Mo Shafeek's Top 10 Records of 2016

Mo Shafeek, Soundtrack Label Manager

#1 - OVER THE GARDEN WALL 

Original Soundtrack by The Blasting Company
Artwork by Sam Wolfe Connelly

We mostly work in re-issues, so it's rare that we get to be there from the very beginning of an album's conception as an idea to an album to a finished product. 

For me, Over The Garden Wall began slowly with a lot of e-mails to Cartoon Network trying to convince them that making a limited edition cassette for a mini-series was a great idea... and ended ceremoniously two years later with a breakfast with creator Pat McHale and producer Katie Krentz in San Diego across the street from Comic-Con before the album's official release. That may not seem like an important journey, but for me it will be one of the highlights of my entire career.

It is a dream come true to work directly with a creator, but it's also so wild to make something that unifies a small, dedicated fanbase. And that's not even getting into Sam Wolfe Connelly's absolutely stellar artwork, and The Blasting Company's sequence that is not only fun and approachable while remaining unique, and singular - just like the show itself. If you still haven't seen OTGW, I implore you to give it a chance this holiday season.

#2 - FIGHT CLUB

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by The Dust Brothers
Artwork and Photography by Alan Hynes

I remember the two most exciting phone calls of the last year for our record label. The first one was in November of 2015 with the person who would ultimately grant us the rights to do the Fight Club soundtrack on vinyl. The second was a month or so later with our Creative Director Rob Jones and Alan Hynes (who crafted the incredible packaging concept). I had just been gifted a Fitbit from my girlfriend's parents - I recall this because I remember hitting my 10K steps especially early in the day as I paced around the shipping stations in our warehouse. Circling and circling, I spoke with Rob and Alan for what felt like hours, laughing and scheming and joking about packaging gags and concepts. By the end of the phone call, I had never more confident in my life that this was going to be the best thing we'd ever done. 

Then, I was nervous for about ten months. "No one will get the joke" I thought carelessly. Luckily I was wrong. Fight Club was one of the most talked about albums we've ever released, and absolutely worthy of the year long journey from that phone call to this list.

#3 - CASTLEVANIA 

Original Video Game Soundtrack by Konami Kukeiha Club
Artwork by Becky Cloonan

I've spent more time with the soundtracks to the Castlevania games more than I've listened to Prince's discography (and I've listened to Sign O' The Times a lot). Video game music certainly doesn't get nearly the credit it deserves for being some of the catchiest songwriting of the last 30 years. Given the limitations of the system hardware, and the sounds composers Kinuyo Yamashita and Satoe Terashima were limited to, the soundtrack to Castlevania is catchy as hell. I remember being a child and playing the game through to level 3, and running to grab my dad's personal tape recorder so I could record the song "Wicked Child." I would leave the game running for minutes, so I could get as many loops as possible. I never got tired of the escalating bombast of the "chorus" of the song. 

What's crazy is Castlevania 1 is not even my favorite of the Castlevania soundtracks, but it marks the beginning of a journey for us. I cannot wait to dive deeper into the franchise next year with Simon's Quest, Dracula's Curse, and my personal favorite, Super Castlevania IV.

#4 - THE FOUNTAIN

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Clint Mansell
Performed by Kronos Quartet and Mogwai
Artwork by Nicole Gustafsson

The Fountain is one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. I posted this on my Facebook wall and a friend of mine attempted to call me out, accusing me of hyperbole, but it is here that I double down on that. Having worked on the re-issue, and all of the wonder and emotion that comes along with that aside, listening to Clint's score from front to back is an incredibly sublime experience that goes nearly unmatched for me. Nicole Gustafsson did an incredible job with the artwork as well. 

Beyond even that, this year I got to meet the man himself. Mr. Clint Mansell, who was gracious enough to journey to Austin, TX to attend MondoCon, where he discussed the soundtrack, and its decade long legacy. It's an emotionally important score to a lot of people, but hearing Clint's journey from creating the music to full appreciation of its emotional significance was powerful, and inspiring to the part of me who feels film music (and soundtracks in general) are an often overlooked genre of music.

#5 - LUKE CAGE

Original Soundtrack by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Artwork by Matthew Woodson

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad's score to Luke Cage is arguably the best score of 2016. There's nothing like it. Even if we hadn't released it I would be saying the same thing. In the same year that we were gifted a brand new Tribe Called Quest album, it is mesmerizing that we were able to be a part of something as unprecedented as Luke Cage.

Adrian is an encyclopedia of knowledge, and most importantly a fan of film music. I highly encourage you follow him musically into everything that he does. 

#6 - GREMLINS

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith
Artwork by Phantom City Creative

Ever since we started doing soundtracks here at Mondo, this was at the top of the list. For whatever reason it didn't arrive until 5 years later, but that time allowed us to ensure that we did this massively important score justice. Goldsmith is a legend. He is the mastermind behind dozens of incredible soundtracks (just this year we released Planet of the Apes as well) and each time we feel daunted by the task. 

Beyond that, I don't have a ton to say about this that hasn't already been said, other than the fact that we are so grateful to work with a company called AtoZ Media, who help us quite regularly make our dreams a reality. When we told them our wildest dream on this package, not once did they say "it can't be done." And when the finished product arrived we were still blown away by how it turned out. Shout out to Chris Scofield, Lucas Jones and Marisa Rolish for their tireless work. 

#7 - THE GREASY STRANGLER  

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Andrew Hung
Layout and Packaging by Jay Shaw

I am fully convinced that Greasy Strangler would be one of my favorite movies of all time if I saw it in high school, and that my desire to quote it endlessly with my friends would be unfiltered unlike it is today. That said, while I have yet to call my best friends a "Bullshit Artist" to their faces, I have recommended to them the mesmerizing soundtrack. 

I worry that some might have slept on Andrew Hung's bizarre dream-pop score because of the naked old man on the cover... but just like how the film's imagery and dialogue stay with you forever, the score is full of earworms that deserve your attention. 

#8 - ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK, Federale

Working on Federale's newest album, the wonderful All the Colours of the Dark, was a highlight of this year. It was a rare treat to be involved from the demo stage, to the finished product. Federale's distinct sound, and frontman Collin Hegna's baritone voice, bring to life a Western americana sound that is almost a better soundtrack for Westworld than those Player Piano covers that pepper the series.

#9 - NAKED LUNCH

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Howard Shore & Ornette Coleman
Artwork by Rich Kelly

Ornette Coleman and Howard Shore's score to Naked Lunch is a thing to behold. Howard Shore's scores for his collaborations with David Cronenberg are all unique, but this one is indescribable. Performed by the London Philharmonic, and by Ornette Coleman and his son Denardo, Shore's approach to scoring a Cronenberg adaptation of a William Burroughs novel is inspired. Not an easy listen, but not all music should be. It's frantic and disturbed and haunting and beautiful. Like jazz or poetry. 

And then, on top of that, Rich Kelly created some of my favorite art we have ever done at Mondo for this package, bringing to life the drug fueled journey of Bill Lee through the fictional Interzone. 

#10 - SYNCHRONICITY

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Ben Lovett
Artwork by Jay Shaw

A few months before Stranger Things hit and recharged everyone's love of '80s style synth scoring, Jacob Gentry crafted a similarly excellent homage to his favorite '80s films, complete with a masterful synth score by Ben Lovett. If you've still never seen the film, I highly recommend checking it out and then letting this score wash over you like rich light pouring in through half-open blinds in a not too distant future.