by Jimmy Draper
That whole music-is-the-sound-track-to-your-life cliché is shit. Sure, music captures experiences as much as it creates them. And many of us will go to our graves remembering specific circumstances by the songs that were stuck in our skulls at the time, but real sound tracks have to be more thought-out than merely documenting whatever happens to be on the radio at any given moment. Unfortunately, most sound tracks seem plagued by such haphazard organization, tossing together random songs and random scenes, hoping the slapdash selections work.
James Bolton’s Eban and Charley sidesteps that mix-and-match death trap by enlisting the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt to score the entire film. The result is a subtle, impressively cohesive collection of instrumentals, quirky sound effects (clocks, zippers) and catchy pop songs that set the stage for the film’s controversial love affair. Eban ultimately succeeds, however, because it also works entirely on its own, creating a melancholic, almost nostalgic atmosphere that’s moving even without visual accompaniment.
The sound track to Orion Walker’s Dean Quixote doesn’t fare quite so well. Including Guided by Voices, Bettie Serveert and a handful of Elephant 6 members, the album’s contributors have all recorded some good-to-great pop tracks that inspired the film or appeared in it. With every other film mining this same alt-rock territory these days, however, a sound track must offer more than big names. And with no thematic or sonic ties to bind the songs, Dean sounds like little more than a long-lost mix tape compiled in the late ’90s.
Unlike the dramas Eban and Dean, Justin Mitchell’s Songs for Cassavetes is an underground documentary that charts the last decade’s punk-indie scene, including live performances, studio tracks and dialogue from artists such as Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, Tullycraft and the Make-Up.
And while the sound quality of the live recordings may often be shoddy at best, the bands’ enthusiasm more than makes up for it, and like a bootleg of your first punk show, the sound track wonderfully captures the documentary’s DIY spirit and belief that, at least for the artists included here, music isn’t the sound track to their lives — it is their lives.
E-mail Jimmy Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.