These days, the term “cinematic” is thrown around a lot to describe artists with lofty musical goals. But how many could actually carry an entire film with their tunes?
While there are plenty of artists proficient at cultivating a mood and holding it over the duration of an album, (bands with acute spatial awareness and a keen sense for creating dramatic tension with their work) scoring a 90-minute feature length is a whole other can of worms.
For a small minority of musical artists however, film makes sense. It’s a way to break out of the constraints of the album format and express one’s creative vision in a new, exciting way. Below are 10 exceptional musicians who have successfully made the jump from indie music to film.
Artist: Daft Punk
Film: Tron: Legacy
Featuring 22 pieces of music, the soundtrack rose all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard charts in 2012. While the critical response was mixed, there’s no question that the selection of Daft Punk for the soundtrack (two dudes that already dress like their part of the Tron universe), was a brilliant bit of marketing for the franchise reboot.
Artist: Karen O
Film: Where The Wild Things Are
Hired by Spike Jonze—her boyfriend at the time—Karen O contributed a handful of twee, acoustic-guitar heavy tracks to Maury Sendak’s iconic tale of youthful adventure. While most remember the slowed-down version of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” used in the previews, it was Karen O’s “All is Love,” a song co-written by Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmate Nick Zinner, that was eventually nominated for a Grammy.
Artist: Owen Pallett & William Butler
In a film that is—among other things—about the power that sound holds in shaping emotional connection (especially digitally produced sound), Pallett and Butler’s gorgeously understated, piano-heavy score serves as a fitting—if counterintuitive—backdrop. Nominated for Best Original Score at the 86th Academy Awards, critics seemed to agree, (a writer from Time Magazine noting that Pallett and Butler’s soundtrack is “a strikingly human and organic collection of music that keeps the film grounded in reality”).
Artist: Trent Reznor
Film: The Social Network, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
What can’t Trent Reznor do? After winning Best Original Score for The Social Network, the Nine Inch Nails frontman and increasingly in-demand film composer (alongside production partner Atticus Ross) reconnected with director David Fincher for the moody Scandinavian thriller, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Artist: Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo)
Film: Billy Madison, The Royal Tenenbaums
Devo are not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill band. Then again neither is Wes Anderson your run-of-the-mill director. Working frequently with Anderson, Mothersbaugh has scored more than half of his feature films including: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. None of it would’ve been possible however, if Adam Sandler hadn’t given the former Devo frontman a chance on Billy Madison.
Film: The Virgin Suicides
Wistful and restrained, Sofia Coppola’s full-length directorial debut benefits greatly from the French duo’s delicate, electronica-heavy score. Starring Josh Hartnett and a teenaged Kirsten Dunst, the 2000 film established Sofia Coppola as a director to watch while confirming Air as kings of ethereal mood-setting.
Artist: Chemical Brothers
Hired by director Joe Wright to score his 2011 thriller Hanna, (starring Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett), the British big beat pioneers provide a frenetic soundtrack to the neck-breaking, coming-of-age story. Hunger Games or no Hunger Games; Hanna is still the best film about an adolescent girl with killer gifts.
Artist: Johnny Greenwood
Film: There Will Be Blood
Deemed ineligible for an Academy Award due to its use of pre-existing music, the score to 2007’s brilliant, Paul Thomas Anderson-directed There Will Be Blood, was nonetheless nominated for a Grammy. Heavy on strings, percussion, and Greenwood’s beloved Ondes-Martenot, the soundtrack is a grand, dizzying mix of Brahm-inspired early classical art music and an experimental dissonance.
Film: We Bought a Zoo
With We Bought a Zoo, Cameron Crowe and Jónsi took their relationship (started when in 2001 when Crowe included three songs by Iceland’s Sigur Ros on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack) to the next level. When asked by a journalist about his decision to hire Jónsi, Crowe described the choice as “only natural”, since “Jónsi has been a part of the making of We Bought A Zoo from the very beginning.”
Artist: Mica Levi (Micachu and the Shapes)
Film: Under the Skin
If you don’t know Mica Levi, you probably will soon. The classically trained experimental musician (known by her stage name Micachu), was responsible for Under the Skin’s creeping three-note motif that’ll stay with you for days after watching Jonathan Glazer’s haunting independent film about a man-eating alien in the shape of Scarlett Johansson. Without a doubt, one of the eeriest soundtracks (and most unsettling films) you’ll experience this year.