Review Summary: Embodying the show in every way, Dave Porter’s score for Breaking Bad is gripping and unsettling electronica that makes its presence known rather than keeping to the background.
Original scores for television series seem to be dwindling in popularity. Theme music that opens a show is never overlooked in the slightest, but the score music that plays during a program has never been given too much attention by viewers before, and with a notable increase in the popularity of reality TV shows and modern dramas that opt for silence to attain their desired atmosphere, very few television shows have enough original score music to compile into even a single volume, or at least the ones that would bother to release a score album. Opening themes and other themes that play at certain points of a reality TV show are always recognizable, but act more as cues rather than actual compositions, and are far too short to be included as tracks on a score album.
It’s most common for television shows of all genres to make use of current pop/rock singles, or any other music from various artists as the music the program is set to. This results in “original soundtrack” albums that are just compilations of different artists whose music somewhat relates to the show, rather than original score music that is composed and designed with only the show in mind.
The few programs that have a score that plays a noticeable and consistent part in the program, typically have a score made up of generic metal riffs or droning ambience that serves as little more than background noise, and thus doesn’t particularly stand out. Taking this all into consideration, composer Dave Porter’s original score for Vince Gilligan’s universally acclaimed drama masterpiece Breaking Bad is a refreshingly original and ear-grabbing collection of compositions that are as intriguing as they are evocative.
Porter and music supervisor Thomas Golubic have previously released an album of music from the show’s first season, containing a mix of a handful of Porter’s score tracks, and several songs by artists other than Porter that were featured in the season. This is the first album Porter has released that is entirely made up of only score music from Breaking Bad, and at a total of 20 tracks, it covers musical highlights from the first 4 seasons of the show and episodes from the show's currently ongoing fifth season as selected by Porter. Including some tracks that were already included as a part of the mixed soundtrack album for the show’s first season.
The music of Breaking Bad can best be described as very spacious and resonating electronic music that heavily varies in moods, ranging from crisp and melodic ambience, to dark and foreboding industrial dismalness. Experimental electronic instrumental music has gotten a surge in popularity in recent years with industrial music legend Trent Reznor and fellow composer Atticus Ross providing electronic-based scores for the very popular David Fincher films The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The Breaking Bad original score can be compared to the original scores of these films, as the compositions are all very defined and projects themselves in a cinematic fashion. This new popularity of electronic based soundtracks is a very welcome change of style that sets Breaking Bad apart from the rest of the pack, as the often obscure noises alone is more than enough to keep the focus of listeners.
The score embodies the pure essence of the show in terms of mood and every other department, and electronic music is the ideal type of music to score Breaking Bad. The unsettling and even disturbing vibes of the more industrial tracks such as the eerie and heart-stopping piece “Crawl Space" greatly compliments the tense and darker moments in the show. The cold and abrasive personality of industrial music reflects the show’s general emphasis on grey morality and the consequences it can bring, as the pitch of the score is constantly bleak even at it’s most uplifting of moments such as “Matches in the Pool”.
The machine made music that electronica is connects with Breaking Bad on a sort of representative level as well. The synthesizers produce noises that hiss, moan and clank like the machinery used in the show to make methamphetamine, as they slowly rise in low and subdued tones in a thick and hazy atmosphere, comparable to a drugged-out daze or boiling in the heat under the New Mexico sun of Breaking Bad’s setting.
Some tracks go through changing sequences that are never predictable, but this doesn’t come at the cost of accessibility. While the tracks may be composed to the certain scenes in the show, it isn’t so specifically so that the tracks progress in an strange and nonsensical way without the reliance on the visuals they apply to. This is a score that isn’t completely dependent on the scenes the songs where composed to, and the tracks can be enjoyed stand-alone without the listening experience being hindered.
For Example, the song “Aztek” starts out as a high-octane industrial rock theme with a relentless pulse until it unexpectedly dissolves into an uneasy and delirious chimes section midway through before readjusting to it’s original pace without an abrupt transition, making the piece something vaguely reminiscent of the material one would hear on the Nine Inch Nails album “The Fragile”.
With the score for Breaking Bad, Dave Porter shows promise of being that of a modern Brian Eno. Making score music that is distinct and bold, that easily surpasses the old standard of television scores and sets a new one. Music that perfectly suits the show it was made for, and is listenable without the need of the show. Music that is diverse enough to be able to convey emotions as specific as claustrophobia, and do so in an approach that is defined, yet subtle. This music is as ambitious and impactful as the show it’s based on, and the effort is clearly audible in every corner of this collection. For fans, these tracks will recall many powerful and unforgettable scenes from Breaking Bad, and instill such interesting visuals that they will certainly intrigue those who are not familiar with the show into watching for themselves.