'Fargo' Season 2: The best soundtrack that doesn't exist
Every year since 2000, the Grammys have handed out a trophy for best mixtape.
Okay, fine, technically it’s called the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. But c’mon: It’s a mixtape. Past winners include the hit-heavy soundtracks to Garden State and Juno; last year’s nominees include the period-appropriate mixes from Guardians of the Galaxy, American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street.
This fall, there's a new soundtrack that eclipses them all. As an actual, physical album, it doesn’t yet exist. But if it did, it would not only be guaranteed a Grammy nod, it would be one of the flat-out best albums of the year.
I’m talking about the soundtrack to Season 2 of Fargo.
Noah Hawley, creator of the FX series, and his musical supervisor Marguerite Phillips have more than lived up to the lofty musical standards set forth by Joel and Ethan Coen s in films like The Big Lebowski, Inside Llewyn Davis and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The late-‘70s-set Season 2 has been a thrilling deep-dive into the record crates of yesteryear, from Bobbie Gentry to Devo to Three Dog Night. Every episode brings at least one new song that has me reaching for Shazam.
I’m not sure when I noticed it. Maybe it was Episode 1, when Rye Gerhardt and a judge face off in a diner to the sizzling space-rock sound of Billy Thorpe’s Children of the Sun. I definitely took notice when Episode 3 kicked off with Yama Yama, a thick hunk of wocka-wocka tribalism from French-Japanese outfit Yamasuki. By the time the Dramatics’ funky and fresh Whatcha See is Whatcha Get played in Episode 5, the musical cues became perhaps my favorite part of the show – and considering it might currently be the best series on TV, that’s saying a lot.
The act of discovering music through television isn’t new – it’s happened quite a lot over the past decade on shows like Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and Girls. But for Fargo to do that with songs from the ‘70s is impressive. They use no obvious cuts we’ve all heard a million times, songs that would instantly place the listener in the era of the show – and you know that temptation had to be there, if not for Hawley and Phillips, then for some meddling producer along the line.
Consider: The Americans, another excellent FX drama, began its run with a suspenseful scene set to Fleetwood Mac’s hit Tusk, in part to hurl viewers straight back into the early ‘80s. Well, Fargo also used a Fleetwood Mac song this season – but not one of the hits we’ve all heard a million times. It was Oh Well, a Peter Green-era slice of rockabilly psychedelia that fans who just know Rumours might not know exists, and which fits the show to a T.
The more you dive into Fargo’s musical choices, the more care you realize went into each one. Many songs are not just lyrically appropriate, but just off-kilter enough to fit any Coenesque worldview. Down In the Willow Garden, which closed Episode 4, is a traditional Appalachian murder ballad (perfect), but the show used a 2012 version by Bon Iver and the Chieftans, cementing the song’s timeless feeling.
All of it is a painstaking and deliberate homage to the Coens – literally, in some cases. In Episode 1, Hawley himself performed a cover of the traditional song Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby, a song that plays a key role in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Monday’s episode, while relatively light on music, closed with a shambling rock cover of that movie’s signature song, I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow. Phillips has promised that even more Coen-connected covers are coming this season.
The only problem with all of this is that Fargo Season 2 does not actually have a soundtrack. Valiant fans have compiled Spotify playlists, which will have to do for now. But a collection this spectacular deserves a physical release. Preferably on vinyl. Or 8-track.
If and when a soundtrack comes, it ought to get a Grammy, too.
-- Jay Cridlin