CD: Alien Terrain (2011)

June 11, 2011 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Phantom Records/ Released: 2011

Tracks & Album Length: 10 tracks / (40:00)

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Special Notes: CDR release with colour booklet / Available from Phantom Soundtracks (“Real Music | Fake Films”)

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Composer: Darren Callahan

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Review:

Darren Callahan’s second score for another non-existent film evokes a mid- to late-eighties sci-fi shocker where pint-sized aliens in white hoodies and masks infiltrate a newly-minted small community with modernist architecture, and their attempt to assimilate into human society..

The only suggestions of the fake film’s story are the track titles, and a series of stills in the booklet, but fans of odd eighties sci-fi shockers (Wavelength, with its Tangerine Dream score, easily comes to mind) will imagine their own set of visions, largely because Callahan’s score is so good.

Sticking to simple theme construction on keyboards, he creates soft establishing mood music for the aliens’ arrival, a really lovely theme for heroine Katherine, and fuzzy, watery drones for what’s presumably a sonic flashback to the world abandoned by the aliens (the lengthy “Home Planet Suite”).

Vintage, eighties synth scores tended to be limited by gear and imagination, and the more astute composers (or those well aware of the limited emulations of whatever gear they could afford) worked out their themes, variations, and what specific sounds would create empathy, horror, and a middle ground of sounds suitable for mood shifts.

Callahan’s album offers a journey through vintage musical and genre tropes, but unlike Spikes (2010), his first effort, Alien Terrain seems to instinctively induce a trance state in the listener. The tones are weirdly soothing, the tempo of most cues are deliberately slow, and tension is often created by the gradual addition of rising soundscapes, peripheral sound mobiles, and playing off fixed rhythms, such as the constant chord hits in “Humanization.”

The bass pulses and arising tones evoke some of Cliff Martinez’ hypnotic writing (as in Traffic), and the sparing use of sound effects are equally retro, such as a flittering effects at the end of “Home Planet Suite,” recalling the death ray tones in the pre-credit sequence of Queen of Outer Space (1958).

“School” and “Bullies” introduces a full theme for the aliens (presumably attempting to integrate into their new society), and it’s also a small tribute to Tangerine Dream’s balance of rather sweet-laced themes placed within scores better-known for percussion and atmospheric textures. After major theme iterations in the prior cue, “Fake Skin” just drizzles across the soundscape with electrified chord progressions and warm, analogue-styled bass tones, and after a short intro bit on flute, Callahan switches to a mechanized rhythm in “Sisters,” with theme fragments performed on the soothing keyboards heard in “Katherine’s Theme.”

Unlike Spikes, the instrumental palette is much broader, incorporating synth and organic sounds (flute, piano, and acoustic guitar), but there’s also a more concentrated effort to create cues with overt narrative qualities. “Gary Attacks Diane / Aftermath” is a complete cue with a progression of dramatic events leading towards an end point, and illustrates the point that a score’s success lies in the composer’s imagination: there’s more dramatic meat in this low-budget endeavor than some of the expensive, large-scale orchestral / electronic hybrids concocted by major Hollywood composers from the Media Ventures school. Callahan’s crafted a score that hooks the listener – and the movie doesn’t exist.

The album’s finale is a bit too abrupt – there’s no big percussion battle or epic theme statement – but it’s still an impressive production, making Phantom Soundtracks a unique source for genre fans looking for a hidden gem among the steady wave of monthly soundtrack releases.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

CD:  Spikes (2010)

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Related External links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film: Queen of Outer Space (1958)

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External References:

IMDB — Composer Website

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