Who’d have thought a techno album made by the dude from Nine Inch Nails would win a best soundtrack Oscar. No one, that’s who. Not since the days of Simon and Garfunkel’s soundtrack to The Graduate and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly have recording artists been so in demand to score a film. We look at some of the recent attempts, judging them mercilessly (not really), for only then can we dismiss the mighty John Williams and bow down to the rock star (coz, ya know, no one worships rock stars).
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Social Network
This won an Oscar. This minimalist, techno, housey soundtrack won an Oscar. This minimalist, techno, housey soundtrack written by the man behind industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails, won an Oscar. If that doesn’t demonstrate a changing of the guard I don’t know what does. Reznor and long-time NIN producer Atticuss Ross produced a tense, nervous soundtrack that simmers through the entire film, always teetering on the edge of something (a revolutionary new way of communicating perhaps?). ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ is a melancholic shiver of a song that sounds sorrowful and tense at the same time. The soundtrack manages to make a film about computers and a lengthy court hearing utterly thrilling. I think David Fincher might have had a hand in that too but we’re not talking about him, are we?
It’s music for the ipod generation, something to be listened to in a dark corner of your bedroom, sat in front of a laptop, I don’t know, maybe decoding some sort of computer algorithm, thingy. Whatever.
Key tune: ‘In Motion’. This softly thumping electro tune is what gives the whole film its immediate momentum. It’s going “hey, look, I’m electronic and technical, and am gathering momentum, just like bloomin’ Facebook!” Genius. No, really.
Alex Turner – Submarine.
Turner was granted the privilege of making five new songs for the soundtrack to Richard Ayoade’s first feature film Submarine. Trusting him completely, having been good friends since their days making Artic Monkeys videos, Ayoade gave Turner a free reign to do what he liked, more or less, but with a small hint towards one key influence: The Graduate. Like the classic concept album and soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, Ayoade and Turner knew that they wanted a couple of songs to play in their entirety during the film. Ayoade takes this a step further, however, by blurring the boundaries between a diegetic and non-diegetic soundtrack, cleverly planting those songs as if they were on the relationship soundtrack tape Oliver Tate’s dad makes him upon hearing he has his first girlfriend. Quite nifty, really.
The songs themselves are blissfully intimate, softly sung songs about love, growing up and, ya know, the general difficulties of life. They’re charming and delightful tunes that help this brilliant, hilarious coming of age comedy become a whole lot more poignant and wonderful.
Key tune: ‘Hiding Tonight’. A little melodic ditty that reminisces youth and the endless possibilities that can wait until tomorrow.
Daft Punk – Tron Legacy
The techno Gods made Daft Punk for this film, we all know this. There was never really another option was there? The helmet wearing French duo even made it into the film itself, briefly being introduced by Michael Sheen’s Castor and asked to “electrify the people, if you’d be so kind”. Well, duh, that’s what they do.
The songs from the soundtrack are pretty much what you expect from electro-pop legends such as Daft Punk: a frenetic cacophony of synth, electronica and thumping bass lines but with a dark, sinister gloss. The difference between this and normal Daft Punk tunes is that the sound is more typically like a film soundtrack, reaching huge string based crescendos and dramatic full stops. And they, er, don’t include any electronic voices repeatedly detailing the speed and intensity of their work rate.
Key tune: ‘Derezzed’. A bloody walloping techno tune. Laden with the sound of thunder it feels like you’re about to walk out into some pretty heavy electronic rain.
Jonny Greenwood – Norwegian Wood
Greenwood’s 2007 score to There Will Be Blood was considered ineligible for an Oscar nomination, despite being hot-tipped to win the award, due to the inclusion of a few minutes of music that Greenwood had already composed before the film. With Anh Hung Tran’s adaptation of the classic Haruki Murikami novel the obviously ridiculously talented Radiohead guitarist has once again proven how masterful he is at producing painful, bleak string arrangements and bleating horns that ache through a film like a hive of bees. Greenwood also throws in a couple low key tracks by experimental 60’s rock act Can as respite to his frankly nerve-racking orchestral arrangements. But the score is most definitely Jonny’s, and it’s a shame he won’t receive much recognition for this one either. But he clearly doesn’t care.
Key tune: ‘Naoko Ga Shinda’. A terrifying, soaring, painful sound that pokes through your soul like a samurai sword smothered in melodrama.
Chemical Brothers – Hanna
Well now, this is a treat. It’s not every day you get someone like the Chemical Brothers making a film soundtrack (they have one song in the Black Swan score, however,) and the results are quite frankly epic. It had to be pretty fierce to compete with the on screen antics of little Saoirse Ronan hectically kicking all kinds of ass in Hanna, but the score more than adequately takes care of things in this department. It is a set of thunderous dance numbers heavily laden with dirty rock drums and thronging bass lines that create tension and anticipation before giving a metaphorical Chemical Bro’s “here we go!” and dropping that shit like an anvil.
More than any of the others, perhaps, this collaboration between Joe Wright and The Chemical Brothers feels like it could kick start a huge series of acts creating the hallowed ‘OST’s’ to movies in the next few years. Which is pretty exciting, no?
Key Tune: ‘Container Park’. This has pretty much got everything. There’s the slow anticipation, the break, the drop, and it’s all topped off with a massive action cinema riff.