More often than not, film scores are comprised of various artists and mix-bag songs, or classically trained composers who can build swells of strings and percussions with precision and grace. But it’s becoming more common for directors to instead go with a single band or artist to compose an original soundtrack.
It’s a huge risk and arduous undertaking, but it’s one that’s seen the creation of some of the best soundtracks to date.
Here’s 10 of the best film soundtracks originally composed by a single band or artist.
Arcade fire, Her 2013
Spike Jonze’s decision to work with Arcade Fire for his fantasy love story, Her was perhaps the best relationship to come out of the film.
The band performed 13 original songs composed by bassist Will Butler and the critically acclaimed Owen Pallett. The synth and guitar heavy tracks create an eerie sense of longing, which work to emphasise the the constant sense of disconnect between main characters Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Pheonix) and AI Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Track ‘Supersymmetry’ was included in the film’s trailer as well as Arcade Fire’s album Reflektor.
Karen Orzolek (more commonly known as Karen O) also wrote the Academy Award and Grammy nominated ‘Moon Song’, which was performed by Pheonix and Johansson and featured in the film.
Alex Turner, Submarine
Working for the first time as a solo artist, Alex Turner composed six original songs for first time director Richard Ayoade’s Submarine.
Turner ditched the trademark heavy guitars for a more acoustic sound as a backdrop to the innocent love story between love struck Oliver Tate (Craig Robertson) and Jordana (Yasmin Paige). Also working closely with Owen Pallett, the slow and sometimes dreary track list perfectly frames the constantly overcast scenes.
Stand out track ‘Pilediver Waltz’ was later rerecorded by the Arctic Monkeys, and included on their fourth album, Suck It and See.
Karen O, Where the Wild Things Are
The soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are was composed very similarly to the aforementioned Her.
Working closely with Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, Jonze asked her to encapsulate both senses of innocence and despair—something that could appeal to children and adults alike.
Jonze also worked with Arcade Fire during production, using the band’s track ‘Wake Up’ for the film’s trailer.
In what is probably the most impressive of all the soundtracks, Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen worked with Soulwax to create a score that easily rivals the greats.
Centred around the struggles of two brothers opening a nightclub in Belgium, the film often focuses on the bands that steal the limelight on the club’s stage. The fictional bands range from Kursat 9000’s acid folk to Rubber Band’s orchestral disco, with each group having its own unique backstory on how and why they ended up in the Belgica indie music scene.
The most impressive part, however, is that Soulwax wrote and performed every single one of the tracks for the film.
Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi epic Oblivion, staring Tom Cruise, had its soundtrack composed by French writer Anthony Gonzalez and his band M83. Kosinski claims the choice came from trying to balance “fresh and original, and big and epic”. M83 are well known for their dramatic sound, and songs from their albums have been used in a number of commercials, TV shows, and films alike.
M83 wrote and performed 17 original songs for Oblivion, all of which work to amplify the film’s sense of drama in a way only Gonzalez knows how.
Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Into the Wild
Pear Jam frontman Eddie Vedder worked with director Sean Penn to create the soundtrack to Into the Wild.
Vedder and Penn had previously worked together on Dead Man Walking and I Am Sam, which made Vedder an obvious choice for creating the soundtracks for Penn’s fourth feature film. Vedder’s track ‘Guaranteed’ went on to win a Golden Globe for Best Original Song.
Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry’s romantic sci-fi classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind contains one of the most famous soundtracks of the bunch.
Original songs composed and performed by Jon Brion dramatise the longing moods Gondry creates throughout the film, emphasising the rocky relationship between main characters Joel (Jim Carey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet).
The 26 song soundtrack also includes songs form Beck, ELO, The Willowz, and the Polyphonic Spree.
Daft Punk, Tron: Legacy
It’s rare to see a more perfect pairing than Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy and Draft Punk. Based on visuals alone, the two are almost indistinguishable.
The French duo composed over 30 tracks for the film, straying away from their traditionally electronic sounds. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, one half of the band, stated that “[we] knew from the start that there was no way that we were going to do this film score with two synthesisers and a drum machine.”
The score is surprisingly orchestra heavy but still manages to slip in some of the classic synth Daft Punk are so famously known for, and dare I say the soundtrack almost overshadows the plot.
Grizzly Bear, Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance’s indie romance, Blue Valentine, was supposed to have its soundtrack written by Brooklyn-based quartet Grizzly Bear, but when dates were pushed back and tours loomed, the band were unable to find the time to write original songs for the film.
Cianfrance instead used a mix of the band’s back catalog of works, instrumentals, and alternate versions (including a child choir cover) to set the mood between main characters Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
Explosions in the Sky, Friday Night Lights
The band were contacted by Berg, who pitched the idea of making a motion picture out of the original novel written by H. G. Bissinger. The band were instantly on board, seeing as Explosions in the Sky hail from Texas, where the novel and film are set, and were all too familiar with the storyline.
Their trademark slow-burn post-rock fittingly portrays the intense passion the small Texan town has for their high school football team, and the pressure they put on them to succeed.