Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
Most people probably know composer Cliff Martinez for his work with the director Nicolas Winding Refn, where his Tangerine Dream-y scores for Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Neon Demon do a lot of heavy lifting to create Refn’s hazy, warped VHS atmospheres. But he’s also had a much longer, more varied career with Steven Soderbergh, with whom he’s worked since his film composing debut on 1989’s Sex, Lies, And Videotape and nearly everything else since. In 2011, around the same time Martinez did Refn’s Drive, he brought that score’s vintage synth sounds to Soderbergh’s apocalyptic flu thriller Contagion—only here he used them to create a feeling of panic, as opposed to Drive’s stoically ambient hallucinations. Martinez was really on a roll that year: Contagion is one of his greatest works, and its incorporation of both traditional orchestral swells and electronic pulses deftly marries the two in a way that allows for moments of both anxiety and mourning, without ever breaking its propulsive stride. Real Gone Music just gave Contagion its first-ever vinyl reissue in a limited-edition gold and red “biohazard” color (sadly, the cover is still just a reproduction of the film’s that’ll-do poster). I love listening to it while I’m working, especially; it gives everything I do the feeling of dramatic, clock-ticking importance, and it helps me get a lot of shit done quickly. And it’s a crucial addition to anyone’s collection of Martinez, or of excellent film scores in general. [Sean O’Neal]
One pleasure of the comedy world the past few years has been watching the steady ascent of Chris Gethard from cult-favorite comedian with a public-access show to a rising star. That public-access show is now on TruTV, and Gethard has landed some good supporting film roles (like in last year’s Don’t Think Twice), and Judd Apatow produced his HBO special, Career Suicide. (It’s the culmination of their awkward first meeting at SXSW in 2012, which adds another fun layer.) Don Giovanni released the album version of Career Suicide earlier this month, and it’s essential listening. Like Maria Bamford, Gethard mines his mental-health issues for cathartic comedy, but where Bamford mixes it with bits about other topics, Career Suicide is a 90-minute dive into Gethard’s tumultuous psychological past (and present). This is heart-on-sleeve comedy, its laughs hard-won and frequently uncomfortable, but all coming from a real place. Like Bamford, Gethard has had to make his own niche in the entertainment business, and Career Suicide is a welcome raise in profile for an artist who truly deserves it. [Kyle Ryan]
A habitual inclusion on “best of the ’80s” and “best of all-time” albums lists, The Queen Is Dead is no stranger to high—and entirely deserved—praise. The Smiths’ 1986 set has, strangely, never had the deluxe-reissue treatment before; notoriously prickly frontman Morrissey commented last year that he tried to get one in motion, but hit a “brick wall” with the label. But now, at the nice round age of 31, the album has its own box set—three CDs and a DVD or five LPs. The original 10 tracks have been remastered and sound great both on CD and fancy-pants high-end audio, but they always sounded pretty great anyway. Morrissey and guitarist/co-songwriter Johnny Marr were peaking throughout the band’s short five-year existence, and never more so than here. From the title track’s booming drums and moaning indictment to one of pop music’s all-time great love songs, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” the album represents a high point among high points. (The following year’s Strangeways, Here We Come was barely a step down, too.) It’s gorgeous, heartfelt, and worthy of all the praise that’s been heaped on it over the years.
In addition to the main album, this new set includes a passel of demo versions that super diehards will already own, but nicely cleaned up. None really surpass their album versions, but they’re fantastic in their own way. “Never Had No One Ever” adds a lengthy trumpet solo and some extra Morrissey intonations, along with some laughter (possibly at the trumpet). There’s also a live show recorded in Boston in 1986, which sounds pretty great but is also incomplete—the missing songs lost to history, presumably. The only thing missing are good liner notes, or really any liner notes at all. While there are some extra photos and a slightly, unnecessarily different sleeve, there’s no grand statement from the band or a friendly journalist to put The Queen Is Dead in context or praise it to the heavens. Maybe that’s just self-evident at this point. [Josh Modell]