Best Soundtracks for Writing 2014

A skull wearing Skullcandy headphones
A skull wearing Skullcandy headphones

Writers need to keep our attention focused on the page in front of us, this is tough when we live in buildings where sound proof vaults are against the fire code.

It’s hard for us to describe tranquil meadows, when our upstairs neighbors are jousting on rolling chairs. It’s hard to write about winds whistling through ancient ruins, when frat boys are catcalling from the balcony across the street. It’s hard to stay on task, when the pothole of death sends another hubcap into an orchestra of car alarms.

That’s why I’m always on the hunt for music to cancel out the noise pollution and keep me in the right frame of mind. I’ve blogged about how my soundtrack for writing is always expanding. These are my favorite albums for writing from 2014 (with a few entries from 2013 mixed in).

Gone Girl – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

When director David Fincher went to a chiropractor, he found the mood muzak they were playing unnerving.  It was calm to a fault, inauthentic, and saccharin. For the score to Gone Girl, Fincher asked composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to bring out that sense of dread from waiting room music. This mix of calm melodies and tense textures is perfect for horror, thriller, or true crime writing.

The Knick Score – Cliff Martinez

While many scores for television are composed entirely on keyboards, most of them try to conceal this by emulating string and brass sections, not The Knick. This score wears its synth on its sleeve, utilizing all the pitch bending wobbly tones that come from the instrument. Cliff Martinez’s compositions invoke Wendy Carlos’s classic score for A Clockwork Orange. The entire album is up on Milan Records YouTube Channel.

Cold in July – Jeff Grace

Whether it’s an acoustic strum or a sequenced arpeggiation, there’s a steady rhythm beating through the heart of this soundtrack. Somber melodies seamlessly transition from the piano onto icy synthesizers. This is one of those albums you can put on a loop while you hammer out a tense scene. It has a consistent sense of ominous dread. It’s perfect for writing a noir potboiler.

Also worth checking out is Jeff Grace’s score for Night Moves, which also came out this year.

The Guest – Soundtrack

This collection of synth pop, old school industrial rock, and dark eighties ballads is the perfect soundtrack for your next Goth prom. While Annie’s etherial single Anthonio is just the right back music for writing a forlorn romantic scene, the heavy hitting beats of Mike Simonetti’s The Magician is perfect for a badass fight sequence.

The Endless River – Pink Floyd

In the mid 70s, Director Alejandro Jodorowsky set out to make a twelve-hour adaptation of Dune starring Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, and Orson Welles, with Pink Floyd providing the soundtrack. Jodorowsky couldn’t convince Hollywood to bankroll his sprawling epic, but this album sounds like Pink Floyd finally got around to delivering on their end of the arrangement.

The Endless River, a near instrumental album, is a retro Sci-Fi soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist, with its space rock waltzes, echoing guitar solos, and shamelessly old school synths. The Endless River is the perfect score for any writer’s daydreams.

Upstream Color – Shane Carruth (2013)

This score floats between moods, on the boarder of loneliness and longing. These hypnotizing ambient arrangements never commit to one emotion at a time. The piano ascends toward hope, while the strings warn of dread. The ominous low end booms, while a gentle melody flutters through the high end. This is the perfect music to write to when you’re not sure which way your scene is going.

Syro – Aphex Twin

Ever wonder what would be playing in a seedy space port on the far end of the galaxy? Probably something similar to Aphex Twin’s android electro jazz, full of alien melodies meandering through blips and bleeps. Syro is one of the most consistent albums in this Avant-Garde artist’s catalogue, a must own for anyone writing Sci-Fi.

The Leftovers – Max Ritcher

Max Ritcher’s gentle piano score for The Leftovers is perfect for writers trying to capture loneliness, loss, or regret. With its sparse use of strings and angelic choirs, this album is the perfect accompaniment for first person scenes with internal conflict.

Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

A word of caution when writing to this score, Hans Zimmer’s pipe organ has a way of making your scenes feel more riveting than they actually are. Tracks like No Time for Caution, channel that cosmic spirit of Phillip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi compositions. I’ve found myself rereading chapters in total silence to find they’re missing something. Zimmer’s trademark brass section might inspire you to draw out your action sequences, to make them a little more epic than they need to be.  Use caution. This is a great album for drawing out fresh ideas, for those long walks before you start writing.

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