Few soundtracks rise to the level of cultural ubiquity that the 13-song Garden State album achieved. Along with the music from the FOX teen soap The O.C., the Garden State soundtrack was probably responsible for getting a lot of us out of our shitty adolescent music taste stages and pushing us toward more interesting, left-of-the-dial material. The album, put together by writer/director Zach Braff, was described as a mix CD of the songs he was listening to when he was writing the film’s screenplay. Needless to say, his mix CD changed a lot of lives.
Today, neither the Garden State soundtrack nor the movie itself are as lionized as they were back in the day. In 2015, for instance, Noisey published a piece called “It’s the Ten-Year Anniversary of Realizing ‘Garden State’ Sucked.” In many circles, the film has become a punching bag, and its soundtrack — a collection of melancholy songs provided mostly by white singer-songwriters — has gone along for the ride. If it was cool to like Garden State and the music that helped make it such a hit back in 2004, it certainly isn’t now.
Still, regardless of what you have to say about the film, there’s little doubt the OST was a watershed moment for music in films. Lots of movies since have been scored by cool indie rock playlists, but few have established music as a key part of their plots, characters, and emotional textures quite like this. Consequently, few movie soundtracks since — and perhaps none — have provided the kind of career launching pad for artists that was provided here. If Natalie Portman’s character hadn’t said “You gotta hear this song. It’ll change your life. I swear,” about “New Slang,” Modern Vinyl probably wouldn’t be doing a Shins week right now.
So, what happened to the artists whose songs made up the Garden State soundtrack? Where have they gone? Do they continue to enjoy the level of success and respect that The Shins get? Or is their biggest claim to fame still having their songs included in a Zach Braff movie from the mid-2000s?
I don’t know about you, but I feel a “Where Are They Now?” feature coming on.
Track 1: Coldplay — Don’t Panic
The soundtrack is recalled very much as a big moment for indie rock, but even by 2004, Coldplay were about as far from indie as a rock band could get. Their 2002 album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, won Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Album and Record of the Year (for the megahit “Clocks”) and has sold 20 million copies worldwide. The band also wasn’t on an indie label. “Don’t Panic,” though, was the opener from Coldplay’s first album (2000’s Parachutes) and doesn’t carry the U2-sized aspirations of many of the group’s later compositions.
Coldplay, of course, remains one of the biggest bands in the world. They put out their last album at the end of 2015 (the Stargate-produced A Head Full of Dreams, which mostly sucked) and played a surprisingly solid halftime show for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016. Though Dreams was initially teased as a potential last album for Coldplay, the band has an EP coming out in June and just teamed up with The Chainsmokers for a song called “Something Just Like This.” Like it or not, hiatus or not, Coldplay isn’t going anywhere.
Track 2: The Shins — Caring Is Creepy
Ever since they got that big, therapist waiting room scene boost, The Shins’ career has been dotted with a series of lengthy hiatuses. The band’s first two albums, Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow, came out in 2001 and 2003 respectively. After the Garden State soundtrack broke the band to a new audience, they took another three years to release Wincing the Night Away (2007) and then took a pair of half-decade breaks in between their next couple albums. Their fourth LP, Port of Morrow, came out in March 2012, and their latest, Heartworms, arrives almost exactly five years later.
Without these inexplicably long breaks, The Shins probably would have done a better job of capitalizing on the success that Garden State afforded them. With that said, we’re still talking about them and launching a bunch of features in their honor this week, so maybe things worked out how they were supposed to. It is worth noting, however, that frontman James Mercer is the only remaining original member of the band. None of the other members who are currently in the band were around when Garden State broke, and none of them even played on Wincing the Night Away. That fact begs the question: are they still The Shins? You’ll have to listen to the new album to find out where you stand on that front.
Track 3: Zero 7 — In the Waiting Line
Confession time: I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen Garden State once. I don’t recall being overly impressed with the film and I can’t remember many specifics about the plot, but I definitely have vivid memories of the scene where Braff takes ecstasy and zones out on the couch to the sounds of Zero 7’s “In the Waiting Line.” I also remember Zero 7 briefly becoming go-to soundtrack darlings in the mid-2000s, with their songs appearing everywhere from The O.C. and One Tree Hill to House and that creepy Red Eye movie with Cillian Murphy.
Zero 7 kind of fell off the map for me after about 2007, and I’m guessing it’s a similar situation for most people. The group’s last full-length album, Your Ghost, dropped in 2009 — though they apparently released an EP called Simple Science in 2014. Part of the reason for the band’s disappearance from the limelight could be the fact that Sia Furler departed for greener pastures. Sia, of course, is one of the biggest songwriters-for-hire in modern pop music, as well as a fairly successful artist in her own right. Sia used to sing vocals for some Zero 7 songs (though it’s Sophie Barker, another former collaborator, who can be heard on “In the Waiting Line.”)
Track 4: The Shins — New Slang
No more comment really needed on The Shins, though “New Slang” is definitely the more “important” of their two songs on this soundtrack, and is probably the one that earned them legions of new fans.
Track 5: Colin Hay — I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You
Here’s a hot take: “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” is the best song on the Garden State soundtrack. Hay’s sparse acoustic ballad is a hymn to life’s one great love, and how — even when it’s been gone for years, even when you’re getting older and everything has changed, and even when you haven’t spoken to that other person in god knows how long — they still spring to mind almost daily. Hay’s track is the only on this soundtrack that has actually made me cry.
Interestingly, I’ve never delved very far into Hay’s discography beyond this contribution — a grievance that obviously needs to be rectified. The Scottish/Aussie songwriter has a deep catalog, starting in the late ‘70s with Australian band Men at Work and continuing through to an ongoing solo career. In fact, Hay has a brand new record out called Fierce Mercy, which just dropped on March 3.
Track 6: Cary Brothers — Blue Eyes
“I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” is the best song on the Garden State soundtrack, but Cary Brothers is my favorite artist represented in the tracklist. Brothers (contrary to popular misconception, Cary Brothers is the name of a dude, not a band made up of brothers) is certainly most famous for being on this soundtrack. I wish that weren’t the case, because his 2007 full-length debut, Who You Are, is one of the finest records of the 2000s. Brothers specializes in songs that are gingerly melodic and quietly devastating, but he can also work in a crescendo just as well as his fellow Garden State alums in Coldplay. “Blue Eyes,” the sweet folk tune that is actually on the soundtrack, is solid, but is hardly the best example of his gifts. Listen to “Belong” from his 2010 sophomore LP Under Control to see what I mean.
Unfortunately, Brothers hasn’t been particularly reliable in putting out new music as of late. He hasn’t finished a full-length record since Under Control, and his EPs (2013’s Let Me Be, 2015’s Lovin’ on You, and a series of covers collections) don’t have quite the same gravity. I’m hoping 2017 is the year we finally get a third proper LP from him, but I can’t say I’m holding my breath.
Track 7: Remy Zero — Fair
Remy Zero are probably less famous for contributing a song to this soundtrack than they are for providing the theme song to Smallville. A drama series about young Clark Kent that aired from 2001 to 2011 on The WB and The CW, Smallville had 218 episodes, all of which featured an introduction set to the sounds of Remy Zero’s anthemic song “Save Me.” If you watched the series, the song is probably still stuck in your head.
By the time Garden State happened, Remy Zero had already broken up. Their third LP, 2001’s The Golden Hum, remains their last (as well as a classic of the early 2000s alt-rock movement). However, the band did reunite briefly in 2010, playing a series of shows and releasing a new single called “’Til the End” to honor the death of their former drummer.
Track 8: Nick Drake — One of These Things First
One of the two older tracks on the soundtrack, “One of These Things First” comes from Bryter Layter, Nick Drake’s 1971 sophomore album. Drake released one more album after Bryter Layter (1972’s Pink Moon, which is widely regarded as his magnum opus), but died of a suicidal drug overdose in 1974. He was neither famous nor wealthy during his lifetime, but Drake has become increasingly respected and beloved in the years since his passing. Garden State only helped spread his legacy further, though interestingly, Drake’s resurgence probably has more to do with this 1999 Volkswagen commercial than it does with Braff.
Track 9: Thievery Corporation — Lebanese Blonde
“Lebanese Blonde” might be the most oft-forgotten song from the Garden State soundtrack, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Listening back to this song, it kind of just sounds like a slightly sexier twist on elevator music. Surprisingly, Thievery Corporation, the so-called “DJ collective” that wrote it, remains an active musical project. The electronic group’s most recent album, The Temple of I & I, just came out on Feb. 17.
Track 10: Simon & Garfunkel — The Only Living Boy in New York
It’s safe to say that Simon & Garfunkel didn’t need the Garden State boost — though it’s possible that the film helped introduce a new generation of listeners to their music. “The Only Living Boy in New York” comes from the duo’s beloved swansong Bridge Over Troubled Water and was one of the last songs they ever recorded together. Originally released in 1970, the tune is the oldest song on the soundtrack.
Paul Simon continues to enjoy an acclaimed solo career. Last year, his album Stranger to Stranger received strong reviews across the board for its experimental use of electronic textures and custom-made instruments. Art Garfunkel, on the other hand, hasn’t released an album since 2007.
Track 11: Iron & Wine — Such Great Heights
The trailers for Garden State featured the original Postal Service version of “Such Great Heights,” but the soundtrack offers up a slowed-down, acoustic cover by Iron & Wine. When the film came out, Iron & Wine mastermind Sam Beam was just starting to come to prominence as an artist. Our Endless Numbered Days, his sophomore album (and still his finest hour) came out in March of 2004, a few months before the film’s wide July release date. It’s likely that Beam’s tranquil take on “Such Great Heights” — and its similarity to the house style he undertook on the all-acoustic Our Endless Numbered Days — helped launch his career into the stratosphere.
Since the Garden State days, Beam has strayed increasingly far from the whispered acoustic folk music that made him a star. 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog fleshed out the instrumentation, cleaned up the production, and incorporated new influences, ranging from the blues to traditional African music. (It also landed a song in the Twilight movie.) 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean went to number two on the Billboard albums chart by doubling down on Beam’s full-band direction and expanding the palette further to include electronic elements and ‘70s AM pop. And 2013’s Ghost on Ghost, currently the last Iron & Wine LP, was largely Beam’s take on soul music.
Despite the outfit’s four-year absence, though, Beam has kept busy, making collaborative albums with Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell (for 2015’s Sing into My Mouth) and singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop (for last year’s Love Letter to Fire). Iron & Wine will also join Jason Isbell on a few tour dates this summer.
Track 12: Frou Frou — Let Go
Like Remy Zero, Frou Frou — whose “Let Go” scores the closing moments of Garden State — had already split up by the time the movie came out. The only album from the band, which was a collaboration between Imogen Heap and Guy Sigswoth, was 2002’s Details. Also like Remy Zero, Imogen Heap is more well-known for another 2000s soundtrack inclusion than she is for Garden State. Heap could live 100 years and release 50 more records and she would still always be remembered first and foremost as the voice behind this infamous scene. (And this tongue-in-cheek parody of said infamous scene.)
Not that Heap probably minds. Together, the soundtrack features for “Let Go” and “Hide and Seek” made her an indie icon, her singular voice and unique electronic-influenced sound making her tough to forget. She hasn’t released an album since 2014’s Sparks, but she provided a co-write and backing vocals for “Clean,” the closing track from Taylor Swift’s blockbuster 1989, and even composed the music for the London production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened last year.
Track 13: Bonnie Somerville — Winding Road
Bonnie Somerville is arguably the least well-known musician featured on the soundtrack, and that’s largely because she spends most of her time acting. On Spotify, there is only one Bonnie Somerville release available (called Songs from Another Life) and it only features five songs. Somerville, though, is a relatively prolific television actress, having played multi-episode roles in Friends (as Ross’s girlfriend Mona), NYPD Blue, and Kitchen Confidential. She was also a series regular on the first season of CBS’s Code Black. And while artists like Imogen Heap got huge boosts from having their music featured on The O.C., Somerville was actually a cast member in the first season of the show, playing a colleague of Peter Gallagher’s Sandy Cohen. Small world!
So who got the biggest Garden State boost? The Shins, undoubtedly, and for good reason: their feature was most central to the film itself. Iron & Wine probably got the second biggest boost, and Imogen Heap would round out the top three. Even for the artists who never got on the Billboard charts or landed jobs scoring Harry Potter plays, though, Garden State was a landmark moment. There are a few very small, niche-level artists on this soundtrack, but it’s cool to look back at the tracklist and think about how many of them are culturally immortalized just because their songs were in a film that resonated with people. Will there ever be another soundtrack like Garden State? For the sake of unheralded artists everywhere, I hope so.
Shins Week is in honor of the band’s upcoming full length album, “Heartworms.” You can grab it on vinyl, here.