The following post contains spoilers. If you are not caught up on the current episode of Breaking Bad, proceed with caution.
This current season of Breaking Bad has successfully hit the accelerator as we get closer and closer to the end of the series. The shocking end of former kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) has only made way for a new one – our increasingly sinister anti-hero, Walter White (Bryan Cranston.) The formerly meek and mild chemistry teacher may now view himself as an untouchable, successful drug lord, but those around him are suffering the consequences – whether they realize it or not. Since the beginning, Breaking Bad has gotten its distinct and inventive sound from composer Dave Porter. I spoke with Porter before the premiere of Season 5 and his teases of what was to come (both musically and episodically) have proven to be as true as those flash forward glimpses director Vince Gilligan and co. are so foud of giving us.
Out today, the latest soundtrack for the series is sure to become a must-have for fans of the series (or simply fans of interesting, off-beat music). The soundtrack starts off with that theme all Breaking Bad fans know – the ominous guitar pluck/cymbal crash that transitions us from the now iconic cold opens into each episode. That mixture off-putting guitar, dissonant percussion, and the theme’s overall sinister sound are familiar, but never comforting. Hearing the full version is all the more unsettling as all the elements that set your ears on edge each week are drawn out to truly create that feeling of Southwestern misdoing.
As the track titles indicate, this compilation takes us through the past few seasons in all their unnerving glory. Breaking Bad has never shied away from letting the music take center stage (see: the cold open for “Buyout”), but being able to focus on pieces that may have previously been buried by the ever terrifying action on screen proves just how much the show’s music helps make up its unmistakable landscape. Almost always kinetic, the score is an interesting counter to the Breaking Bad’s pacing which prefers to take its time (we are five seasons in and only a single year has passed so far.) Porter has commented about how he likes to use synthenization on his instrumentation when composing for the show and that choice and technique is clear here. Nothing ever sounds like a simple instrument, always something more and works as a wonderful (black pork pie) hat tip to the complex Breaking Bad characters themselves.
Porter has a keen ear for each of these characters and his score seems to reflect the true and underlying nature of each one. We are starting to see that Jesse is not simply a drug addled screw up, he is a man with a huge heart and some keen business sense which Porter reflects that in pieces like “Jesse in Mexico” (Season 4, Episode 10 “Salud”) where Jesse is finally allowed to take control. Walt, on the other hand, has started to take an unflinchingly approach at showing audiences what it truly means to “break bad” (or reveal how bad you have always been) and pieces like “The Long Walk Alone (Heisenberg’s Theme)” are filled with synthesized tones that may seem harmless, but leave you with the feeling that something awful lays in wait.
Porter is not just in tune with the show’s two leads, his score works to flesh out Breaking Bad‘s periphery characters as well. “The Cousins,” who we are introduced to crawling across a dirt road in Mexico (Season 3, Episode 1 “No Mas”), sounds almost like a rattlesnake slithering along in search of its prey, an adept depiction of these two ruthless killers. Walter’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), is one of the more polarizing Breaking Bad characters who first came across as a nagging, noisy, pain-in-the-ass, but has turned into someone we are starting to realize is hopelessly trapped in a situation she never saw coming and is quickly running out of ways to control or cope with it. “Four Corners/Waiting for The End” (Season 4, Episode 6 “Cornered”) is the first glimpse we get towards the true Skylar, a woman both strong and at times bull-headed, but also scared, desperate, and looking for something (anything) to help her and her children.
The previously released Breaking Bad album featured other artists, but the songs here are all Porter, allowing you to really dive in and hear his full range as he creates a variety of feelings and emotions with each of his pieces. “Baby’s Coming” (Season 2, Episode 11 “Mandala”) sounds almost like the score for a horror film and bleeds right into “Jane’s Demise” which sounds almost ethereal and hopeful. The fact that a song titled “Baby’s Coming” (normally a joyous event) would play like something out of a horror film while a song titled “Jane’s Demise” (Season 2, Episode 12 “Phoenix”) sounds hopeful and promising paints a true and terrifying picture of the world that is Breaking Bad where life becomes something you almost run from while death may actually be sweet relief.
The entire musical spectrum Porter has created for the series is on full display here, but the compilation also includes small moments of sound design that truly round the soundtrack out. A slight coughing towards the end of “Matches in the Pool” (Season 3, Episode 1 “No Mas”), the sound of someone sliding across dirt in “The Cousins,” the sound of a heart beat in “Crawl Space” (Season 4, Episode 11 “Crawl Space”) are all expertly blended with the tracks and work to bring the world of Breaking Bad right into the music, making the soundtrack is as complex and layered as the series itself.
Whether you are a fan of the show, Porter’s work, or simply music that pushes boundaries – grab a bucket of Los Pollos Hermanos and give it a listen!
This soundtrack is available through Madison Gate Records.
1. “Breaking Bad Main Title Theme (Extended)”
2. “Matches In the Pool”
3. “Smoking Jesse’s Pot”
4. “Gray Matter”
5. “The Morning After”
6. “Three Days Out”
8. “Baby’s Coming”
9. “Jane’s Demise”
10. “The Cousins”
11. “Hank In Pursuit”
12. “The Long Walk Alone (Heisenberg’s Theme)”
13. “Searching For Jesse”
15. “Four Corners/Waiting For the End”
16. “Jesse In Mexico”
17. “Crawl Space”
18. “Parking Garage Standoff”
19. “Cleaning House”
How important do you think music is in Breaking Bad? Was there a piece of score in particular that stood out to you?