I’m not sure exactly when I got out of the habit of listening to music when I write. In my thirties I listened to music whenever I wrote – but then again, when I was in my thirties I listened to music at pretty much all times, my life a constant soundtrack of breakbeats that drowned out the rest of the world. I guess maybe I started paying attention to my life when I was in Melbourne, rather than Brisbane? Well, that or I got old.
No, you’re right, it must be the first one.
But in any case, I’m trying to get back into the habit of having music when I write, because it’s a way of signalling to myself that this is work time, creation time, not-fucking-about time. And so I’ve been grabbing a lot of music of late to be my own personal soundtrack, and I thought I might tell y’all about some of the better ones.
Speaking of soundtracks, I’ve been listening to a lot of them. They’re often tonally interesting, the lack of lyrics means I don’t get distracted while writing, and they play double duty as tools for my gaming.
I’ve been trying a lot of superhero movie soundtracks, because I’m writing a supers story (and playing a supers game), but a lot of them are kind of dull, especially those connected to the big Marvel movies – generic sludges of stirring horns and strings repeating variations on a core theme until you nod off dreaming of spandex. The Avengers and Captain America are both rubbish, and even Patrick Doyle – whose Henry V soundtrack is one of all my all-time favourites – turned in an underwhelming effort on Thor. But composer Brian Tyler bucks the trend; his Thor the Dark World is really engaging, and his Iron Man 3 soundtrack is great – especially the bossanova version of the main theme at the end. Still, probably the best is from a separate franchise – Henry Jackman’s X-Men: First Class soundtrack, which had a greater variety of instruments and dares to bring in some interesting electronic stings here and there. It’s terrific stuff, and it’s made me hunt out Jackman’s other efforts (and I’m hunting Tyler’s as well).
More than film soundtracks, though, I’ve been listening to videogame original soundtracks, where composers seem freer and more willing to work with electronica – ‘cos while I may be old, I still have a raver’s heart. (It’s in a box somewhere; I should probably give it back.) Gravitating to SF games, the Mass Effect 3 OST is a particular fave, perhaps largely due to Clint Mansell’s involvement. The Halo series dipped badly with the second game’s OST (it had frickin’ Hoobastank on it!), but the series has really bounced back with the music for Halo 4 and Reach. I’m not as big on fantasy game OSTs, which tend to hit more traditional notes, but I love the bluegrass electronica of Darren Korb’s Bastion and the weird prog-folk-rock of Jim Guthrie’s Sword and Sworcery. I’ve also got a few horror-themed OSTs I enjoy – Mikko Tarmia’s Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Gustavo Santaolalla’s The Last of Us, a shitload of Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill works – and some that I want to check out, such as Petri Alanko’s Alan Wake, all racked up for when I want to get back into horror writing. Which might be later this year, the good lord willing and the creek don’t rise. (And I don’t fuck up or get lazy.)
Outside of soundtracks, I picked up Chvrches’ The Bones of What You Believe a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been playing the hell out of it since – there’s some perfectly crafted synthpop on that album, and while a few tracks are weak, ‘Night Sky’, ‘We Sink’ and a couple of others deserve to be smash hits. It took me ages to get into the last Los Campesinos! album, Hello Sadness, but new album No Blues is fantastic right off the bat; I still miss their own sound (circa Romance is Boring) but if they’re going to go to a darker, moodier kind of sound then at least they’re doing it well. I got that for Christmas along with Deltron 3030: Event 2, which sadly isn’t as good as the first Deltron joint – and that’s no great surprise, since that’s an amazing piece of hip-hop concept art that set an unmatchable high bar. But for a different Del tha Funky Homosapien effort, check out Zartan Drednaught COBRA and Iller Than Thou, a free LP he just dropped on Soundcloud – it’s Del embracing his badweird self, and it’s sweet in its cheerful roughness. I have to bump this and try writing while it’s on; I want to see what comes out.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of old Kanye West. I don’t really know why.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve had on high rotation the last month or so, and hopefully it’s gonna push me into the Danger Writing Zone the more I listen to it. How about you? What’s spinning your dials right now, whether an old faithful or the hot new sound? And does it help you get into that writing mindspace and stay there?