Modern Soundtracks: Scores that Push Boundaries – Pt. 1

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Cover Photo by Steve Busch

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

Drive (2011) – Cliff Martinez

Synthwave music found a new audience thanks to the neo-noir thriller Drive. Cliff Martinez‘s pulsating electronic score perfectly captures the film’s neon-drenched atmosphere and the enigmatic cool of Ryan Gosling’s character. Tracks like “Nightcall” by Kavinsky became a surprise hit, showcasing the soundtrack’s ability to transcend the film itself.

Her (2013) – Arcade Fire

Departing from traditional orchestral scores, the sci-fi romance Her (2013) features an original score by the critically acclaimed indie rock band Arcade Fire. Their melancholic electronic soundscapes perfectly capture the isolation and yearning experienced by the film’s protagonist, Theodore, in his relationship with artificial intelligence. Tracks like “The Moon Song” have become iconic, blurring the line between film score and standalone music.

Under the Skin (2013) – Mica Levi

Experimental and unsettling, Mica Levi‘s score for Under the Skin is a sonic embodiment of the film’s alien protagonist. The atonal string arrangements and distorted electronic elements create a sense of unease and disorientation, mirroring the film’s exploration of identity and otherness. While challenging for some listeners, Levi’s score is a masterclass in using music to create a truly unsettling atmosphere.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat‘s score for Wes Anderson’s whimsical masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a delightful blend of Eastern European folk music, playful orchestral flourishes, and a touch of vintage Hollywood grandeur. It perfectly complements the film’s meticulously crafted aesthetic, transporting viewers to a bygone era of luxurious hotels and eccentric characters.

Desplat, a frequent collaborator with Anderson, understood the director’s vision for a score that would be both playful and nostalgic. He masterfully incorporated traditional instruments like the balalaika, a stringed instrument with a bright, twangy sound, and the cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer known for its rich, percussive tones. These instruments evoke the film’s fictional setting, the Republic of Zubrowka, a whimsical Eastern European nation.

Interstellar (2014) – Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer is another composer known for creating innovative and immersive soundscapes. His score for Interstellar is a mind-bending exploration of space, time, and gravity. Zimmer utilizes ticking clocks, drones, and organ chords to create a sense of awe and existential wonder, perfectly capturing the vastness and mystery of the cosmos.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Junkie XL

High-octane action films often rely on bombastic scores, but Mad Max: Fury Road takes a different approach. Junkie XL’s score is a wild, percussive journey through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The pounding drums and distorted guitars create a sense of urgency and chaos, perfectly mirroring the film’s relentless action sequences.

Dunkirk (2017) – Hans Zimmer

A master of reinvention, Hans Zimmer delivers a powerful and unconventional score for Dunkirk. The film relies heavily on ticking clocks, suspenseful string swells, and the iconic “BRAAAM!” sound effect, creating a sense of urgency and claustrophobia. Zimmer’s use of minimalism and manipulation of silence allows the sounds of war – the roar of engines, the crash of bombs – to take center stage, further immersing the audience in the chaos of Dunkirk.

Black Panther (2018) – Ludwig Göransson

In recent years, Afrobeat music has made a powerful entrance into Hollywood scores. Ludwig Göransson‘s Grammy-winning soundtrack for Black Panther is a prime example. The pulsating rhythms and traditional African instruments create a vibrant and unique soundscape that celebrates the film’s Afrofuturist aesthetic. Tracks like “Killmonger” perfectly embody the villain’s ruthless ambition, while “Wakanda” showcases the majesty of the technologically advanced African nation.

Mandy (2018) – Johann Johannsson

Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson tragically passed away shortly after the release of Mandy, but his score for this Nicolas Cage revenge thriller remains a testament to his brilliance. The music is a haunting blend of choral vocals, electronic drones, and distorted guitars, reflecting the film’s descent into psychedelic madness. Tracks like “Death by Slow Fire” perfectly capture the raw emotions of grief and rage that fuel the protagonist’s journey.

The French Dispatch (2021) – Alexandre Desplat (again!)

Continuing his successful partnership with Wes Anderson, Desplat delivers another whimsical score for The French Dispatch. This time, he incorporates French jazz influences and playful woodwind melodies, perfectly capturing the film’s homage to mid-20th-century American magazines.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) – Carter Burwell

This darkly comic Irish drama features a score by Carter Burwell that blends traditional Irish folk music with brooding orchestral arrangements. The result is a unique and atmospheric soundscape that reflects the film’s blend of humor and tragedy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) – Son Lux

This mind-bending sci-fi comedy boasts a score by the experimental indie rock band Son Lux. Their music is a chaotic blend of electronic beats, Asian-inspired melodies, and quirky sound effects, perfectly mirroring the film’s frenetic energy and exploration of alternate realities.

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.

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