Nicolas Winding Refn

Nicolas Winding Refn Presents: The Wicked Die Young

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Visionary director Nicolas Winding Refn has always been known for the striking cinematography that adorns his movies, and in recent years his eclectic use of music has been equally highly regarded. Whether pertaining to the scores of collaborator/composer Cliff Martinez or his choice of decade-defining pop songs, Refn's approach to the soundtracks for his films is undeniably well thought-out and meticulously built with the intention of evoking mood and tone. Following his 2016 psychological horror film The Neon Demon, Refn has compiled a number of songs that inspired the film and has released the collection under the title The Wicked Die Young. Opening with Electric Youth's "Good Blood," the track is composed of airy vocals, resonant synth bass, sparse choirs, and electronic organ. Building a mystic atmosphere, it's a nice track, but it feels like it could have possibly layered up and built toward something a bit more enveloping by its end. Having said this, its core strength is its central female vocal, which does a perfect job of encapsulating the "wide-eyed innocence" theme throughout The Neon Demon. This theme could also be attributed to Lynsey de Paul's sweet, string-laden ballad "Won't Somebody Dance with Me" and Dionne Warwick's "Valley of the Dolls." Moreover, the angelic nature and slightly glam-infused percussion of de Paul's track alongside the sweeping harps and softly sung anxious vocals of Warwick bring to mind the era of early-'70s Beverly Hills cocktail parties and Hollywood's obsession with image and glamour, something that Refn arguably explores in the film itself. A surefire highlight is Suicide's "Cheree." A lot less "sugar-laden" than the aforementioned tracks, it's far more sinister and unsettling with its celestial looped organ, Alan Vega's languid, intoxicating vocals, and fuzzy electronic leads. Majestic strings, trickling synths, and tightly wound glam snares also crop up in Amanda Lear's "Follow Me." With its sound palette composed of magical, transcendent vocals and enchanting keys, you can easily envision Refn assessing the design of many of the stark, stylish, and vapid sets in which the film takes place. It's a relief that we have an original and exclusive piece by Martinez, "Becoming." Its rumbling percussion, arpeggiated bass notes, and swirling ambience suddenly give way to ominous strings and mysterious gang vocals that are a great listen. The album closes out with Julian Winding's "When You Want to Hurt Someone," a foreboding, thudding slab of electronica with a pulsating techno bass drum and portentous synth leads, akin to the style of legendary big beat duo the Crystal Method. A compilation like isn't exactly necessary; nor is it an unwanted release. It ultimately stands as an intriguing and enticing project, and it's nice to know that a director like Refn values the sound of his films enough to warrant a project in which he aims to revisit the assorted music that inspired much of his vision in the first place.

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