This week’s question comes from A.V. Club reader Rob Grizzly:
“To celebrate its 10th anniversary, I was recently listening to and reading up on Evanescence’s album The Open Door. Looking at her process, I came to the conclusion the band’s frontwoman, Amy Lee, could make some great movie scores if she wanted to. My question is: Which musical artist (that hasn’t already done so) do you think would make a great film composer?”
Although his songs have popped up on a couple of soundtracks—most memorably Moral Orel, and a fourth-season episode of The Walking Dead—Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle has never gone the full Reznor and written an entire film score. Which is too bad, because Darnielle has everything you’d want for the soundtrack of the better type of indie rom-com (think Submarine or, God-willing, a Wes Anderson film): deeply emotional melodies, a well-defined sound with a lot of variety embedded within it, and lyrics that mix humor, poetry, and narrative in roughly equal portions. Just imagining a wise-beyond-his-years cancer patient jamming out to something like Darnielle’s “This Year,” or sarcastic young lovers falling for each other to the tune of “No Children,” has my cynical old heart racing a little bit, luring me in the way only a great mix of artist and art can do.
His songs have been featured in hundreds of movies and TV shows, but Brian Wilson has never written a complete film score. Isn’t that weird? It seems like there should be at least one American international beach comedy or Bruce Brown surf documentary with a Wilson score, but no such creation exists. My idea of a perfect film project for Wilson would be a Western, set many miles from the nearest sandy beach. His songs are littered with references to cowboys and the Old West, and this would be a chance to use plenty of harmonica, fiddle, jaw harp, and out-of-tune upright piano. But if he wanted to use a lot of twangy guitar, that would be fine, too.
Kelsey J. Waite
Luckily, I think it’s only a matter of time before Anna Calvi scores a film. Her entire musical persona presents with a meticulous visual aesthetic, and the two albums she’s released are very visual themselves, both lyrically and sonically. Her self-titled debut was full of sweeping, operatic vocals and torrid, Lynchian guitars, while her second ran these elements through the noise-pop machine that is producer John Congleton before collaging them back together. Add to that trajectory more recent collaborations with David Byrne and Amanda Palmer (among others), and I’m convinced that Calvi would excel at something truly strange and exciting. She recorded a radio-friendly track for Insurgent in 2015, but I’d like to see her land a far weirder, noirish project. Of course, the album trailer for 2013’s One Breath tells us what her own inclinations might be.
Robbie Fulks has done a lot over a career that stretches 30 years, from serving as a songwriter-for-hire in Nashville to teaching Tina Fey how to play guitar, and scoring a film seems like it’d be up his alley. Fulks is a prolific, skillful songwriter, and his more than a dozen albums show a dexterity beyond the confines of the “country” designation usually employed to describe him. He specializes in something broader than that label, a rootsy Americana that happens to be well-suited to a variety of themes and situations. Need something spare and contemplative? Check. Raucous? Done. Atmospheric? No problem. My brain’s already reimagining Hell Or High Water with a Fulks score, and now that’s what I want.
Doom (formerly known as MF Doom) is best known as a rapper and for a very good reason: He’s one of the greatest lyricists of all time, a brilliant, idiosyncratic wordsmith with an unparalleled frame of reference. He is a bona fide rap god, but he is also a brilliant producer who has made some of my all-time favorite albums, most notably Mm…Food and Operation: Doomsday. Doom has always had a cinematic, kaleidoscopic sensibility, and I would love for him to compose the score for a movie. A superhero movie would be ideal, and in a perfect world maybe he and Madvillain partner Madlib could work together on the score of an upcoming Marvel superhero movie. That would be some awesomely outside-the-box thinking.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
A few weeks ago, I would have answered with St. Vincent, but she just scored Kristen Stewart’s new movie. So with that dream coming true, I move to Canadian pop duo Tegan And Sara, who are such brilliant songwriters and multi-instrumentalists that they would have no problem helming a dynamic, immersive film score. Their songs have been featured in many movies—most recently, in Clea DuVall’s The Intervention. But I’m ready for a full-blown score from the twins, ideally accompanying a lesbian romantic comedy.
William Tyler’s music is just waiting to be turned into a legendary soundtrack. Until recently, his releases have mostly featured him alone, creating epic folk instrumentals made of layer upon layer of his inventive guitar playing. You could take any song from his discography and insert it into the travel montage in a Western or a plucky road movie with ease. His is the sound of open countrysides—gorgeous, vast, and equal parts awe-inspiring and mysterious—but there’s a warmth to his echoing, buzzy acoustic guitar that could easily amplify more intimate scenes as well. While his strength is casually conjuring an image of nature at its most pastoral, his latest album, Modern Country, adds extra players and instruments to his compositions, giving them a new breadth, with tracks like “Gone Clear” displaying a slightly more urgent and ominous side. Plus, if a filmmaker did bring on Tyler—who’s played with the likes of Lambchop, Silver Jews, and Bonnie “Prince” Billie—you know he’d come packing a cadre of killer musical talent to bring that score to life.
I would love to see Ben Folds apply his gift for character sketches to a full-blown musical (he contributed songs to the Over The Hedge soundtrack, but that was during the “cartoons that sing directly aren’t cool” years). A real musical might sound more Broadway-bound than cinematic, but with so many pop artists on Broadway either going the jukebox route or using it as an excuse to up the cheese factor, I think it would be safer for all involved if Folds wrote something smaller-scale and more intimate that could combat the general paucity of original, modern movie musicals (think God Help The Girl more than Across The Universe, in part because I am always thinking about God Help The Girl). Many of his solo albums have been uneven, but Folds shows plenty of interest in both musical experimentation and collaboration, which would serve him well in creating a song score for a movie. And if you listen to songs like “Zak And Sara” or “Fred Jones Part 2,” you’ll hear an artist who has a sometimes-unsung gift for characterization, perhaps more so than for direct autobiography.
Sufjan Stevens has composed for shorts and documentaries, but I’d love to see him tackle a full-length dramatic feature. His soaring songs like “Chicago” have always been a good fit for soundtracks, and recently he’s done really incredible work with the New York City Ballet and choreographer Justin Peck. It seems only natural that some filmmaker would glom onto his gift for storytelling and knack for symphonic sound. (And, since I wrote this, news has come out that Stevens did indeed compose a score for a film debuting at Sundance this year. Hooray!)
Maybe it’s cheating to suggest an artist whose music already resembles film scores, but I would love to hear what Raime would do with a movie assignment. The British group creates a hybrid of U.K. garage, dub techno, gloomy ’80s industrial, and post-hardcore that’s already plenty compelling and darkly cinematic on its own, and—even better for layering under dialogue—it creates most of its incredible tension out of negative space. It’s a menacing sound that would be ideal for lurking in the background of some vampire movie, post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, or David Fincher thriller. Hell, why not put it under the next Nancy Meyers rom-com? I’d watch Diane Keaton fall in love to this.
After Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop came out with Love Letter For Fire last April, I couldn’t help but think how moving a score by the duo would be. I credit that to opener “Welcome To Feeling,” which comes in just under a minute and reminds me of Nancy Wilson’s instrumental work for Almost Famous. Both songs use subtle sound to create the sort of big, sweeping feeling necessary in dramas. Beam isn’t new to soundtracks, with songs appearing on everything from I’m Not There to Twilight. Pair that with Hoop’s ability to create and execute a concept, and it would make for a solid score.
Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife released one solo album under the alias Fever Ray. The album’s most popular single, “If I Had A Heart,” appears in no fewer than 12 pieces of pop culture, ranging from movies to television shows to video games, most notably as the theme track for History Channel’s The Vikings. It’s a moody dirge, blending a dank folk mysticism with heavy synth use. Each track on the album uses Andersson’s distorted voice in some unsettling way, sounding as if she’s singing to you from under a stone slab or from across a snow-crusted tundra. So I would love for Fever Ray to apply that medieval electronica sound to scoring a fantasy or fairy tale movie. Her unsettling witch music creates the exact kind of mood I’d like to see reflected onscreen.
I’d love to hear experimental sludge-metal duo The Body compose the apocalyptic soundtrack for some unholy genre movie. Metal acts don’t do movie scores very often, probably because a lot of their music would be too aggressive and abrasive to underscore the images on screen, rather than just obliterating them. (When you hear metal in a movie, it’s usually a diegetic cue or just an action scene set to some shredding single.) But The Body makes metal that’s atmospheric enough to work as a kind of wall of menacing sound, and listening to the ugly/beautiful symphonies on, say, Christ, Redeemers, it’s easy to imagine them supplying the sonic backbone to an arty demon-possession film. The movie would sound terrifying, even if none of its scares landed.
Given that I already listen to voluminous amounts of instrumental music that could easily be reimagined as accompaniment to film or television, I’m more intrigued by the idea of the acoustic singer-songwriter film score. It’s gone out of fashion in recent years (soundtracks like Once and Magnolia are exceptions that prove the rule, and the latter was only partially Aimee Mann, with an entire accompanying score composed by Jon Brion), but giving an idiosyncratic and soulful musician a chance to compose an album’s worth of music that would both fit their catalogue and perfectly score a movie is so unlikely these days, it makes for a far more intriguing proposition. And on that front, I can think of no one more suited to the task than Laura Marling. The enigmatic and compelling guitarist and singer has crafted great albums already reminiscent of the expansive guitar-pop-based soundtracks of ’60s and ’70s films—“Short Movie” is already halfway there—and given the opportunity to match her talents with an equally imaginative filmmaker, I could foresee Marling coming up with her version of The Graduate soundtrack.