What makes some film soundtracks transcend from mere background music to helping a director tell a story and help invoke an emotional response? Is it a clever mix of well chosen tunes that capture the zeitgeist or an eclectic mix of older material that either captures a time and place or sets a tone of nostalgia? The answer varies depending on the feature film. 2012 was a fantastic year for original motion picture movie scores but not so good for soundtracks. Still, Simon and I have managed to pull a list of what we feel were the very best.
The second half of Tabu by Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes, is the direct opposite of what came before. Gomez effortlessly shifts gears omitting any audible dialogue except for a persistent (but suave) voice-over narration from one of the characters – combined with lush synchronized ambient sounds, a few sparse foley effects, and a soundtrack of Phil Spector’s greatest hits (including a Portuguese version of The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ and “Love is Strange”). Coupled with the music of Joana Sá, the soundtrack really flows well with the grainy black-and-white 16mm and 4:3 Academy ratio cinematography of the latter half of the pic. There is perhaps no other film in 2012 that relies so heavily on a soundtrack of older tunes. Thankfully Gomes’s taste in music is just as impeccable as his taste in film.
With a track record including Disco Pigs and August Rush, it was no big surprise Irish filmmaker Kirsten Sheridan would deliver a powerhouse soundtrack for her third feature Dollhouse. Working from an undeveloped treatment using structured improvisation and shooting sequentially with scene cards replacing an actual script, Sheridan creates an environment of precarious bliss. There are long stretches of music montages, both classical and indie pop which accompany the hand-held camera work by Colin Downey following the characters in never ending choreography of ad-libbed chaos. The best use of music comes in Jeannie’s artistically appealing redecoration of her bedroom to the 2009 track “Lose Your Soul” by Dead Men’s Bones.
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Once again, John Hillcoat calls upon regular collaborator Nick Cave, who also wrote the film’s script to provide the music for his latest pic. Only this time things are different. Accompanying Cave is Warren Ellis – who not only form a bluegrass band called The Bootleggers with Cave, but the pair perform both original tracks and anachronistic covers of songs by the likes of Link Wray, Captain Beefheart, Grandaddy and Townes Van Zandt. If that isn’t enough, bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley turns in a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and Willie Nelson also makes an appearance, providing a previously unreleased song in “Midnight Run.” Any soundtrack with Captain Beefheart – cover or not – is worthy my money and full attention.
When it was announced that LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and musically inclined funnyman Tim Heidecker would be acting in a film called The Comedy, everyone naturally assumed it would feature a great soundtrack. Throw in Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, Gregg Turkington (who participated in a number of avant-garde and post punk bands) and singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, Richard Swift – and well you figured it would be the best O.S.T of the year. Regardless if you love or hate the film, The Comedy delivers on tunes. Described by Jagjaguwar Records as “eerie, bittersweet and mystic pop songs”, the compilation consists of artists both old and new, with music chosen to exemplify “the autumn of the American Era.” New artists include GAYNGS, Gardens & Villa, Here We Go Magic, and from the past is Donnie & Joe Emerson plus a pair of excepts from avant-garde composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops. The use of the music alone, truly does amplify what’s on screen – making me believe that this will find a huge cult following decades to come.
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Back in October, avant-pop adventurists Broadcast announced the proper release of their score for Peter Strickland’s recent Italian horror film homage, Berberian Sound Studio. However since Warp Records won’t actually issue the set until January 8 in North America, we’ve decided to include it on next year’s list.
– Ricky D
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