Brad Fiedel ‘Fright Night’

Welcome to Fright Night. For real.

With the current Twilight craze, it’s hard to imagine a time when vampires weren’t in vogue, but that wasn’t the case in the 80s. As late night horror movie host Peter Vincent proclaimed, “Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see are slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.” Well, with all due respect to Mr. Vincent (that’s not even his real name, you know), he was dead wrong. Tom Holland’s horror comedy Fright Night revamped the vampire movie, bringing bloodsuckers to the 80s with critical and commercial acclaim.

And then there’s the music.

The film soundtrack was some sort of perfect musical alchemy, one half comprising of varied 80s tunes and the other an electronic score that somehow made it all come together.  The soundtrack LP featured only the songs, neglecting the other half, but decades later Intrada Records has finally addressed that omission.

At the time electronic music was replacing orchestral music, and since Fright Night was to be a modern spin on the vampire tale, the director opted for Brad Fiedel, who’d provided an iconic synth score for The Terminator. And as a result what we get is a mix of the modern and the traditional. “Window Watching” features an electric violin performed as if it were a killer guitar solo, and the baroque synth of “Charlie’s Cathedral” resembles a John Carpenter version of a dark Romanian tango.

There is a charm to the moody yet dated synths. Not just that they’re genuine, but that the music is sincere. In the liner notes, director Tom Holland says that “while there are some things about Fright Night that date it to the 80s, there’s nothing about Brad’s score that sounds old. You could put it out there with any other movie score and it would still work. When you hear it, you know he was a guy who helped revolutionize electronic music in film.” Fiedel had the pulse of the time, and while the Carpenter/Goblin homage groups out there now focus on making their music sound like an 80s artifact, Fiedel was there in the moment, channeling all his energy into the music and the notes and the melody. And boy did he come up with one hell of a theme.

Introduced in “Window Watching,” the main theme is a repeating synth figure that winds throughout the score, an earworm of a tune that underscores Jerry the Vampire’s afterdark exploits, luring unsuspecting women into his lair, all building up to an epic performance in “Come To Me (Seduction Scene)” that sounds like the steamiest, hottest vampire sex you’ve ever heard. Twilight yearns for music like this.

The album then descends headlong toward the climax of the film. And it’s here where those driven to this album for its hip 80s qualities will be thrown for a loop. Fiedel removes all melody and improvises the lengthy fifteen-minute-plus climax of the film on keyboard, playing along with the visuals like a silent film organist, then carefully layering the tracks with innovative electronic flourishes of sounds and percussion, a collage of old-school improvisation and modern technique. Since the music wasn’t designed to stand alone, this behemoth of an ending is a challenging listen, but aficionados of the avant-garde will likely admire the composer’s bold and uncompromising approach. Like the film itself, it begins with tongue planted in cheek and ends with fangs bared.

Unfortunately, because of licensing issues, the only rock song from the original soundtrack LP featured here is the composer’s own vocal version of “Come to Me” that wraps up the album, and it’s too bad because the other songs are part of the cult appeal, but let’s be honest: it’s a miracle this CD even exists. The original elements were long thought to be lost, and after years of digging, here they are.

Because of the absence of the tunes from the LP, the appeal may be diminished for some, but this release is for those of us who have had that infernal theme stuck in our heads for over twenty years, and pn another positive note, the liners finally clear up what happened to the composer. Absent from the Hollywood scene ever since scoring True Lies in the 90s, he turned his back on Hollywood and faced the sea, fulfilling a lifelong love of surfing, all while producing his own musical projects.

You’re so cool, Brewster.

You can get the album at Intrada’s website here.

And here’s the track “Come To Me (Seduction Scene)”…

Finally, for all those readers out there who have patiently read all of our October reviews, wondering when the hell Los Grillos would get off this Halloween kick, here’s one last treat that should make it all worthwhile: a recording of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic “Masque of the Red Death” read by none other than William S. Burroughs. It’s the strangest yet most fitting reading of the tale you’re likely to hear, sounding as if it were recited by the Red Death itself. It’s a staple of the season here at Los Grillos and just may be for you too.

Part one:

Part two:

Backtracks–Mudhoney “Halloween”

Released in 1988 as one half of a split single with Sonic Youth that came out as a limited edition 7″ via Sub Pop’s hallowed singles club series, “Halloween” is Mudhoney covering Sonic Youth, who in turn cover Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” on the single’s flip side. With the loose, dirty blues of its repeated guitar line, the first half or so of the song slithers, creeps, and grinds like the character it describes–a character I imagine as an incredibly sexy witch pole dancer on acid. Then the song changes as the vocals fade away and its snake-like crawl is replaced with the grinding guitar riff from The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which lays the foundation for some super fuzzy, big muffy guitar leads.

For years I never understood why Mudhoney chose to crib a Stooges riff to close out a cover of a Sonic Youth song, but not long ago it finally occurred to me why: After watching this seductive, hot, witch stripper work her dark, sexy magic–falling on the ground…twisting around…fucking with his mind…looking up at him with her big dark eyes…rubbing her body–our singer, Mark Arm, falls helplessly under her spell. And so, completely seduced, now he wants to be her dog, which he gets to say without saying it courtesy of the very recognizable Stooges riff. Clever–which is probably why I never picked up on it before.

And to make a great cover song even better, Mudhoney takes things one step further by singing the chorus to “Halloween” by the Misfits as the song fades out.

Guided By Voices “The Unsinkable Fats Domino”

Not so much a rarity but always a treat, new material from Robert Pollard is certainly something that pricks up my ears. And when that new material comes in the form of the first album in fifteen years from the “classic” Guided By Voices lineup–Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell, and Kevin Fennell–my ear pricks get particularly pronounced. Well, look out hat brim, hear comes advance single, “The Unsinkable Fats Domino,” from the forthcoming album Let’s Go Eat the Factory.

Let’s Go Eat the Factory is the first proper GBV record since 2004’s Half Smiles of the Decomposed, and it’s the first to be recorded by the classic lineup since 1996’s Under the Bushes Under the Stars. “The Unsinkable Fats Domino,” a chuggingly rhythmic bit of indie pop from Uncle Bob and the boys, is dependably melodic songwriting from the band that re-ups its own ante by reuniting the vocal harmonies of Pollard and Sprout on its oblique chorus. All in all, it keeps my expectations high for the full-length album.

Let’s Go Eat the Factory is set for a January 1 release via GBV Inc. stateside and via Fire Records across the pond and everywhere else.

“The Unsinkable Fats Domino” b/w “We Won’t Apologize” is out November 22 via Matador Records. Check it out here.

Guided By Voices “The Unsinkable Fats Domino”

Underworld ‘Music from the Play Frankenstein’

In a world of remakes the story of Frankenstein is one of those tales that benefits from several re-tellings. Whether or not the monster is Karloff’s stitches-and-screwtop mute or DeNiro’s sneering ghoul, the theme of a scientist treading on God’s territory remains relevant. The latest incarnation finds Danny Boyle bringing Mary Shelley’s story to the stage, the catch being that the two lead actors playing creator and monster change performances each evening. This kind of inventiveness is found in the play’s music as well, a moody yet striking work by British electronic group Underworld.

This is not the first time Underworld and Danny Boyle have appeared in the same production. Two of the band’s tunes were featured in the director’s 1996 film Trainspotting, but this is their first actual collaboration. It’s interesting to have modern artists like these guys revisit such a classic tale and hear what kind of contemporary spin they put on it, not so much to reveal something of the Frankenstein story but to see what qualities of the story they focus on.

It should be as no surprise then to say that this is largely electronic and ambient in nature. The opening Overture establishes the sound palette of what’s to come. A lengthy collage, it begins as a drone of gloom interspersed with the sound of a tolling bell, only to incorporate more various elements: intimate plucks of guitar, the singing of a small congregation, and jarring hip-hop beats. It’s at times both beautiful and unsettling, but it’s indicative of the mood and variety that’s to come.

In “Incubator” we hear the throb of a heartbeat and the harsh electronic sounds of strange lab equipment, and the hip-hop beat of “Industrial Revolution” segues into a disembodied electronic voice repeating the command “walk with me” until we hear fiddle music in an Irish pub, complete with hand clapping from the patrons. In “Dawn of Eden” the tolling of the bell returns, this time with birds chirping, and a lovely synth choir behind it sounding like golden age Tangerine Dream. There’s more than a hint of the ethereal and spiritual, similar to the haunting ambience of the soundtrack to 28 Days Later, another Danny Boyle production.

The second half delves more into the grotesquerie of the story, taking us from musical assaults conveying the violence of the creature’s wrath to the drone of “Arctic Wastes” as the creator seeks to destroy its creation, but the gloom never lasts long as even here a solitary guitar rises out of the noise and leads the way into a reprise of “Dawn of Eden” with an angelic female soprano soaring above. And like a good storyteller, Underworld brings back the central motifs for the finale, using industrial hip-hop as the monster closes in on its creator in “Come Scientist Destroy,” building and building until it suddenly cuts off–and a single throbbing heartbeat sounds forth.

Overall, this music features less of the gothic romance of Franz Waxman’s Bride of Frankenstein and not near the orchestral bombast of Patrick Doyle’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But Frankenstein has never had music as intimate and accessible as the quiet melody of “Faery Folk and Nightingale” or the guitar-strummed passion of “Female Creature Dream.” Amongst all the cold, soulless industrial music, there’s a lot of heart that manages to bleed through.

This is no more apparent than in “Sea Shanty and Croft.” Listen in awe as a raucous pub song becomes a moving tune with solemn synth tones and tolling bells, a heartfelt moment both surprising and affecting. These are the kind of moments that we hope for in art and what Underworld has created here. Moments that make stories and music new again, that with some kind of strange mix of science and magic manage to bring us back to life.

Music from the Play Frankenstein is available via Underworld Live. Check it out here (where you can also hear clips from the album).

Hear Here–Deer Tick ‘Divine Providence’

Rhode Island alt-country/folk rockers Deer Tick drop their fourth lp, Divine Providence, this week. Recorded in the band’s home town of Providence (hence the album title), the album aims for, and hits, a louder, more barroom brawling Deer Tick than the more sedate, chain-smoking-at-a-corner-table folk that is most representative of the band’s earlier albums. That said, the album is not without its quieter moments, and it successfully brings together a nice blend of raucous irreverence (“The Bump”, “Let’s All Go to the Bar”, “Something to Brag About”), toe-tapping alt-country (“Miss K”), and pensive folk (“Chevy Express”). But the album is at its best when its mid-tempo rockers channel the boozed, bruised, and battered attitude of The Replacements (“Main Street”, “Walkin’ Out the Door”).

Divine Providence is out October 25 via Partisan Records. Check it out here.

The album is currently streaming in its entirety at Spinner. Listen here.

And here’s Deer Tick covering a few tunes by other artists…

Nirvana “Serve the Servants” (as Deervana)

The Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait”

The Rolling Stones “Dead Flowers”