Thursday, May 23, 2013

Boards of Canada - Reach for the Dead

This video for a new Boards of Canada track called "Reach for the Dead" emerged recently. If it is an official Boards of Canada video, I think that would make it the first. It is the first official Boards of Canada video. It was directed by Neil Krug, who previously directed a fan video for "In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country".

There are elements of every stage of BoC's career from Music Has the Right to Children onwards in this track; the synth line that runs through the whole thing sounds like something from The Campfire Headphase,  the drums evoke the first two albums and the arpeggio that comes in around 2:20 brings to mind the In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country EP. I hope the rest of Tomorrow's Harvest is a bit more upbeat, but to be honest I'll take what I can get.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bad Film, Great Soundtrack

Countless keystrokes have been spent discussing the relationship between music and film, and frankly, I'm surprised I haven't touched on it in the five years I've been running this (admittedly sparse) blog. More often than not, a film's soundtrack exploits that relationship in the most superficial way possible, by trading on the film's name in order to con the consumer into buying a CD they'll probably listen to twice in its entirety and then stick the three or four tracks they like onto their iPod. Indie film soundtracks are bound to be stocked with bands you're familiar enough with to either already own their contribution or to know that you don't care to. The latest big romcom's soundtrack's biggest drawcard is likely to be something like a poorly remastered Sinatra song that's available on countless better compilations, or worse, a cover of the same. Sometimes, though, the soundtrack is inextricable from the film, the songs underscoring the emotional resonance of the scenes they accompany.

This piece will not discuss cynical cash grab soundtracks, as if there could be enough room on all the internets and interwebs combined. It also won't discuss film and soundtrack pairings such as Trainspotting or Pulp Fiction, instances in which the soundtrack has effortlessly leapt the high bar set by the film. Bad Film, Great Soundtrack - pretty self-explanatory. With a couple of exceptions, these films are not merely mediocre or overrated, but notably bad, and the one thing they have in common is that their soundtrack inexplicably stands alone as a great set of songs despite having nothing to prove.

9. Touch (1997)

There's nothing really bad about this film - it's just that there's nothing particularly good about it either. It's an adaptation of a non-crime Elmore Leonard novel about a faith healer. With an averagely popular cast aside from Christopher Walken (Skeet Ulrich, Bridget Fonda, Tom Arnold, Breckin Meyer), and a screenplay too average to earn the praise or the ire of critics, it passed by mostly unnoticed. Unfortunately so did its soundtrack, a mostly instrumental deal written by Dave Grohl (technically it's both the score and the soundtrack). This assignment, the likes of which Grohl hasn't taken on since, allowed him to experiment with build and nuance in ways he should in his regular gig in which he's made a living out of verse-chorus-verse pop rock songs for which Bob Mould should receive royalties. A couple of those were thrown in for good measure, but they didn't help raise awareness of the more interesting bulk of the album.

Lost in Space
8. Lost in Space (1998)

This one wasn't that bad; it had a few things going for it. For one, Gary Oldman hamming it up in a good, actually that's it. A brief soundtrack and score were released as a single album and the soundtrack is made up of late 90s electronica artists such as Apollo Four Forty and Fatboy Slim. It's a fairly commercial affair while still being far better than the film deserves.

The Virgin Suicides
7. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

I didn't get this damn film. If I recall correctly, and I probably don't, there were a bunch of sisters who were virgins (some of them young enough that you'd assume this to be the case ) who commit suicide one by one, except  Kirsten Dunst's character, who either loses her virginity or doesn't commit suicide, or both - I honestly don't remember which one it was. The score (as opposed to soundtrack, but let's not be pedantic here) is Air doing what Air does, which is be French, electronic and slightly aloof.

The Twilight Saga
6. The Twilight Saga: New Moon/Eclipse (2009/2010)

As much as I'm loathe to simultaneously bash two films I haven't seen, come on...sparkly vampires. While the first film's soundtrack was a bit too goth/nu metal for my taste, the first two to follow seem to have acquired the services of every credible artist who wasn't too embarrassed to be involved. Between the two of them there's Thom Yorke, Band of Skulls, St. Vincent, Battles, Metric and Florence & the Machine, just to name a few.

5. Singles (1992)

This one is the grunge equivalent of the #2 entry and, well, it is in fact a cash grab, but in this case the film itself seems little more than an afterthought. However, it merits inclusion here because of the quality of what's on offer and the fact that most of the songs are either exclusive to the soundtrack or close enough, or by artists in the second tier of popularity during the early 90s such as Mother Love Bone. Sure, Alice In Chains and The Screaming Trees' best known songs "Would?" and "Nearly Lost You" respectively are here, "May This Be Love" is a reminder that Jimi Hendrix was also from Seattle and The Smashing Pumpkins are shoehorned in despite not being from there, but there's also two Pearl Jam b-sides, another from Soundgarden and songs by Chris Cornell and Mudhoney written for the film.

Magical Mystery Tour
4. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

Since dropping acid is probably a prerequisite to appreciating this film, perhaps I'm not qualified to comment on it, but suffice it to say I got nothing out of it. The film and the soundtrack are the yin and yang of The Beatles' foray into hallucinogenics, the latter boasting "I Am the Walrus" (the rest could be a 40 minute version of "Revolution 9" and that one would still make it worthwhile), "Hello Goodbye" and the extremely underrated "Blue Jay Way".

Batman Forever

3. Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever was the one with Jim Carrey as one of the least intimidating and amusing villains in a Hollywood blockbuster and the first one to have a guy in tight pants following Batman around, yet it wasn't the one that forced the character into an eight year hiatus. It does, however, contain the only known footage of Tommy Lee Jones laughing. The soundtrack, featuring PJ Harvey, Massive Attack, Sunny Day Real Estate and The Flaming Lips, seems to be designed to accompany a film that's as good as those responsible seem to think it is, but what's the audience? People who loved one or both of the commercial focal points, Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" (which isn't so bad as far as those things go) and U2's "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" (which is actually excellent) and were either too stupid to buy the singles or decided to shell out $25 on the off chance they'd get something out of Method Man or The Offspring? People who were willing to do the same for a decent mix CD in the pre-iTunes/torrent days and didn't die of embarrassment every time they looked at the cover? Whatever the case, people bought it in droves because that's what people do.

The Big Chill
2. The Big Chill (1983)

This one really is the ultimate case of a soundtrack in search of a film. I'll bet you there are people who own the soundtrack and can recite the tracklist, but can't tell you what the film was about. I know it involves friends reminiscing over the late 60s and early 70s, and the soundtrack is based on that theme. Specifically, it's mostly Motown and includes Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin. It hammers home the point that every generation thinks its music is the best, and at a time when the New Romantics were taking over, it made a good argument.

1. Spawn (1997)

Let's not mince words here: Spawn is a straight up abortion of a film and anyone who likes it is a bad person. It's a poor man', a destitute man's Crow: dude dies, then gets to come back and wreak revenge, but a hyperactive John Leguizamo in a clown suit stands in for the crow and somehow, somehow lacks the mythical gravitas. The only thing the film really excels at is reminding us that things were looking pretty grim for Martin Sheen before The West Wing came along. The soundtrack was curated by the same people responsible for that of Judgement Night (which looks good next to Spawn); whereas that one paired up hard rockers with rappers, this one is about fusing rock with electronica. Filter and The Crystal Method, Tom Morello and The Prodigy, Silverchair and Vitro...yeah, it's true to say that most of these artists didn't transition smoothly into the 2000s, but the soundtrack makes a good case for why they were popular. In a way, it's my generation's Twilight soundtrack.

Sex, War & Robots