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CD Reviews: Pranks and Final Cut

Pranks *** 1/2


Citadel Limited LEC 8000

17 tracks - 30:33

Citadel has resurrected fan favorite Chris Young's first foray into film scoring. And what a score it is! Considering that this little seen film deals with a crazed killer preying on college students, the score eschews the staples of low-budget horror films from the early '80s. Scored for string orchestra, mixed percussion, two pianos and bass harmonica, Young's freshman work sounds rich, organic and most important, scary. It is easy to see the solid compositional chops that would lead the composer onto projects like Hellraiser, Invaders From Mars, among others in his early film scoring days. What is more impressive is that although the instrumentation is similar to Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, a piece Stanley Kubrick used to eerie effect in The Shining, Young never treads into exact passages and comes up with an assortment of interesting textures and playing effects that stand on their own. In fact, all of the tracks on this well produced disc encompass a divergence from the tonality of the Romantic era preferring to root itself in the modernist mentality of shifting string clusters, portamento effects, growling bass harmonica utterances, an occasional Herrmannesque vibraphone arpeggiation and sul ponticello tremolo effects.

Now buyer beware; Pranks doesn't contain the warm sonorities of Young's Murder in the First, nor does it have the lyrical sadness of Flowers In the Attic. Although I wouldn't say it's as aggressive as Goldenthal's Alien3, it is a genre score filled with creepy moments. But then again, tracks like "Farewell to Brian" have a melodic lilt with the strings paired down to a quartet in places while a celeste figure dances around the menacing low string sforzandos. What is especially interesting is this CD has been assembled in a way wherein the score plays like a concert piece. The following "Moonchill" recapitulates the material from the aforementioned track in a variation, giving the flow of the music a cohesion.

Ultimately, it's hard to classify this as a modern classic because of the film this score is attached to. However, Citadel is to be commended for making it available. Honestly, I wish that Young would get larger profile projects. His compositional skills are solid, and his ideas are imaginative and well presented. Special mention should be made about the great sound quality of this limited edition CD. It's clear and sonically very detailed. The performances by the musicians are first rate too. But you might want to play this effective score with the lights on and the doors locked!     -- David Coscina

The Final Cut ** 1/2


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 615 2

28 tracks - 62:00

Nowhere is formulaic film music championed more than in the thriller genre. It seems that ever since Christopher Young introduced his tinkling piano, the only other innovation was the James Newton Howard brand of electronics. So when The Final Cut punches all the right buttons and delivers exactly as expected, it oddly disappoints and pleases at the same time.

Borrowing a page from Bernard Herrmann's Hitchcock scores and blending it with a bit of Goldenthal, the main title sets the proper mood right away. But then again, this is a mood that has been set a million times before. Mysterious. Unsettling. Take the piano theme "Claire's Nocturne" from In Dreams. Lift the same exact sound effect from Robin Williams other creepy movie, One Hour Photo. Throw in a hefty dose of the Herrmann-flitered-through-Williams sound of Minority Report and even A.I. Then add a final dash of Danny Elfman's The Hulk. The problem isn't that the score is bad -- far from it. It merely treads ground we've all been over many times before. There are no dips and lulls to the emotion; there is virtually no progression at all. Even as an album, this approach doesn't really work.

The instrumentation is as expected, though the woodwind section does get a little bit more a workout than in most thrillers, with lines that don't sound like they're intended to be solos pushed prominently to the fore of the mix. There is very little action at all, which helps the music fade into the background, even with an enjoyable main theme that surfaces from time to time. Honestly, it's a pretty cool score, but then again, I liked it the last 47 times I heard it in other films.     -- Luke Goljan

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