Various Artists : Stranger Than Fiction
I’ve never made a list of my all time top 5 dream jobs, but if I were, one of them would have to be in movie soundtracking. Not in mastering, scoring, arranging or anything, but rather being involved in actually planning the songs chosen for the film. Now, a lot of the time, this kind of thing is done by the director himself (just check any of Cameron Crowe or Wes Anderson’s films), and I still have no proof that this job exists in and of itself other than as an added benefit to being involved in other aspects of film. Nonetheless, I think it’d be damn fun. After all, it’s making mix tapes for a living, now isn’t it? That said, a lot of movies have disappointing or pointless soundtracks. Some don’t even emphasize music much at all. But others, like those aforementioned Cameron Crowe or Wes Anderson films, High Fidelity, Easy Rider, Saturday Night Fever, Suburbia, Trainspotting or Lost in Translation, all feature music as prominently, making it just as important, maybe even more, as any other aspect. And I haven’t even gotten into Mancini, Schifrin, Hermann, Nino Rota or John Barry.
The best soundtrack is one that tells part of the story on its own. And without it, the film might seem incomplete. Some critics might not buy into the idea of relying so heavily on music, and that may or may not be pointed directly at Zach Braff, but look at many of the greatest movies of all time, and you’ll find that most of them, if not all, had a soundtrack that was at least memorable, if not essential. I’m not going to say that Stranger Than Fiction is one of the greatest movies of all time. But it is a really good one, quite fun, and definitely one of my favorites of the year. More importantly, it has a great soundtrack, half of it consisting of Britt Daniel compositions, some of them instrumental incidental music co-composed by Brian Reitzell, and some of them tracks culled from Spoon’s last couple of albums. But even existing tracks like “The Way We Get By” and “My Mathematical Mind” make sense in the grand scheme of the movie, reflecting on Harold Crick’s mundane existence as an IRS auditor. There is also a new Spoon song, the nifty “The Book I Write,” which, while it plays at the closing credits, is presented as the first song on the album.
The remainder of the album is a patchwork of new and old gems, ranging from a new Califone track to some post-punk classics like The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” and Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business.” Also included is Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World,” which Will Ferrell actually performs in the film, serenading Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character with the one song he can actually play on guitar. Stranger Than Fiction may not have a soundtrack that’s iconic or generation defining, but these tracks, one can only assume plucked very carefully, merely add to an already good movie, rather than provide a distraction.
Various Artists – The Royal Tenenbaums
Various Artists – Little Miss Sunshine
Spoon – Kill the Moonlight
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.