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Shelter in Plays: 10 Scores for When You Can’t Leave the House

(Editor’s Note: I asked score composer Ben Lovett (The Ritual, The Wind, Stuffed, I Trapped the Devil) to share ten scores or soundtracks he recommends everyone listen to while they’re quarantined, on PAUSE, sheltered-in-place, or otherwise unable to leave the house during the time of COVID-19. He came up with a killer list and then some. Many of you will recognize Lovett and his work if you’re a regular Vehlinggo reader or you watch indie genre films, and I suspect you’ll dig his choices.)

This is a list. It’s not an attempt to name the greatest film scores of all time, or the ones that have influenced me most, but rather a few that might help you survive the weekend. At some point during the impending global shutdown, your eyeballs are going to need a break. When they do, close them and put one of these on. At the very least, each should provide an effective cure for boredom and/or temporarily relief from general pandemic anxiety.

The Ritual soundtrack ben lovett
From left: Guest post writer Ben Lovett, conductor Robert Ames, and the London Contemporary Orchestra during the recording of Lovett’s score for horror film ‘The Ritual.’

The Old Man & The Gun — Daniel Hart (2018)

The most played soundtrack around my house for the past year or so.  Like the film, the score is charming and fun with a confidence that transfers itself onto you the longer you listen. It’s exceptionally well thought out and executed, the kind of record that doesn’t demand your attention but once it’s on, keeps stealing it anyway. Highlights: “Theme” and “More Happy.”

Ladybird — Jon Brion (2017)

This one’s been in heavy rotation on my turntable lately as well. It’s a joy to throw on and an immediate cure for whatever mood you might need to chase off. It’s honest and bittersweet and reassuring in a way that nobody seems to capture quite like Jon Brion. The score is a knowing commentary on the big dumb beautiful adventure of being human. Highlights: “Rose Garden,” “Title Credits,” and “Monday.” (Pro Tip: Go for the bonus round with Brion’s I Heart Huckabees score for added levity.)

Booksmart — Dan the Automator (2019)

This one’s sure to get your mind off the viral apocalypse for a while.  It’s a self-contained party in a bottle that manages to cram big fun into small spaces. The kind you need when you’re stuck at home with only your family around to entertain you. From the architect of legendary album projects like Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School and Loveage (my personal favorite), this score both sets itself apart from those records and feels right at home among them. Highlights: “Full Star” and “Broke a Couple Rules.”

Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ — Peter Gabriel (1989)

I only saw the Martin Scorsese film once, but I’ve continued listening to this score for over 20 years. It’s an endlessly mystifying and profound expression of raw beauty, and an unparalleled demonstration of the power of music as a universal language. It says something different to me every time I play it. Throw on some headphones, lay back, and see what it has to say to you. Highlights: “Of These, Hope” and “A Different Drum.”

Succession: Season 1  — Nicholas Britell (2019)

Easily the hottest opening credits banger out there right now, but Nick’s score is also a pop-culture masterclass in writing variations on a theme, and the mileage he gets out of this one is both impressive and delightful. It rebels against its own sophistication and feels like the musicians performing it are riding an all-night cocaine bender. Do it for Cousin Greg! Highlights: “Main Title Theme” and “Andante in C Minor.”

Solaris — Cliff Martinez (2002)

Perhaps a more topical choice here would be Cliff Martinez’s score to Contagion, but instead I recommend escaping Planet Earth entirely and letting this one slingshot you to the other side of the universe. Infinitely compelling and mysteriously beautiful, it never ceases to swallow my brain whole and send me off into the deep reaches of my imagination. It’s a score that seems to embody all at once both the danger and wonder of the unknown. Highlights: “Is That What Everybody Wants” and “Don’t Blow It.”

Jackie — Mica Levi (2016)

If Under the Skin is the perfect fuel for anxiety about the impending global apocalypse, then “Jackie” might be a reminder of what we stand to lose if people don’t get their shit together and turn the tide on this virus. The score is a beautiful and haunting eulogy for idealism — one we’re best reminded to identify the value of before it’s gone. Highlights: “Vanity” and “Children.”

Gone Girl — Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (2014)

We all know The Social Network is great; it won an Oscar. Lately I’ve been revisiting Gone Girl as a work worthy of comparable praise. It requires a bit more patience before it simmers to its full effect, but once you’re caught in the tractor beam and realize how great it really is, you’re already firmly in its grip. Highlights: “Technically Missing” and “Sugar Storm.”

Finders Keepers — Dan Romer & Osei Essed (2015)

I absolutely loved this documentary and, unsurprisingly, the music is a big reason why. Romer always keeps his bag of tricks out in the open and never has to sneak up on you. I always see him coming and he still gets me every time. It’s a satisfying and rewarding listening experience, and surely an influence on some of my work for Stuffed. Highlights: “John’s Leg” and “Pa Whisnant.”

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018)/Motherless Brooklyn (2019) — Daniel Pemberton 

For better or worse I seem to have a reputation for not sticking to the rules, and/or making things harder than they need to be (as demonstrated here by choosing two where one would do), so I admire the lengths Daniel Pemberton seems to go in pursuit of capturing something unique and original for his scores. Both of these are outstanding works that are entirely dissimilar, so it’s hard to say which one you’ll need more this weekend. Probably best to play it safe and listen to both. Highlights from Each: “Only One Spider-Man” and “Motherless Brooklyn.”

Bonus Round!

If you’re still reading, here are five free classics to help survive this pandemic, or stow away for the next one. These scores have stood the test of time (for me) and are there whenever you need to call on a sure thing.

The Fountain — Clint Mansell (2006)

Epic, existential, and intensely romantic, this is the one to reach for when you need to be totally consumed, destroyed, and reborn anew. Highlight: “Death is the Road to Awe.”

Rushmore — Mark Mothersbaugh (1999)

Perfect blend of songs and score that still holds up among the most playable soundtrack albums — “Hardest Geometry Problem in the World”

American Beauty  — Thomas Newman (2000)

Hard to argue there’s been another score in the past 20 years that had a more seismic influence on the world of film music than this one did, and it still holds up. Highlight: “Dead Already.”

Fight ClubThe Dust Brothers (1999)

A genre-busting schizophrenic collage of styles that was totally ahead of its time, steamrolling the entirety of 1990s music culture into one chaotic body of work. Highlight: “Single Serving Jack.”

The Empire Strikes BackJohn Williams (1980)

It’s probably illegal to post a list of this many movie scores without a John Williams cut, and the main Han/Leia theme that drives this film is still one of the most romantic and magical forces of nature I’ve ever heard in film music. Highlight: “Han Solo and the Princess.”


For more information on Ben Lovett, read this in-depth interview and this one. And definitely get on board with his score for The Wind.

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