Canadians Who Score: Artists Who Successfully Made the Leap to Composing for Movies
Published Mar 27, 2020Alexander Sowinsky and Leland Whitty of BADBADNOTGOOD recently shared their bleak, beautiful music for Disappearance at Clifton Hill, putting them as the latest in a line of Canadian artists who have made the leap into film scoring.
From Arcade Fire showing off their understated side to Metric teaming up with an iconic Hollywood composer, there have been some must-hear film scores for fans of Canadian music. And since the whole fun of music is, y'know, listening to it, we haven't included any scores that aren't readily available online.
Sax god Colin Stetson (pictured) has honked on numerous films, most recently concocting chilly soundscapes for the Nicolas Cage sci-fi tale Color Out of Space. It's spooky, futuristic work that suits the surreal movie perfectly — although his crowning scoring achievement is surely 2018's masterpiece Hereditary. With frightening ambient drones and spine-crawling melodies that anxiously gnaw at your brain, it's a big part of what made the film such a frightening favourite among horror movie fans.
Arcade Fire & Owen Pallett
Despite unsuccessful fan campaigns and tentative speculation from Arcade Fire member Will Butler, 2013's Oscar-nominated score for Her hasn't gotten a proper release (although it's floating around on YouTube). That's a shame, since it shows off a very different side of the anthemic rock band, with its melancholic ambient pieces and Satie-pilfering piano sketches. They made that score alongside violinist Owen Pallett — who himself has scored films like Anton Corbijn's Life (2015) and the Chloë Sevigny/Jena Malone vehicle The Wait (2013).
Alex Zhang Hungtai has since moved on to other projects — including Last Lizard and more recently releasing music under his own name — but one of his most striking, under-appreciated works is his ambient music as Dirty Beaches for the West Edmonton Mall doc Waterpark. Released just a few months before his stunning double album Drifters/Love Is the Devil, it finds a nostalgic beauty in unexpected subject matter.
In addition to playing guitar with Alexisonfire, Wade MacNeil has explored side projects like Black Lungs and Gallows. He also showed off his breadth by composing music for the 2018 punk slasher film The Ranger, alongside Andrew Gordon MacPherson. While the score bears traces of his noisy hardcore roots, it's mostly far more restrained, with eerie synths and ominous ambience arriving in short, minute-long mood pieces. Numerous artists appear on the soundtrack album, but the final 12 tracks are entirely made up of MacNeil's score.
Dan Mangan & Jesse Zubot
Hector and the Search for Happiness
Around the same time Dan Mangan was venturing into pessimistic art-rock territory on his album Club Meds, he was making some of his sweetest, most heartfelt music ever for the 2014 Simon Pegg dramedy Hector & the Search for Happiness. Composed alongside violinist Jesse Zubot, the score has wistful orchestrations, acoustic interpretations of songs from his catalogue and a tender ballad named after his son ("Jude").
Metric & Howard Shore
Toronto's own Howard Shore is known for scoring The Lord of the Rings, but he went electro-rock with a Metric collab on David Cronenberg's 2012 film Cosmopolis. Some of the tracks are lavishly orchestrated, cinematic pieces that don't sound much like Emily Haines and company, but others (including "Long to Live" and "Call Me Home") could have feasibly appeared on a Metric album without seeming out of place. Adding to the CanCon, rapper K'naan even shows up to drop some bars on "Mecca."
The F Word
As the leader of the New Pornographers, A.C. Newman is known for maximalist, many-voiced power pop; he showed off his sentimental side for Daniel Radcliffe's 2013 rom-com The F Word, which sets the tone of romantic yearning with its sweetly sentimental acoustic strums and wordless vocal melodies. The only downside is that the score and soundtrack are mixed on the same album, so Newman's beautiful score is interspersed with song placements that don't fit the mood.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Fans know Vancouver's Black Mountain for their giant Black Sabbath riffs and prog-sized sense of epic grandeur, but just as important as their electric guitars are the underlying synthscapes by keyboard maestro Jeremy Schmidt. As Sinoia Caves, he evoked the retro-futurist scores of John Carpenter for Panos Cosmatos's 2014 film Beyond the Black Rainbow. For all those people who spent the past decade collecting horror soundtrack reissues on Death Waltz and Waxwork, this is a modern essential.
In a career full of curveballs and experiments, Neil Young's 1996 score for Jim Jarmusch's avant-garde western Dead Man is an underappreciated highlight. With its echoing electric guitars, hymnal organs and wildly abstract interpretation of Americana, it feels curiously prescient — the kind of evocative improvisations that would later go on to inspire Mount Eerie, Dirty Beaches and others. If Dead Man were released today, it would still sound like a wholly modern vision of the desolate deserts of the American West.
Born in BC, Rachel Zeffira is perhaps best known as one half of the synth-pop duo Cat's Eyes (with Faris Badwan of the Horrors). But she's also a classically trained soprano and multi-instrumentalist in her own right, and her score for 2018 sci-fi thriller Elizabeth Harvest is a uniquely unsettling collection of honeyed choral harmonies, dramatic Satie excerpts and electronic snippets. It's beautiful one moment and dissonantly jarring the next.