You know the deal: this song will change your life, I swear. Etc. Etc. The first time audiences heard those words coming out of Natalie Portman’s mouth, I think they were interested in, albeit a little skeptical of, whatever music would follow. It was The Shins’ “New Slang,” a tambourine folk-rock number rife with sentiments of drifting and ultimately starting anew. For Garden State lead characters Andrew and Sam, at least during the time that the 2004 film follows them, a song like that could inspire action or more realistically, navel-gazing introspection.
In the grand scheme of things, “New Slang” is not the most poignant song of the 2000s. It’s not even the best song on the Garden State soundtrack, which was rivaled only by The O.C. soundtracks in terms of bringing sad-sack folk and acoustic indie rock to flyover-state teens in the mid-aughts. Iron and Wine’s “Such Great Heights” cover was suddenly not just the song from the M&Ms’ commercial. It seemed like Cary Brothers might have a promising future ahead, and Colin Hay might be remembered for something apart from this.
It’s not all great — it’s best to skip Thievery Corporation’s world-music ripoff “Lebanese Blonde,” and at the time, you felt relief more than pleasure at recognizing at least one song (Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic”). But on the whole, Zach Braff became revered for his taste — overly earnest, not all that original, but at the time of Garden State‘s release, there were few mass-mainstream types spoon-feeding this music to the unenlightened but eager. (Like Wes Anderson, his work also introduced listeners to forgotten vintage gems.)
Ten years later, though, it’s disappointing to see that Braff’s tastes seem not to have evolved, as evidenced by yesterday’s news regarding the Wish I Was Here soundtrack. As Entertainment Weekly points out, the big takeaway is that Cat Power sings the theme to Braff’s second directorial effort, a song written by Coldplay leader and one half of “Conscious Uncouple” Chris Martin. Bon Iver and The Shins also contribute original songs to Wish I Was Here, which follows Braff’s character as he experiences an early mid-life crisis. After being over-funded by a multimillion-dollar Kickstarter campaign in just two days, Wish I Was Here premiered at Sundance this past January and will hit theaters this July.
Knowing a little something about the film’s plot, I admit that it makes sense that the musical choices are not terribly adventurous: Braff plays a 30-something dad and husband going through a hard time emotionally. The Shins, Coldplay, Bon Iver… toss on some Wilco and The National, and you’re set. It’s music for people who have stopped caring about music. Arrested musical development, even. Braff’s like that friend who had cool taste until he stopped keeping up, but he doesn’t realize new music is passing him by. Alabama Shakes are still his go-to when people ask him what hot new bands he’s into. It’s a genre that needs a name, so how about… beigewave?
Look, Zach Braff can soundtrack his movies with whatever he likes. But sometimes you see a creative figure living up to his brand a little too much and it’s hard not to poke fun. My only hope is that Wish I Was Here won’t be seen as a tastemaking source of music curation just because Zach Braff made one decent, albeit kinda clichéd, mix CD ten years ago.