Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Top Soundtracks of 2007

Who says they don't make soundtracks like they used to? Since anyone with a Rhapsody account or an iPod can make playlist, our lives have been flooded with soundtracks: music for a commute, songs for a deadline, my sweet, sweet lovemaking mix -- you get the idea. As a result, since the '90s boom, sales for soundtracks to movies have fallen, even more than the record industry's current downward trend in general. Thankfully, soundtracks have moved into more of a niche market -- yes, even High School Musical is niche -- making for a better product. So while there may never be another Saturday Night Fever (or -- gulp -- The Bodyguard) album storming the charts, great soundtracks continue to get produced, and 2007 had plenty to back up this claim.

10. American Gangster
No, not the Jay-Z album (inspired by the film,) although that one wasn't too bad either. No, this is music from the film, including original tracks from Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee, who also produced the Anthony Hamilton track "Do You Feel Me" (penned by soundtrack legend Dianne Warren). Mixing Public Enemy with classics from John Lee Hooker, Bobby Womack and the like made the film tantalizingly stray from being a 'period piece.'

9. Control (Rssmbld Sndtrck Playlist)
A film about Joy Division's Ian Curtis, is almost guaranteed to have a great soundtrack. Not only does it have Joy Division and new songs from New Order at director Anton Corbijn's disposal, but there's also Curtis' influences Bowie, Iggy, and Roxy Music. Even the unfortunate choice of having The Killers cover Joy Division wasn't enough to derail this great soundtrack and film.

8. Margot at the Wedding (Rssmbld Sndtrack Playlist)
While not as much a revelation as Noah Baumbach's previous film soundtrack (Squid and the Whale,) Margot still serves as a nice bit of nostalgia. At it's heart is a late 70's AM soft rock sound, with Steven Forbert, Fleetwood Mac, Stephen Bishop and even the softer side of Alice Cooper ("You and Me.") Songs from Blondie, X and The dB's keep it from being just an 8-Track compilation, but ultimately it's the tragic Karen Dalton's powerful "Something On Your Mind" that has this in my top 10.

7. Songs from The Big Top
This film hasn't even got a release date yet (sometime in 2008,) but the stellar soundtrack has gotten an early digital release due to it's incredible buzz. Writer/Director Devon Reed wrote all the songs and then decided to approach artists like Matthew Sweet, Lisa Germano, Howie Gelb and Built to Spill's Doug Martsch about recording them for inclusion in the film. Highlight is "Your Song" by The Clientele, but really, there's not a bad one in the bunch.

6. The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson's quirky tale of three brothers traveling through India relies heavily on Sayjit Ray's beatiful score work from his and Merchan-Ivory produced films, succinctly setting the mood. But it's Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" that's the real find here, appearing in the prequel short Hotel Chevalier (yes, the one with Natalie Portman's nude backside).

5. I'm Not There
The film may have six people playing -- but not named -- Bob Dylan, the soundtrack collects no less than 26 different artists covering 34 different Bob Dylan songs. Sonic Youth, Willie Nelson, Stephen Malkmus, Yo La Tengo, Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power, The Hold Steady, Tom Verlaine (Television) and the soundtrack super duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova head up the list of stars lined up to step in Bob's shoes. Director Todd Haynes, with music supervisor Randall Poster, have work their magic again (previously teamed up on Velvet Goldmine).

4. Death Proof
It's nearly a given that a Quentin Tarrantino soundtrack is going to be at or near the top of the list, and this one is no exception. The homaganist references his favorite grindhouse (and similar fringe genres) by co-opting music from previous soundtracks. If they all weren't so delicious, it would be a crime. Worth the price of admission alone for Smith's "Baby It's You" and "Chick Habit" from April March.
See: The Music of Grindhouse

3. There Will Be Blood
Both director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and composer Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) are working out far out of their popular idioms with TWBB, and they pull off what just might their finest work, respectively. TWBB itself is an epic saga of oil in the old west, complete with Kubrick-style terror, and it contains very little dialogue -- especially for a PTA film. As such Greenwood's unsettling score is pushed to the forefront, and pushes the film to dizzying heights and frightening lows. It's a score that should even give Scott Walker goosebumps.

2. Juno
An underdog movie featuring an underdog soundtrack, revolving around the music of Kimya Dawson (The Moldy Peaches). Screenwriter Diablo Cody's singular voice is echoed throughout the characters, and likewise, all the songs seem to come from the same smart-yet-innocent voice that Kimya Dawson does so well. Even though most of the contributions from artists such as Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, The Kinks and The Velvet Underground predate Dawson's work, they still sound as if they could be covering her. Even Sonic Youth (covering The Carpenters) reflect this singular voice. Like the movie itself, the soundtrack can start to feel like it's just one note, but that note is so... like... cool, you know?
See: The Music of Juno: So Nice, So Smart

1. Once
Hard to beat a film this good, especially when the film's stars -- Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Marketa Irglova -- are also the musical artists. The film's just 85 minutes, with very little plot or dialogue, and we never even find out the main characters' names. The characters communicate, in a realistic manner, through songs, and the music speaks magnitudes of what's going on. It's the best way these struggling musicians know how to say what they're feeling, and it's hard not to fall head over heels into their enchanting language. The realism struck Hansard and Irglova as well, as during the filming and shortly after, the two found themselves falling in love, despite their nearly twenty year difference in age. It's truly hard not to fall for this film.
See: Hansard and Irglova on Talk Shows This Week (July 30, 2007)

Also worth mentioning:
Strange Weirdos: Music from and Inspired by the Film 'Knocked Up' - Loudon Wainwright - Good album that had less to do with the film than even the title suggests
Hot Fuzz - Broken down here
Superbad (Rssmbld Playlist) - Great funk collection, and of course Van Halen's "Panama."
Good Luck Chuck - great lineup (Art Brut, Shout Out Louds, Flaming Lips) but terrible movie

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