Drive: A Track-Centric Guide

There has been much critical celebration and several accolades that have followed the release of Drive, nearly 2 years ago. Included with the beautiful color palette that bedecks the film, and the cogent storyline by Nicolas Winding Refn, is the equally genius score by Cliff Martinez. We’ve previously discussed another Cliff Martinez-based score in the past: Spring Breakers. While Spring Breakers itself possesses a bold selection of tracks and a masterfully written score, the Drive soundtrack delivers, in my opinion, a more over-looked list of artists which I feel are worthy of an in-depth listen.

The mystery that surrounds the main character, known only as Driver (Ryan Gosling), is dense and is exacerbated by his minimal dialog. What I feel guides us through the film, and helps us solve the emotional reasoning and motivations of Driver, are the compositions by Cliff Martinez. Most tracks utilize a soothing high-reverb synth, which culminates with masterpieces such as “Wrong Floor.” This iconic track solidifies the now infamous “elevator scene,” which I believe to be one of the most complete and masterful combinations of vision and sound.

While the Cliff Martinez compositions make up the bulk of the soundtrack (tracks 6-19), there is almost a sort of musical assonance regarding these tracks. There are a few outliers, such as “Skull Crushing” and “On the Beach,” which break the norm in their use of jagged dissonance and a nearly industrial-styled sampling to help paint the more violent and exciting scenes. This, of course, is not to say that tracks 6-19 are lackluster, but they fall within a more technical sound that is applicable to a specific scene. What we’ll be covering here are the “jams” that are necessary for you to feel fly when you drive.

Let’s begin:

1. Kavinsky – “Nightcall”

The creation of Vincent Belorgey, “Kavinsky” is an on-stage persona and now Vincent’s musical identity. Hailing from France, Kavinsky has produced music since 2005 and has been included in the soundtrack for Steak (Dir. Quentin Dupieux). Quentin Dupieux himself is a French electronic musician going by the name Mr. Oizo and is billed under the infamous Ed Banger Records (Breakbot, Cassius, Justice).

Kavinsky has recently released a full-length album that sounds like a robotic French opera about driving. This new release is appropriately called Outrun. Outrun is the type of album you absolutely need if you have just purchased some exotic Italian road beast and find yourself evading police or driving through the desert really fucking fast. On this album are a couple of tracks from previous EPs, including “Nightcall.” If you thought “Nightcall” was groovy, sexy, or just plain catchy, you will be doing yourself a favor by listening to Outrun. Some personal favorites are “Odd Look” and “Protovision”.

2. Desire – “Under Your Spell”

Desire is a Portland-based band with imported vocals from Canada. Desire is a part of the independent label named Italians Do It Better (IDIB). Also among the IDIB line-up are Drive artists Chromatics and previous Refn alumni, Glass Candy (Bronson). “Under Your Spell” is catchy and smooth. It is a track that you can imagine yourself listening to on a lazy Sunday. This is one of the more up beat of their low-fi synth-pop tracks from their initial CD release, referred to as their self-titled album but also known as II.

What is very interesting is how rare it is to get any of Desire’s music on any tangible media. For instance, as I write this there is only one vinyl LP left on Amazon, and both vinyl and CD have long been sold out on IDIB’s website. Still, the full MP3 download of II is available on the IDIB site for a very affordable $5. Included in this album are “Under Your Spell” and other amazing tracks, such as “Don’t Call”.

Vocalist Megan Louise has a voice with great clarity, and the production on II keeps it pleasantly muddled and mysterious. The addition of “Under Your Spell” blends seamlessly between the Martinez compositions, but stand out enough to tie a more human component between the continuous barrage of the film’s more ambient score.

3. College ft. Electric Youth – “A Real Hero”

College is a project headed up by another French musician, David Grellier. College reminds me of a minimalist version of the sound produced by Kavinsky. This is not to be taken as an insult, but an observation of College’s use of simple drums and trance-like loops. I feel it is commendable of College to be able produce tracks that are catchy with such simple chords and progression. There is also a layer of nostalgia in College’s work that is reminiscent of early 90s underground French electronica.

When I first heard “A Real Hero”, there was more depth than the tracks previously released on the Teenage Color EP. It was so different, that I honestly did not recognize it at first listen. The throbbing synth loop is definitely in tune with the College sound, but the haunting vocals provided by Electric Youth were an unexpected touch that took this track to the next level.

This track, in my opinion, is the closest to a theme for Driver. Not, that the other songs are not badass or fitting, but none of them explicitly appear to be as much of a direct explanation of what the main character is. You may think Driver to be a pure hero, but he is not so simply defined. Driver falls somewhere between a hero and anti-hero. His motivations are a mystery, and while you may have questions to his thoughts and actions, you know that his intentions are ultimately “good”. Still, what constitutes “good” in this universe is not a pure one, but as pure as a human can be.

4. Chromatics – “Tick Of The Clock”

Chromatics is a Portland-based band that shares members with Desire. Chromatics is also a part of the IDIB record label. Compared to the younger project, Desire, Chromatics have been releasing music since 2001 and have released multiple studio albums. In Drive, the use of “Tick Of The Clock” is used quite well for added tension and suspense. Still, it is not a track that represents the band as well as their other work. Missing is the sultry voice of Ruth Radalet and some of the more melodic rhythms presented in tracks such as “Lady”.

5. Riz Ortolani ft. Katyna Ranieri – “Oh My Love”

“Oh My Love” belongs to Drive now, and I believe that there will never be a better use of this song in any other medium of art. Hell, if you read the lyrics right after watching Drive, it feels as if though it is a connotation of the motivations of Driver and an explanation for the events we would observe if we knew “what happened next?” This, of course, is pure conjecture, but one of the reasons I personally love this film: just like any good story, you want to know what happens next, learn more about the character’s lives. Whenever I hear this song, I think of this movie, and I do not feel that this connection will ever change.

“As the stars must fade away, to give a bright new day”, so must we exit the film. Even if you are not in love with this film as much as others, still give a listen to the artists listed about. I have a feeling that you’ll find at least one song you’ll like, and I’m sure they will appreciate it.

Until next time, check out these great articles about the newest film by Nicolas Windng Refn, Only God Forgives:

Ed Travis: Only God Forgives: Brilliance Through Trauma
Malachi Constant: Only God Forgives. Also, He’s Decent at Karaoke

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the author

Vince is a conundrum and is hard to get along with. Dig vigorously on his hard candy shell and you'll find a heart of gold. Vince has a PhD in stuff, and can appreciate things like no other. His favorite quote is by the great Socrates, who once boasted, "I drank what?"