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Daft Punk (at least they got the costumes right)

TRON: Legacy Soundtrack Daft Punk (Universal)

What's a soundtrack anyway? It used to be a fully notated thing by a professional composer, played by an orchestra plus whatever instrumental exotica (Theremin, zither etc.) seemed necessary. Then the composers went out of style, and items from our communal pop soundtrack took over (remember the thrill of hearing Little Green Bag during the title sequence of Reservoir Dogs?).

Now it's a divided territory, with the likes of Randy Newman and his cousin Thomas controlling one side of the street, and prefab or commissioned pop songs working the other.

Into this scene comes Daft Punk, the French electronic dance-music duo, commissioned by Disney to provide a soundtrack for the sequel to TRON, a sci-fi film (with a synth-heavy score by Wendy Carlos) that was moderately successful when it came out in 1982 and is now regarded as visionary Hollywood cinema. The Daft Punk assignment looked like a stroke of brilliance, and the probable results have been the focus of much fervent debate.

A couple of tracks have been ping-ponging around the Internet, stoking further anticipation. Alas, the disc itself proves the old rule that when a break-in occurs, the most valuable items get nicked first.

We'll have to see the film to know how well Thomas Bangalter's and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo's handiwork serves its intended purpose, but as an album, it's mostly a snooze. The default option is a brooding, portentous soundscape built from constant heavy repetitions of a bass tonic, with anxious synth chords or orchestral cross-hatching on top. That's right: Awed perhaps by the big screen and its symphonic traditions, Daft Punk hired an orchestra. This archaic institution succeeded in luring the pair into the most surprising Wonderland imaginable for such a resolutely futuristic group: the quasi-classical Adagio for TRON, a limpid, passable imitation of a Mozartean slow movement. Other bits sound almost like Philip Glass, or like Ralph Vaughan Williams in a bombastic mood.

You have to wade through a dozen tracks to get to something with a real dance pulse: End of Line, a mid-tempo number soon to be fodder for someone's rap track. Then comes the outstanding Derezzed, which is exactly the kind of stuttering, rampageous, robotic madness we were all hoping for - cool and frenetic at the same time.

The only other item worth hearing more than once is TRON: Legacy, the end title music, for which Daft Punk had the good sense to stoke up some propulsive crunchy dance machinery before inviting the orchestra to lay what musicians call goose eggs on it. The other egg laid is the album itself, as a stand-alone recording at least.


Marc-André Hamelin: Etudes Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Hyperion)


Most 19th-century piano virtuosos were also composers, capable of improvising, on the spot, spectacular variations on a proffered tune. Marc-André Hamelin is a modern manifestation of that kind of virtuoso, his thematic transformations of a magnitude and currency that Franz Liszt, a kindred spirit, could only applaud (if indeed he weren't struck dumb) should he hear them today. Piano études thrive, by definition, on treacherous technical feats, but these are child's play for Hamelin, who superimposes two or three Chopin études at a time, in a thrill of dissonance, just because he can. When Hamelin describes one of his compositions as a "monstrous agglomeration of cruel virtuosic devices," take him at his word: Some of these etudes - the phenomenal Toccata grottesca, for instance, or the fantasy that embeds Chopin's black key étude in a sea of phosphorescence - sound nearly unplayable. Elissa Poole

Northern Aggression Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 (Yep Roc)


"Everybody wants another piece of the pie," Steve Wynn sneers on Coloured Lights, from his hardboiled new album Northern Aggression, "I don't know why." And from the tautly droning lead single, Resolution: "Everything that rises must resolve." Wynn, a founding member of the 1980s paisley underground heroes the Dream Syndicate, has a deliciously suspicious edge lyrically and a lean, tightly wound sort of guitar-rock and psychedelia that never releases its tension. It's dark, like Lou Reed and Bob Dylan putting the boots to a feverish Tom Petty. You can have Wynn's piece of the pie when you're man enough to take it from him. Brad Wheeler

The Beginning The Black Eyed Peas (Interscope/ Universal)


"Chewin' up my lyricals/ call me a verbal criminal." Like Einstein post-Hiroshima, that's how the inventor of the Auto-Tune must feel now, because in the hands of the party-music simpletons the Black Eyed Peas, the pitch-correcting software moves from an annoying fad to an evil instrument. With The Beginning, a senseless album of futuristic beats, robotic vocals and dance songs about dance songs, the Peas, a one-hit-wonder-band four times over, bruise humanity, insult intelligence and commit rape against the beauty of music. "Even if you wanted to," it is declared on Don't Stop the Party, "you couldn't stop us now." I got a feeling, sadly, that these idiot cyborgs are right. Brad Wheeler

Meeting of the Spirits Matt Haimovitz and Uccello (Oxingale)


Jazz cello isn't a huge field, but even if it were, the eight cellists of Uccello would undoubtedly stand out. Uccello grew out of the Schulich School of Music at McGill University and delivers a sound so vibrant you might suspect someone snuck a few violins into the mix. The selections, deftly arranged by David Sanford, range from a lush, post-Romantic take on Miles Davis's boppish Half Nelson to a surprisingly faithful run through the Mahavishnu Orchestra title tune. And while the guest artists - notably guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Matt Wilson - flesh things out, the bulk of the soloing is handled capably by Haimovitz and his disciples. J.D. Considine