Welcome back to our second of three articles about our favourite film soundtracks of this decade so far. Let us continue to take you through the wonders of the galaxy, the internet and…. drumming, all soundtracked by a mix of 60’s classics, electronic dance, Radiohead vibes and jazz. Enjoy.
Guardians of the Galaxy – 2014
by Tom Jennings
Guardians of the Galaxy is an interesting film and not just because it’s really really ridiculously awesome. When I took up the lofty task of reviewing its soundtrack I thought it would be easy. Write a couple of fun paragraphs about a cheesy 60s/70s-esque soundtrack, with extra cheese please, and everyone goes home happy. Upon re-watching the film, though, I was struck by something that should have been obvious; This film had, like, a second soundtrack that nobody seems to talk about.
This isn’t surprising really, given that the main focus of everyone’s attentions was on the so called “Awesome Mix”. Made up of classic 60s/70s songs, the “Awesome Mix” were the songs that the lead character Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) listened to as a way to, in director James Gunn’s words, “stay connected to the Earth, home and family he lost”. The bombastic nature of the film was perfectly reflected in the choice of songs on this soundtrack with “I’m Not in Love” (10CC) opening the film, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye &Tammi Terrell) and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” (Rupert Holmes) appearing throughout the soundtrack and “I Want You Back” (Jackson 5) ending the film to that sequence, the whole film just feels like a huge love letter to the 60s/70s B-Movie Sci-Fi’s that were prevalent at the time in visuals and sound. It’s even brought Blue Swede and Redbone to a new generation. Yeah, I didn’t know who they were before either.
But what about this other orchestral soundtrack that no-one seems to talk about? Is it so forgettable when compared to the “Awesome Mix”? When compared to each other it sort of does but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not good. Its beauty lies in its subtlety. Composed by Tyler Bates, the Original Score manages to set the tone for the majority of the film without you even being aware of it. But re-watching the film you can hear the impact that the Original Score has on the film. Fulfilling the role of a typical movie score it helps direct our emotions for each scene it takes part in. Whilst trying to be as un-spoileriffic as possible, the clearest example is the sequence where the heroes find themselves in a dark room and Groot provides some light in a creative and beautiful way.
This is where the complexity of this film lies. Whilst it would be easy enough to provide a bombastic and funky soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy provides us with two. One that we can immediately recognise and use as a way to pick out this film from the plethora or superhero movies coming out at the moment and another that allows us moments of haunting reflective beauty as a contrast to the “Awesome Mix”. It would be criminal to forget that both of these soundtracks exist symbiotically to create an excellent sounding film.
The Social Network – 2010
by Andrew Noel
The Social Network; a film about deceit, lies and coding. Where Jesse Eisenburg plays a scheming (and largely fictional) Mark Zuckerburg and Andrew Garfield takes on the role of the naive Eduardo Saverin in one of the most riveting films of the year. Soundtracking this dark, brutal, absorbing film is none other than Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and composer Atticus Ross.
After initially declining director David Fincher’s offer to score the film, Reznor eventually changed his mind, bringing in Ross to work with him on the film. The result is one of the most haunting soundtracks of the last 5 years. The duo work perfectly together to create an album that not only bounces off the films angry tones, but also works well as a collection of songs in their own right, especially considering each track is given a name not directly linked to the film. Right from the computer-like piano notes on opener ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ it’s clear that Reznor and Ross credit actual technology as inspiration for this work as much as the film itself. This is confirmed in third track ‘A Familiar Taste’, a song that drips with Dark Ambient dance beats.
Then we have songs like ‘Pieces Form The Whole’ and ‘Painted Sun in Abstract’ that exhibit layering of sounds that even Nigel Godrich would be proud of. The soundtrack flips from the serene to the powerful as ‘Carbon Prevails’ gives off stressed beats mixed with clean piano and reverberated guitars. It’s an odd combination that helps create the atmosphere for the film perfectly. Even their rearrangement of Edvard Grieg’s ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’ has a certain distorted technical feel about it.
Reznor and Ross’ music works like organised chaos; while the reverberated guitars, chunky electronic bass notes and various percussion feel out of control, there’s method to the madness. Songs drift from uncontrolled, all out power to a simple beat and piano chord in the blink of an eye. Much like the film itself, this score is ever shifting, ever changing, always giving off a vibe of panic, hope, foreboding or anger. The assorted use of instruments, dynamics and tempo keeps the score interesting, with there never a dull moment in the 66 minute running time. The Social Network was and is a damn fine film, but it wouldn’t have been as good without the incredible work from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Whiplash – 2014
by Dan Abbott
Whiplash, as some of you may know, is one of my favourite films of the decade – a raw, blistering melange of brutality as sharp and snappy as any snare hit, condensed into 100 minutes or so of unrelenting intensity. To complement this landscape of bubbling rage and violent stares, the soundtrack is surprisingly smooth, layered and bright, played by a big band in the zone. Comprised of jazz standards and Justin Hurwitz/Tim Simonec originals, the soundtrack fits the film’s tone like a glove.
Along with smoothness, it’s also incredibly muscular, driven by the hammering drums that blasted through cinema speakers. ‘Snare Liftoff’, the introduction to both soundtrack and film, is a primal roar of snare and sticks, ramping in pace until a final hit echoes into nothing. ‘Overture’ is an infectious earworm that plays over the opening credits, hooked into flashes of the city. Recapitulated in variations throughout, ‘Overture’ is a standout track that resonates in the eardrums long afterwards, conjuring a vein of smouldering cool that echoes Miles Davis’ early work.
Hurwitz runs riot with the big band pieces, but his restraint in original pieces is equally impressive. Often restricted to shorter tracks that match the film’s mood, he allows the music to speak for itself. ‘Fletcher’s Song in Club’, a delicate piano piece played by J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher in a downtown jazz club, does much to humanise an otherwise monstrous figure through strictly aural means. Its relaxed tempo is unlike any other piece, used to break up the action of an otherwise relentless onslaught.
‘Accident’, a paranoid jitter that sounds exactly like its title, alternates between skitting drums, lengthy drones and reversed horns. It sounds like a drowning nightmare. ‘Hug From Dad’ is a similarly dark twist of the knife, lead by a haunted piano rendition of the central melody to ‘Overture’. The same can be said of ‘Dismissed’, a bass-drum buzz that forces us to occupy the troubled brain of Miles Teller’s Neiman. Fittingly, it’s a dark fucking place.
When Hurwitz and Simonec do cut loose, his arrangements of the standards are as fulfilling and rewarding as Neiman’s journey is painful and exacting. The wild abandon of ‘Caravan’, taken from Duke Ellington, is such a joy because we’ve already seen the excruciating rehearsal process. When it finally comes together – as Neiman triumphantly takes control on the Carnegie stage – our fists are pumping.
The drum solo, the centrepiece of the film’s incredible finale, is one of the most engaging on record, largely because it encapsulates the entirety of Neiman’s path to this point. The agonising double-time swing section, fuelled by Neiman’s blood, sweat and tears, is an astonishing 60 seconds of pure, undiluted intensity.
So it goes for the rest of the soundtrack. It’s one of the finest in recent memory that’s integral to the one of the finest movies in recent memory. It matches the rhythms and diction of the editing with ferocity and panache, mirroring the visuals perfectly and sounding wickedly, venomously cool in the process.
Inherent Vice – 2014
by Truan Evans
Most appropriately for a Thomas Pynchon adaptation, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film feat Inherent Vice left more than a few viewers scratching their heads in befuddlement. There was one facet of the film just about everyone was sure of though: the score was pretty awesome.
Inherent Vice follows the unlikely private investigator Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), a dissolute one-time hippie in his mid-to-late 30s, hampered by his determined self-association with a rapidly disappearing age, as he gets caught up in a labyrinthine plot to discredit and incarcerate a powerful real estate mogul, whilst unintentionally stumbling upon a drug ring’s operation to move a huge quantity of smuggled narcotics. Anderson gets right to the heart of Pynchon’s misleading, psychedelic and cold-war-crazed style of narative, exposing the paranoid undercurrents of a rapidly developing, absurdly complex and mechanised, western society.
Control or security in Pynchon can never be anything but illusory and yet, with all the improbable and terribly certain uncertainty that the pieces fall in and out of place as the plots darken, thicken and dissipate comes a heady lightness and surrender- ignorance, as they say is bliss; and this is a mantra the score works splendidly to reinforce. Anderson gives Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood a pretty free range to flex his creative muscles whilst sampling a diverse range of contemporary funk and easy listening numbers.
The result is an eclectic mix of evocative but understated Hollywood film noir style themes like ‘Shasta’ and it’s second movement: ‘Shasta Fay’- a winding, unnerving but oddly sensuous and sweet accompaniment of strings and woodwinds- and funkier, headier tracks like Can’s ‘Vitamin C’, which really offsets the balance; dispelling any image of harmony and throwing us back once again into the raucous contours of modern life as the title blares out in tastelessly cool neon.
In many ways the determinedly nonchalant Doc is the perfect foil for his overly-complex and controlling society- parallels with The Big Lebowski and it’s The Dude are inevitable- tracks like ‘Here Comes the Ho-Dads’ (The Marketts) and the blissfully light-hearted ‘Sukiyaki (Kyu Sakimoto) really help to settle and orientate an audience to a necessarily ambivalent setting. Whilst Greenwood’s instrumental pieces, especially ‘Meeting Crocker Fenway’, ‘Spooks’ and ‘Adrian Prussia’ remind us of the genuine menacing Mansonesque undercurrents behind many of Doc’s numerous surreal encounters.
Whilst the soundtrack works brilliantly in tandem with the film, the OST is definitely well worth a listen independently; it’s great to have a more sustained and crisper sample of the host of catchy and engaging numbers which are often, of necessity, cut a little short- or else, faded out- in the film.