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.