The idea that we’ve come to the end of another decade is pretty unfathomable. Where did the 2010’s go? It was a decade of growth for me. The 1990s were a decade of figuring out how to be an adult and a partner to my wife, while the 2000s were me figuring out how to be a parent to what ended up being three kids. The 2010s were me sort of re-connecting to myself and learning how to balance it all. Open up and not hide when I was feeling not so good about myself. My wife and I both got back on the same track and the same way to win at this. This decade has honestly been one of the best decades of my life, and I hope it only continues to go that way. Plus, we got our dog Otto in October of 2010. I think he had a lot to do with the upswing here.
Another great thing about the 2010s was discovering my love for the film score. As the decade carried along I found myself gravitating more towards instrumental music. The lack of words and the lean on melody and narrative sweeps in instrumental music really coalesced with where my head and heart were going. Instrumental music allowed for my brain to explore ideas and sort of let the psychic heaviness of life just float away. Film scores were a place I found solace. First it was the soundtracks of Tangerine Dream that welcomed me with open arms, then I began hitting up the Giallo and horror world. From there, if it connected with me I was in. The 2010s had so many great soundtracks arrive for so many incredible films. Figuring out my favorites of the last decade wasn’t easy.
This is my first crack at a “decades” list. It’s daunting, man. Going back and searching my brain and heart and deciding what my favorite soundtracks were over a decade. Ten years, man. A decade ago I had three little kids, a full head of hair, and was struggling to figure my shit out. Today my oldest is a sophomore in college, I’m happy in life, and my biggest struggle is how to wear my hair or should I just shave it all off.
Oh, and figuring out what my favorite soundtracks of the decade were. Here they are.
20. Tonight She Comes : Wojciech Golczewski
A beautifully baroque horror score that I haven’t stopped listening to since I first heard it. Completely elevates the film.
19. Cub : Steve Moore
Steve Moore continues to push his craft, and this score from 2014 is one of his most subtle and dense.
18. The Master : Jonny Greenwood
The collaborative relationship between Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood is one of the most exciting director/composer partnerships happening these days. The Master is simply beautiful, going both minimal and gorgeously ornate to help push Anderson’s complicated tale of friendship and madness.
17. Blade Runner 2049 : Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
I was pretty disappointed when Johann Johannsson’s score wasn’t used for Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner follow-up. Fortunately Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch knocked it out of the park and stayed both true to Vangelis’ original vision, while creating their own musical world for the human/replicant tale.
16. Mandy : Johann Johannsson
Dark, engrossing, dense, and stunning, Johann Johannsson was the perfect fit for Panos Cosmatos’ retro-futurist psych fantasy. I’m still reeling from it.
15. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears : Blanck Mass
Blanck Mass curated this re-scoring of this strange Giallo-esque French film from 2014. Getting a slew of impressive electronic artists, as well as contributing himself, this re-imagined score is nothing short of brilliant. From the experimental to the sleek, it’s a stunning listen.
14. Hereditary : Colin Stetson
Colin Stetson added just the right mood to go with Ari Aster’s dysfunctional family occult demonic drama. His work here helped push the stun factor over the edge. And “Reborn” is absolutely gorgeous.
13. Good Time : Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin’s first time out with the Safdie Brothers was a hypnotic shot of adrenaline to the central nervous system. It built emotion and anxiety with woozy synths and hard beats that seemed to take their cue right from the city streets Robert Pattinson raced thru the night on.
12. The Girl With All The Gifts : Cristobal Tapia de Veer
Cristobal Tapia de Veer made an exotic and oddly beautiful score for a film that was truly underappreciated. Engrossing and one-of-a-kind.
11. Ex Machina : Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury
One of my cinematic highlights this decade was the resurgence of smart, intellectual science fiction. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was one of my favorite films of the decade, and the score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury was a sublime mix of synths and ambient structures that made for a score I listen to on a regular basis.
10. Suspiria : Thom Yorke
While the level of excellence that came with Thom Yorke’s score for Suspiria wasn’t surprising, what was surprising was just how damn engrossing it was. For his first time out as a film composer, Yorke truly held his own and distinguished his score immediately from Goblin’s original for the Dario Argento masterpiece from the 1977. Feeling decidedly more feminine and mysterious, Yorke makes an alluring, sensual, and at times quite melancholy score with a couple original songs thrown in.
9. Under The Skin : Mica Levi
A truly innovative score for one another of my favorite sci fi films of the decade, Mica Levi’s minimalist score for Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin builds tension and mystery for a film equally tense and mysterious.
8. Drive : Cliff Martinez
Maybe one of the first scores of the decade I absolutely obsessed over. Cliff Martinez made a dark and pulsating electronic score to Nicholas Winding Refn’s LA noir masterpiece. Carpenter, Lynch, and even Michael Mann laid the cinematic groundwork on which Refn told his tale of a driver, a girl, and revenge. Martinez, along with some absolute synth pop heavy hitters, scored the LA night life and its ultraviolent daytime. The Cliff Martinez score is just as much a character as Ryan Gosling’s Driver.
7. Maniac : Rob
Very few horror scores were as effective for me as Rob’s score for the Maniac remake. There was ultimately a sad and melancholy lean to the heavy synth score, eliciting ultimately the sorrow and madness of Elijah Wood’s Frank. Never heavy-handed, but so engrossing and filled with so much emotion.
6. Arrival : Johann Johannsson
Johann Johannsson was such a unique, one-of-a-kind musical thinker. His scores felt like living creatures coming to life. His score for Arrival, along with Max Richter’s closing piece, made Arrival such a thoughtful, moving piece of cinema. What could’ve ended up being a creature feature spoke on an intellectual level, as well as a pure emotional level. Johannsson’s score was a huge part in bringing the film to life.
5. The Guest : Steve Moore
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrrett’s The Guest was such a fun movie. It was both horror, sci fi, and throwback movie to the 80s. Steve Moore connected to that vibe and turned in this woozy, heavy synth score that locked into those 80s vibes, while creating genuine dread when needed. One of my absolute go-to soundtrack spins.
4. The Social Network : Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
I sort of feel like Reznor and Ross started the film score renaissance in 2010 with this David Fincher score. They not only made a perfect film soundtrack, they made a film score that you could enjoy as an album. Their experimentation on Ghosts I-IV is a direct line to this powerhouse of a soundtrack, and ultimately their bulletproof record as premiere film score composers.
3. Only God Forgives : Cliff Martinez
One of the most underrated films and scores of the 2010s. Martinez doesn’t decide to repeat the winning formula of Drive, instead he goes deeper. He builds that mysterious world sonically that Refn has put on the screen. Katana-wielding detectives, psychotic murderers, fighters with mommy issues, and the dark underbelly of China are all enlightened by Martinez’ brilliant score.
2. Gone Girl : Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
After the over-the-top work on David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, it seemed that Reznor and Ross pulled back a bit for their next collaboration with the director. Gone Girl was all about quiet revelations, darkness in secrets, and a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young housewife. The score reflects that beautifully, giving us a subdued, ambient score that seems to float just under the surface. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made a nuanced, intimate, and mysterious work of ethereal perfection. This remains my absolute favorite Reznor/Ross score.
My absolute favorite soundtrack of the decade was the easiest one for me. I’ve played it weekly almost since the day I bought it in 2014. I’ve watched the film several times as well, completely enamored with its look, feel, and hallucinatory trip it takes you on. But as far as the film/score partnerships go, these two in my mind are inseparable.
Beyond The Black Rainbow : Sinoia Caves
Prior to Secretly Canadian putting Sinoia Caves’ Beyond The Black Rainbow out I’d never heard of it. As soon as I saw that album cover I was intrigued. Then I heard “Forever Dilating Eye” and knew I had to have it. After some lazy internet research I figured out that Sinoia Caves was a one man operation run by Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt. I dived into his Secretly Canadian debut The Enchanter Persuaded and felt I’d found some secret treasure that only a few knew about. Rainbow arrived from Secretly Canadian, along with a copy of Panos Cosmatos’ film to which it scored, and I went deep diving into both for what felt like months straight. Those two together were absolute magic. The vague new age-gone-evil story and little dialogue wasn’t a problem as the visuals mixed with Schmidt’s score made for a mind-melting experience on their own. It was a total visceral experience, and the marriage of music and celluloid here was undeniable.
The soundtrack album was released in 2014(the film came out originally in 2010) and was rearranged by Schmidt as a standalone record. It’s an absolute deep dive into hazy komische and menacing sci fi electro. It’s a record that I played so much at home that even my then 9-year old son became obsessed with it. It’s as important an album as Vangelis’ Blade Runner, or Wendy Carlos’ A Clockwork Orange, or Tangerine Dream’s Sorcerer. Without a doubt, Sinoia Caves’ Beyond The Black Rainbow is my favorite soundtrack of the decade.
One more list to go, then the rest of the year will be spent writing about childhood Christmas traumas. Until then, I bid you a fond adieu.