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Hope You Like Synths: The Best Scores & Soundtracks Of 2011

Hope You Like Synths: The Best Scores & Soundtracks Of 2011

Way back in the day, The Playlist started as a site focused principally on the places where movies and music met, and in particular, on scores and soundtracks. We’ve widened our net in the intervening years simply because that sole focus felt too small and we’re movie lovers just as much as music lovers, but that interest has never gone away. And how could it? In many ways, we’ve reached the most interesting time in film scoring in years, with 2011 in particular seeing a number of electronic artists bringing the synth back into fashion in a big way. Between these and last year’s Daft Punk-abled “Tron: Legacy” score, has there ever been a time when movie music has been so, well, danceable?

But it’s not all about the beats: veterans like Alberto Iglesias and Howard Shore pulled in sterling, more old-fashioned work this year, while rising stars like Chris Bacon, Mychael Danna and Harry Escott staked their claim to a place in the big leagues. And the humble song collection wasn’t too badly served either, with original songs from Alex Turner and, um, The Muppets ending up on heavy rotation on the office stereo.

Below, you’ll find a rundown of the best soundtracks to tickle our eardrums in the year gone by. Not everything is available on disc yet, but fingers crossed, they should be on the way sooner or later. And for the first time, those in certain territories who’ve embraced Spotify can find a playlist with the available scores right here. Happy listening.

Spotify Playlist: The Best Scores & Soundtracks Of 2011

“The Artist” – Ludovic Bource
As a big, proud paean to not only silent movies but a golden-age of moviemaking, Ludovic Bource’s brassy, bouncy and classicist score to “The Artist” is positively resplendent and an amazing greatest-hits homage to all kinds, and periods, of classical, symphonic movie scores. While the silent era is generally the 1920s, you’ll hear nods to the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, plus cues that tip their hats to the films of Charlie Chaplin and composers like Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Carl Stalling and the films of Disney. Some sections are positively vivacious, others swooning with romance, noir-ish suspense, tickling comedy or operatic adventure-ish thrills. Bource’s score effortlessly tapdances its way through a smorgasbord of classic score moods, which is part of the reason the film is so absolutely breathtaking. Most of our picks here are our own and aren’t likely going to get on the critical radar too high, but expect this one not only to get an Oscar nomination, hell, it practically already has the award in the bag.

“George Valentin” – Ludovic Bource

Attack the Block” – Basement Jaxx
Like many other things in the hoodies vs. monsters gem “Attack the Block,” its musical score, composed by the genius electro-pop duo Basement Jaxx (Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe) with some assistance by Steve Price, is something of a throwback. With big, chunky beats and ominous electronics, it immediately brings to mind the atmospheric synthetics of the great John Carpenter scores, particularly “Assault on Precinct 13” (a movie whose aura seems to hang over all of “Attack the Block”). But instead of being just some dusty pastiche, Basement Jaxx (whose first gig was performed down the street from where writer/director Joe Cornish shot the movie) have crafted something vitally new and very much alive. The way they weave subtle orchestration, along with sing-songy rapping, into the main theme, is absolutely brilliant and unforgettable, especially when paired with the comic book-y images (the theme crescendos right as we’re going underneath the Nostromo-style apartment building). Or imagine the final showdown between Moses and the monsters without that goosebump-y electronic twinkle – you can’t. Few movies this year paired musician and material quite as well as the Basement Jaxx and “Attack the Block.”

“Moses Vs. The Monsters”/”Moses The Hero” – Basement Jaxx & Steven Price

“Bellflower”  – Jonathan Keevil
A strong and largely unpublicized soundtrack to one of this year’s best films, the work by Jonathan Keevil (who also served as an editor and producer on “Bellflower”) is composed of pared-down demo-qualty recordings that split evenly between sorrowful lone-guitar-and-vocals and atmospheric distortion. Despite having seen the film twice now, this writer had largely missed the merits of the soundscape as a standalone, aside from the occasional Ratatat tune that popped up, probably because it is so difficult to separate from the film. But that is sometimes the mark of a great soundtrack, and having listened to Keevil’s score on its own, we realise it’s an excellent debut. Over spare strumming or distorted synths, Keevil’s lyrics, though originally not composed for the film, nonetheless act as an additional layer of emotion to coat the open wound that is “Bellflower.” On the absolute standout track, “Bland,” Keevil moans, “Love… we will be hurt.” Is there a truer maxim for this film?

“Bland” – Jonathan Keevil

“Contagion” – Cliff Martinez
It may not be “Drive,” where another terrific Martinez score dominates occasionally soundless scenes, but the composer’s work for Steven Soderbergh’s autumn bio-thriller certainly soaked you in mood and atmosphere. Pregnant with tension and dripping with dread, Martinez creates an ambiance of discomfort, perfect for a world falling into orderly, then disorderly chaos in the face of a new disease that spreads fast and kills indiscriminately. The composer also communicates the globe-spanning nature of the film, and evokes the idea of vastly different people all pitching in to get society out from behind the eight ball and back under control. However, the score arguably works best when coupled with those memorable initial images of a snot-nosed, sallow Gwyneth Paltrow, as we begin to understand the deadliness of her touch. It is in these early moments that the ambience takes on menacing tones that never dissipate.

“They’re Calling My Flight”  – Cliff Martinez

Drive – Cliff Martinez/Various Artists
What’s so interesting about the “Drive” soundtrack/score is that it was one of those rare (at least in this day and age) soundtrack hits – it was a smash on iTunes and on pretty much everyone’s iPod. And yet listening to it again, after the small cluster of ’80s-ish electro-pop songs (which do, it should be said, lead to some of the  best movie/pop song blends in an age), you realize how dark and strange and ambient the rest of the album, comprised of Cliff Martinez’s stark electronic compositions, really is. “Drive,” the movie, is a mood piece, full of wordless glances and blazing neon and film noir archetypes made flesh-and-blood. The score compliments this beautifully – all hazy atmosphere with dark synth beats and twinkling electronic flourishes. When we talked to the ridiculously talented Martinez a few weeks before the film debuted at Cannes, he said he was relieved, as an ambient musician stuck in the big-theme world of Hollywood scores, to be asked to make his music actually sound electronic. And it does, bleeding into the aforementioned pop songs and out again. It’s not as bombastic or percussive as the scores to “Hanna” or “Attack the Block” (or last year’s high electronic score watermark, “Tron: Legacy”), but of those, it’s probably the coolest. Show us a film fan who says they haven’t stuck it on the car stereo at least once this year, and we’ll show you a liar. Vrooooom!

“A Real Hero” – College (Ft. Electric Youth)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
This is probably the kind of project most people thought David Fincher would eventually hire Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for: a dark, damp, dungeon-y tale of serial killers, rapists, Nazis, liars and thieves. But instead, their first team-up was last year’s “The Social Network,” with the pair adding an electronic edge to the technological misadventures of Mark Zuckerburg. That was, quite obviously, genius, and the duo would have to try pretty hard to top their own work with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” And yet top themselves they did. Their score here is melodic and dangerous, both traditionally old-school and vitally cutting edge, a combination of antique piano riffs and pulsating beats. It all kicks off with their cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song,” with an assist by Karen O, and the melty, black-on-black title sequence that probably cost as much as all of “Beginners,” and from there things get weirder and more varied. In the score, an atmospheric hum is accented by choral echoes, sharp piano notes and skittering synth-lines, ratcheting up the sense of tension, danger and post-millennial gloom. But it’s not all pounding chase music as the score also is allowed to linger and settle, to cover the images like a low-lying Swedish fog. It’s eerie, haunting stuff. Ross and Reznor have made music to squirm to, beautifully so.

“Please Take Your Hand Away” – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

“Hanna” – The Chemical Brothers
For some reason the team-up of The Chemical Brothers — a well-regarded electronic act reaching elder-statesmen status — with “Hanna,” Joe Wright’s impish feminist fairy-tale spy movie, seemed like an odder fit than, say, the pairing of Daft Punk with the “Tron” property, or Basement Jaxx getting on that “Attack the Block” tip. As it turns out, it might have been the most inspired team-up of the three. On its own, the “Hanna” music does exactly what the best Chemical Brothers tracks and albums do – it combines block-rocking beats with occasionally poppy melodies and a dark smattering of eerie atmospherics. But combined with Joe Wright’s visuals, his inventive editorial style, and the surreally over-the-top performances of his actors, it becomes something truly special. This is particularly true when Wright edits his cuts directly to the Chemical Brothers music, most notably in the escape sequence where our titular little assassin (Saoirse Ronan) frees herself from a government facility. It’s saying something that another wonderful Chemical Brothers flourish — the villain’s nefariously whimsical fairy tale-ish whistle – was our ringtone for much of the year.

“Container Park” – The Chemical Brothers

“Hugo” – Howard Shore
On first listen, Howard Shore’s score for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” captures the très romantic allure of 1930s Paris in a manner very much akin to Michael Giacchino’s work on “Ratatouille”…which is to say, with no shortage of accordion. But just as that (altogether enchanting) score went on to find its own jazzy riffs, Shore’s compositions mature from the grand themes of yesteryear to ones of youthful excitement and mystery before progressing, as the film does, towards something more elegiac, easing off conventional nostalgia for that time and place in order to evoke its own sense of wonder — horn action, particularly tuba, for the slapstick — and wistfulness, with strings guiding the sentimental stretches. One track in particular, “The Invention of Dreams,” runs the gamut all on its own and in spectacular fashion, conveying as much a troubled stage of life as it does a sweeping Golden Age sensibility over the course of just six and a half minutes. And the whole thing is capped off nicely with a fittingly featherweight end credits ditty, “Coeur Valant,” as performed by Zaz (not to be confused with the makers of “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” mind you). It’s all so tremendously old-fashioned, and yet not a beat of Shore’s work here is as lazy as that label might suggest, but rather every bit as lovely as the film that it complements.

“The Invention of Dreams” – Howard Shore

“Jane Eyre” – Dario Marianelli
Thanks to his Academy recognized work with Joe Wright on “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement,” Italian composer Dario Marianelli has fast become the go-to man for lush period-piece scores. But each time out, he’s added a little twist to his predominately classical metier, and his superb work on Cary Fukunaga‘s “Jane Eyre” is no exception. This time, he worked with acclaimed young violinist Jack Liebeck to embody his heroine’s soul with a folkish fiddle. Mia Wasikowska‘s Jane is a repressed sort, burying her feelings for the brooding Mr. Rochester as far down as they’ll go, but Liebeck’s violin is as unrestrained as Wasikowska is pent up, and Marianelli’s haunting melodies will follow you out long after the film is over. The orchestra around it is as sweeping as you could want from such a lushly photographed costume drama, but it’s that lone violin that lingers. 

“Wandering Jane” – Dario Marianelli (Ft. Jack Liebeck)

“Like Crazy” – Dustin O’Halloran & Various Artists
A member of L.A. dream pop band Devics, Dustin O’Halloran first turned heads with a few elegant, period-perfect original score pieces that landed in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” O’Halloran’s work in Drake Doremus’ wistful indie romance picture is introspective, bittersweet and devastating, capturing snapshot emotions of fear, hope, worry and longing all in a beautifully fragile work of tender and melancholy piano. Meanwhile, the soundtrack offers contemplative choice cuts from M83, Stars, Asobi Seksu and tracks by Fool’s Gold, Paul Simon and the Mary Onettes that go a long way to evoke the intoxicating rush of blood that makes one punch drunk and dizzy with first love. Wonderfully placed throughout, Doremus effortlessly illustrates the literal and figurative divide his two characters (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin) must cross and meanwhile, O’Halloran’s heartrending score embodies both the quivering anticipation and melancholic suffering that relationships can bring.

“Fragile” – Dustin O’Halloran

“Moneyball” – Mychael Danna
The score to “Moneyball” is a tricky one to pin down, in that there are two great forces at work, so much so it could potentially render the original score ineligble for awards consideration. Post-rock band This Will Destroy You‘s “The Mighty Rio Grande” (which you probably remember from the trailer) is grand, and a magnificently crescendoing anthem used throughout the film like a main title theme. While that aspect of the movie’s music is perhaps most memorable (again, thanks to that trailer), to neglect Mychael Danna’s slowly building score is to neglect an integral part of the movie’s emotional weight. Particularly affective and striking is Danna’s rousing suite that begins with “Coaching” and travels through four pieces to serve as the tentative, but hopeful, winning strike that Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane takes his Oakland A’s on in the film. It begins almost nervously with a “is this really happening?” quiver, taking hesitant steps of encouragement while reflecting on the past, building assurance and then reaching an apex of awoken confidence and ambition. The slow-burn rhythm of “Moneyball,” which eventually hits one right out of the park, is a well-earned and triumphant jog across all four bases and Danna’s stirring compositions are a key part of its heart and soul.

“It’s A Process” – Mychael Danna

“The Mighty Rio Grande” – This Will Destroy You


“The Muppets” – Various Artists
Music has always been important to the Muppets, both on the small and big screens, and in reviving Jim Henson‘s creations, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin had a task ahead of them to live up to Paul Williams‘ compositions from the first movie. While we take issue with some of the incidental selections on the soundtrack to “The Muppets” (“Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard” being both overplayed and thematically ill-fitting), for the most part, they nailed the song selection. Old favorites like the theme song (with added Joanna Newsom!) and “Rainbow Connection” were paid tribute to, and a pop favorite like Cee-Lo Green‘s “Forget You” was covered by clucking chickens, something that would have fit in neatly on “The Muppet Show.” But best of all were the new songs. “Pictures in My Head” was sweet enough, but far superior were the contributions from Bret McKenzie of “Flight of the Conchords,” such as the disco duet “Me Party,” the Conchords-esque “Man or Muppet,” and best of all, the instantly catchy, joyous, genuinely funny opening number “Life’s a Happy Song.” Plus, Academy award winner Chris Cooper rapping, and annoying Fox News. What more could you want?

“Life’s a Happy Song” – Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Walter, Feist & Mickey Rooney

“Rango” – Hans Zimmer
One of the greatest joys of Gore Verbinski‘s “Rango” (and, to be sure, there are a whole bunch) is the score by Hans Zimmer, which winningly combines a number of influences (among them spaghetti western scores and South American tinges that border on Mayan folk music) into one cohesive whole. Zimmer and Verbinski have always been wonderful collaborators – look no further than their atypical work on “The Weather Man,” a score that pushed Zimmer’s sweeping style to the background in favor of gentle, twinkling electronics and simple orchestral slashes, or “The Ring“‘s rich atmospherics. For “Rango,” the duo made the decision to borrow musically from what Verbinski was riffing on visually – that means that there are nods to the stylish marches of Ennio Morricone western scores that mirror the highly stylized showdowns in the film, the flirty pan flute of South American folk music complementing the mischievous character design, and a kind of arid southwestern mysticism that perfectly falls in line with many of the film’s thematic undercurrents. Like the rest of “Rango,” its score’s eclecticism is what makes it so damned loveable.

“Rango Suite” – Hans Zimmer

“Rubber” – Mr. Oizo
As you might have picked up by this point, it was a strong year for electronic scores, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” providing an exclamation point to 2011. But it was the spring-to-early summer period during which they were nearly unavoidable. And yet, while big dance music names moved into film composition, none had taken the path of Quentin Dupieux, a filmmaker who, in his Mr. Oizo guise (under which he’s recorded several records of influential French electro), collaborated with Justice member Gaspard Auge on the sounds for his second film, the wildly bizarre “Rubber.” Set amidst the production/existence of a movie that might or might not actually be happening, “Rubber” bounces around telling the dual story of a telekinetic tire, and the man who realizes he’s a character in a movie, though he’s uncertain precisely which one. Like its premise (and the sounds of Oizo/Dupieux’s last film, “Steak”), “Rubber” moves to its own stop-start funk beat, mostly providing the soundtrack for our flexible protagonist, an angry tire that seeks revenge for the friends and associates lost to the recklessness of man. It’s a score as ridiculous as its premise, irresistibly head-bopping with its overlaying electro synths and dissonant hip-hop beats, scoring both the tire’s talking and killing as if he were the nastiest giallo killer on the planet. Self-consciously hip, the beats also contrast strongly with the absolute obliviousness of our human characters, cementing “Rubber’s” “too cool for school” absurdism.

“End Credits” – Mr. Oizo & Gaspard Auge

“Shame” –  Harry Escott
An intense and internalized film about tortured self-loathing and the inability to become intimate — manifesting itself via a self-destructive sex addiction — Steve McQueen‘s “Shame” is a haunting portrait of a man who’s unhealthy urges are controlling his life. Musically, the “Shame” soundtrack is broken up into bits of incidental score and diegetic song cues, but it really boils down to Carey Mulligan‘s showstopping rendition of “New York, New York” and Harry Escott‘s compositions among the Coltrane and Glenn Gould. Mulligan’s cooing slow-jazz cover of the iconic tune is heartbreaking — transforming a celebratory song about the greatest city in the world into a devastating treatise on a type of empty loneliness that cannot be cured. And while only used sparringly, Escott’s score is equally striking — a combination of dramatic, unsettling and ascending strings and an ominous metronome clicking that suggests the soul-corrupt protagonist (Michael Fassbender) is on a collision course with something disquietingly unsurmountable. In “Hunger,” McQueen accompanied his striking visuals with mostly silence and sound to vividly bring to life his depiction of the 1981 IRA hunger strike in Maze Prison. With “Shame,” the images are cold and atmospheric, but never distant, thanks in part to Escott’s stellar work.

“Shame Suite” – Harry Escott

The Skin I Live In” – Alberto Iglesias
We’ll probably say it til we’re blue in the face. While he may not be recognized like Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer and doesn’t have an Academy Award to show for it yet (he has been nominated twice, however), one of the world’s greatest composers working today is Spaniard Alberto Iglesias. While he’s been collaborating with Pedro Almodóvar for over a decade, his work has peaked in tandem with the Spanish director’s recent unimpeachable run of dramatic films. In particular, Iglesias has excelled anytime Almodóvar has taken on mysteries and noirs (“Volver,” “Broken Embraces”), so in the director’s latest, “The Skin I Live In,” a deliciously creepy and pulpy melodrama with trangressive and romantic/revenge overtones, Iglesias is once more in his element. No one does refined and haunting longing like Iglesias and the score to ‘Skin’ is appropriately chilling, contoured with thriller-ish anxiety and flecked with a deep splash of questionable lust, control, longing and desire, all of which unifies into yet another brilliant effort.

“Una patada en los huevos” – Alberto Iglesias

“Source Code” – Chris Bacon
Duncan Jones’ high-concept follow-up to “Moon” merited comparison to the wrong-man scenarios and classic paranoia of Alfred Hitchcock, so it makes sense that the rousing score by relative newcomer Chris Bacon suitably evoked the distinctive work of Bernard Herrmann, but did so without aping it outright. His opening titles suite is a perfectly ominous tone-setter (specifically comparison-worthy to James Newton Howard’s work on “Signs”), and as the film’s tone progresses from curious mystery to ticking-clock thrills to wistful romance and — in its final moments — the promise of adventures to come, Bacon’s score keeps up every step of the way. By turns, Jake Gyllenhaal’s day-saving routine becomes that much more tense, tender or futile with the alternating incorporation of harsh flutes and fevered violins with gentle piano interludes; consider how Bacon handles the scene in which Gyllenhaal’s soldier finally contacts his dad, even though the latter can’t recognize the former, or the resigned build-up to his mission’s logical stopping point. Taken as a whole, it manages the unique balance of propulsion and grace in an age of sound-alike action-flick bombast and forcefully employed retro callbacks. For a movie where every moment counts in a different way, Bacon’s score continually rises to the occasion; we can only hope that his post-‘Code’ career results in a little more of this and a little less “Gnomeo & Juliet.

“Opening Credits” – Chris Bacon

Submarine” – Alex Turner
The song-score — where a filmmaker enlists a single songwriter or band to compose a selection of tracks especially for the film — is something of a lost art these days, after the ‘60s/’70s heyday of “The Graduate” and “Harold & Maude.” Clearly inspired by films like those, Richard Ayoade recruited frequent collaborator Alex Turner, lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys (Ayoade helmed several videos for the band and side-project “The Last Shadow Puppets,” as well as live performance doc  “Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo“), for his feature debut, the charming coming-of-age tale “Submarine.” And Turner did him proud, turning out an EP of five songs that couldn’t be a more perfect fit for the film. The Sheffield lad (still only a terrifying 25, five albums down the line) maintained his typically verbose and literate lyrics, which subtly echo protagonist Oliver, but places them against pretty, minimally-produced acoustic tracks like “Piledriver Waltz” and highlight “Hiding Tonight.” We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Andrew Hewitt‘s lovely score, but it’s Turner’s work that lingers longest.

“Hiding Tonight” – Alex Turner

“Super 8” – Michael Giacchino
A movie as nakedly emotional as “Super 8” deserved a score that could bring out the inherent sweetness without ever feeling cloying or overtly cute, and Michael Giacchino‘s rousing orchestral compositions did just that. Incorporating a knowing shimmer of the classic John Williams/Steven Spielberg scores (most noticeably “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“), the score is still very much his own, elegantly bringing out both the otherworldly menace of a supernatural visitor, alongside the real world heartache of adolescence. It’s a lot to ask for, and a delicate balancing act for sure, but it never feels out of whack or one-sided, and thanks to his lush instrumentation, the film comes to life even before the Paramount logo is done unspooling at the beginning. “Super 8” is a monster movie with a big heart, and it set out to make you feel as often as it made you scream. Without Giacchino, it would have been a near-impossible feat.

“Letting Go” – Michael Giacchino

“Take Shelter” – David Wingo
Considering David Wingo is primarily known as an acoustic singer-songwriter from the indie folk group Ola Podrida, the eerie, chiming score for “Take Shelter” feels like a gigantic artist leap forward for a musician who was once making plaintive and beautiful, but relatively simple music for early David Gordon Green films. Clearly Wingo is a musician though, and one adept at honing his craft and learning whatever new skills are needed to serve a movie score. Working with electronic musician Jeff McIlwain (aka Lusine) on “Snow Angels” and “The Sitter,” probably hasn’t hurt either, because when you hear the haunting drones and percolating bells and tintinnabulations of “Take Shelter” you do not immediately think “acoustic musician.” The score builds nicely builds with the film: initially, it’s all swelling bells, like the sound of curious raindrops, but as the movie’s psychology turns darker and more fearful, so too do Wingo’s ominous droning sounds, sometimes even taking on a furious clamor and dissonance that effortlessly captures the increasingly fractured state of mind of the picture’s tortured protagonist Michael Shannon. Easily one of the most unconventional and yet effective scores of the year, it’s a fitting soundtrack to mental disquiet that belies how unhinged things will eventually become.

1/ David Wingo – “Opening” (from TAKE SHELTER) by Milan Records

“Thunder Soul” – The Kashmere Stage Band
Is it a cheat to cite a soundtrack as one of the year’s best when it’s for a film that is all about an award-winning band? Even when there isn’t a designated “soundtrack” per se on sale? Two words: hell no. The very, well, soul of “Thunder Soul” is tethered to The Kashmere Stage Band, a once-glorious union of determined Houston high schoolers and beloved conductor “Prof” Conrad Johnson. It’s little wonder that their album, Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974, still sells well to this day. Tt is the epitome of that era’s prime funk — catchy and impressive enough even before you realize that this was a mere crew of teenagers schooling their white-bread peers at national competitions and on the record charts. That percussion! Those horns! Even if you haven’t seen the documentary — and you really ought to; the DVD is due out next month — this is lively stuff on its own that happens to grow more poignant and powerful in the film’s context. (A present-day reunion concert proves that this particular Kashmere class has still got it, decades later.) It’s music for many moods, as reflective of a movie as it is of a time period while existing in its own rarefied groove, a testament to sheer talent, aligned stars and effortless cool. To paraphrase one track title: I dig it, man.

“Thunder Soul” – Kashmere Stage Band

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” – Alberto Iglesias
A simmering thriller of taciturn tension and fraught spy politics, Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is no James Bond film (though the opening track does have a few subtle horn homage nods in it), eschewing gadgets and loud set pieces for a tightly-coiled depiction of internecine intrigue, betrayal and paranoia. Who can you trust in the shadowy world of covert operations, even those supposedly on your own side? The truth is: no one, and while not the kind of work you’ll likely go home humming, Iglesias’ music does a remarkable job of underscoring this suspicious and mistrustful mood by slowly grinding the gears of the subterranean fears going on in every character’s fraying mind. As best evinced by Gary Oldman’s wonderfully internal performance, ‘Tinker Tailor’ isn’t a particularly extroverted film, and the old-school symphonic elements of the score flutter and cry where they need to, but underneath it all the music smolders with an elegiac yearning that evokes the characters’ collective nostalgia for their youthful, good ol’ days where internal betrayal wasn’t top of mind. In “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” everyone’s time has come, from covert moles to forcefully retired spies to displaced agents who can’t shake off the past, and Iglesias gives them the classiest of goodbyes.

George Smiley” – Alberto Iglesias

Young Adult” – Mateo Messina & Various Artists
So the theme of Jason Reitman‘s latest involves being stuck in a type of late high school/early twentysomething adolescence that you look back on as the greatest time of your life. Mavis (Charlize Theron,) the lead of the film, was at her best in those years, and for her that means the early-to-mid ‘90s. Therefore “Young Adult” has a tastefully curated mix of ‘90s cuts from Dinosaur Jr., the Lemonheads, The Replacements, Cracker and Teenage Fanclub (their hit, “The Concept,” is sort of the film’s unofficial pop theme). But what’s most clever about the music in “Young Adult” is the muzak-like rendering by Mateo Messina (who scored “Juno”) of various ‘90s hits. You actually have to pay close attention, but if you do you’re rewarded by hearing elevator-music versions of Faith No More’s “Epic,” Soundgarden’s “Black Holed Sun,” Foo Fighters’ “Big Me,” Beck’s “Where It’s At,” Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow,” and when you do clue into the subtle, “hey, what is that?!?” tunes, it brings an extra sly level of hilarity that’s certainly unexpected.

“The Concept” – Teenage Fanclub

— RP, Drew Taylor, Mark Zhuravsky, William Goss, Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Erik McLanahan,

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