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Culture Shock

The Lighthouse Soundtrack

The following article contains spoilers for The Lighthouse. 

My music taste lately has leaned towards dark, cold, and often abstract hip-hop that sounds closer to spoken word or poetry than rapping. Two of my favorite artists in this vein, Quelle Chris and Ka, appear multiple times on this playlist, as does Billy Woods, arguably one of the forefathers of this artistic movement. I thought 2019's The Lighthouse fit perfectly into this vibe. It's shot in foreboding black-and-white and follows lighthouse keepers Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as they are stranded at a remote lighthouse in New England. What follows is a movie that alternates between operating literally and figuratively as the two lighthouse keepers fall deep into insanity - some of it is real, some of it is fantastical, but it's all equally fucked up.

We start off with Danny Brown's "Lost." The ghostly moans that loop through the song are a perfectly spooky tone-setter for what's to come. Then comes the appropriately-titled "Wharves" by Billy Woods, whose portentous chimes play in a staggered sequence that reminds me of the doldrums the movie's characters have to endure. Ka's first entry on this soundtrack, "That Cold and Lonely," is another aptly-named track that similarly evokes a mysterious atmosphere with whistles that spiral upwards into shrieks. At the same time, its rattling tambourines never let you get settled. Quelle Chris' "Mirage" is a departure from these first three tracks as it carries a warm yet melancholy nostalgia. I'll admit that this song was chosen for its title first and foremost, but its lyrics speak of a feeling that's inescapable and drawing ever-near, matching the ominous tone maintained by the film. 

"Sirens" is one of the songs on this playlist that more directly engages with the movie, as we see Robert Pattinson's character entranced by a mermaid multiple times in the film. It's from the album Orpheus vs. the Sirens by Hermit and the Recluse, a duo consisting of Ka and producer Animoss. It's a concept album themed around Greek mythology, just as The Lighthouse has thematic connections to the myth of Prometheus. Quelle Chris reappears with "Excuse My Back," one of my favorite songs from his album DEATHFAME, one of my favorites of 2022. While I do love the song, it has undeniably bad vibes, not unlike the movie. Between Quelle and guest, Cavalier's verses are these creepy vocal samples exclaiming, "Excuse my back!" which complements the film's cryptic and unsettling nature.

The final 3-song stretch consists of Ka's "30 Pieces of Silver," GZA's "Duel Of The Iron Mic," and "My Brother's Keeper," again by Ka. This final section seeks to capture the literal ending of the movie and how it serves as a metaphor. As I previously mentioned, The Lighthouse has many allusions and parallels to Promethean mythology, but both of Ka's songs here tease out those themes via references to Christianity. Ka has a conceptual streak in his work - "30 Pieces" is from an album themed around chess, while "My Brother's Keeper" is from an album themed around Christian mythology. 

Both songs involve a betrayal - Judas of Jesus and Cain of Abel. These mirror the betrayal of Wake by Winslow at the end of the film. Until that moment in the movie, Wake has forbidden Winslow from the lantern room where Wake goes at night. This frustration is further fueled by growing tensions between the two wickies as they descend into madness and culminates in Winslow killing Wake and entering the lantern room. 

The middle song of this section, "Duel Of The Iron Mic," is the connecting piece that details the struggle between Pattinson and Dafoe and shows the listener where their struggle, the titular duel, has led them. The song is bookmarked by samples from 1980s Shogun Assassin. The starting sample shows a fateful agreement to a duel, and the song details the duel in the form of a rap battle between GZA and fellow Wu-Tang Clan members Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa; Ol' Dirty Bastard serves as referee. 

The closing sample narrates the outcome of this battle: "At the height of their fame and glory, they turned on one another/Each struggling in vain for ultimate supremacy/In the passion and depth of their struggle/The very art that had raised them to such Olympian heights was lost/Their techniques vanished."

Once Winslow enters the lantern room, he laughs and starts to scream before slipping and falling down the tall lighthouse staircase. The last time we see him, he's getting his innards eaten by a flock of seagulls, the lighthouse nowhere to be seen. The two men and the lighthouse have vanished in their struggle for power and dominance.

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