“I can write songs, I’ve had songs in movies, but I can’t compose film scores, you know?”
For a man who took an awful lot of LSD, Brian Wilson here raises an interesting point: where does music for film end and music in film begin? What effect does writing specifically for a film have on a songwriter and can a great score also be interesting outside of the film it was scored for?
There are, of course, plenty of people who’ve crossed the two worlds, one look at this year’s Oscar nominations throws up the names of Sufjan Stevens and Jonny Greenwood, who it would be fair to say know a thing or two about making really good music. At the heart of the debate seems to be the issue of just what is the point of a film score, compared to a song for a song’s sake. Perhaps it comes down to the aim of the writer: when writing a piece of music for film, you’re attempting to capture the essence of a particular moment, you’re writing to enhance a vision that already exists. That is hugely different to a more traditional song which is attempting to create something entirely from scratch. It’s perhaps equivalent to an artist working on commission as opposed to creating something entirely of their own imagination.
This is not to detract from the skill of a soundtrack writer, one only need to watch the first ten minutes of There Will Be Blood to see how much the film is enhanced by the perfectly judged musical accompaniment, yet in the same way the film would not work without the music, the music would not work without the film. The two are intrinsically linked and inseparable, to be judged and appreciated as a whole.
A band who know a thing or two about film making are Long Island’s Cloud, and in particular their chief songwriter, Tyler Taormina. The band recently returned from a few years of silence with their superb third album, Plays With Fire, released on the Audio Antihero label. A nine song study into the passing of time, a musing on ageing, creativity and facing up to a sometimes uncertain future.
An always eclectic songwriter, Tyler shows no sign of reducing his multitude of creative outlets. Plays With Fire is a record that seems to take on a multitude of styles but with repeated themes and Tyler’s omnipresent, apparently polarising vocal, it always makes sense. Whether tapping into the shuffling, dense-pop of the Animal Collective-like Wildfire, or sharing soaring, classic-pop as brilliant as Comet Happer, with its almost Clapton like guitar solo, Tyler’s songwriting is strong enough to always make sense as part of the bigger picture.
There are moments on this record where the darkness lingers, where the self-doubt seems to almost engulf the voice at the heart of it all, yet just around the corner from every downbeat moment is a surge of positivity. The record ebbs and flows through moods and styles, yet never offers a conclusion. Perhaps it’s best surmised by a lyric from the excellent Heartfluttered, “Well, yes, you are fucked up,you may always be this way, but the trick is to know when it’s okay.” An introduction or a farewell, Plays With Fire is a triumph, Cloud’s most fully realised and important record to date.
Today, Tyler has been kind enough to put together a mixtape for us that combines his passion for both cinema and music, featuring the likes of Leonard Cohen, The Mamas & Papas, and yes, Aerosmith.
I’ve been making music since I was eight years old and making movies since I was twelve. These two practices have literally always been going hand in hand in my life— so why not make a little playlist to feature the love of both. These are ten songs that either reference cinematic gems or were featured in. Notes below on what the relationships are.
1 – “Porque Te Vas” by Jeanette
Featured in the incredible and enigmatic film Cria Cuervos by Carlos Saura. This song repeats several times in the film as young girl Ana (played by the brilliant presence of Ana Torrent) is struck with a morbid obsession at a very young age. The song is absolutely badass and opened the doors for me to this wonderful artist who has other hits like “Oye Mamá Oye Papá” and “El Muchacho de los Ojos Tristes.” The film is as good as the song, maybe even better.
2 – “California Dreamin” by The Mamas and the Papas
This song is infectious and obviously a masterpiece. But maybe you didn’t realize how cool it was if you’ve never seen Chungking Express by Wong Kar-wai. Shot in just a few weeks during a creative block on a much bigger scale film, this movie emanates sheer energy and creativity. It’s frantically follows several goofy and lonely characters in an urban portrait of alienation. In this backdrop, icons like Coca Cola and pop songs from the states offer a refuge, however unsettling.
3 – “Cucucurrucu Paloma” by Caetano Veloso [not the string version]
This song is so good that it appears in at least four movies to my knowledge. One by Wong Kar-wai actually and another in the Oscar lauded Moonlight which is a Wong Kar-wai reference, but neither come half as close to its use under Pedro Almodóvar, the flamboyant cinema master of Spain. In this soapy drama of unruly desires and bulls striking at full force, there is a moment of great tenderness. A moment where the legend himself, Brazilian hero, Caetano Veloso and his backing band perform this folk tune to a staggering degree. It’s easily one of my favorite scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen.
4 – “I’ve Told Every Little Star” by Linda Scott
Only the mind of David Lynch can see the horror hiding behind the veneer of 50’s and 60’s pop hits. This song to me, is the very center of his late career home run Mulholland Dr.. Lynch implements a conspiratorial pyramid whose structure will never be fully understood or unveiled— just like homies Pynchon and Rivette. Well the pyramid may go unseen but in this mobius strip of a narrative it goes heard and it is as enrapturing as it is haunting. One of my favorite syncs ever.
5 – “Winter Lady” by Leonard Cohen
I feel like this movie, McCabe & Mrs Miller, which has held steady residence in my top 5, was made in part by Leonard Cohen as much as it was Robert Altman. I can’t have one without the other anymore. I didn’t realize that anything could improve upon the Songs of Leonard Cohen album until I met this film years ago. What can I say about it? Other than that the movie is perfect, the work of the divine and a perfect immersion into another world. There are countless flourishes of tenderness here and almost all of them are credited to Leonard Cohen swooping in incessantly.
6 – “Le Tourbillon” by Jeanne Moreau
The late the great Jeanne Moreau who I love very much. She’s seen a healthy serving of cinematic gems and jewels and always takes the frame by force. Her look is so distinct, beautiful but not always pretty, sweet and dark all at once. I’ve only seen Jules and Jim once and it was many years ago but I’ve probably listened to this song at least two hundred times. I think the first time I heard it I listened to it thirty times in a row.
7 – “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith
The opening credits song to one of the great American films and loyal descendent of the mixtape films which I’ll lay out for you. I think it began originally with The Last Picture Show by Peter Bogdonavich— I mean genealogically. That film doesn’t feature much music but then comes American Graffiti by Star Wars mastermind and sell out George Lucas. Don’t get me wrong here, I love American Graffiti and I believe that Dazed and Confused is its star child. The movie opens with a car cruising in a school lot with a joint being rolled inside of it to this tune. The cuts to black with the opening title cards is cool AF and the movie only propels that tone to unbelievable heights as it drifts from song to song, dream to dream. Damn.
8 – “Valerie” by Broadcast
Okay, so first pick here that wasn’t actually featured in a movie, but it does feature one of my favorites Valerie and Her Week of Wonders borrowing its theme and attributing lyrics in reference to the plot and themes. I’m always blown away by Broadcast’s production value and aesthetic sensibility. This is a wonderful song and not just because it references the great Valerie and Her Week of Wonders but because it takes on its own appeal as a total dream. Just a disclosure about the film, it’s as weird as it gets, slightly pornographic and totally haunting. But at its heart, this Czech trophy is a story about coming of age, growing into the wonders of the body and the intruders who ogle over them, and the outside world shifting before your eyes.
9 – “Afro Cuban Bebop” by Joe Strummer
The end credits song for I Hired A Contract Killer which I think is actually Kaurismaki’s best. The film is such a perfect container for his artifice, his charms, and the will of his characters to keep on persevering through oppression. And who better to lead the show but fuckin’ Jean-Pierre Léaud!? Talking hilariously in English?! This is one of my favorite end credit syncs, so much so that I used it as temp end credits for my own film and got super sad when I realized it couldn’t stay. There’s a wistful air of zen here. The track alone brought me straight out of a tough time. Love love love it.
10 – “Blue Skied an’ Clear” by Slowdive
All right. You might not believe me but I’ll admit it here on fortherabbits.net that there was a duration of time when I wasn’t sure if I liked Gregg Araki— or even thought he was any good! It was during my first viewing of The Doom Generation the second installment of the apocalypse trilogy by one of my biggest heroes. Well, it’s a trashy B-movie, that’s the point. For a moment, you can’t be sure what separates a film like this from the many other silly and often vacuous low brow films about teen angst. Well, when the end credits song rolled, it all clicked. But not only that, I was seized to stillness on my chair, in my living room. I turned the light on and had to shake myself back into the moment. I felt like I’d known this song before— that it had been living inside of me from a young age. In that moment, Slowdive clicked, Araki clicked, and life was a little bit better…. the end.
Plays With Fire is out now via Audio Antihero. Click HERE for more information on Cloud.