Sunday, November 29, 2009

From Demons to Wizards: Film Scores of Joe Hisaishi

All right, so I've stuck to some typical genres so far in this blog. However, I decided I should stray a bit from the norm and mention my favorite score composer and director, Joe Hisaishi. He has done more than 100 scores and solo albums since the early eighties. I think far too often people underestimate the power a movie score can have over the overall film. Movie scores help emphasizes characters, plots, emotions and other things in the films. I believe horror movies would be a lot less scary if there wasn't the suspenseful music in the background.

Joe Hisaishi is probably best known for is work with animator Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli films. These films are some of my favorite and includes Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. These films are fantastic on their own, but the score makes them even more amazing.

The film Princess Mononoke is set in medieval Japan is a story of a struggle between man and nature. It's a world of both man and machine as well as nature and it's forest demons and talking demon beasts (I am awful at summing up movies without going into too much detail, since this is about music anyways). Hisaishi produces a score that emulates all of these elements. Princess Mononoke's theme song is airy and sad, reflecting her split life between being human and living among the demons, but also a strong female character. The male character's, Ashitaka, theme depicts his strength and the epic his journey well too. The theme of both these character is a beautiful piano duet, which reflects their relationship I believe.With the exception of those themes and a handful of other songs, the rest of the score is very harsh, because those are the elements of the film. There are battles and bloodshed which leads to steady and marching dumb beats; the destructive ironworks in the film are given very deep sounds. I will advise this is not a soundtrack to try to sleep to, the tracks including themes of demons are down right creepy. In "The World of the Dead" I'm honestly not sure of they have people or of they are using an instrument, but there is wailing. It's fitting, but it really is a spooky, depressing song to listen to. There are many bass and cello parts, keeping the songs deep and powerful; however, brass like to boom in and create a sense of urgency, also an awful way to try to sleep.

A very different theme would be Howl's Moving Castle, which is a different sort of magical, whimsical, character and love story. Again, Hisaishi's music reflects this. The movie is very dreamlike so the music tends to have a lot of slow piano solos with light instruments like harps, flutes, and violins. In a song called "Stroll Through the Sky" begins in the film when the two main characters are being follows by demons, they are more like giant blobs, because the male character is a wizard. The song begins with the strings plucking and picks up pace as they are being followed faster. There is a big crescendo as the two reach a dead in but they actually take off into the air. The music gives the sense of the rush and take off into flight and the full orchestra enters with a version of the main theme. This film especially liked to take its main theme song, "The Merry-go-round of Life" and alter it slightly pending on the moments and events in the film.

I'm honestly not sure how much sense that all made. For someone who played in an orchestra I'm awful at describing orchestral music. Maybe that's because there is so much emotion in it that it's hard to describe, or I'm my musical term knowledge is really rusty. Either way, I would recommend both Hisaishi's soundtracks and the films they are for, and next time you're watching a film pay attention to the soundtrack and not just the songs you can sing to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Going Somewhere More Familiar

All right, so another all time favorite band has to be Sister Hazel. Much of their older music is what tends to define me. However, like I said in my previous post, when you're a long time fan it's harder to accept when bands change a bit, but you can still enjoy them anyways. I'll always be a big fan of the band, but I'll be bias and said their older CDs are better. Sister Hazel has a great way of balancing acoustic and electric guitar. They've probably a mix of alternative/rock with a Southern twang without being Southern Rock or Country. 

Either way, I was first introduced to the band, way back when in middle school and whatever year that was. Sister Hazel has had a handful of radio hits, but their songs "All for You" and "Happy" off of Somewhere More Familiar are probably ones a lot of you have heard of. My memories of these songs are belting them out with my friends on our way back from a sleep deprived retreat. Sister Hazel then when under the radar for a few years until high school some time when I was listening to the radio at night during a fit of insomnia. This is when I heard the song "Change your Mind" off of their current release Fortress. I was hooked. 

I got their CD and listened to is a million times learning all the words, and never tiring of having it on repeat. I then went out and got their older CDs, their self titled release and Somewhere More Familiar. I think the thing that's so catchy about this band is that their lyrics are about living life with all its ups and downs, and there's a lot about love. So really, what could be more identifying at the age of sixteen-ish than songs like that. Prime example, "Strange Cup of Tea" from Fortress. The song begins:

Sometimes I wake with a weary head and
I wonder how I'll ever get through
Then I think of the things you said
how you told me to my self be true
My faith in things unseen,
My belief that it'll all work out
May seem like a strange cup of tea,
but if its all right with you than it all
Right with me

Oh my feet I walk, with my legs I run
In my arms I'll hold another day
With my head I think, from my heart I sing
And with my hand to my face I pray.

After I was already hooked on Fortress, their next album, Chasing Daylight, was just as fantastic. They continue to write about life and love. There's an even balance of fun, playful songs like "Swan Dive" to more serious songs like "Sword and Shield." I can't even remember how long I listened to this CD without getting tired of it. 

Sister Hazel continues to release album after album, with a totally of eleven CD right now. What's also great about this band is that they are amazing live. They have fun and have a habit of interacting with the audience, including taking my brother's cell one time when I couldn't make it and saying, "Order a pizza, I'll be home soon." They have a sense of energy that just continues through the years. Though there have been fewer radio hits, Sister Hazel continues to have a large fan base. They have also had songs in films such as "Your Winter" in 10 Things I Hate About You, an "Where Do You Go?" on an episode of Scrubs, and "We'll Find It" in The Wedding Planner.

Like I said earlier, I have a harder time accepting the change in their music, but it doesn't mean it's not good. I do recommend those three albums for when you're looking for something to listen to in order to get you out of a funk or just enjoy some good times.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Take the Wheel and Drive

All right. So it's time for one of my favorite bands. I could lie and say that I have been listening to them since the 90s when they came around, but I have a habit of missing the band-wagons (and making awful puns). Either way, I think this band is very diverse in every album they have put out to date and I'm always impressed.I was introduced to Incubus by my boyfriend nearly four years ago, and I've enjoyed listening ever sense.

From Fungus Amongus to Lights Grenades there has been a beneficial growth and change in the band. Just viewing music videos you can see a change in the band. From grungy dreadlocks in "Take Me to Your Leader" to the clean cut "Anna Molly." However, there is a similar energy throughout all their music. I think the advantage of being a later fan is that it allows me to like both the older and newer songs. Too often when you've been a fan of a band since their beginning, it's hard to accept change, even if it's good change.

My two favorite albums have to be S.C.I.E.N.C.E and Make Yourself. Released in 1997, S.C.I.E.N.C.E, can be described as metal-ish, with an emphasis on the skills of DJ Lyfe on the turntables. My simple say on S.C.I.E.N.C.E  is, "Get excited." This cd a level of energy that can just make someone's day. Doesn't matter if you're in a good mood or a bad mood this is the perfect album to fit that mood. There's not a slow beat on these tracks from "Redefine" to "Calgone"; however, my favorite song has to be "Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)." The bass line is fantastic right from the start, and it's a non-sappy love song. Another good song is "A Certain Shade of Green," which is asking "what are you waiting for?". Really with a song like this it's got to be more of a motivation to get you moving and on your way.

Make Yourself was released in 1999 and has the radio popular "Drive" and "Pardon Me." Incubus has toned down a bit from S.C.I.E.N.C.E, including Brandon Boyd losing the dreads. Unlike their previous cds, Make Yourself has more of a variety tempo-wise. Songs like "The Warmth", "Miss You", and even "Drive" slow the beat down with more serious lyrics than a girl sitting on a bug hill ("Sink Beneath the Line" - Fungus Amongus). Though I hate to say it because of their high radio play, "Drive" and "Pardon Me" are probably my two favorite tracks. They both have good beats, and really who can't relate to being "twenty-three on the verge of spontaneous combustion."

I have continued to enjoy seeing the changes on each album and will be interested to see where Incubus goes with their next full release (I don't count the best of, with a few randomly new songs of Monuments and Melodies). I have to say that Incubus is one of the best bands I have seen in concert as well. It can be hard sometimes to be able to carry the same energy of recorded tracks onto the stage, but Incubus does it amazingly well. And as a side note, Incubus has created organization called The Make Yourself Foundation, which takes cuts from their profits for charities and participates in similar events.