Top 5 Soundtracks and Original Scores of 2014

Awesome Mix, No. 2: Tehran punk, Cave, and Carpenter

Top 5 Soundtracks and Original Scores of 2014

If you made a mashup of this year’s most memorable film scores and movie soundtracks, and then dropped it at the club, the DJ would shriek, the dance floor would go molten, and the roof, the roof, well, you know how that goes.

Despite the fact that Hollywood posted declining box-office numbers yet again, 2014 ended up a banner year for movie lovers and, even more, film-music fetishists. Seriously, it’s time for you to upgrade your home theatre audio to those Klipsch 7.1 THX Ultra2’s you’ve been eyeballing. (Mortgage? What mortgage?)

Veteran composers released multiple superb scores across all genres this year. Alexandre Desplat’s eclectic output alone comprised no less than five major scores, among them The Grand Budapest Hotel’s manic Eastern European zither-gasms, Unbroken’s soaring emotional arsenal of wartime duress, and the ominous (and very un-Akira Ifukube-esque) percussive concussions of Godzilla.

The equally prolific Tyler Bates, on leave from scoring Rob Zombie and Zack Snyder’s frequent phantasmagorias was not, thankfully, likewise freed from the clutches of writer/director James Gunn. Bates’ orchestral score for Guardians of the Galaxy provides a rousing counterpoint to the film’s freewheeling Seventies-era soundtrack. Not content to have scored the highest-grossing movie of the year (Guardians…, natch), Bates also nailed a forbiddingly spare synth score for Ti West’s Jonestown-y nightmare The Sacrament and, with Joel J. Richard, injected some broody, killshot electronica into the underviewed, ultraviolet Keanu Reeves deathfest John Wick. Overall, a great year for film music. But wait, it gets even better.

Top 5 Soundtracks and Original Scoresof 2014

1) Under the Skin: Mica Levi’s jaggedy, fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-of-the-damned soundscapes are as alien to more traditional film scoring as this film’s unearthly protagonist (Scarlett Johansson) is to humanity itself. Levi employs self-made instruments, electronic loops, and a discordant, unsettling leitmotif that perfectly mirrors the otherness of Under the Skin. The vibe recalls the likes of Ennio Morricone’s score for John Carpenter’s The Thing and Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s classic work on Kubrick’s The Shining, with a hint of Denny Zeitlin’s compositions for the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a smidgen of Howard Shore’s Videodrome psych-out. I'm sensing a theme here.

2) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: How best to create an aural background for an ethereal monochrome movie featuring an Iranian femme-fatale bloodsucker with delusions of Ms. 45 on her mind and posters of Madonna, Lydia Lunch, Elvis, and the Bee Gees plastered all over her first-floor walk-down? What would Carl Theodor Dreyer’s eponymous Vampyr have done? Soundtrack it with what you know! Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour positively drenches her girl (Sheila Vand) in spooky yet often oddly life-affirming tracks from the likes of Portland’s spaghetti Western fanatics Federale, melancholy Iranian rock outfit Radio Tehran, and ex-Tehranian world beaters Kiosk. Add a dash of death via UK post-punks White Lies and kiss it goodbye with the Armenian folk of Bei Ru. Unkillable.

3) Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s dense, 1970-set satire situates former (current?) Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood’s perfectly noir guitar amongst the memorable embers of the era. The Marketts, Les Baxter, Minnie Riperton, Kyu Nakamoto, and — of courseNeil Young all turn up like clues to a very cool sonic crime. Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” will bust your heart while the film buzzes your head.

4) 20,000 Days on Earth: It’s not every day you’re allowed into Nick Cave’s creative process, but this pseudo-documentary from directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard does just that. Watching Cave write, re-write, fiddle with, record, and finally perform the song “Push the Sky Away” (from the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album of the same name) is a heady, gratifying experience, if not for Cave then certainly for the viewer. Added bonuses include fly-on-the-wall chats between Cave and Kylie Minogue, Einsturzende Neubauten frontman and former Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld, followed by a hellacious, shotgun-bang performance of the grittily nihilistic blues standard “Stagger Lee.” Here’s to another 20,000 days on earth, Mr. Cave.

5) The Guest and Cold in July: Yeah, it’s a twofer, but composers Steve Moore and Jeff Grace (Guest and Cold in July, respectively) are just going to have to share the Best Homage to John Carpenter’s Classic 1980s Film Scores Award. Moore opts to provide the music for director Adam Wingard’s charmingly daft, sci-fi, supersoldier mini-epic, front-loading it with Love & Rockets, Clan of Xymox, and, uh, Stevie B. (Mike Simonetti’s track “The Magician” pulls double duty, lifting as it does from Brad Fiedel’s score for The Terminator.) Grace, a frequent collaborator with Ti West, mostly utilizes his own skills with electronic instrumentation in evoking the sweaty, do-or-die mood of Joe R. Lansdale’s humdinger of a crime novel. (Notably, closing credits are backed by a C&W heartbreaker from Casey Lansdale, Joe R. Lansdale’s daughter.)

Near misses:

Tegan and Sara’s irony-inflected “Everything is Awesome!!!” was just one reason to love The LEGO Movie

Only Lovers Left Alive compiled Jim Jarmusch’s band SQURL with Krautrock stalwarts Neu! and former Foetus-scraper J.G. Thirlwell into one of the darkest true-love mixtapes ever.

Gregg Araki has never been a soundtrack slouch, and his White Bird in a Blizzard is even more proof, were such a thing necessary: The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Soft Cell, and Cocteau Twins slash and sway you back to where you were when you were actually part of The Doom Generation, while composers Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd amp up the lovely sadness quotient.

Guardians of the Galaxy: “Awesome Mix: Vol. 1.” Truly awesome.

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Top 5 Film Scores and Soundtracks 2014, Top 10s 2014, Film Scores and Soundtracks, Guardians of the Galaxy, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Nick Cave, Mica Levi, Under the Skin, The Guest, Cold in July, John Carpenter, Inherent Vice, 20,000 Dys on Earth, Only Lovers Left Alive, White Bird in a Blizzard

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