Trackspotting

The Best Soundtrack Moments Of January 2015: Game Of Thrones, The Americans, A Most Violent Year, & More

January is a tricky month for this column. Of course, it’s when all the bad movies come out. A bunch of great TV shows returned last month, but a lot of them — Parks And Recreation, Archer, Justified — haven’t historically made use of a ton of pop songs. And then you’ve got Girls, perennially torn between using music really well and then falling back on generically treacly indie; this season, it’s been losing the battle to the latter so far. So, as a result, this month’s Trackspotting is mostly split between the past and the future: looking back to one item that came out too late in 2014 to make the end of year wrap-up, and otherwise looking at trailers and getting excited for what’s to come later in 2015. (Except for #5, which is really just here because Nick Cave.)

5. Black Sails, Season 2 Trailer – Nick Cave, “Avalanche”

Black Sails isn’t supposed to be very good, and I’ve never seen it, but this is a trailer featuring a sorta-new Nick Cave song, so that’s a good thing. (It’s actually a re-recorded, pretty different version of Cave’s take on Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche,” which was the opening track on his first album with the Bad Seeds, 1984’s From Her To Eternity.) Images of pirate intrigue and violence soundtracked by a poignant Nick Cave song isn’t really something I thought I needed in my life, but hey, it’s a cool thing to have around.

4. Game Of Thrones, Season 5 Trailer – TV On The Radio, “Heroes”

David Bowie’s original “Heroes” is the kind of song that is just so damn good, so immortal, and so evocative that it can pop up in a soundtrack context and instantly add a new wrinkle or even elevate a work that might be undeserving of the song in the first place. That’s a weird kind of soundtrack power: making everyone else look good (or cooler, or whatever) just by showing up. Well, Game Of Thrones doesn’t need any help on that front, but we’ve got another highly anticipated season of the show on the way which means another trailer with an anachronistic use of a contemporary song. This time it happens to be TV On The Radio’s cover of “Heroes.” What’s interesting is how the trailer’s use of the song totally short circuits the way “Heroes” might play out in any other instance — we’re almost totally robbed of the song’s swell, and all its darker elements are brought out to the foreground even as part of the trailer has a synth groove bubbling underneath it. The ending overshadows everything, really: the low, drone-y rendition of the “We can be heroes” refrain plays out like a lie or shallow promise, and we end on the image of someone tearing down the statue on Danaerys’ palace. Given the events at the end of last season and what my reader friends (and yours, too, probably) have spoiled for me, it seems like there’s a lot of disruption coming to Westeros — the way this trailer ends with that bit of “Heroes” is unsettling, suggesting we should get ready to see all the power structures we’ve grown accustomed to on the show shift and mutate and perhaps be broken entirely.

3. Looking, S02E01 (“Looking For The Promised Land”) – The The, “This Is The Day”

Looking has a habit of using a lot of good music in the background — you can hear Lower Dens’ brilliant “I Get Nervous” barely perceptibly on Patrick’s computer earlier in Season 1, and in the first season finale Holy Ghost!’s infectious “Do It Again” hangs back when Kevin and Patrick first hook up. Every now and then, though, it lets a song totally take over a moment, and it’s usually really gratifying when the show lets itself go like that. There’s actually a much flashier moment than The The’s “This Is The Day” in Looking’s second season premiere, and it happens when everyone takes ecstasy and dances at a crazy party in the woods as Sister Sledge’s “Lost In Music” (the 1984 Bernard Edwards & Nile Rogers remix) gets louder and louder and replaces any other sound in the show. That’s a great moment, too, and it plays well off the episode’s final moments, when Patrick and Augustin and Dom find each other after the ridiculous night and watch the sun rise. The camera pans up, the credits start, and “This Is The Day” comes in strong. This is just a favorite song of mine in general, but it plays particularly well as a kind of contented hangover music to the party scenes that preceded it.

2. The Americans, Season 3 Trailer – Sting, “Every Breath You Take” (Khursor Remix)

Like last season’s promos featuring “Russians,” turns out Sting’s music makes a good fit for The Americans’ increasingly claustrophobic vibes. This is some weird version of the song I’d never heard before — the “Khursor Remix” of what appears to be some sort of Sting re-recording. Either way, the whole business about “Every Breath You Take” coming off like a love song but supposedly being intended as a sinister, stalker-ish song is sort of perfect for a new trailer for The Americans. It’s a nice parallel to the murkiness of Philip and Elizabeth as a married couple with real kids vs. them as spies with all of that as cover — all stuff that’s set to become a lot darker and more complicated this season, with the KGB wanting to recruit their American daughter as a second generation embedded agent. At the time I’m writing this, just the first episode of the new season has premiered, and it passed by without any pop music. Still, The Americans always has a few moments of brilliance, and the way the build of this version of “Every Breath You Take” is used so chillingly in this trailer suggests the show hasn’t lost any of its cleverness in this regard.

1. A Most Violent Year – Marvin Gaye, “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”

Like “Heroes,” “Inner City Blues” is the kind of song that immediately brings some kind of gravity in through the door with it. A Most Violent Year already used the song for its main trailer late last year, and that was pretty great, too. At first, it seems the movie itself uses the song in a very similar way: in the movie’s early moments, we see Oscar Isaac’s Abel Morales going for a run, “Inner City Blues” on his headphones and then gradually growing louder. We see industrial sites around Brooklyn, Morales’ heating oil trucks leaving in the morning. All the while, Gaye’s song plays like an extended opening theme, and, much like in the trailer, seems like it’s supposed to ratchet up the cinematic tension. The thing about A Most Violent Year is that it never does quite spill over in the way the trailer or the movie’s initial scenes might suggest would be inevitable; some of these characters might have sketchy pasts or might have made some morally blurry business decisions, but they aren’t criminals running around getting into gunfights in the street. In that sense, that early “Inner City Blues” scene feels a little different once you get to the end of the movie — like a constant tightening with no release, some kind of walls coming in that even Abel’s complicated victory at the film’s conclusion can’t quite push back.