from is not necessarily to everyone's taste (I personal really enjoyed the first time I saw it, but it has since left me cold) it seems to have filled Howard with the magic it so desperately wanted to have.

This album perfectly catches the organic flow of water to the point that the tracks blend together seamlessly, like water being effected by the weather. This emotion flow of the music leads to a truly enjoyable listen start to finish. Myself and Peter listened to this one frequently in 2006 in the car when it came out, and we seldom swapped discs when it ended.

Atlantis by James Newton Howard.

The first album I ever bought on a whim, and it turned out to be a brilliant choice. This score actually fissures down the middle into almost two distinct sounds, which may throw off a few people.

The first half is one of cartoonish adventure and hardship as the explorers in the film search out Atlantis. The second half is one of the most amazing runs of "awe" music depicting the fantastic realm of Atlantis and its people. There is a single track that mixes the two rather well, but otherwise they do standoff against each other sound wise. I just happen to love both halves, so I consider it a very successful album overall.

Dinosaur by James Newton Howard.

Now you might think I picked this one up because it was a Dinosaur film. You'd be wrong. I hadn't seen the movie when I bought this. I boycotted Disney's Dinosaur when it came out, due to the high quality Dinosaurs talking. A decision I sort of regret. Anyways after buying Atlantis I read that this soundtrack had a great deal in common with Atlantis in quality. Picking it up I was very pleased to find this the case.

Unlike Atlantis it was not a dual identity score. Rather Dinosaur is a very continuous African flavoured musical experience. The middle of this album includes some of my favourite music ever, but the rest of the album holds up without it. If I were ever to do a prehistoric themed film I'd pick this score over Jurassic Park any day!

The 13th Warrior by Jerry Goldsmith.
This album reminds me I need to do a post shortly on bad movie soundtracks, and how often they can have the best music of them all!
The first half of this score develops dual thematic material for the vikings and arabs of the film. The second half is a collision of these two ethnic styles into some really fun action music. In fact if there is one word for this score is action. Start to finish it is fast paced and something musically is always happening. So if you like your music paced with slow and fast, this is NOT the album for you, but I love it personally on extreme fast forward!

There were many other Goldsmith contenders for best album, but I'm holding back as their slightly less consistent than this album. That and they will make up the bulk of my bad movie music post. Goldsmith was the master at amazing music for crap movies!

Star Wars: A New Hope by John Williams.
If there was ever a classic of classic soundtracks this would be it. Now I'm not going to be dumb enough (like many William's acolytes) to claim that ALL other soundtracks of the modern era owe their existence to this one. Though it is true A New Hope has had a very big impact on how movie music is put together. However in the 2000's I can personally construct an argument of how we have progressed beyond this, and into something of a post-Williams era.

Regardless this is a singularly amazing gem of movie music. Whether it be in the commercial version or the complete entire score versions, this is a solid listen. Especially if your a Star Wars fan. It has held up really well over 30 years!

Antz by John Powell and Harry Gregson Williams.
The first collaboration of these two favourites of mine (which would set the stage for Chicken Run... a break through soundtrack for me). Antz despite its seemingly jazzy style has a brilliant mix of fun, magic, and extreme epicness throughout its whole run. It is an infectious disc that if I even start a random track on it today (10 years after I bought it... man I'm getting old!) I tend to listen through the rest of it.
Despite not having brilliant singular tracks like Chicken Run, Antz the album as a whole is much stronger and coherent. Meaning it runs for my money on top animated soundtrack.

Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas by Harry Gregson Williams.
Another example of bad films leading to great music. This score is pirate and swashbuckling through and through. It has all the themes and motifs one could need to sail the seven seas. Exploration, long montage travel, sinister threats and obstacles, and of course woven between and hold these all together a strong heroic theme.
If not for the rest, which is brilliant on its own, the heroes theme is my favourite part of this album. Most heroes themes in a film I have to make due with 1-3 presentations of it. This score I get spoiled with 7! Almost half the tracks have it in there somewhere. Brilliant!

Evolution by John Powell.
This was John Powell's first solo effort I ever purchased (before seeing the film), and I was pleasantly surprised to find it an excellent continuation of the sound of chicken run, though sadly not quite as strong as the two highlight Run tracks. This album is in my opinion the music of a scientific epic, and lends itself to when I'm doing homework.
It has an optimistic upbeat spin on what would otherwise be a fairly cardboard stereotypical action movie of the monster variety. I think that is why it has endured me so much. It is aware of the fact it is fluff, and has a fun time being it. A great feel good album this one (with just a hint of menace).

Kung Fu Panda by John Powell and Hans Zimmer.
My most recent strong album from last year was an absolute delight. This particular time I ended up seeing the film first, and was blown away by the music. However buying the album I was once again enamoured by the music, that in the film sometimes is overbeared by the noise on screen.
Much the way that the film captured all the awesome of martial arts movies and made them fun and friendly, the score captures the divine and delicate nature of Chinese music and merges it seamlessly with a western orchestra. This score is not only intoxicating with the ethnic flavour, but packs a punch with some major epic battle tracks, and than goes to the fun silly. This is one of the best multi vector assault soundtrack albums I can think of, successful intertwining all these competing sounds.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore. Much like how the first LOTR film was the strongest (in my opinion anyway) the first score was as well. I think the two owe each other for their success. The second film suffered in both script and score, and I can't help but feel they are linked (much like the Dark Lord and the Ring). I suspect if I ever managed to track down the complete score for the third film it'll have a strong soundtrack, but the commercial album leaves a lot to be desired (it is the weakest of three initial CDs, despite the film having some amazing amazing).
The first films music, whether on the shorter commercial album or the extensive complete score has the majesty and magic to convey everything and anything middle earth. Every piece and theme is an essential thread that together gives us a musical scape of the LOTR universe. Even the hobbit music, which I'm not keen on, have impact later in the score when it is used. This is as important an album in soundtrack history as Star Wars, and I'd argue the beginning marker of the post-Williams era.
So that just about does it. These are my top 10 albums. Next I'll give you my top 10 tracks, and than sometime after that the top 10 bad movie=great music scores.


Glendon Mellow said...

The third installment of The Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End (Hans Zimmer)was rotating through my iPod for most of last summer. I credit it with some of the mood to The Meming of Life banner I did at the time.

Soundtracks are wonderful for painting. I'll have to check out some of your choices.

But out of all the Star Wars, I think Revenge of the Sith is my favourite.

Michael Hoskin said...

I'm pretty sure the second item in your list is Atlantis, not Lady in the Water.

The only soundtracks I've ever been addicted to are Star Wars & Serenity. I'd like to obtain some Bernard Herrmann though (hard to find & expensive).

Looking forward to your bad movie = great soundtrack list. I suppose Wing Commander will be there?

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

From crappy films you may surprisingly get an awesome score.

I have the extended scores from the Star Wars and LOTR films, I may have to confess that I really like the return of the king EE score! and some tracks from the TTT score as well ... on the other hand,
I find it difficult to say wether I prefer the ANH score or the RoTs one.

the Dinosaur soundtrack is really beautiful! my fave tracks are the first ones, so sad the film was soooo sh.... errr, well, you know.

Prehistoric Insanity said...

Glendon- I JUST today got At World's End funny enough... though I've had a compilation CD of pirates music (by the Prague orchestra... so not the actual thing), and wanted to see if the real album was the same. Me and Hans Zimmer can be violitile at times, but when we get along we GET along.

To be honest I really couldn't get into Revenge of the Sith beyond the opening track and the throat singing one. Which is too bad, as out of the prequels it was the ONLY one I didn't hate... not sure if I liked it though?

Mike- Correction has been made on the Atlantis, thanks. Copy and pasted it trying to get the same formatting, but it didn't work so I forgot to fix the words reformatting it.

I have a couple Bernard Herrmann tracks from his Harryhausen films. We'll work something out.

Dinorider- I expect I'll love the extended version of Return of the King, and probably Two Towers as well. I only have the full score for Fellowship at moment, and love it. My compliants mostly lie with those 45 min commerical albums that pick "highlights". Their not the parts of the score I would have picked. Especially in the Return of the Kings.

As for Dinosaur nothing can beat The Herd/Raptor and Across the Desert. Their are among my favourite pieces of music ever. I also love The Cave and the Epilouge.

Anonymous said...

I felt the movie Atlantis to be a rip-off of Stargate. Stargate came out in 1994 with some good acting and special effects. It also led to the hit Tv shows: Stargate Sg-1, which ran for 10 SEASONS, and Stargate: Atlantis which is completely awesome. Atlnatis is nothing original, though it probably gave some ideas to the guys at MGM for the Second Stargate series. Stargate SG-1 was first aired in 1997.

As for the film Dinosaur, the film is excellent in my opinion. Sure, it's not scientifically accurate completely, (they put a dinosaur from the Jurassic Period in a Cretaceous world.)but it DOES serve as a perfect modern version of the 1980s classic the Land Before Time. Another thing, the CG in Dinosaur is very impressive as it seems to rival Jurassic Park (though Jurassic Park is still better in that area, in my opinion.)in CG. Of curse, JP CG'd the animatronics into the different scenes of the film to make them seem even more real. Dinosaur did it from scratch. I recommend Dinosaur. I can't argue with your opinion of A New Hope's score. I agree that the movie was great in every way.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention, The 13th Warrior is based off a novel by the late and great Michael Crichton. May he rest in peace.