How 'Scott Pilgrim' Rocks Out On Both Page And Screen

Scott Pilgrim plays bass in Sex Bob-Omb
Bryan Lee O'Malley/Oni Press

If you're at all like me, you're probably more than aware that the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World opens Friday. Like many fans of the original graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, I've been eagerly anticipating this movie all summer. Expectations are high all around, in part because of the books' enjoyably stylized frenzy, a talented director in Edgar Wright and a winning cast. But for me, it's also largely because the music plays such a key supporting role in the story.

For the uninitiated, the movie centers on Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year old slacker hero from Toronto who's just met the girl of his dreams. The only catch is that he must battle her seven evil exes in order to win her heart. It's at times a charming love story, a buddy comedy, a coming-of-age tale and an action blockbuster. But, as longtime fans know, there's more to it than that. The movie, like the comics, is a freewheeling genre mash-up of manga-infused superheroics, video-game fight sequences and indie-rock name checks.

In the books (and, by extension, the film), Pilgrim and his friends play in a sloppy garage band called Sex Bob-Omb — a great band name that nods to both The Sex Pistols and Super Mario Bros. Nearly every page of O'Malley's books is loaded with this sort of musical reference: The names of characters, the band T-shirts they wear and occasional lines of dialogue all serve as knowing winks from the writer.

For that matter, even Scott Pilgrim's name originates from a song by Plumtree, a '90s all-girl band from Canada.

One of my favorite musical sequences from the books comes early in the first volume, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. When Pilgrim's band plays a song called "We Are Sex Bob-Omb," O'Malley not only lays out all the lyrics they're singing for the reader, but also provides chord progressions, charts for fingerings and even the time signature and feel.

A scene from Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Bryan Lee O'Malley/Oni Press

What makes this scene so cool to me is that it asks the audience to strum through the song, in the process inviting us into the story and creative process. (Yes, I did pull out my guitar and gave it a once-through.) Now, with the help of Nigel Godrich and Beck, the soundtrack finally lets us hear how these songs from the book actually sound. Here's the movie's version of "We Are Sex Bob-Omb":

Listen to "We Are Sex Bob-Omb"

"We Are Sex Bob-Omb" from Sex Bob-Omb (Beck), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [ABKCO Records], 2010.

Purchase: iTunes / Amazon CD / Amazon MP3

Godrich, of course, has been a producer for Radiohead and Beck over the years, and here functions as music supervisor and composer for Scott Pilgrim. Godrich enlisted Beck and Broken Social Scene to write and record songs that would ultimately be performed by the film's fictional bands Sex Bob-Omb and Crash And The Boys. And, in order to ensure that the music felt authentic on screen — instead of portraying the actors mimicking — he worked closely with the cast members as they later overdubbed their own vocals and learned the instruments. Here's a very short vignette with Edgar Wright about the movie's music:

Beck's contributions as the band Sex Bob-Omb were worked up over the course of a few days back in 2008; that immediacy, that rollicking swagger, is especially felt in his fuzz-laden renditions of "We Are Sex Bob-Omb" and "Garbage Truck." The film's soundtrack also features versions of the songs with Beck himself.

Meanwhile, Broken Social Scene's efforts as Crash And The Boys — particularly in "We Hate You Please Die" — are more comedic, but its brash, distorted, one-minute blasts are just perfect.

Listen to "We Hate You Please Die"

"We Hate You Please Die" from Crash And The Boys (Broken Social Scene), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [ABKCO Records], 2010.

Purchase: iTunes / Amazon CD / Amazon MP3

Another inventive aspect comes in the form of Godrich's own original score,¬†which will be released separately on iTunes. At times, the work recalls the chiming ambient music of Brian Eno or the kinetic electro-rock of Daft Punk. But his most identifiable musical cues pull from videogame culture, namely the vintage bleeping sounds of "chiptune" music — a brand of electronic music created from re-programmed 8-bit Nintendo game systems.

Listen to "The Grind"

"The Grind" from Nigel Godrich, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Original Score Composed by Nigel Godrich) [ABKCO Records], 2010.

Purchase: iTunes / Amazon MP3

If you've never heard of the term "chiptune" before (and I hadn't until now), you're at least likely to be familiar with the nostalgic sound of those early video games from the '80s and '90s. Sure, these bit-crunched synthesizer parts are a gimmick. But it's a good one that helps to elevate Scott Pilgrim's video-game-meets-indie-rock aesthetic. (Incidentally, chiptune rock band Anamanaguchi wrote the music for the upcoming videogame soundtrack, bringing Scott Pilgrim's love of games full circle.) The rest of the soundtrack is filled out with tracks from Frank Black, The Rolling Stones, Metric and, naturally, Plumtree.

Ultimately, what makes this all so much fun to me is that it tries something a little different. Where most soundtracks fall into a standard, even boring format — the mixtape compilation — Scott Pilgrim's filmmakers score major bonus points for creating something that allows the music to be as crucial to the movie-watching experience as it is in the comics.

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