CD Review of A Brokedown Melody Soundtrack by Various Artists

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A Brokedown Melody (Soundtrack)
starstarstarstarno star Label: Brushfire
Released: 2006
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In the 1960s, surf music was upbeat danceable rock music made popular by legendary acts like the Beach Boys, Dick Dale and Jan & Dean. In the late ‘70s and into the ‘90s, surf music took a slightly more hardcore bent (like everything in California at the time) with bands like Agent Orange and the aptly named Surf Punks dominating the scene. At the same time surfers kind of had a bad reputation for being territorial pricks that picked fights with anyone who invaded their beachfront turf. The surfing scene has mellowed since then though, and so has its music – if the soundtrack to A Brokedown Melody, the latest surfer documentary to be released, is any indication.

This chill compilation is comprised primarily of mellow singer-songwriter tunes and indie-pop contributions that rarely take things beyond a soothing mid-tempo beat. While about half of the album consists of previously released material from a variety of artists, the real selling point of the soundtrack are the previously unreleased tunes by Matt Costa, Jack Johnson and Eddie Vedder.

Jack Johnson’s contribution is no surprise; he was a professional surfer after all, and his easygoing tunes are some of the best of the album. All three of his contributions are great acoustic melodies that sound like they were performed in front of a beach-front bonfire. “Breakdown,” which serves as the theme to the movie as well, is a brilliant and groovy tune that Johnson was damn generous in donating to the soundtrack of an indie film about surfing, it could’ve easily been the lead hit single off of his next album.

Eddie Vedder (also a diehard surfer dude) contributes “Goodbye,” a somber love song performed on ukulele. It’s story about a man coping over the breakup of a long-term relationship, it’s the spiritual successor to Pearl Jam’s “Soon Forget,” another solemn banjo tune about doubt and regret.

Matt Costa’s “The Road” is similar in theme and tone to Vedder’s tune, and is another song about having to leave the ones you love. In the context of the soundtrack and the movie it brings up images of long-haired surfers roaming the world with nothing but their boards and the clothes on their backs, looking for that one perfect wave that will set them free.

For the most part the rest of the album is previously released material, featuring the Beta Band (“Needles in My Eyes”), Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch (“Window”), and the Kings of Convenience (“Know How”). As diverse a lineup as that is (who would expect the Beta Band on the same CD as Jack Johnson?), the songs by each all fit the chill-out, relaxing mood of the album, and easily blend together with the new material.

Not a lot of people in this country are regular surfers, but it’s amazing how much surfer culture seems to permeate into the mainstream. There have been countless documentaries about the sport, from “The Endless Summer” series to more recent titles like “Riding Giants,” “Step into Liquid,” and of course, “A Broke Down Melody” as well, and a seemingly endless amount of “extreme” action movies to feature the sport as well (“Point Break”!). Maybe the spirit and image of surfing is more popular than the sport itself. So if you fancy yourself a surfer in sprit but live in the Midwest, then you might want to kick back and hand ten in your living room with A Brokedown Melody.

~James B. Eldred