Saturday, September 5, 2009

#117. 'Yet my hands are shaking'

Air "Playground Love"

The odd thing about pop music in the 00s is that we seemed to retreat from movies as a vehicle for delivering a hit song. Sure, there were still the blatant cash-grab soundtracks and their attendant singles, but it didn't seem anywhere near as prevalent as the decade pushed forward for a single released specifically in conjunction with the latest blockbuster to overtake the charts (of course I say this as Linkin Park just did this again with that song from the Transformers 2 soundtrack...every theory is flawed.) Part of this probably comes from the fact that soundtracks got complacent, always pulling from the same pile of old and new standards for their particular genre of movie or drawing their musical accompaniment from whatever was already popular at the time, but part of me thinks that it has to do with how as the decade went on the most well-received movies were the ones that didn't necessarily bother with the typical soundtrack. The preordained blockbusters did, sure, but more and more films went for a simple score as opposed to the pop music wallpaper that became the norm for so many films.

There also seemed to be many more single artist score/soundtracks popping up than I'd noticed before, especially ones by artists outside the mainstream. Air's soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides was one of the first ones I caught wind of, and while the idea of having one single artist of a non-classical background lay down the diegetic score for a movie struck me as a great idea I was resistant to this particular one. See, I liked Moon Safari well enough, never found it to be a masterpiece or anything but thought it was good for the occasional homework background spin, but the best parts of it were the pop songs, the obvious singles like "Kelly Watch the Stars" and stuff. The idea of them doing a movie soundtrack would seem to point towards more soundscape-y stuff, at which they weren't as good at to my ears.

Then I saw the movie. It's not a perfect film by any means, but the soundtrack was absolutely perfect in context. It had a sustained mood of depressed romanticism that pervaded the whole movie and complemented the quiet tragedy of the characters. It might well be the best part of the movie, though I haven't seen it in about 5-6 years so that opinion might be different now. the key thing though was that the fact that it was a soundtrack didn't stop them from pulling off an ace pop single. "Playground Love" is tonally opposite from the singles of Moon Safari, sounding more like the saddest piece of lounge-jazz ever recorded than the logical continuation of their first album, but the melancholia is absolutely intoxicating.

I'd have thought that, out of context, any of the songs would lose something, the same way that singles off well sequenced and/or concept albums never seem as good on their own as they do in their proper place. "Playground Love" would be the obvious exception, but I'm still a bit taken aback by how well it stands on its own. The mood it fosters in the film carries over no matter the context, sao deeply sad yet hopelessly romantic at the same time. The elements that Air use to color it, the moody saxophone solos, the strings, the mildly disconnected vocals, all fall so perfectly into place that it never feels like anything less than an immaculate single. The context may help it considerably, but the construction allows it to stand on its own.

Coming up tomorrow:My 'this is not emo' boilerplate gets re-appraised with the addition of a question mark or YEAH!

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