David Ward on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

At just under three hours in length, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack is simply the best thing I’ve heard all year, and it’s been out for less than a week. When I first downloaded the six-track sampler available through nin.com, I felt it was just a darker extension of Reznor and Ross’s earlier foray into soundtracks, their Oscar-winning effort, The Social Network. After a full listen, however, I was blown away, and that was even before I heard the additional 33 tracks.

This is simply the best of Reznor’s instrumental work – it takes the best of the instrumental tracks from all of his more commercial Nine Inch Nails releases (those on Broken, The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, Still, Year Zero, and The Slip), the all-instrumental Ghosts I-IV, and The Social Network, and it rolls them together with layers of complexity that are not easily described. There are haunting synthesized soundscapes that would not be out of place in a David Lynch film, eerie child-like overlays of pianos and xylophones, and outright disturbing beats and guitar riffs. The soundtrack, like the subject matter of the film it scores, is unnerving. There have been hints of the soundtrack’s varied elements throughout Reznor’s work, as well as those of collaborator Atticus Ross, but there’s something new here that I cannot quite pinpoint. Maybe it’s the huge number of layers and varied sounds, or it might be the echo of previous work brought together in a wonderful package, or maybe it’s just because I’m an unabashed fan-boy (though let it be known that I do hate at least one Nine Inch Nails song: “Deep” – even I have discriminating tastes when it comes to things Reznor).

I’m not going to break it down track by track, but a few tracks deserve special attention, the most well-known of which is their take on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, which they perform with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. This is the track from the first trailer of the film, and it’s just fantastic. If not for my eagerness to listen to the rest of the soundtrack, I could easily listen to this song on repeat for hours. It’s a fantastic, hard, synthesized, and loud version of the original. The end is reminiscent of the lesser-known Reznor track “Driver Down” from the Lost Highway soundtrack, where it descends into noise and a constant hard-driving beat. It’s just fantastic.

Then there’s the track “Cut Into Pieces”, which while subtle, is just disturbing – I couldn’t help but think of a much-better produced “How to Destroy Angels” by Coil (funny that, given that’s the name of Reznor and Ross’s band, along with Reznor’s wife, Mariqueen). While Coil used carving knives, Reznor and Ross achieve a very similar effect with synthesizers and stringed instruments. Two other Coil songs I couldn’t help think of listening to tracks on this soundtrack were “Various Hands” and “The Swelling of Leeches” – while perhaps not direct influences, I’m certain the Balance-Christopherson experimental band had more than its small share of influence on Reznor and Ross. The last one I quickly wanted to mention, speaking of potential, whether conscious or unconscious influences, is the track “Oraculum”. This is part of the full soundtrack as well as the six-track sampler, and the first thing I thought of was a western, synthesized version of Hans Zimmer’s “Mombasa” from his soundtrack to Inception. The latter is definitely African in influence, if with western overtones, but “Oraculum” is something just as frenetic but as if done by those with a love of keyboards from the early 90s . . . Oh, wait!

Anyhow, I highly recommend you get this soundtrack; it’s outstanding. It’s also a bargain at $11.99 at iTunes (or via Reznor’s independent label, Null).

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