Is it just me or has Garden State been taking some critical shots in recent years, wholly undeserved? You have those who’ve begun to lump it into the pile of quirky drivel we often get from these “coming-of-age” films and we have those who’ve redirected their hate for Kickstarter and Zach Braff’s follow-up, Wish I Was Here, towards the 2004 film. I mean, Vulture literally had to pen a defense of the film in 2013. But the criticism that really gets me is the 10 years it took for people to realize and criticize the fact that yes, the heavily adored and Grammy-award winning soundtrack is essentially a mixtape. Well….duh.
Braff never shied away from the fact that he was crafting a mixtape and he certainly didn’t ask for the unneeded criticism that comes with winning a Grammy (Shrek 2 was also in the category, so really, who cares). Looking at it as a singular piece, though, devoid of any filmmaker connection, you can’t deny its accuracy in defining that era’s indie rock scene and simultaneously creating a tracklisting still very listenable today. You have the obvious Shins additions, along with the now famous declaration in the film, along with early (and great) Coldplay, some of Cary Brothers’ best work and even a great Simon & Garfunkel inclusion, in what I’ll call a Graduate reference, one of the more obvious inspirations.
And yeah, there’s some personal stuff going into what I guess has turned into its own defense. As a teenager with admittedly lame music tastes, this was a release that actually introduced me to music that was truly worthwhile. Again, I wasn’t stumbling across Cary Brothers anytime soon, a singer-songwriter I still love and if you haven’t listened to yet, check out his full length, Under Control. I wasn’t getting down to Zero 7, another outfit I’d follow for years after their one-track contribution in one of the film’s many perfect music drops, just in time for a nice drug-related montage. And you can’t talk about prime music drops without mentioning Frou Frou’s “Let Go,” kicking in as Braff’s protagonist begins his very short journey back to California.
It’s true. Zach Braff’s collection of tracks for Garden State, now somehow 10 years old, is nothing more than a mixtape. But it’s a damn good mixtape and one that illuminated a world of artists 16-year-old me had been missing out on. The film itself? Well, it hasn’t aged in the greatest way, but I’ll be sure to continue revisiting it throughout the years. This soundtrack, though? Hasn’t aged a day.
I wanted to first test “Caring Is Creepy,” comparing this version with the Sub Pop original. The Sub Pop version is louder and maybe a bit crisper, but there’s not a huge difference. Percussion is kinda buried on each version and vocals are a little sharper on the Sub Pop version, but again, this is a fairly faithful transfer on the Garden State discs.
“In The Waiting Line” is a standout, the distant highs (vocals) and lows (that beat) are both well represented, while you’ll experience some true instrumental depth in Frou Frou’s “Let Go,” especially during that string-aided outro. Meanwhile, Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” cover is probably the definition of “warm” sound, so it’s nice for it to sound pretty great on wax.
Nothing is truly improved on the format, but we have faithful transfers and minimal surface noises. The highlight of this release.
On one of the printed inner sleeves, a quote states, “You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life I promise you.” Although close to what’s actually stated in the movie (maybe that’s how it’s phrased in the script?) it’s not exactly what Portman says regarding The Shins and the minor error really kinda tells you the attention to detail this packaging lacks. I’ll start with the good. Zach Braff contributes a nice note on one insert, in which he talks about the process of gathering the artists and tracks that would eventually win him a Grammy. Before admitting that yes, it’s just a mixtape, Braff talks about how “every artist said yes” to the track request, especially satisfying as higher ups doubted their approval. The personal touch is a nice one and really the only piece of this packaging containing heart. The double LP set is jammed into a single LP jacket, while the inserts are fine, just very plain, down to the black and white color choices.
Just think of what they could of done. Some original art, accompanied by a nice gatefold jacket, the note printed on the inside and even some inspired vinyl color choices (if it didn’t affect audio quality). The center labels are the only component of the packaging that isn’t terribly boring. As a fan, the disappointment runs high.
No digital download is included and again, this was a pretty bare bones job. The tracks are obviously available via streaming services, but I mean, throw the listeners a bone.
The soundtrack to 2004’s Garden State is nothing more than a mixtape. But it’s a damn good mixtape and still deserves the praise it received upon initial release. And while the vinyl release has a nice sound and includes some faithful transfers, there’s just about zero effort put into its look. They had a chance to create the definitive version of this long-loved soundtrack, but missed the mark.
“In The Waiting Line,” “Such Great Heights” & “Blue Eyes.”
You can still pick up the soundtrack on vinyl over at Amazon.