When it came to compilations, the ’00s were flush with comebacks. Kevin Shields returned for Lost in Translation. Oh Brother Where Art Thou? completed Ralph Stanley’s long-overdue crossover from his gospel-bluegrass career that had never faltered. Wes Anderson re-ignited a few languishing songwriting careers with his perfect placement of lost gems.
But I’m not looking to highlight things like those comps, or like Johnny Greenwood’s spectacular score for There Will Be Blood, but rather scores that are less lauded, rebate-bin relegated, out-of-print, or all three. Again, I’m steering clear of compilations and sticking to unfairly unheralded scores, despite the decade’s flat-out stupendous compilations for movies by Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes and This is England), Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Caller), and Jim Jarmusch (Dead Flowers). Not to mention the 24-hour Party People comp or the In the Mood for Love comp.
Tindersticks –Claire Denis Film Scores 1996 -2009
Are you not hip to Tindersticks? Their day job albums include the darkest proto-lounge pop you’ll find, a country-inflected, Serge Gainsbourg-like infusion of guitar, violin, post-rock and Lee Hazlewood sardonics. OK, that might not make sense, but Tindersticks’ longevity stems from their impossibly un-classifiable music – shit, they’re even funky when they feel like it (confession: I met them in 1992 when they were still called Asphalt Ribbons, after a show in the crypt of a London church. I had no idea who I was meeting).
Tindersticks’s scores for the still-good-even-when-she’s-not-great Claire Denis (oh, Beau Travail; see her films, now, if you haven’t) are a study in versatilty and depth. All of it can be found the five record set Claire Denis Film Scores 1996 -2009 ((Nénette et Boni, Trouble Every Day, 35 Shots of Rum, White Material and Les Salauds). Would that they would take that collection and slam it down on a Hollywood desk, we’d all be richer for it.
Robert Pollard – Bubble (2005)
Soderbergh set his completely self-done and rigorously amateurish (in a good way) Bubble in Ohio. Because it’s Ohio and because he’s a fan, Soderbergh enlisted Columbus-native Pollard for the score. Incapable of not recording something new, Pollard delivers a short set of instrumentals and pop nuggets. Although “I’m No Child” is superior, this is may be for fans only – but: bet you didn’t know Pollard scored a movie.
Yo La Tengo – They Shoot, We Score (2008) and The Sounds of The Sounds of Science (2004)
Know this: although Yo La Tengo’s soundtrack work is legion, only The Sound of the Sounds of Science avoids cannibalizing content from their regular albums. They composed it for Jean Painlevé‘s eight short films of underwater exploration, which I have not seen, but the music does a swell job filling a room on its own. That’s not to say all of They Shoot We Score, which collects their work for Old Joy (2006), Junebug (2005), Game 6 (2005) and Shortbus (2006) isn’t original – much of it is, and much of it could be included in their best overall work, like their excellent “Leaving Home” from Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy. I love Reichardt’s films, by the way. Rex Reed recently accused her of making “bland, low-budget films about various hidden aspects of women’s lives they are reluctant to reveal, then take forever to do so.” He’s not only wrong overall, he also must have missed Old Joy, possibly the deepest, most stunning movie about male friendships I’ve ever seen.
Dirty Three/Warren Ellis – Praise (score released 2000)
With Nick Cave, Dirty Three violist/multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis gets justifiably big props for their award nominated and winning scores for The Proposition (2005), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), and The Road (2010). They will win an Oscar someday, if not soon. But it’s the smaller, relatively unseen Praise that ranks as a rare gem, a combo of pre-existing Dirty Three tracks and new work by Ellis along or with the Dirty Three: guitarist/artist Mick Tuner and drummer Jim White, both master musicians in their own right (check out Xyloris White). Dirty Three have always been as equally moving as they are incendiary. Praise is also one of the first times Ellis prominently abandons his violin for his piano work, which would only grow more perfect in the coming years.
I mean, my God:
DJ Shadow – Dark Days (2000, score released ’02)
I saw Dark Days in the theater, and immediately wanted my hands on DJ Shadow’s soundtrack music. I waited two years, found only the main theme on vinyl, and spared no expense and still won’t. Online descriptions state most of the music was taken from Shadow’s already-released music by 1999, but if memory serves, and it often doesn’t, I heard music in the film that I’ve never found, by Shadow, and I’m a fan. The movie, by the way, is one of the top docs of the past 20 years, a fitting counterpart to Jennifer Toth’s 1995 book The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City and possibly an inspiration to Colum McCann’s 2003 novel This Side of Brightness.
The Gothic Archies – The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events (2006)
Stephin Merrit’s scores for Eban and Charley (2002) and Pieces of April ( 2003) are fine enough. But the live one is his music for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books, under his Gothic Archies moniker. That’s right, it’s a score for a middle-grade children’s series of novels, and one of the best, an anti-Harry Potter, a sharp parody of the “orphan” genre. Merritt is friends with the man behind Snicket, novelist Daniel Handler. Wouldn’t it be nice if the forthcoming Netflix series based on these books used Merritt’s kooky, snide songs? We’ll see.
Calexico – Committed (2000)
By 2000, Calexico was three superb albums into their own thing and no longer the rhythm section of the excellent Giant Sand. A duo before it was cool to be a duo, they knew enough to add musicians as they saw fit, from time to time, to flesh out their nylon-acoustic -and-brush-drums Mariachi-rock (I saw them kill at an underattended, 1999 Maxwell’s with a full brass band). The Committed job fell into their laps via new fan and director Lisa Krueger. Released on CD with an equal amount of compiled songs, their mostly instrumental score was exciting for the fact that finally someone had recognized them as a perfect soundtrack band. The film flopped – it didn’t even find distribution. But Calexico’s score, if a tad careful on their part, proved they were more than able. For their real soundtrack score triumph, head for 2011’s The Guard. Not only a better-than-decent movie, Calexico’s score is perfect for a comic-noir-western set in West Nowhere, Ireland; they infuse their sound with touches of Ennio Morricone and just the right amount of swelling, sad brass.
Peter Gabriel – Long Walk Home/The Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)
Gabriel’s score for this affecting, dark film arrives amid a burst of recording, namely his Ovo work and his Up album, after almost ten years of silence. As an album, it doesn’t include any of the more pop-leaning sounds from Up. I never really preferred that side of him much anyway. It gained its own album title, Long Walk Home, too, as possible indication Gabriel saw it as something independent of the movie. Released on CD as a full score, RPF does include the same deep and percussive atmospherics Gabriel pulled off for his Passion soundtrack for the Last Temptation of Christ. The Philip Noyce-directed film is also good, if heartbreaking, a proven tear-jerker about three kids rebelling against Australia’s horrific, mid-20th century policy of forcibly relocating Aboriginal children away from their families in a hackneyed attempt at integration.
Mogwai – Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait
Whether there’s a movie or not, or whether they’re feeling loud or feeling plaintive, Mogwai is a soundtrack band. Much is made of their score-work with Clint Mansell for Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but their best soundtrack work is their full score for 2006 French soccer documentary Zidane, which followed French superstar Zinedine Zidane during one full game. Zidane is the best French soccer player ever, and one of the best ever, period; like most great soccer players, he had ball-handling abilities that seemed to stop time. The significance of his Algerian heritage was not lost on the French, and he was often played rough, tackled hard, and at least once insulted enough to headbutt an opposing opponent mid-game. Mogwai’s Zidane music feels more alive than their other movie work, which makes sense; word is, they were rushed, at least on tracks that aren’t outtakes from previous albums. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the sometimes brutal beauty of a superior athlete.
Boris/Sun O))) tracks for Limits of Control; Explosions in the Sky – Friday Night Lights; Gallon Drunk – Black Milk; Bjork – Selmasongs; Richard Thompson -Grizzly Man; Mick Harvey – Motion Picture Music ’94 -’05.