Sex Bob-omb

After watching Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (again) last night, an odd connection formed itself in my brain. Despite being decades apart, the aforementioned Edgar Wright project shares a huge similarity to one of my other favourite films, The Blues Brothers. Think about it; both are born out of the comedy styles of their times (internet and video game meme humour and Saturday Night Live sketch comedy respectively), they share an oddly non-naturalistic feel (incredibly well-choreographed fight scenes or incredibly over the top chase sequences) and, most importantly with regards to making this post the slightest bit relevant to this blog, both films centre their emotional and narrative hearts around an affectionate ribbing of their chosen style of music.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi created their characters out of a mutual love for all things blues, gospel and soul, adopting and affecting the clichés, mannerisms and odd back stories (in this case, being brought up in a Catholic orphanage by Cab Calloway) of their favourite performers. Bryan Lee O’Malley and Edgar Wright created a text saturated with the essence of modern indie – obscure references, tongue-in-cheek hipster (all) knowingness and a soundtrack created by Beck and Nigel Godrich, perhaps two of the most prominent, well-known and downright cool indie musicmakers of recent years. Each film shares an unbridled love of the foibles as well as the successes of their genres they portray, and it’s that willingness to mock as well as memorialise that makes each a true celebration of their music.

Maybe that’s why each has become, or (in Scott Pilgrim‘s case) is becoming, a cult film – that love of a niche is in itself inaccessible to a wider audience. But then again, maybe that’s the point, these films wouldn’t be what they are if they appealed outside of their own genre, because they’d lose any sense of that knowing affection that makes them so endearing, or the music just so good.

The Blues Brothers – She Caught The Katy (YSI)
Sex Bob-omb – Summertime (YSI)

So we’re back here again, are we? You’re probably already tired of thousands of bloody lists, but I’m afraid you’ll have to stomach yet another if you’re staying around these particular parts of the internet for now. So here goes; my top 20 albums of the year, hastily assembled and even more hastily relistened to in order to form a vague order. Enjoy!

20. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldOST

Yes, I know, it doesn’t really count, but there’s enough original material on here to keep it at least vaguely valid in the grand scheme of things. You could criticise this collection for being much of a muchness, populated by hipster-friendly, retro-cool sounds, not to mention filled with throwaway Beck tracks. On the other hand, you could say that’s the whole point and, you know, Beck wrote those tracks. In my opinion, this is the most endlessly enjoyable collections of film music I’ve heard, treading a fine line between “jukebox” soundtrack and original compositions beautifully and ebbing and flowing just the way a “proper” album should, with very few low points (‘Under My Thumb’ is shit). The fact that even when I knew every track on this album and was watching the film for the third time, every track still sounded perfectly placed and never detracted from the film’s overall tone is testament to just how right Nigel Godrich and Edgar Wright got this.

Sex Bob-omb – Garbage Truck (YSI)

19. Vampire WeekendContra

This is more or less here on the strength of its singles. As an album, it lost the singular sound I came to adore from the self-titled debut, and failed to develop its own, but more than delivered on the sheer effervescent excellence of their best songwriting moments. ‘Cousins’, ‘White Sky’ and ‘Giving Up The Gun’ (and, to a lesser extent, ‘Horchata’) have been all over the place this year, and with good reason – they’re fucking amazing pop songs. I still can’t listen to the initial drumbeat of the former without smiling and jerking about like some sort of electroconvulsive arse. Maybe it’ll take more time (I didn’t give it much of a chance after its January release), but the only reason this isn’t right up there amongst the very best of the year is because nothing quite matched those incredible moments it offered only a few times throughout.

Vampire Weekend – White Sky (YSI)

18. The Savings and LoanToday I Need Light

I’m not going to lie, I’ve barely listened to this yet, but I’ve already taken to it completely. Only released this month, this duo’s much protracted debut (it’s been six years in the making) possesses the kind of melancholy only the truly Scottish can muster. Anger is completely absent as the haunting sound of Martin Donnelly’s deep voiced,  poetic lyricism spreads slowly over quiet but carefully thought-out instrumentation. There’s something of The National in here, and not just through vocal similarity; this is the sound of an ordinary man almost burdened by his own artistic nature and ability to express the feelings of  many. A soundtrack to strong drinks (courtesy of the brilliant intro to ‘Catholic Boys in the Rain’) and prematurely dark days.

The Savings and Loan – Pale Water (YSI)

17. Timber TibreTimber Timbre

Technically a re-release, but I only heard it this year so it’s going in, all right? This group of creepy, folk-based songs act just as well as mini fairytales – the kind the Grimms tried to get rid of. Taylor Kirk’s warbling vocals articulate a kind of non-specific terror that never seems to stop closing in, lending the whole affair a tone that’s adopted perfectly by the instrumentation. Distant organ, staccato, reverb-heavy guitar riffs and the briefest hints of fiddle contribute throughout, aiding every slimy little feeling Kirk wants to wrest from you. It’s a masterclass in emotional music, it might just not be the emotions you want to experience.

Timber Timbre – Lay Down In The Tall Grass (YSI)

16. Johnny FlynnBeen Listening

This wasn’t quite the follow-up I’d hoped for from London’s best Shakespearian actor/folk pin-up, but it grew on me from its release onwards. On first listen, I was pretty aggrieved at how little cohesion I thought it had. Moving towards a more eclectic sound, the album utilises upbeat trumpet, electric(!) guitar and even a bossa nova beat (on ‘Churlish May’). Sitting smugly and listening, I thought ‘Ha! He’s abandoned his folky roots, the bastard,’ but after quite a few more listens (thanks to my girlfriend’s obsessed housemates) I feel like the bastard now. While there’s definitely been an expansion in ideas, he always returns to the core of what he does best. For every bolshy ‘Kentucky Pill’, there’s a beautifully harmonised, quiet ‘Amazon Love’ to back it up. It may not flow perfectly, but it’s certainly a great set of songs.

Johnny Flynn – Howl (YSI)

Video game references, gin and tonic and Canada – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is my kind of movie. But, as you may have guessed, the music is also a huge part of the move for me, and I can’t think of many films with a better musical team, and a more satisfying output. Nigel Godrich (the fucking Radiohead producer, no less) executive produced the OST as well as wrote the score, there are tracks from Broken Social Scene, Metric and Frank Black and freaking Beck wrote the songs for Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb.

It’s the final point that makes this soundtrack so good, as it spans the line between a ‘jukebox’ soundtrack and a traditional score. These are songs written specifically to fit the movie’s style and mood, but crafted by an established ‘alternative’ artist and played by the cast. It’s a trick that very few movies could pull off without become ridiculous parodies of themselves, but these songs, and the band itself, are pitched absolutely perfectly – youthful, energetic and possibly lacking in talent.

Of course, none of this would matter if Sex Bob-omb weren’t any good, but something tells me that if they were a real band, I’d have a soft spot for them. These are short, sharp shocks of songs, bass-heavy (that being Scott’s instrument, of course) and complemented perfectly by Beck’s ludicrous lyrics. They’re well placed between more esoteric (and genuine) punk cuts like Black Lips’ ‘O Katrina!’ and Blood Red Shoes’ ‘It’s Getting Boring By The Sea’ on the OST and whilst they might all sound the same, well, hey, that’s sort of the point.

This has been a good year for film music, what with Kick Ass‘ shot in the arm for jukebox soundtracks hitting early and the Devil’s own vuvuzelas blasting their way through Inception, but I think Pilgrim takes the top prize so far – it’s genuinely one of the most enjoyable soundtracks (and, whisper it, maybe even general albums) of the year.

Sex Bob-omb – Threshold (YSI)