SOUND BOOTH EXTRA - Cathode Ray Tube's Top Listens of 2010

Well, I've done the books so now it seems fitting I turn my attention to some of the favourite 'choons' I've been listening to on iTunes, Spotify and just plain old fashioned compact disc. No particular order and no particular ranking. They're just the albums that successfully permeated through and lodged in the grey matter.

Murray Gold & the BBC National Orchestra of Wales - Doctor Who Series 5 (Silva Screen/BBC)

Murray Gold continues his association with Doctor Who on this latest album from Silva Screen and here compiles a number of cues used throughout Series 5.  I'm still not convinced by that revised main theme but it's a minor note on what is, overall, a real return to form after what I thought was a disappointing Series 4 soundtrack album.

With this being a 2-disc album we get a much better and consistent representation of the scoring from across the episodes too. The new themes for the Doctor in 'I Am The Doctor' and Amy in 'Little Amy' are lovely and highly memorable pieces. There is much to enjoy in the brashness and screwball comedy attributes of 'Down to Earth' and 'Fish Custard' but my favourites here are the gorgeous 'Can I Come With You?' and 'Little Amy - The Apple' which emulate the Burtonesque (and indeed offer a nod to fellow composer Danny Ellfman) qualities of the series.

'The Sun's Gone Wibbly' is pretty darn good too, with its restatement of the Doctor's theme using brass and a choir section. Familiar motifs in some of the music reflect cues composed for the Tennant era of the show but there is newly minted subtlety to the scoring, offering a more sensitive framing to the emotional content of scenes.

Other highlights of the first disc include the very pretty and often strident nursery rhyme aesthetic of 'Mad Man With a Box' its tinkling glissando and choral motifs reverberating through many of the other cues, including 'Amy in the TARDIS' and 'Amy's Theme' (another stand out cue). Shot through with an undercurrent of impending doom that finds its way into the scoring for finale, it climaxes in a rocky reiteration of 'I am the Doctor' with a jazzy Hammond organ motif bubbling away. The best cues also include the dissonant creepiness and military drive of 'River's Path', the freak-out atmospherics of 'The Time of Angels' and further, equally sinister, lullaby-like melodies on the superb 'The Vampires of Venice'.

The second disc covers cues from Vincent and the Doctor (frankly, not enough music included from this episode but at least we get the gorgeous 'With Love, Vincent' cue) via The Lodger (some wistfully romantic and gently amusing pieces here) through to the finale. The finale dominates the second disc and there are some very good tracks but it's a little overabundant. The Giacchino-sounding 'The Life and Death of Amy Pond' is well worth having, as is its companion piece 'The Patient Centurion' with a great cello reiteration of the Doctor's theme.

Finally, 'A River of Tears' with its mesmeric, cyclic motifs, abrupt cut-offs; the lyrical, unashamedly romantic and epic 'Sad Man With a Box' (bookended with its similarly titled companion on the first disc); and the Nyman-esque 'I Remember You' with its return to the Doctor's theme are all excellent compositions. A very impressive album demonstrating that Gold has raised his game.

Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle (4AD)

For their latest album, this American trio went off in a decidedly different direction after the denser sound of 2007's 23. Out go the guitars (although not completely) and instead Amedeo, Pace and Makino push the electronics to the fore to create an album of brittle and intense beauty.

Full of delicate, synth led melodies and whiplash beats, the album at first threatens to crumble way when Makino adds in her breathy, angelic vocals on such insecure foundations. That it doesn't is testament to their faith in their own material and producers Alan Moulder, Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid.

Sparse, often atonal and experimental, but full of delicate, filigree-like melodies and rhythms, gushing and sighing synths, this collection of songs swoop and swoon through their lyrics about love, death, dreams and desire. Makino's alien sounding vocals, blurring between various languages, keen and crack throughout. Standouts include the intense 'Not Getting There', 'Will There be Stars' and the slowly burning 'Love or Prison' with its jittery synths bubbling away beneath Makino's voice. 'Oslo' sums up this crystalline, icy quality with its crisp percussion and bare instrumentation but it has a dreamy refrain underscored by staccato electronics and swirling atmospherics. There is a constant sense that all this preciousness somehow will completely shatter and its deliberate minimal tentativeness is majestically crafted and produced.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (4AD)

This is turning into a 4AD love-in. But to be honest the three albums here really are worth investigating. Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter's fourth album, following on from the critically acclaimed Microcastle and while it isn't as instantly accessible as that album, this has a far greater longevity because it takes repeated listens to fully appreciate the intricacies of harmony, melody and sound architecture. Once you do 'get it', you're hooked.

The swooshing percussion and jangly guitar line of 'Earthquake' pulls you in and Brendan Cox's treated voice is layered into the song and you feel like you're underwater. It builds into a great wave of sound punctuated by clapping percussion and distorted guitar. The album is an hermetically sealed little world of its own, full of shimmering art-rock numbers, itchy gothic atmospherics and sunny Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies, particularly on 'Don't Cry' and 'Revival' with the latter quickly becoming a jangly, infectious pop masterpiece.

'Sailing' is much quieter with a languorous, soft croon from Cox over prickly guitar and rumbling atmospheres. 'Memory Boy' is a jaunty pop number, where the Beach Boys meet Jesus And The Mary Chain and its very uplifting despite the strange musical connections it suggests. Lovely choral refrain as the song gallops into luxurious and melancholic melodic riffs and Cox sings “It’s not a house anymore . . . Try to recognize your son, in your eyes he’s gone.” The six minute plus 'Desire Lines' is again a wonderfully rambling but atmospheric number with stunning harmonies and melodies built around cycling guitar riffs. 'Helicopter' is blissed out, soporific loveliness, delicate guitar and keyboard lines drowning in a pulsing wash of string and electronic treatments.

There's a driving Lou Reed vibe on 'Fountain Stairs' and it is again blessed with a fantastic guitar fueled break, full of infectious garagey psychodelic pomp. This astonishing album closes with the grungy, fuzzy 'Coronado' with bits of swoozy, bluesy brass popping in and out adding a sleazy, seedy vibe to the tinking, piano driven music, and the seven minute 'He Would Have Laughed' another listless, emotionally tender ramble filled with picky guitar, washes of synths, rattling percussion and strange vocal delay treatments on Cox's singing. Probably my favourite album of 2010.

James Horner - Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Newly Expanded Edition (Film Score Monthly / Screen Archives Entertainment)

FSM weave their magic yet again and follow up the stunning 2-disc re-release of James Horner's brilliant score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with a fully expanded and remastered version of his second score for the franchise, the equally impressive Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. A beautiful soundtrack, full of stirring and melancholic cues and displaying a musical maturity from Horner at such an early stage in his career.

Plenty of cues that were missing from the original 1984 release are now included. Particularly significant is the inclusion of the 'A Fighting Change to Live' track which is the emotionally powerful music that accompanies the destruction of the Enterprise above the Genesis planet. Powerful revisions of his main themes for Spock and the Enterprise (the operatics of 'Stealing the Enterprise' is a wonderful piece) dominate as well as a heavy emphasis on exoticism for the mystical presence of the Vulcans and their world. The Vulcan themes are both sweeping and majestic, sensitive and evocative with 'The Mind Meld' and 'Returning to Vulcan' some of finest scoring you'll ever hear.

On the second disc we're given the original 1984 43 minute LP, newly remastered, and this contains several cues that were used on the soundtrack and not in the film and are slightly different and subtle variations on what we are already familiar with.  A number of curios are also included - the muzak version of those old Johnny Mercer standards that play in the background of McCoy's visit to a cantina style space bar and Group 87’s very odd pop version of 'The Search for Spock'. An essential purchase.

Twin Shadow - Forget (4AD)

Dominican born George Lewis Jr. channels many influences on his debut album for 4AD. You'll recognise generous helpings of Nile Rodgers, Bowie, Can and a myriad of 1980s synth pop influences. Lewis's crooner style vocals, often reminiscent of Morrissey, ooze out over a multi-layered wash of bubbling and whooshing synths, fuzzy guitars and strings.

It's slick, very infectious pop and if you're like me, a thorough devotee of the early 1980s new wave and synth pop era, then you'll bask in the warm, mutant disco gorgeousness of it all. The opening track 'Tyrant Destroyed' immediately sets the mood and it is one of restless longing, sexual frustration and heartbreak set to a funky, synth-pop musical landscape with choppy guitars and sweet melodies. "I'm in the belly of the canyon/ I can't come up with any reason/ Wild ghosts are following me" he croons on 'At My Heels' over a pastiche of Tears For Fears meets Japan.

'Yellow Balloon' opens like one of those funky Visage tracks from The Anvil and provides a lovely chorus featuring arpeggios of synth and clapping percussion. This is not the colder mechanics of say Kraftwerk or John Foxx but a glowing tribute to the well-crafted pop of the 1980s where jittery guitars, slapped bass and pulsing electronics all rubbed (heftily padded) shoulders. Think Hall & Oates meets Echo and The Bunnymen and you're on the right track here. A truly smashing debut that may well be overly nostalgic but it manages to avoid being pretentious and remains fresh.

Michael Giacchino - Star Trek: The Deluxe Edition (Varese Sarabande)

And keeping with the Trek theme, pardon the pun, it would be churlish of me not to mention Varese Sarabande's limited edition of Michael Giacchino's fabulous soundtrack to 2009's Star Trek. You'll find this extremely hard to get now as I believe it has completely sold out. You will likely find it on-line somewhere.

What you get is an additional hour of cues bringing this two-CD edition to a whopping 100 minutes of music and it surpasses the original album release running time of 45 minutes. This edition truly represents Giacchino's brilliant scoring on the film and flows more organically. Again, there are many cues that are different from both the film and original CD versions plus plenty of atmospheric Spock and Vulcan themes that were not included on the original disc.

This deluxe edition does have its faults as apparently some of the choral overlays are missing on key themes but it does include a vast amount of music from the middle portion of the film. Personally, I loved Giacchino's score, felt short changed by the brevity of the original CD and was delighted to acquire this and discover that there is much, much more of this composer's very dynamic take on Trek to be enjoyed. It is also very nicely packaged in a hardback book format with a full colour booklet inside between the two CD trays and if you can still find copies to purchase then treat yourself. My original review of the Star Trek score goes further into why I enjoyed Giacchino's approach.

Mike Vickers - Dracula AD 1972 Original Soundtrack (BuySoundTrax and GDI Records)

I've got a bit of a soft spot for this one and was grateful that GDI saw fit to release it. Lots of stabbing and groovy brass, strings and military style percussion dominate the tracks as well as heavy use of the guitar solo, Hammond organ and woodwind.

It's brash, brazen, a little bit Bond circa Live and Let Die (I suspect the Wings and Paul McCartney 'blaxploitation' tinged soundtrack was an influence here as well as many a John Barry cue) and when you get to the 'Main Title' it plunges into driving 1970s funk with a great series of very gutsy crescendos punctuating the overall sound.

The other reason for getting this is that a White Noise (that's Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus to you and me) track 'Black Mass: an Electric Storm in Hell' was heavily sampled for the film's Black Mass segment on 'Devil's Circle Music' and was suitably bonkers and disturbing enough for Orbital to use it, complete with dialogue from the film for their own Satan Live. It's a great slab of late 1960s electronica effectively married to Mike Vickers soundtrack.

Composed by ex Manfred Mann member Vickers, the album ranges across the funky 1970s vibe, includes some very freestyle jazzy atmospherics on 'Baptism in Blood' and some Faces influenced songs from San Francisco band Stoneground who, rumour has it, actually replaced Rod Stewart and the Faces after they'd read the script and decided, perhaps sensibly, they wanted no part in it.

It's rather uneven but certainly has some outstanding moments unlike the film which is one of those late Hammer attempts to modernise their Gothic stock in trade and is best watched pissed and when you've nothing better to do. Nice accompanying liner notes with plenty of Caroline Munro images to keep the lads happy.

Honourable Mentions

Broken Bells - Broken Bells (Columbia)
The first studio album from maverick talents James Mercer, of The Shins, and Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, who has collaborated on a number of projects. Lovely harmonies and melodies, a swathe of psychedelia, some really nice keyboards and brass.

Mercer seems to be tracing the fall-out of a doomed relationship here so there is also a melancholic tinge to the proceedings. 'Your Head Is On Fire' is rather splendid in a Beach Boys-Pet Sounds style and underlines much of the dreamy, blissed out nature of the music and use of instrumentation. Alternative pop full of great melodies.

Super Sounds Unlimited - From the Amphonic Music Archives (1971-81) (Dutton Vocalion)
2010 would not be complete without mentioning the stupendous work that Dutton Vocalion continue to do in releasing gems from the major library music labels. This compilation is from Amphonic and features sessions from Syd Dale, Ronnie Hazelhurst, Keith Mansfield, Dick Doerschuk, Steve Gray and many others.

Big band sounds nestle with atmospheric orchestrations and jazz-funk work-outs. Dick Doerschuk's 'Nevada Sunset' is wonderfully atmospheric, packed with gorgeous soaring string sections and funky vibes. Mansfield provides the equally impressive 'Bow Street Runner' with its funk and brass sections and warm strings. Steve Gray's 'Long Time Gone' is sublime. The best of easy listening and full of joie de vivre.

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