Listen: The ‘Drive’ Soundtrack That Wasn’t: Symmetry’s ‘Themes For An Imaginary Film’

By now, chances are you have heard word of how exceptional the Chromatics’ lastest LP, Kill For Love, is. Pitchfork just hit it with a “Best New Music” tag, and Marc Hogan’s review really does the 1.5-hour long album justice: for all of the cries of how Kill For Love is far too long, it works as a cinematic album because, as Hogan writes, “the experimental interludes here help create a context that makes the pop songs that much more effective; by including so many mood-oriented parts, Kill for Love paradoxically rises above hazy synth-pop’s occupational hazard of dissolving into a blur of mood and mood alone.”

The explanation for the buzz Kill For Love has received, however, starts and ends with the Chromatics role in the formation of the aesthetic of Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive, in which the Driver (Ryan Gosling) does a considerable amount of brooding, henchman killing, and late night cruising. That is, the Chromatics’ 2007 Night Drive LP largely inspired the visual and aesthetic of Drive.

It’s no surprise, then, that Chromatics producer Johnny Jewel was originally set to score Drive. And he completed the score while the film was being finalized in New York, but conflicting interests (as herein described, somewhat) left the score in the (admittedly capable) hands of Cliff Martinez.

But Jewel’s two-hour soundtrack is not lost. Four months ago, Jewel released it under the project name Symmetry as a not-so-subtly titled, 37-song album, Themes For An Imaginary Film. Symmetry is a “conceptual tangent” between the more experimental sides of Glass Candy, Chromatics, Mirage, & Desire. Themes is a work of contemporary cinematic grandiosity.

For me, it’s interesting to both try and digest Themes on its own and imagine it accompanying Drive (the first couple of minutes of the album could’ve synced perfectly with the film, for example). This project in particular also sheds some interesting light on what it means for a piece of music to be cinematic. Is it a certain spacing and tonal manipulation of emotions? Is it a consistent narrative paced by, say, found sounds? Is it a more arbitrary association with a film or cinematic motifs? Or is it something deeper, some underlying synesthetic similarity between the very real effects of very abstract film and music on us?

These are questions I’ll be considering and investigating in the next month or so as I look to put together a piece on what makes music “cinematic”, and what that even means. In the meantime, I will insist that Themes For An Imaginary Film stands alone as a formidable and important work, and definitely deserves whatever bits of your attention you can allow its entirety.

And, for comparison, you can also stream the Chromatics Kill For Love below. Note that the closing track on Themes is a more stripped down version of the penultimate “The River” on Kill For Love, and that both are especially gorgeous: