We kick off with...
Label of the Year
This is a hard choice, as we have had some amazing material from the labels this year, some things we thought we would never see. The likes of Quartet, FSM, Silva, BSX and Varese Sarabande have dug out some rare scores from the likes of Henry Mancini and John Barry, have unleashed some previously unreleased and out of print monsters, and generally kicked musical ass in all forms. But there are two labels this year that have been ahead of anyone else.
First of all, Intrada Records, who have had a fantastic 2012. They've brought us rare scores from Michael Kamen, Basil Poledouris, Bill Conti and Les Baxter, not to mention the final two volumes of their incredible Battlestar Galactica series. Then there's also two great Star Trek titles, Predator, Charade, North by Northwest, the Excalibur collection re-recording of Miklos Rozsa's The Red House, and finally the true holy grail that is a complete and restored Conan the Barbarian. Oh, and The Avengers. An exhaustive collection of incredible titles that in any other year would take the number one slot.
But this being 2012, the big prize goes to La-La Land. This is why: The Robe, Galaxy Quest, Hook, Rosemary's Baby, Jane Eyre, Batman: The Animated Series Vol. 2, Black Rain, X-Men 2, Shane, Looper, Batman Forever, Planet of the Apes, Friday the 13th Parts I - VI, The Untouchables, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Home Alone 2, Jack Reacher. Not to mention a 3-CD edition of Star Trek - The Motion Picture and their incredible Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection, a fifteen-disc behemoth that contains every single piece of music ever heard in the television show. Given the issues involved, just releasing those two titles is a staggering achievement, but with everything else behind, there has been so much hard work put into an incredible range of titles that there really can be no other this year.
To some people, the artwork on an album is the most important thing especially with the vinyl revival. To be fair, this category has been split in two, looking at new releases and reissues. Both winners are amazing pieces of work.
SIGHTSEERS/Jim Williams/Rook Films/Art: The Twins of Evil: Luke Insect and Kenn Goodall
An ultra-limited edition released only on vinyl, Sightseers features incredible art by The Twins of Evil depicting the lonely isolated geography from the end of the film, with a gatefold image of the happy murderous couple. At a small run of 150 copies, it's understandably sold out.
KING KONG/John Barry/Film Score Monthly/Art Direction: Joe Sikoryak
The 1976 version of King Kong has always been defined by its famous poster artwork by John Berkey that depicts the titular ape straddling the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and indeed this image was the cover for FSM's original release of the LP. However, with the release of the complete score they have used a rarer Berkey from a poster used in foreign markets, and it works beautifully.
THE "IT'S SORT OF A SOUNDTRACK" AWARD
Trust me on this, it's an interested creation and also a great listen.
DROKK: MUSIC INSPIRED BY MEGA-CITY ONE/Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury/Invada Records
Drokk! What's that you say? Okay, here comes the exposition. Drokk is a swearword used in the world of 2000AD and Judge Dredd, but also is a wonderful record put together by the pair of Geoff Barrow (of Portishead) and Ben Salisbury. Originally approached to create the film score for the excellent Dredd 3D, the pair's work was rejected and replaced by Paul Leonard-Morgan's work (which I don't think is half as good). Just how much remains of the intended score is unknown, but Drokk is nevertheless an incredible imaginery soundtrack, taking cues from John Carpenter and Brad Fiedel to create a relentless dystopian retro-futuristic soundscape that deserves a special mention. Check it out here.
VINYL RELEASE OF THE YEAR
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH/John Carpenter and Alan Howarth/Death Waltz Records
Vinyl as a musical format has really taken off this year, especially in soundtracks, with no examples more potent than that of Death Waltz Records. A London-based label specialising in soundtrack vinyl, the label has issued some classic cult scores, including Fabio Frizzi's Zombi 2 and John Carpenter's Escape From New York. But the best of their selection so far is Carpenter's score for the third Halloween film, in association with long time collaborator Alan Howarth. The score itself is fantastic, and the remastered sound is beautiful. But probably my favourite thing is the artwork, a garbled television signal representing the evil methods of the film's villain, complete with Silver Shamrock badge. Happy Halloween indeed.
BEST CATALOGUE RELEASES
New film scores are all well and good, but there are still a boatload of older scores that haven't seen the light of day in a proper presentation. This year particularly has yielded some wonderful releases, and these are the best.
5. STAR TREK GENERATIONS: EXPANDED 2-CD COLLECTOR'S EDITION/Dennis McCarthy/GNP Crescendo
Sometimes, the expansion of a score can bring out the best in the music and show just how really good it is. This definitely applies to GNP's release of Dennis McCarthy's score to the 1994 torch-passing extravaganza. Coming after people like Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner is no mean feat, and even the previous score, Star Trek VI by Cliff Eidelman, is highly praised. Nevertheless, McCarthy was able to produce a fine score, one that for me surpasses the later entries in the series. This expanded edition is excellent, presenting the complete score in crystal clear sound, as well as the original album. Check out my review here.
4. JOHN CARPENTER'S THE FOG/John Carpenter/Silva Screen
A score that's been badly treated since its original release (which contained music mainly cut from the film), Silva Screen finally did John Carpenter's music justice with a 2-CD set that gave us the previously released expanded version of the LP on one disc and the film score on the other. A masterpiece of mood and atmospheric tension, it's amazing to finally have some of the film cues available, particularly the amazing piece when they drive up to the church. Read the review here.
3. CONAN THE BARBARIAN/Basil Poledouris/Intrada
Legendary. Epic. Powerful. Operatic. It's not always easy to put Basil Poledouris' seminal 1982 score into simple words, although there's one catch-all term for it: masterpiece. That term can also apply to Intrada's long-in-the-works three-disc album, supplying the incredible complete film score along with the original LP, complete with 'Between the times when the oceans drank Atlantis...' narration. And it's unlimited, so no one has to miss out.
2. BLADE RUNNER: 30TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION/Vangelis/Buysoundtrax
Ever since the film premiered, fans have been trying to get a proper presentation of Vangelis' majestic music, with even albums produced by the composer himself in 1994 and 2007 not satisfying due to track choices and the score enthusiast's bane: dialogue, making many fans turn to bootlegs. However, this big hole has been semi-filled thanks to BSX and Edgar Rothermich, who has produced a wonderful new recording of the score, with cues not on the previous Vangelis releases and a sound very close to the original score. A marvellous tribute.
1. STAR TREK - THE MOTION PICTURE: 3-CD LIMITED EDITION/Jerry Goldsmith/La-La Land
If you ask me what the best score of all time is, I'll usually give one of two answers, depending on the day: The Empire Strikes Back or Star Trek - The Motion Picture. As such, LLL's treatment of the latter here is easily my favourite release of the year, and in terms of quality and quantity is just astounding. First of all, there's the masterful complete score, perfectly remastered by longtime Goldsmith engineer Bruce Botnick. Then there's the alternate early score, which was rejected in favour of the final material. There's also the original LP, tons of alternate cues, the disco version of the main theme and even the vocal version of the love theme, previously only available as a Japanese single. But it goes back to the quality of the score and the quality of the sound - it really is an absolutely incredible job, to the point where it probably has only sounded better when it was being recorded.
COMPOSER OF THE YEAR
It can only be Alexandre Desplat. He's like a one man Remote Control Productions only good, kicking out multiple scores per year with a consistently high-level of quality. His music this year has been immense - with Argo, Rust and Bone, Moonrise Kingdom and Rise of the Guardians to name but a few, as well as next year's Zero Dark Thirty, a surefire contender for next year's list. The film score composing equivalent of a terminator.
THE BEST SOUNDTRACKS OF 2012
Here we go...
10. MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE/Alan Silvestri/Intrada Records
The summer's big superhero team-up needed a big score to back it up, and there are few better composers to go to than Alan Silvestri (of Back to the Future and Predator fame). Having already given Marvel their best score for Captain America: The First Avenger, Silvestri was the obvious choice. Whilst his Avengers score is a bit more understandably modern than his music for Cap, it never fails to to match the enormity of what happens on screen without sacrificing emotion. And that theme, well you'd be hard pressed to find something more blatantly heroic.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES/Hans Zimmer/Watertower Records
When we learned that James Newton Howard was not joining Hans Zimmer for the third film in Christopher Nolan's trilogy, we were worried that the humanity might go missing from the music. We needn't have worried. It's an intense album, with the obvious choice being the unsettling music for Bane, as well as the delicate yet mysterious Catwoman theme, and gets even more so when the Batman theme fights back against the darkness (as in 'Imagine The Fire'). But when the light breaks through, it's utterly poignant.
8. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY/Howard Shore/Decca Records
It's safe to say that, as big a job Peter Jackson had matching the quality of The Lord of the Rings with The Hobbit, Howard Shore had just as big a job meeting the great expectations following his scores to the trilogy. I'd say he's certainly met them, albeit under different circumstances, as the stories are vastly different in tone. Therefore The Hobbit is somewhat of a lighter affair, especially with the musical callbacks in the film, such as the themes from The Shire and Rivendell. But there is great fun to be had with the new music, including explorations on the Lonely Mountain theme (briefly heard in the first film) and a wonderful theme for the Dwarves.
7. BRAVE/Patrick Doyle/Walt Disney Records
Despite having a healthy scoring career for many years, Patrick Doyle has recently come to the fore with a series of high-profile assignments, including Marvel's Thor and the well-received prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes, not to mention Pixar's latest, Brave. Doyle's score used authentic Scottish instruments and a sense of whimsy to create a truly excellent score, but it's the huge dose of heart that really created its musical magic.
6. SKYFALL/Thomas Newman/Sony Classical
Despite David Arnold's previous affiliation with agent 007, it was obvious that as soon as Sam Mendes signed up to direct Skyfall, Thomas Newman would be given scoring duties. And in spite of the predictable responses given Newman's past music for films like American Beauty, he brought an interesting style to the Bond franchise, only lightly using snippets of The James Bond Theme (and using Arnold's Casino Royale arrangement when it played in full). But despite creating a noble theme for Dame Judi Dench's M and a lovely romantic piece for the ill-fated Severine, he didn't skimp on the action, using a fine blend of orchestra and electronics to score what is potentially Bond's best adventure to date.
5. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK/Danny Elfman/Sony Classical
One of the shortest scores of the year, at least for a feature-length picture, Danny Elfman's music has almost inevitably been put in the background with a digital-only release while the song album gets pride of place on CD, albeit including two score cues. This is a shame, as it's a wonderful little score with a beautifully playful tone and more of a pop sensibility than some score fans are probably used to, although fans of Elfman's body of work probably expect it.
4. RISE OF THE GUARDIANS/Alexandre Desplat/Varese Sarabande
As mentioned above, Desplat scored five 2012 films, and while the best (Zero Dark Thirty) is ineligible due to its UK release in January, he has at least three scores that were considered for the list. The best - for me at least - of that trio is Rise of the Guardians, a grand old score to the surprisingly good DreamWorks Animation film. Animation seems to be a great outlet for composers to really let loose, and Desplat is able to build on the more fantastic-styled work from his work on Harry Potters 7 and 8 and let loose his talent for outstanding melody that still holds musical weight.
3. THE MASTER/Jonny Greenwood/Nonesuch Records
While it wasn't his first foray into scoring, Jonny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood exposed the Radiohead guitarist's talent for film music and immediately established him as an amazing new voice for the medium. His second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson is just as good, providing a beautiful yet disconcerting sound that always sounds like it should be going into a more pleasing melody, before heading a different way. At times, it feels more like the score to a horror film, unsurprising given one of Greenwood's major influences, Krystof Penderecki, whose dissonant sounds were used in a little film called The Exorcist.
2. WAR HORSE/John Williams/Sony Classical
Steven Spielberg's film is an old-fashioned affair, an approach which I think probably contributed to the middling reviews it received. But because it's an old-fashioned film, it demanded old-fashioned music and subsequently received an incredible score. John Williams is no stranger to the musical texture of rural England (one of his best scores was to the 1970 TV adaptation of Jane Eyre), and here he crafts a wonderful tribute to not just our country but also our countryside, creating one of his best main themes in the process.
1. JOHN CARTER/Michael Giacchino/Walt Disney Records
A disaster of epic proportions, or at least that's what the industry press wanted people to think, butn John Carter was just a fun adventure from a simpler time that mainly suffered from dreadful marketing. But what it didn't suffer from was a lack of great music (although coincidentally, none of the score was used in the trailers, which instead used library music and an orchestral version of Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir') as Michael Giacchino stepped up to the plate and delivered another score to cement him as the best film music composer working today who isn't John Williams. Giacchino's score is built on the foundations of two great themes - for John Carter himself and Martian/Barsoomian princess Dejah Thoris - and with that core, blends deft touches of emotion with booming action pieces, with a sense of humour that helps the proceedings stick with the right tone.
A great example is 'The Gravity of the Situation', a charming waltz version of the title theme that plays when Carter first discovers his ability to leap great distances. The more emotional side is played on with 'Carter They Come, Carter They Fall' (Giacchino and his producer's penchant for track name puns is well known) as Carter desperately fights a horde of enemies while remembering the death of his family, with a powerful rendition of his theme sounding with a tinge of sadness. And then there is 'John Carter of Mars', the epic end title suite which features my favourite bit of film music of 2012 in its final minutes. The chance of a sequel is unfortunately slim at best; for to not see further adventures on Barsoom would be a sadness, but to not hear more of Giacchino's music for Mars would be a tragedy.
See you in 2013!