Apparently writing film scores is de rigueur for electronic bands nowadays. First there was Daft Punk’s take on Tron: Legacy, and now on the heels of their 2010 release Further, we have The Chemical Brothers’ score to action flick Hanna. Luckily for filmgoers—and music fans—the Chemical Brothers have found the success that largely eluded Daft Punk.
Hot on the heels of recent film scores from Daft Punk (Tron: Legacy) and Basement Jaxx (Attack the Block), the Chemical Brothers are the latest '90s electronica duo to transfer their knob-twiddling talents to the big screen with this official soundtrack to Hanna, the Joe Wright-directed tale of a young girl (Saoirse Ronan), trained by her father (Eric Bana) to become a multi-lingual assassin. Ignoring the temptation to smother their usual blend of hypnotic breakbeats and booming basslines in layers of cinematic orchestration, the album features several tracks that would fit quite comfortably on their recent studio effort, Further, such as the Middle Eastern-tinged "Escape 700," the claustrophobic, industrial electro of "Bahnhof Rumble," and the whirling sirens and old-school hip-hop samples of "The Devil Is in the Beats. " But away from their superstar DJ sound, the pair pursue an uncharacteristically stripped-back, lo-fi production which perfectly suits the unsettling plot line of the Eastern Europe-based thriller.
Hanna is a film about a "badass survivalist girl"; the Chemical Brothers have never seemed particularly badass, but it's fair to count them as survivalist, both because last year's Further was their best record in ages and they're the only act from the late-90s electronica boom making music anyone would want to listen to. The Chems are known for welding techno beats to a distinctly rock aesthetic, and for much of the past 10 years they have functioned exactly like a rock band: standard album-tour-relax schedule, few collaborations, monster festival-headliner gigs. (And they can refer to themselves as "superstar DJs" all they like, but their last widely available DJ mix came out in 1998.
If I were to set about recruiting a famous act to compose the score for a movie about a child capable of twisting my head around and tying my arms in a knot before I even knew I wasn’t alone in the wilderness, I guess I’d probably recruit the Chemical Brothers too. Not so much because they seem like natural misanthropes (if anything, they’re probably the sunniest, most optimistic electronic duo this side of gospel house), but because their sound, at its best, has the sort of expansive, Cinemascopic surge that makes them naturals—just like snakes, deserts, and funeral processions. At least that would’ve been my assumption after a fresh listen to “Star Guitar,” “The Private Psychedelic Reel,” “Galvanize,” or “It Doesn’t Matter.
Hanna is an action film that looks like an art film. Or is it an art film that looks like an action film? When your central character—the one typically reserved for the rippling pecs, square jaw, and weather-beaten face—is a 16-year-old girl who looks like she’s on loan from Let the Right One In, it’s easy to get confused. Clearing up the matter slightly is the mere idea of having a soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers.