Category Archives: Compilations/”Various Artists”
Various Artists – Garden State [Motion Picture Soundtrack]
When Zach Braff handpicked the tracks for the soundtrack to his directorial debut, the 2004 dramedy Garden State, he said he simply made a mixtape of the songs he had on repeat as he wrote the screenplay. Little did he know how much impact his little mixtape would have, eventually picking up a Grammy and selling a half-million copies (effectively going gold) in the US. Of course, this isn’t a groundbreaking number, even by soundtrack standards. But unlike the multi-platinum soundtracks to, say, The Bodyguard, Purple Rain, or Saturday Night Fever, the Garden State soundtrack didn’t have a single major pop hit to buoy it. Rather, it’s a collection of gentle folk, indie pop and coffeehouse electro-pop, designed as moody background music for cloudy days and romantic longing. As a soundtrack, it works well within the context of the film, illuminating the waywardness, introspection and self-discovery of the characters; apart from the film, it’s cohesive yet slight, downcast and pretty without leaving much of a distinct impression. The album has the reputation for being a hipster-lite playlist, which, with its inclusion of the Shins, Iron & Wine and Thievery Corporation, seems like an apt judgment. But Braff was shrewd enough to add in Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel to give the record some historical depth as well as some more straight-ahead tracks like Colin Hay’s mournful “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” and Cary Brothers’ swaying ballad “Blue Eyes” for some much-needed diversity. What’s far more important than this soundtrack’s content, though, is its success. Braff’s years of starring in NBC’s quirky sitcom Scrubs gave Garden State more star power than the average debut independent comedy, which in turn pushed this soundtrack to its unlikely gold certification, thus giving this music a larger platform than it otherwise would have had. Plus, because his music choices leaned toward ruminating, lovelorn pop, the soundtrack helped open up indie music for a whole new audience that was able to suddenly connect the dots from mainstream acts like Snow Patrol and Vanessa Carlton to more underground fare. (Of course, leading off with a Coldplay tune helps that transition too.) Despite its flaws, the Garden State soundtrack’s success profoundly influenced the commercial prospects for indie music in the 2000s, for better and for worse.
Various Artists – A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records
Unquestionably the holiday album by which all other holiday albums are judged, A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records (later re-released under alternate titles) is a bona fide Christmas classic. Gathering up frequent collaborators including the Crystals and the Ronettes, Phil Spector intended this record to work as both a compilation of Christmas songs and as a pop album that stands on its own, and it succeeds marvelously on both counts. The key to the record’s brilliance lies in both Spector’s patented Wall of Sound production—arguably, this is its finest hour—and the vocalists’ performances, which are exceptional throughout. Many of Spector’s arrangements have become standards, and rightfully so: The songs are both joyful and exhilarating, such as when the Ronettes’ chime in with “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding” on “Sleigh Ride,” or when the drums thunder in after the refrain on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” And if the musicality of the covers wasn’t impressive enough, the sole original song on here may just be the highlight of the record. Darlene Love belts out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with heartwrenching emotion as the musicians (especially Leon Russell on piano) play on behind her, capturing the Christmas spirit and transcending its trappings as a holiday track all at once, much like A Christmas Gift For You itself.