The Sharp Objects soundtrack is haunting me.
Just like Jean-Marc Vallee’s previous buzzy female-centric show, Big Little Lies, HBO’s latest must-see TV creates an entirely unique and atmospheric vibe using a perfectly curated soundtrack. BLL’s vibe was crisp, cool California breeze; Sharp Objects is hot, heavy Southern heat. It burdens you with its intensity, and it adds so much to the already electric series.
The music in the new series is as tangible and crucial to the characters on the screen as it is to the audiences at home, mirroring the soundtrack style of BLL. In it, Madeline’s (Reese Witherspoon) daughter Chloe (Darby Camp) is obsessed with handling the AUX cord (who among us). For most of the series, she’s in control of the soundtrack. Because of her weirdly on-point playlists (notably featuring "River" by Leon Bridges), the music and the influence it has on a mood or situation, is constantly on our mind. The man gets music, and he gets how to seamlessly interweave it into the show’s action. This summer, he’s back doing it again in Wind Gap — and even better than before.
The series opens with Sylvan Esso’s, “Come Down” which sounds like a beautiful, whispered curse. It’s at once soothing and unsettling; the music equivalent of the Preaker-Crellin home. The next song we hear comes out of a sleeping Camille’s (Adams) earbuds. She requires music to fall asleep, the relax, to drive, to function. Her nightmare is dictated by the track “Tumbling Lights” by The Acid, which is, in a word, anxious. It starts out wide and sprawling, with juxtaposed noises, like a hooting owl, and whirling plane engine overhead. Then it’s a delicate mix of kiddish xylophone noises, before it hones in on the intensity around a pulsing noise — a nervous heartbeat — then suddenly the pace changes, and the lyrics kick in. It’s Camille’s mindset — tumbling, tripping, unnerved. The song reappears multiple times throughout the episode, and completely envelopes in the final scene of the premiere episode. It’s this year’s “Cold Little Heart.”
Another big music moment in the first episode, titled “Vanish” (and if you don’t know why, I suggest you stop reading this and go watch), occurs during Camille’s road trip from St. Louis to Wind Gap (thanks Tunefind for finding those hard to catch snippets of songs). Just like Chloe in BLL, Camille is dictating the soundtrack for the show, jumping from rock (Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” — twice) to folk (Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “Small Town Heroes”). Later, she also drunkenly sings along to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” before falling asleep in her car to Zeppelin blaring again. We also learn that Camille’s mother and step-father, Alan (Henry Czerny), have an affinity for music, playing classical music loudly on their new record player (he likes “Dietro casa” by Ludovico Einaudi and “Plus tôt” by Alexandra Stréliski). These ominous songs create an elegant mood in an otherwise hostile home — juxtaposition at its finest.
The space that the soundtrack takes up in the series feels unlike any other show currently on air. Unlike a show like Westworld, where a piano player literally dictates the plot (if you don’t watch the show, then this makes no sense; it’s fine), the characters in Sharp Objects are in directing the plot points themselves. They put on the music; they control the scene. It’s something more and more films and television shows are using, like the 2016 indie hit American Honey, where almost every song was playing in real-time during the scene. This type of soundtrack reveals a deeper side of the character because the songs interact and guide the scene in a way that makes Vallée’s world seem more vibrant and alive. It’s the one thing the show has over Gillian Flynn’s original book. And it means that we, too, can find out about new music to soundtrack our own lives. Just try to tell me you aren’t also obsessed by The Acid’s “Ghost” after hearing it in the trailer for the show.
All this is to say, if you haven't watched the first episode of Sharp Objects on HBO yet, I urge you prioritize an hour of your life to start the best series of summer 2018.
And then listen to the soundtrack below. It'll haunt you too.