10 of the Best Indie Rock Film Soundtracks

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We were interested (and not a little taken aback, to be honest) to see that Sigur Rós singer Jónsi was providing the soundtrack to new Cameron Crowe film We Bought a Zoo. Of course, he’s not exactly the first indie type to tackle soundtracking duties for a film — there have been a slew of such records over the last few years in particular, from Karen O’s exuberantly overblown score for Where the Wild Things Are to the all-star soundtracks that accompanied the Twilight films. And while those are both worthy albums in their own right (as, indeed, is Jónsi’s work on We Bought a Zoo), neither quite squeeze their way onto a list of our all-time favorite indie music-centric film soundtracks. What does make the cut? The answers await you after the jump, dear reader — and, as ever, let us know what your choices are.

Trainspotting (1996)

Zeitgeist is one of those overused foreign words, but if such a thing exists, then the Trainspotting soundtrack did truly capture it for a fleeting moment in 1996. Mixing contemporary Brit guitar bands (Elastica, Blur, Pulp) with a smattering of electronic-based action (Underworld, Leftfield) and a couple of well-chosen classics (Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and, of course, Iggy’s “Lust for Life”), this record was the musical backdrop to the mood of early-era Blairite Britain perfectly. And all in the context of a film about working-class heroin addiction. It was way more ironic than anyone could have realized at the time, eh?

Lost in Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola’s films always seem to have cracking soundtracks, and while Air’s score to The Virgin Suicides and the ’80s post-punk-influenced soundtrack record for Marie Antoinette are contenders for inclusion here, we’re going for Lost In Translation because a) it’s more diverse than the former and b) it ties far better into the mood of the film than the latter. And, yes, if you leave the last track playing, you get to hear Bill Murray singing “More Than This” in all its off-key glory.

Garden State (2004)

“New Slang” may or may not have changed your life, but the real gem on this is Iron & Wine’s cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” The tracklist isn’t solid gold, but there’s more than enough goodness here — including unexpected gems like Colin “Men at Work” Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” — to mean this still bears repeated listening. Also, we very much appreciate that all this music actually appears in the film — not always the case in this age in “Music From and Inspired By” cash-ins.

Repo Man (1984)

We were roundly pilloried for omitting this from the ’80s installment of our best soundtracks series a while back, and rightly so. About 98.7 percent of the time, when the comments section accuses us of forgetting something, it’s actually something we’ve consciously chosen to omit — but occasionally, something does genuinely slip our mind, and so it was with the Repo Man soundtrack. We’re not going to make the same mistake twice, not when there’s so much ’80s punk goodness to be had (and Iggy, again!)

Singles (1992)

This is one we didn’t forget when we were canvassing the best soundtracks of the 1990s. Twenty years on, its tracklist remains a sort of back pocket field guide to grunge. There’s no Nirvana, who were already on their way off into the commercial stratosphere by the time this dropped, putting their tunes way beyond an indie soundtrack’s budget, but apart from that there’s pretty much every other big name of early ’90s flanelette-and-distortion music — Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, and more.

Kids (1995)

Although there was a pretty decent variety of music in the film, the soundtrack to Kids is decidedly Lou Barlow-heavy — two of his bands (viz. Folk Implosion and Sebadoh) account for eight of the record’s 13 tracks, presumably because the film’s $1.5m budget didn’t extend to paying the Beastie Boys to use their songs. However, as it transpires, this isn’t such a bad thing, because the soundtrack album has a certain coherency that’s often lacking from more scattershot compilation-type records. Even the non Barlow-related tracks — which come from Daniel Johnston, Lo-Down, and Slint — fit the mood perfectly.

Juno (2008)

Another album that’s heavy on one artist, in this case Kimya Dawson. Like the film itself, this record is either utterly charming or insufferably cutesy, depending on your point of view. We might just be big softies, but we tend toward the former point of view — but even if we didn’t, the presence of Sonic Youth’s killer cover of The Carpenters’ “Superstar” would probably be enough for Juno to warrant inclusion on this list, just because we love that song so very, very much.

The Edukators (2004)

The film itself was OK, but German/Austrian left-wing kidnap story Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei (renamed The Edukators in English) is probably better remembered these days for its bumper double-CD soundtrack. The tracklist was a headily eclectic affair, playing like the sort of mixtape your friends at school used to make you — there was everyone from Leonard Cohen to Eagles of Death Metal, along with a decent selection of German artists, who no doubt appreciated the opportunity to reach an Anglophone audience via the exposure this compilation offered them.

Whip It (2009)

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut came with a soundtrack album that was just as pleasantly enjoyable as the film itself. And, more importantly, it gave rise to Jens Lekman’s hilarious account of how his songs were chosen for the film (it’s about a third of the way down the page, under September 8th, 2009): “I’ve been touring on and off like crazy, I’ve put so much work into recording and writing. And in the end what I make my money from is talking to Drew Barrymore about monkeys…”

Morvern Callar (2003)

We may well have saved the best for last here. The Warp Records-curated soundtrack to the film adaptation of Alan Warner’s fantastic novel is pretty much solid gold from start to finish, setting beautifully-chosen tracks by label stalwarts like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada alongside pieces by everyone from Can and Lee “Scratch” Perry to Ween and a bunch of Javanese gamelan drummers. The highlight, though, is Can bassist Holger Czukay’s outlandishly brilliant summer anthem “Cool in the Pool,” surely a contender for title of strangest and most unexpected party song ever recorded by anyone, ever. Genius. And that’s that, really.