I Saw The TV Glow review
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Various Artists I Saw the TV Glow (The Original Soundtrack) A24 Music


Having enlisted a cast of era-defining artists with the humble goal of creating “the best soundtrack of all time,” this collection of music made for Jane Schoenbrun’s A24 horror flick has all the hallmarks of a cult classic

Sound is everywhere in director Jane Schoenbrun’s mesmerising second feature I Saw the TV Glow. It’s there in the cacophony of bells and whistles that open the film, and the encroaching buzz of television static. It’s also there in the hum of the vending machines that tower over Owen and Maddy, two high schoolers who form an inexplicable bond over their obsession with a Buffy-esque TV show called The Pink Opaque

Schoenbrun skilfully uses music to make sense of the noise. I Saw the TV Glow is a hypnotic mystery, jumping through time and planes of reality and dreams to explore how our pop culture obsessions shape our identities. There’s a level of fascinating self-awareness, then, in its accompanying album, reminiscent of era-defining soundtracks born from the likes of Trainspotting and Juno. Schoenbrun has enlisted some of the most beloved artists of the moment (most notably Caroline Polachek, Snail Mail and Phoebe Bridgers) whose works have been dissected, weaponised and projected onto for online fodder. Much of the era in which I Saw the TV Glow is set predates internet fandom, of course, but its music – a vulnerable collection of slow-tempo earworms, sure to become a source of obsession in its own right – speaks to the extent that consumption can define us. 

As Owen revisits his favourite show over decades, Schoenbrun recontextualises nostalgia – framing it not as an oasis for fond remembrance, but as an alienating force. Across the years, Owen sheds former selves and returns to The Pink Opaque with fresh eyes, paling in comparison each time. The past becomes a sobering benchmark for just how far he’s departed from the child he once was. It’s a feeling best typified by yeule’s cover of Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl, an eerie simulacrum that replaces Broken Social Scene’s folky banjos with a steady guitar against electronic vocals chopped into darting arpeggios. The breathy lead vocals remain, lending an uncanniness that bleeds into the film itself. 

That sense of disorientation is present even in the compilation’s calmer tracks. “You’re so hard to find / Caught up in the weeds and tangled wires,” Maria BC laments on Taper, mirroring a young Owen escaping reality and burying himself in his favourite TV show. Drab Majesty chimes in with Photograph, an 80s throwback that feels like it is in conversation with the memorable Tears for Fears needle drop in Donnie Darko. Unsurprisingly, static is a recurring motif. The film’s closer by Frances Quinlan, Another Season, begins with white noise before blown-out guitars mimic the sound of a TV searching for signal. Elsewhere, on L’Rain’s Green, a tender piano is corrupted by crescendoing synths and guitars that explode in tangled dissonance.  

In commissioning the soundtrack, Schoenbrun requested that each artist create songs that would sound at home in Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. “Lynchian” has been a lazy descriptor for Schoenbrun’s films thus far, but it feels most apt for I Saw the TV Glow’s electrifying live performances that set the scene for a tense reunion between Owen and Maddy at a seedy dive bar. For album highlight Claw Machine, Sloppy Jane’s Haley Dahl and Phoebe Bridgers appear as a pair of bar singers, as if they were plucked from Isabella Rossellini’s backing band in Blue Velvet. In chorus-like unison, the duo express hopes for more but settle for the void, describing painting “the ceiling black so I don’t notice when my eyes are open”. 

A striking pivot arrives shortly after in Psychic Wound, which sees King Woman’s Kristina Esfandiari step on stage to voice the all-consuming emotions that Owen is so reticent to expose. Over a heavy guitar riff, Owen and Maddy’s confrontation is punctuated by Esfandiari’s guttural, piercing screams, which contrast with lyrics painting someone swallowing the pain of mental anguish.

Even as Owen ultimately finds himself as alone and lost as he began, I Saw the TV Glow’s soundtrack – which empathetically articulates what the film’s illusory images can’t discern – suggest that the love between art and audience can be reciprocal. Schoenbrun said that their goal with the compilation was to create “the best soundtrack of all time,” and while that is certainly a lofty aspiration, this is an album that will undoubtedly be cherished by those who see themselves reflected in it.