Daniel (LittleBigMusic) Pemberton’s musical style for this reality/documentary series about moving Big Things is audacious, cheeky, and utterly addictive, and while the music serves the dramas of each episode very well, as an album, Monster Moves is tremendous fun.
Using an orchestra, funky rhythms, distorted guitar, and low brass, Pemberton’s title theme is a gripping little gem that also establishes the type of dramas in each episode: impossible goals under tight time constraints, and a narrow margin of error that could prove devastating to an entire project. The skittering percussion thickens, harmonies are pulled tighter, and the whole theme is pushed higher until a sudden close, leaving one waiting for a resolution.
Of course what the album provides are further examples of tension and gambles, but the music is as diverse as the stories. “Deep Deep Down” (a playful title riff on Ennio Morricone’s Danger: Diabolik theme song “Deep Down”) is one of the most addictive tunes ever written, and its usage in the corresponding program is ballsy and insane – but it works beautifully.
Meant to underscore the move of a complete town’s buildings down a snow-covered slope to safer ground, the cue’s an elegant chorale with full (and cheeky) libretto sung by mixed male and female voices and giddy reindeer jingles in the background. The punchy chorus is punctuated by heavy percussion, while lyrical passages are exquisite blends of intertwining harmonies. Short and sweet, it’s an anthem for the people, as well as they humble aspirations in wanting to avoid having their town devoured by the big hole from which their fleeing.
Part of the TV show’s problem is its unavailability on DVD, which means catching it on cable, so for those unfamiliar with the shows represented on the album, the only reference points are a handful of extracts on YouTube (of which “Deep Deep Down” is available, with onscreen captions for the libretto).
“Light and Magic” is cut from a similar harmonic cloth as the prior track, but it plays like a Russian theme for an unwritten James Bond adventure set during Christmas time. Pemberton injects some digital bending on a few sounds, which oddly evoke a bit of Ron Grainer’s Dr. Who theme.
Full chorales are used in “The Train from Bloemfontein,” but the style is a western jig with ethereal voices, soft bass guitar, and small bridges for acoustic guitar and fiddle. Pemberton adds strings and rumbling sounds as the libretto details further dangers for the tale of moving a steam engine, and the whole piece converges in a harmonic finale of religious peaks.
“Gold” is played with a more intimate collection of instruments, mostly warm acoustics and plenty of rustic fiddling. Strumming guitar provides some smooth textures, and the cue moves in start/stop motions, with alternating use of vocal textures with men and women. There’s some lovely interplay between voices and the pairing of fiddle and banjo, and the theme’s mood is breezy and upbeat, and ends with the addition of piano, and a full “Ee-Ha!” salute from the chorus. (A second version of “Gold” pits Renaissance-styled chorales with rock percussion, a bass groove, and hand claps.)
For “Touch the Stars” Pemberton takes the dreamy harmonics of Satie, and to the elliptical pattern, he sets an imperative rhythm, xylophone chimes, and processed tones that swirl within the stereo image. Keyboards are paired with drums in the midsection, and the cue closes with a more brooding recap of the opening bars.
Other big-sound chorale themes include “Heave Ho,” with its clean rhymes, deathly serious tones, and moments of grimness that almost suggest the Grand Plan of moving another monster item almost… didn’t… make it.
Other music styles include trippy techno (“Epic”), a New Orleans blues with a male vocal chronicling the plight of moving a steamship (“The Pride of the Mississippi”), big orchestral exotica in the too-brief “Egyptian Sunset,” and shades of the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Christmas Lights,” with some lovely revolving keyboard figures.
“Here It Comes” closes the album with a memorable mixed chorale, but Pemberton uses a much smaller group of singers for what’s a musical throwback to British seventies pop ballads. Swaggering trombones are set to a rock beat, and the voices often drift from loose, almost-in-unison singing to liturgical peaks.
The only downside of the album is its brevity, as well as the shortness of some cues, but it’s a fun assembly of nutty ideas that work not only with the show, but stand on their own as creative little marriages of opposing styles. Pity more of Pemberton’s work isn’t widely available on CD or MP3s, but certainly from this sampling of ideas, it’s worth tracking down his feature-length and episodic TV scores.
To read an interview with the composer, click HERE.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan