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CD Reviews: Alias and Gothika

Alias *** 1/2


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 521 2

26 tracks - 65:10

Television composers rarely have the luxury of developing themes over a large canvas, as film composers like Howard Shore and Don Davis have been able to do over the past few years. Music written for television is often even more rushed than that for film scores, and cues tend to be shorter and more disparate as commercials constantly intercede. Television composers have a different, but equally challenging job. They must write music that helps the audience live in the moment, no matter where that moment may be. This is more difficult on certain shows, where the composer must be able to jump between widely disparate styles at the drop of a hat.

Michael Giacchino is responsible for almost all of the music in the first two seasons of the hit show Alias, a show that offers a lot of scoring challenges. Varèse Sarabande has wisely released this compilation album, a disc that showcases why Giacchino has received so much acclaim. In the liner notes, J.J. Abrams, Alias' creator, writes that Giacchino's music is pitch perfect, that in "adopting the style and instrumentation of the various international locales visited on Alias, Michael performs a miracle." Abrams touches on what makes this recording so fascinating, and occasionally frustrating; Giacchino is a master at helping the audience live in the moment, deftly switching from style to style. Therefore, the movement from track to track becomes slightly schizophrenic, and can be dislocating to a casual film score listener. Consider the move from "Spanish Heist," one of the disc's best tracks, to "Double Life." "Spanish Heist" conjures a Mexican locale with castanets and flamenco guitar intertwining over a pulsing beat with a vocal line occasionally embellishing the top. It is followed by the lyrical "Double Life," in which Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow contemplates her role in the world as a spy. It's a cue full of indecision, heartbreak and even resolution, and is stylistically miles away from "Spanish Heist."

So you should savor this CD for the exquisite moments it contains. Revel in the effective four-chord ostinato in pseudo-religious orchestration in "The Prophecy," or in the shifting textures and rhythms, the "wacka-chicka" electronics, and the blaring trumpets straight out of a David Arnold Bond score in "Sleeping Beauty." While there are no overarching themes to hold onto, there is plenty to enchant, moment to moment, in Michael Giacchino's Alias.     -- Andrew Granade

Gothika *


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 520 2

15 tracks - 49:51

Years ago, I was upset when John Ottman got kicked off Halloween: H20, but when I finally heard the rejected score, the pain went away. I began to understand that John Ottman cannot write horror music. Between the rejected H20, Urban Legend 2 and now Gothika, he has proven that he simply cannot wrap his mind around what it takes to scare an audience with music. He can write pretty music and slightly odd music -- even loud, obnoxious music...but none of it sounds scary. Indeed, much of it grates on the nerves rather quickly.

Ottman also seems to relish falling into the pitfall of extremely obvious temp-tracking. As an editor and director, he has become too reliant on his temp scores, at times behaving a bit like a fledgling band and creating music that sounds like a lesser version of another composer. Even though the first few moments of Gothika tease the listen with the promise of creepiness, it turns into another Snow White: A Tale of Terror, because here too, the first five seconds are the best part of the score. Right after that, the Dune theme is quoted verbatim, followed by the Die Hard theme 1:55 in. "First Escape" (2:53 in) and "Willow Creek" (3:20 in) hint at the blatant rip of Aliens that erupts in full glory 1:15 into "Revelation." And while "I See Dead Kids" sounds decidedly Elfman-esque, what should we expect after "You're Next" has already quoted the main theme from The Frighteners right at the start? Unlike Ottman's work on X-2, where he unabashedly stole the theme from Lifeforce, then built an incredible score around it, Gothika never surpasses its source material.

Other than the first track, the only marginally interesting bit of music appears in "Recollections" and "The House/Dream," which boast interesting vocal textures and ethereal glissandos. But none of it really creates any definitive mood, meandering about aimlessly. Considering how loud and raucous it can be at times, this score is surprisingly forgettable. This is especially the case with the main theme for Miranda, where Ottman phones it in with another wandering piano melody over soft vocals.

Ottman's music may (or may not) have perfectly matched Halle Berry's exploits on screen, but it sure as hell isn't worth paying attention to on CD. For Ottman completists only.     -- Luke Goljan

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