Various Artists – Drive

One of my favourite discoveries of last year was the film Drive. In a bleak and heavily stylised Los Angeles, Ryan Gosling is a professional stunt driver who by night drives getaway vehicles and gets steadily pulled into a very dark and seedy world.

But I actually found the film itself pretty pedestrian – very much a triumph of style over substance. The atmosphere is undeniable, but the characters are entirely one-dimensional with no particular redeeming features, and the plot is notable only in its absence. Where it shines is in its soundtrack, mixing modern retro with real retro electro and dreamy atmospheric ambience.

The album is a little schizophrenic, with all the livelier tracks stacked up near the top. It opens with Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx‘s 2010 work of genius Nightcall – which at the time the film came out was only available on this soundtrack, and more than justifies the purchase of the album by itself. Apparently I saw Kavinsky play live a few years back, and it’s a great source of shame to me now that I remember very little about the event.

Less exciting but still pretty good is Under Your Spell by Desire, with a similarly eighties feel but just a little too repetitive and dull at times. A Real Hero by College feat. Electric Youth is better, but then the whole thing takes its only real downturn. I’m not sure what the significance of Riz Ortolani and Katyna Ranieri‘s 1971 song Oh My Love – I can only assume it meant something particular to the director. But frankly it stands out in the movie as absolutely awful, and on the soundtrack album it’s a particularly dreadful moment.

Or maybe I’m wrong – I’m sure it’s there for a reason, and perhaps it’s only me that felt that way. Anyway, the last of the imported tracks is Tick of the Clock by The Chromatics, a pleasant if somewhat dull moment of relief after the dross it follows.

The rest of the album is then a fourteen track dark and moody album of film music composed especially by Cliff Martinez, with moments of excellence (Rubber HeadI Drive, Where’s the Deluxe Version?Skull Crushing, and Bride of Deluxe) standing out from the rest of the crowd. The music has an abstract, ethereal, almost dreamlike quality, at times sounding as though it’s played by people running their fingers around the edge of a glass.

As an album it is, admittedly, mainly only worth buying for Nightcall, and would probably have benefitted from some more imaginative sequencing than having all the non-Martinez tracks at the start. But in general it’s pleasant and interesting, and was a real surprise to me when I first saw the film, so is definitely worth a listen.

Singles chart of the year 2012 for stowaways

Here’s the top 20 for your delectation:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Leaving
  3. Delerium with Nadina – Monarch
  4. Saint Etienne – Tonight
  5. Saint Etienne – I’ve Got Your Music
  6. Shit Robot – Take ’em Up
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Invisible
  8. VCMG – EP3 – Aftermaths
  9. Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx – Nightcall
  10. Soulsavers feat. Dave Gahan – Longest Day
  11. Shit Robot – Losing My Patience
  12. VCMG – EP2 – Single Blip
  13. Shit Robot – Answering Machine
  14. Gemma Ray – Gemma Ray Sings Sparks
  15. Angelpie – Tin Foil Valley
  16. Pet Shop Boys – Memory of the Future
  17. Gotye – Somebody That I Used to Know
  18. Erasure – Fill Us with Fire
  19. Gotye – State of the Art
  20. Sébastien Tellier – Cochon Ville

No real surprises if you were paying attention to the singles last year. Outside the top 20, there was a whole load of Saint Etienne and Sébastien Tellier, as well as late entries for The PresetsCut Copy and Röyksopp.