Only Lovers Left Alive Soundtrack Has Its Own Life Blood
There’s something to be said about soundtracks that have enough power to stand alone as works of art. There’s also something to be said about the hazards of not having enough people involved with something like a movie/soundtrack—Tommy Wisseau’s The Room being the prime example of all that can go wrong. That (sort of) said, the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive navigates the aforementioned hazards (his band, SQÜRL, performed and co-wrote many if not all of the songs with Jozef Van Wissem) to create a tangle of sounds that are as beautiful in context of their visual cues as they are on their own.
The soundtrack itself is arranged in a way that foregoes the narrative linearity of the film, separating its halves into the film’s two locales (Detroit and Tangier). The first half, the Detroit record, sizzles with feedback loops and industrial textures. It gives off an elegiac vibe heavy enough to smash the air from anyone’s lungs.
From this half, there are two stand-out songs: “Funnel of Love” (a Wanda Jackson cover, featuring Madeline Follin of Cults on vocals), and “Spooky Action at a Distance.” “Funnel of Love” grinds SQÜRL’s noise-riff blues into a gritty pulp of feedback and vacuum-tube fuzz while Follin gets her grimiest, shedding the sugar-sheen of Cults for a goosebump raising snarl. The whole song shudders with an earthy imperfection.
On the opposite side of things, “Spooky Action at a Distance” keeps itself ungrounded—preferring ethereal loops and fuzzed-over leads. Its electric swoons build into a type of machined dirge. “Spooky Action at a Distance” sounds like Sigur Ros collaborated with Leadbelly in the best possible ways. It burns out its three and a half minutes as the perfect hinge between the two halves.
The Tangier half moves in a different vein. It twangs with lute and Arabic melisma, and whatever feedback squeals that appear act as a smoky undercurrent to the music itself. Much like the Detroit half, the Tangier half is mainly a record of accretion. However, there are two songs that offer an interesting disjunctions and continuity’s between both the film and the soundtrack itself.
The first is “Sola Gratia (Part 2).” The song successfully marries the industrial-blues aesthetic of the first half with the Arabic sharpness of the second half. The song begins with a lone lute plucked into a fragmented melody. Slowly, tube-warmed textures meld the parts of the melody together while complementing them with its sympathetic harmony.
The second is “Hal.” In Only Lovers Left Alive, this song appears as song at what looks to be a Tangier open mic night (yes, it is as awkward as it sounds). That said, on its own, “Hal” is an absolutely gorgeous piece of music. Its instruments drone under Yasmine Hamdan’s otherworldly voice. Halfway through, a heavily effected stringed instrument is strummed as a lead in to the slapping polyrhythmic percussion. The disparate parts join and rupture in ways that prove there will always be surprises in art.
In all, the soundtrack to Only Lovers Left Alive is as powerful alone as it is with the film’s images. The vinyl packaging is also beautiful—inverted sides, Gothic lettering, clean lines and images, see-through red vinyl. This album is not only an amazing soundtrack but lovely object as well.