Friday Playlist: Movie Soundtracks

I can still remember pretty clearly going on a road trip in college with some friends of mine, and the guy who was driving had a CD player in his car (which at the time seemed pretty fancy). So I eagerly opened up his book of CDs...only to find that every single one was a movie soundtrack. I don't mean a mix-type soundtrack like The Big Chill or High Fidelity, I mean original score soundtracks like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, etc. And those were the ones good enough to be memorable. Suffice it to say, I was a sad puppy for most of that trip.

But time has passed and I've come to appreciate the value of a great original score. In large part, I have Carter Burwell to thank for that. Burwell wrote the score for Raising Arizona, among his many, many other movie credits. Nearly every time I find myself noticing how much I like the music in a film, it turns out to be Carter Burwell's work.

Raising Arizona was probably the first movie I saw where I can remember feeling like the music was an integral part of the experience for me. This isn't like the Imperial Death March or Superman's theme - those are great pieces of music that add to their respective movies, but they work more as leitmotifs that are more or less associated with specific characters or things in their movies - and they stand alone so strongly that I can hear them without necessarily picturing their associated movies.

This music was something different - it was simply part of the fabric of the movie for me, and I couldn't think of the movie without hearing that music. The second time this happened to me was while watching Buckaroo Banzai - one of my favorite hobbies that year was to recreate Michael Boddicker's theme on the piano over and over again, much (I'm sure) to the delight of my family. Hearing that music put me into the world of that movie in a way that almost nothing else could.

I could go on and on, but I have cupcakes in the oven, so let's get to the playlist. What follows are a handful of my favorite songs from movie scores over the years by an even smaller handful of artists.

Here's the breakdown:

  • "Mediational Field" by Susuma Hirasawa (from Paprika)
    Absolutely beautiful song, and I can't imagine the movie without it. Playful and serious at the same time.

  • "Way Out There" by Carter Burwell (from Raising Arizona)
    You can skip the first 34 seconds. Once it gets going, this is actually a cover of a Pete Seeger song, which itself is a take on an old traditional, etc. More on that here.

  • "Buckaroo Banzai Theme (long version)" by Michael Boddicker (from Buckaroo Banzai)
    Fans of the movie will recognize this as the music that plays over the closing credits when all the characters join up and walk together in lockstep. This is a more expansive take on the main theme, and it takes me right back to the first time I saw this movie and realized that I had a new favorite movie.

  • "Open Spaces" by Jonny Greenwood (from There Will Be Blood)
    Radiohead guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood was declared ineligible for an Academy Award for this soundtrack because it contained some elements from a piece he had written previously for the BBC - but it's still great. This piece does a wonderful job evoking the feel of this movie: dark, mysterious, foreboding, sad, and complex.

  • "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes (from Shaft)
    How could I not include this?

  • "Dream of the Future" by Carter Burwell (from Raising Arizona)
    This is essentially "Down In The Willow Garden," an old bluegrass tune, done with synthesizers. This song is a recurring theme in the movie, and this piece does a beautiful job wrapping everything up on a hopeful - yet restrained - note.

  • "A Drop Filled With Memories" by Susumu Hirasawa (from Paprika)
    This is is the same tune as "Mediational Field" from the beginning of this playlist, but it's a completely different take on it. I love how they sound like two totally different songs even though they're essentially exactly the same, note-wise.

Do you have any favorite movie scores? Tell me in the comments.


Hey, I Found A New Pornographers Song I Like!

My loyal readers will no doubt recall that I hate the New Pornographers. No matter how many people tell me I'll love them, I have always hated them and probably always will. Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that one of my favorite songs off of the great "Dark Was The Night" compilation album was by them! It's a great, bright, catchy poppy tune with some dark undertones, and I listened to it over and over before I realized that it also sounded really familiar.

The reason was, of course, that it's a cover of a Destroyer song off of his album "This Night" which came out in 2002. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about a band covering one of it's members' solo songs. I guess there's nothing wrong with it, and I'm sure it actually happens all the time, but I felt a little cheated to learn that it wasn't really a New Pornographers song that had finally won me over. But yet it was - I actually like their version better than Bejar's solo version. It's brighter, shinier, more produced (which in this case helps), and is really much more of an anthemic power pop song as opposed to a rock-out ballad.

And of course, both feature the brilliant line "when the company goes public/you've got to learn to love what you own." I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds deep to me.

You can hear them both here and decide for yourself. What do you think?

Hey, Snow White

Music Apps For The iPhone

I've been meaning to write for a while about 3 very cool-looking iPhone applications which I cannot use because I don't have an iPhone. But if you do, these look worth checking out:

  • Bloom is a creation of Brian Eno which lets you compose music (within certain constraints) on your phone. The constraints ensure that anything you create will be both consonant and ambient, kind of like an autoharp. You can't create anything too ugly, and you can't create anything that's not all that relaxing, but it still looks like a lot of fun:

  • Deadmau5's Remixable Album is an application from the electronic artist Deadmau5 (of whom I had never heard before) which lets you remix his latest album entirely on your iPhone. The list of features looks pretty comprehensive and yet the app looks pretty simple to use as a whole. Without having used it, it kind of reminds me of some video games where you can get by with a lot of button-mashing, or you can really kick ass if you know what you're doing. But either way you can have a lot of fun.

  • FourTrack is an app from Sonoma Wireworks which is, basically, a 4-track recording device on your iPhone. For those of you who have never used a real live analog 4-track before, the idea that one exists on a phone is pretty damn amazing. Again, I haven't used this app since I don't have an iPhone [Editor's note: please contact me if you'd like to buy me one] but this certainly looks like it beats my current method of capturing song ideas when I'm out and about, which more or less consists of either calling my own voicemail and humming into the phone.
Have you used any of these? Do you have any cool music apps for the iPhone or (gasp!) another mobile device? Let me know in the comments.


Friday Playlist: Some New Music

I've been listening to a lot of new music (well, new to me) lately, and it seemed like time to share some of it with both of my readers. And what better time to revive my "Friday Playlist" series! [Editor's note: do two entries constitute a "series?"] Anyway, here's what's in store:

  • K'naan - "Waving Flag"
    I heard this Canadian (by way of New York, by way of Somalia) play live on NPR's stream of the SXSW 2009 Music Festival (I think he played the day after I left Austin). His show was great, and this song in particular got stuck in my head for some time. He reminds me of Wyclef in some ways, but not in a derivative way. His latest album is chock full of collaborators, so each song manages to sound very different from the previous one, yet they make a surprisingly cohesive album. Check it out!

  • The Antlers - "Two"
    My brother has bestowed the coveted "best song of the first 3 months of 2009" award on this song. I would save that for the Andrew Bird song below, but this is still a great song. I give them props for letting the "intro" go on for over a minute before busting out the loud guitars and the chest voice.

  • Andrew Bird - "Fitz and the Dizzyspells"
    It's the rhythm that gets me on this one. And his voice. And the melody. And the background vocals. And of course, the whistling at 1:46. It's just too damn catchy at that point.

  • Dan Deacon - "Build Voice"
    I love Dan Deacon. "Spiderman of the Rings" was one of my favorite albums of 2007, and I was really excited when "Bromst" came out. I don't love this whole album yet, but it's growing on me. I disagree with those who say that it sounds exactly like his last one - this one is much harsher in many places, and much softer in many places. I think it has a lot more peaks and valleys than "Spiderman," and in several places there's much more emphasis on emulating an 8-bit sound than there was in his previous work. I haven't found a hit single like "Wham City" on this one yet, but I'm sure it's in there. This is the opening track and it's really beautiful.

  • Sin Fang Bous - "The Jubilee Choruses"
    This is the solo project of Icelander Sindri Mar Sigfusson - better known (to some) as the founder of Seabear - and it's wonderful. Dreamy electronic pop with layered vocals, catchy hooks, jolly drum machine tracks, and an overall great vibe. This song makes me happy.

  • Animal Collective - "Summertime Clothes"
    Some have said that "Merriweather Post Pavilion" is Animal Collective's first "pop album." While I don't quite agree with that (nor do I understand why the hell they named it after my neck of the woods' worst outdoor concert venue), this is certainly a catchy little song. But it's not their first catchy little song. See "Peacebone" or "The Purple Bottle."

  • All My Pretty Ones - "Mermaids"
    This song is about mermaids, the album cover art has a dude in a sailor suit, and the first line of the song mentions a ship. Add that all up with some honky-tonk piano, and this song sounds like a sea shanty gone rogue to me. It's also a great song. The oscillation between fast and slow manages to work without sounding jarring, and his voice fits this song really well.

Welp, that about does her, wraps her all up. Before I catch you later on down the trail, let me know what you think in the comments. What have you been listening to lately?