Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips – Mistress America OST

Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips - Mistress America OST

Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips – Mistress America

Together and apart, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips are certainly not averse to supplying their multiple talents to the filmic work of writer/director Noah Baumbach; most notably with original score contributions to 2005’s The Squid & The Whale and acting cameos in 2012’s Frances Ha.  The couple’s latest collaboration with Baumbach, takes the form of a close-to-full soundtrack album (interspersed by licensed-in vintage tracks from Paul McCartney, Suicide, OMD and Hot Chocolate) for the acclaimed coming-of-age-meets-quarter-life-crisis comedy drama Mistress America.  

Even those familiar with the more exotic ends of Wareham and Phillips’s work as the art-pop duo Dean & Britta might be taken aback by the eleven instrumental pieces that make up the bulk of this official soundtrack album.  Given a steer by Baumbach to explore early-to-mid-‘80s electronica and post-punk-noire templates, Wareham and Phillips plug themselves deeply into the world of drum machines, sequencers, synthesisers and subterranean bass-lines, with guitars used more for texture than as lead instruments.  Whilst in lesser hands this could have slid into plastic pop pastiche or reheated gothic gloom, the increasingly flexible twosome pull things off skilfully and thoughtfully, to create a suite of wordless backdrops that drink from the better sources of sonic nostalgia from the first half of the 1980s.

Hence, the gliding elegiac likes of the title-track and “Tracy & Tony” could be the lost – albeit improbable – offspring of a Joy Division and early-OMD conjoining; the glowing low-end prowl of “Hooks & Ladders” imagines The Cocteau Twins remixed by onetime 4AD labelmates Dif Juz; “Mom’s” could be a choice Dazzle Ships outtake; the pulsing Haçienda club-land meets Düsseldorf kosmische of “Tracy In New York” and “Robbers” could be the product of a mutual remix exchange project between Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order and The Cure.  The only direct and comforting connection with the twosome’s own shared musical past comes with a Jim James remix of “Happy & Free” (heard in its original form on Wareham’s 2014 eponymous solo LP), which adds an Americana instrumentation twist and warming ululations to proceedings.

Whilst it might not be able to carry over all pre-existing fans, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’s Mistress America score is a subtle yet steely low-key triumph and further proof of the pair’s growing adaptability.

Milan Records