A landmark in television soundtracking
It’s tremendously uncommon to find a television score that stands on its own. Sure, there are plenty of scores for films that have gone on to become beloved outside the confines of the film it accompanies, but soundtracks for TV and Video Games tend to be too focused on maintaining an atmosphere for the long haul, which can lead to it becoming more of an ambiance rather than a compelling piece of art all on its own. However, anyone with eyes could tell that Watchmen was going to be an exception. Spearheaded by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, two men who have been responsible for some of the best scores in Hollywood, this was destined to be one of the best scores of the year, and it does not disappoint.
As one might expect, there is a strong throughline with each of these tracks. Sonically, they are chock-full of motifs and reprisals that, when heard alongside the accompanying show, serve as thematic touchstones and easter eggs that tie moments together. When heard via a record, they lack some of the impact, but ultimately these reprisals help to form the work into a cohesive piece of music instead of the backdrop for a larger story.
Much like their score for Gone Girl, Reznor and Ross imbue Watchmen with a vicious sense of foreboding. Bits and pieces of tracks have near-perfect analogs for their inspirations. For instance, “HOW THE WEST WAS REALLY WON” draws heavily on the works of John Carpenter and apes the classic Halloween sound for dramatic effect. Surprisingly, these homages never force the tracks into the realm of pastiche because they carry enough of their own force of will that they stand on their own.
Standouts abound on this record. Tracks like “ORPHANS OF KRYPTON” and “ABSENT FRIENDS AND OLD GHOSTS” add a level of solemnity and warmth to an otherwise alien soundtrack. When it gets alien, it gets extremely exciting. Tracks like “KATTLE BATTLE,” “OWL HUNTS RAT,” and “OBJECTS IN MIRROR (ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR)” rely on otherworldly, humming synths that reverberate throughout headphones and shake the floors of apartments. They add a sense of tension or excitement that is rarely heard of, or seen in television soundtracks, and do so with an impressively modern flair.
Most soundtracks, be they TV or otherwise, are rarely this ambitious. The combination of sonic storytelling and inventiveness is second to none. Reznor has come a long way from the acid-tongued punk of the ‘90s to reach his current form, and as it stands, all iterations have been brilliant. Let’s hope the 30-year streak continues.