Unlike most normal soundtracks, Tyler Bates didn’t want to provide a musical counterpart to a TV show or film, but instead a comic book series. Bates has assembled a superhero crew of his own to offer brand new tracks that aim to deepen the meaning, understanding, and visualisation of this comic book series. This release is only a part of the multimedia experience that Bates has created for this branch of the DC universe so we sat down to have a listen to just how much this soundtrack is going to change our consumption of comic books.
A few overarching things I noticed on first listen was that, and I know this will sound achingly obvious, all of the tracks had a thematic and storytelling quality to them. This didn’t feel like it was just a load of artists who had been asked to write a song for a soundtrack, piled together into one album in an attempt to sell something more for the brand. It felt like all of the tracks had been written by artists who are genuinely invested in the comic book franchise. It’s obvious on first listen that these musicians have taken something from the story and the underlying themes of the comic and incorporated them into their musical offerings to create something authentically inspired by the product they’re soundtracking.
In terms of the music itself, sticking with that thematic quality, it kept cropping up throughout the soundtrack that there was a clear Nine Inch Nails influence to all of the tracks. Each song had an element that seemed directly inspired by the sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Whether that be their own soundtracks, the early days of Pretty Hate Machine or a more recent offering like Add Violence. Given Reznor and Ross’ incredible talent for creating music that can soundtrack a never-ending range of situations, it seems like an obvious point of reference for these artists at a glance.
There were some real stand-out songs in the track list, namely from the likes of IDLES, Soccer Mommy, HEALTH, and Starcrawler. These artists, amongst a handful of others, offered something that sounded genuinely exciting, especially in the context of some of their own releases. The IDLES track Sodium was a real thrilling development from their previous album Ultra Mono. For me, that record didn’t grab me as much as the heartfelt, anger-fuelled energy on Brutalism and the dark and twisted but commercial, sing-along nature of Joy as an Act of Resistance. However, Sodium takes the greatest elements of all of their studio albums and uses that as a foundation to build something that sounded fresh and exciting. It has the brooding nature of Love Song and Colossus and the slightly rough, electronic drum loop underneath teamed with both the sporadic, warped guitars and Joe Talbot’s distant taunting whistles makes this a track that could haunt you for weeks after one listen.
Soccer Mommy’s Kissing in the Rain brought something refreshing to the table too, especially after fourteen tracks. I’m not all that familiar with their back catalogue but the shoegaze-ridden sounds on this track made for a fitting end to the record. There’s a stark contrast in sounds between the two guitars as one bites and tears through the fabric of the song’s sound as the other floats over the top of the music almost levitating like a layer of early morning fog. The instrumentation brings out a variety of meanings for the track, closing the album with an almost resentful and aching goodbye.
The other one I’ll touch on briefly is the HEALTH track ANTI-LIFE. Hot off the heels of a recent collaboration with Nine Inch Nails, HEALTH don’t hesitate to keep cycling through the big names as they bring in the long-lived pioneer of rock and metal, Chino Moreno of Deftones. The track plays host to Chino’s signature graceful melodies and harmonies that float over a more industrial and electronic instrumental foundation that feels almost jagged throughout its four and half minute duration. It sort of feels like a creature or monster stomping through a wasteland.
A lot of the songs harness a brooding quality, especially towards the beginning of the album, and there are a few that have a sort of jagged swagger to them as they focus more around a driving groove to build the song on but around a third of the way in, there’s a noticeable change, and a stint of songs that sound much more punk-driven. It was here where the tracks stood out more like a sore-thumb than gleaming beacon. Rise Against and Grey Daze bring something more energetic but lacking in atmosphere and anything else particularly exciting. They’re songs that are very much straight down the middle and don’t ever really stray from the path and if that’s what people enjoy I’m not one to judge but it just didn’t grab me as much as some of the other songs did.
It is extremely difficult to strike a balance in a compilation and structure a tracklisting that both keeps the attention of the listener throughout but also doesn’t sound jarring, random, or out of place. Everyone is going to bring something different to the table and, for the most part, giving them the same thing to take influence from will significantly refine their line of sight but there will always be some that interpret it in a completely different way to others. That’s just the nature of music and creativity though.
The soundtrack is a really interesting and innovative concept that brings something new and exciting to the world of multimedia musical counterparts. The extent to which they have involved the artists in the world of the comic is great, it feels as if they are more involved than they would be if they were traditionally soundtracking. However, as an album in it’s own right, it takes a while to get going. I didn’t find myself enjoying my listening experience fully until over halfway through the soundtrack. The ideas become tired with only a few bursts of interest. The concept is exciting and some of the music is too, but the whole soundtrack lacks a particular sense of innovation after a while.
You can find out more about the soundtrack and the comic itself and pre-order the album digitally (for release on Friday 18th June) and physically (on Friday 16th July) in a range of different formats at https://found.ee//DNDM_Soundtrack.
Words: Max Lilley