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.
Daft Punk – Tron: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Since French knob-twiddlers Daft Punk haven’t released a studio album since 2005’s Human After All, the music world immediately jumped on the idea of the duo writing the score for Tron: Legacy, Disney’s long-awaited sequel to sci-fi classic Tron. After all, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo always seemed like they were beamed from the not-to-distant future (what with their robotic music and costumes), so they seemed a perfect match to Tron‘s digital world. And when the neon pulse of “Derezzed” gave the public a first taste of the score, it seemed to confirm the hopes of the soundtrack being the grand return of one of the most popular and influential groups in modern dance music. However, as many should have expected, given that it is still a Disney score, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack veers towards contemporary classical music much more often than it does towards Daft Punk’s patented house and club music. This doesn’t mean that they have completely abandoned electronica, though, and the soundtrack is at its most successful when it blends the organic and the synthetic. “Solar Sailer,” for instance, mixes futuristic keyboard arpeggios with melancholy string swells, while fuzzy, pounding drums and ominous tones emphasize the horn interjections on “The Game Has Changed.” In fact, only “End Of Line,” “Tron: Legacy (End Titles),” and the aforementioned “Derezzed” are the only places where the music is in the same ballpark as their earlier work. These are much-needed respites from the tightly wound tension found elsewhere, especially on tracks like “Rectifier.” While these dark and digital soundscapes certainly fit the tone of the film, with the visuals separated from it, there are many times that the music is less than moving. There are a few points on the album where horns and strings rise and fall in predictable patterns that don’t contribute to the atmosphere the score expertly creates otherwise. Actually, Tron: Legacy is at its best when it strays away from conventional classical arrangements, perhaps because Daft Punk have much more experience with electronics. In any case, this album is still a worthwhile listen for fans of Daft Punk and for fans of soundtracks and scores in general. Just don’t expect a follow-up to Human After All.