Choosing the right music to accompany a television program is a delicate process. The songs have to not only be strong compositions on their own, but also complement and enhance the experience of a scene or episode for the audience at home.
Much like building a playlist, constructing a soundtrack for a series must be done carefully, since the creators are using other artist’s work to convey an idea, to instigate an emotional reaction from viewers. A show can become defined by the music chosen to accompany it, and can work wonders for the popularity of artists. This trend has been the case for many popular series, such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Scrubs.”
Even more difficult is compiling all the work from a diverse range of bands and singers into a cohesive album. For the most part, the “House of Lies” soundtrack accomplishes this task. The blend of simple, ominous blues riffs and indie singer-songwriters matches well with the Showtime’s satire of American big business. However, some tracks that incorporate drum machines and more polished production can be jarring when listening to the collection straight through, though they do work in the context of the show.
The most enjoyable tracks are those with a less polished, more straightforward approach. Young gun Gary Clark Jr.’s rocker “Bright Lights” is joined by other bitter, fatalistic numbers from long-established acts such as Aloe Blacc and James Hunter. The artists strip down their songs to the core, utilizing only guitar, drums, and bass, with the occasional organ or sparse use of other instruments to accompany and enhance the dark lyrics. “Don’t believe them when they tell you justice is blind,” Blacc warns. “I’m gonna give them what they deserve/They gon’ get what they deserve.”
Other tracks such as “Heartbreak” and “Shift to Reverse” by James Hunter and N*Grandjean respectively continue this overall stylistic direction, while also bringing in elements of 1970s R&B; to the soundtrack. The effect is an old school sound channeled through modern artists.
The placement of these songs in “House of Lies” is used to great effect. Marty Kaan’s blunt immorality when backed with the just-under-the-surface anger and resentment in the music is brought to a new high (or low, depending on your level of respect for the character). The resentful blues music makes the show’s cynicism and portrayal of undeservedly rich people getting their comeuppance even more satisfying.
The soundtrack does fall short of being a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience on its own due to some stylistic differences . While the inclusion of Isaac Delusion’s “Midnight Sun,” Kim Cesarion’s “Brains Out” and “Illusions of Time” by Kiko King and creativemaze make sense in the context of their respective episodes, they feel out of place on the soundtrack as a whole.
It can be jarring for some listeners, especially those unfamiliar with the series, to go from the blues rock of “Bright Lights” to indie, drum machine and sample-based work. Thematically and lyrically, the songs are a good fit, as they are just as brooding and ominous as their counterparts, but musically do not flow together as a cohesive album.
Despite this flaw, the overall experience of listening to the “House of Lies” soundtrack is a positive one. Even those who have not seen the show can appreciate the work of the album’s artists, and may even inspire some to begin watching the chaotic lives of Kaan and Jeannine van der Hooven for themselves. In short, “House of Lies” continues the tradition of modern shows utilizing a superb choice of popular music for their episodes, and its compilation is well worth a listen.
Gary Glark Jr. – “Bright Lights”
Aloe Blacc – “Take Me Back”
The James Hunter Six – “Heartbreak”