FourScore Match-Up #18: “What An Incredible Sound You’ve Discovered!”

What An Incredible Sound You've DiscoveredQuirky, off-beat, unique, visionary – these are the terms that best describe this foursome of talented film composers. Offering an eclectic tapestry of sounds to whatever film they’re attached you can bet that you might never have heard anything like their music before and, like attending on obscure film festival, may never hear work like it again. With sounds that are unexpected, out of the norm and layered/remixed in such a way to become something so removed from that typical Hollywood sound the batch of musical craftsmen assembled here today take real pride in their signature compositions. They play by their own rules and utilize found sounds, makeshift instruments and more which are then combined to become something wholly new, innovative and original.

But which composer makes music so monumentally unique that it puts them on the edge of redefining cinematic soundscapes? Is it the plucky tunes, riffs and art school/hipster cool that make David O. Russell’s existential film so much quirky fun? Is it the hybrid sound and small scale brilliance that gives the titular New Jersey Lothario his mojo? Is it the Oscar-winning duo who provided the gritty backdrop to the Facebook founders’ first steps? Or is it the intense, metallic energy that propells the 300 legendary Spartan warriors as they prepare to fight or dine in Hell? Find out below…

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Jon BrionI Heart Huckabees – Jon Brion has a sound about as quirky as Wes Anderson’s sense of humor….hmm, come to think of it, it’s funny that they’ve never worked together, seem like they’d be a good fit. But I digress. Brion has quite a diverse run of films under his belt, yet what is consistent is his knack for grafting a happy go-lucky sound, albeit a skewed one, to some titles with a really dreary outlook on life. I Heart Huckabees is a story about finding the connections in life (even if it seems some connections are really grasping at straws), and Brion, both with songs and music contrast O. Russell’s somewhat depressing story. Yet that’s his strong suit, breathing a satirical bit of child-like wonder and energy into films that are about people who are so grown they’re bored with life. By that token the film and score tell us the key to life is to just go with it and nothing says that better than this line from Track 2: But if you want to spend your day wondering what it’s all about, go and knock yourself out. Bravo Mr. Brion, bravo!

(Favorite Tracks: MondayStrange Bath, and JB’s Blues)

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Nathan Johnson Don Jon – The true auteur in this bunch, Nathan Johnson digs deep and pulls a score so out of left field it suits the conflicted lifestyle of the film’s titular lead character perfectly. Johnson is known for his unique and wholly singular sound but his latest batch of musical alchemy borders on genius. A mixture of, wait for it, quaint Casio-based tunes, with a hefty dash of Skrillex-fused wubba wubba that plays against this classical, almost laughable, backdrop to sounds seemingly culled from films of the Hollywood golden era. Yeah, sounds crazy but it works…well! Now one odd thing about Johnson’s score is that only 6 of the 20 tracks make it past the 1 minute mark which makes it feel like a demo as opposed to an actual album. Still the sounds are varied and yet so concise that halfway through you’re not sure if your MP3 player has advanced to the next album in your playlist or you’re still following this ultra modern, albeit delusional and meat-headed (he’s from Jersey, what’d you expect?) incarnation of Don Juan. Johnson is a chameleon like that.

(Favorite Tracks: The First DateBarbara vs. PornTheme from Don Jon | check out the album on iTunes)

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Trent Reznor

The Social Network – The done and dirty efforts of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deservedly won them an Oscar for Best Score; no one is gonna argue with that. Yet their collection of themes and tunes were so sophisticated, nearly ahead of its time, and finely tailored to the aloof and abrasive Zuckerberg on a quest to put his stamp on the globe that some may still have trouble believing it came from the mind of NIN front man. Though it’s tough to tell who was responsible for what on the album, their collective work resulted in an infectiously primitive computer themed sound (think Wargames with edge) that exists on a heightened and ethereal playing field. The entire soundtrack is like a museum of oddly alluring and mysterious cues which is probably why there hasn’t been a score like it before or since. I mean look what he did to In the Hall of the Mountain King… who saw that coming?

(Favorite Tracks: Hand Covers Bruise, In Motion, Pieces From the Whole)

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Tyler Bates

300 – Yes Tyler Bates may be the odd man in this bout, especially with a sound derivative of Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator but it doesn’t diminish the impact of his innovative score. The film itself plays more like a music video (replete with Snyder’s slow-mo death dances), or even a video game, and as such Bates saw that 300 was not your grandfather’s period piece. So he took chances with the score to push it in ways that matched the story’s modern and edgy visuals. A driving heavy metal guitar leads many tracks but listen to how it flows with and mixes up different world sounds to match the diversity to Xerxes’ army. Travel log that is all too easy and expected you say? Nah, just Bates giving us what he imagined what really propelled the mythic battle of Thermopylae. Now that’s the kind of history lesson we wish we’d have had in high school.

(Favorite Tracks: The Wolf, Cursed by Beauty and The Hot Gates)

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FourScore Ruling:

Each of the above mentioned artists exudes originality in spades but there’s only one, well two really, who achieve true unparalleled diversity and that’s Reznor and Ross. That’s not to say they were pitted against slouches. In a way Reznor/Ross got lucky as there were few who could compete with their raw intensity in 2011 which undoubtedly won over the Academy voters. But trust us, Bates, Brion and especially Johnson with the short but white-hot career he’s had will surely take loads of accolades if not a few Golden man in the coming years.

What Reznor and Ross did was provide more of a “playlist” than actual score or theme. All their cues coexist with the story, not drive it or do any heavy lifting and that’s one of the main reasons why it works so well. It’s moody and atmospheric (this is a David Fincher film after all) and it’s easy to imagine it was what every Facebook programmer was listening to when writing the millions of lines of code that eventually changed the digital world. In short Reznor/Ross wove their musical magic with such flair and style they’ll have imitators trying to capture and replicate their winning sound for years….or a slew of interns knocking at their doors.

The Social Network _ Eisenberg

Zuckerberg looks smug because he’s conquered the Internet but can he claim to be an Oscar Winner? Yeah, didn’t think so…