Nathan Larson: FilmMusik

Zeth Lundy

Former Shudder to Think frontman's burgeoning career in film scoring is assessed in this collection, featuring his contributions to Boys Don't Cry, Prozac Nation, and Dirty Pretty Things.

Nathan Larson


Label: Commotion
US Release Date: 2005-04-05
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

As independent film became a vital and impressionable facet of '90s mainstream America, unorthodox film scores acquired a similar acceptance and notoriety. Films with smaller budgets were forced to seek out alternative scoring opportunities; other filmmakers strived to have the original soundtrack mirror their idiosyncratic visions. Bypassing the traditional (emotional tempests like John Williams) and the uniformly modern (brief snippets of fashionable rock 'n' roll), many pop musicians and producers have turned their attention to full- and part-time film scoring: Jon Brion (Magnolia, I Heart Huckabees), Mark Mothersbaugh (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), Neil Young (Dead Man), and Jonny Greenwood (Bodysong) have all made the world of cinema soundtracks more interesting for those of nonconformist or adventurous temperament.

Nathan Larson began composing music for film in 1998 with his band Shudder to Think. The group produced an ambient score for High Art and a pop-oriented collection of guest-laden songs for First Love, Last Rites (featuring vocal contributions from Jeff Buckley, Liz Phair, and Cheap Trick's Robin Zander). Although his public profile may not be as wide-reaching as Brion's or Mothersbaugh's, Larson has quietly built up an impressive body of work. Following his group's disbanding soon after the release of First Love, Larson has only released one solo album, opting to devote the majority of his musical output to scores for small, often acclaimed, films. Larson's music isn't as expressively melodic as that of his contemporaries -- it's a little darker, a little hazier, embedded in atmosphere and disposition instead of themes and melodic triggers. FilmMusik is a collection of this varied work, touching on scores for Prozac Nation, Boys Don't Cry, Dirty Pretty Things, Tigerland, and The Woodsman (amongst others), many of them unavailable anywhere else.

One of the continuing problems with film scores (an issue that has lingered on for decades since Hollywood's golden era in the '30s and '40s) is how they unapologetically lobby for authority over the audience's feelings. Larson's music is true to its cinematic subjects, capturing the unflinching complexities of films like Boys Don't Cry and The Woodsman without exploiting them. There's no peddling of emotions in this music, no condescending instructions alerting an audience to how it should feel; Larson's compositions are open-faced and suggestive, insinuating moods and ideas rather than dictating them. The selections from Prozac Nation are exercises in hesitant ambience, the guitar and gravely violin motifs implying caution and doubt -- a method he uses to even greater effect in the zero gravity moments from Lilja 4-Ever. He exhales the arid Nebraska landscape in his electric guitar-based compositions for Boys Don't Cry, which, when not propelled by a driving drum rhythm, echo Young's Dead Man improvisations. FilmMusik also contains a few vocal tracks interspersed with the instrumentals, including Larson's own performance of First Love's "I Want Someone Badly" (sung by Buckley on the soundtrack), High Art's "She Might Be Waking Up" (sort of a rumination on neo-soul), and the wordless fancy of the Cardigans' Nina Persson on the Brion-esque "Fiction" (Storytelling) and the French pop potential of "La Pont de la Tristesse" (The Chateau). The cuts from Dirty Pretty Things and The Woodsman may be the most intriguing in how they evoke a kind of quizzical tension: "Dirty Pretty Thing" marries pulsing electronics with ballooning strings to express the conflicts of the film's characters without the benefit of visuals; "Walter" ekes a slow, pensive melody from its deeply rich instrumental tones.

Removed from their intended context as cinematic accompaniment, Larson's compositions fare quite well in this reconstituted cut-and-paste sampler. FilmMusik organizes the tracks based on mood and flow, not chronological order, which allows individual themes and textures to be revisited and reevaluated. And while each of Larson's scores has a unique identity, FilmMusik avoids a schizophrenic or confused progression from beginning to end: many of its tracks are concise and flow with economical grace (sometimes with the help of crossfades). While not all of them are exceptional (in particular, a piece from Phone Booth lumbers with bland paranoia), their sum is frequently inspired and captivating. Until full soundtracks are issued for these films, FilmMusik offers fans of Larson, ambient music, and unconventional scoring something to pique their intrigue.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.