This post was written by Adam Blau.

When Pamela Ribon approached me about composing the score for an animated short film based on her memoir, I knew it was going to be a fun time from the moment I heard the title: My Year of Dicks.

The film, which would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award, is a coming-of-age story that catalogs the romantic adventures of a teenage girl in Texas in the early 1990s. It is a heartfelt and personal story about love, friendship, teenage awkwardness, and utter cringiness – and it also happens to be funny as hell.

Pam and I have worked together on a variety of projects over the years. One of my first scoring jobs early in my career was a live stage performance of Pam’s that included some of the material that evolved into her memoir that in turn inspired My Year of Dicks. From those early days, Pam went on to write on films like Moana and Ralph Breaks the Internet for Disney, and was now working with FX and the brilliant Icelandic director/animator Sara Gunnarsdóttir (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) on this tonally unique animated project that required an incredibly diverse score.

Myod1'My Year of Dicks'Credit: Hulu

One of the striking aspects of the film is that as our protagonist (also “Pam”) goes on her various escapades with the titular dicks through the film’s five “chapters,” she is constantly processing the world around her through imaginative flights of fancy that also happen to be genre-specific, particularly as reflected in the animation.

The visuals will suddenly morph into sparkly anime, a moody 1960s French film, or a gothic vampire aesthetic before snapping back to a “home-base” of rotoscoped 1990s Houston. It was clear to me that Pam and Sara wanted the music to lean into these rapid and wild genre changes while still maintaining a consistent and cohesive vibe for the world of the film, all while leaving room for an emotional core that is heartfelt and genuine.

Myod5'My Year of Dicks'Credit: Hulu

I had recently scored some genre-bending television projects like Netflix’s Dead to Me and FX’s You’re the Worst, both of which gave me a chance to spread my wings musically. Dead to Me is another very funny comedy that plays into a specific genre (mystery/thriller) while letting the deeply-felt emotion of the show shine through.

On You’re the Worst, I had the opportunity to dive into innumerable genres during the show’s many theme episodes, from Hitchcockian suspense and Eurovision-inspired songs to a twangy Western-tinged episode and a send-up of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, replete with original “classical” piano pieces. Needless to say, the genre-hopping aspect of My Year of Dicks was right up my alley.

I’ve always been excited by the process of figuring out what makes a particular musical genre tick: the elements that comprise a specific sound, the production techniques used in a song, and the voicings used in the various instruments.

Pam and Sara gave me a long list of reference tracks that inspired them while working on particular segments of the film, from Sonic Youth and anime-inspired scoring to orchestral versions of U2 songs and Michael Kamen’s score to The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Each one was like a tiny nut to crack, as I figured out how to evoke each particular vibe within a matter of seconds while also accompanying the on-screen action from this young woman’s perspective as we shift through styles of animation.

Myod3'My Year of Dicks'Credit: Hulu

I found myself immersed in YouTube videos dissecting Thurston Moore’s guitar rig and playing around with Sonic Youth’s alternate tunings, or rewatching scenes from The Cook, the Thief, focusing primarily on the score. As the animatics would come in from Sara and her stellar team of animators, I would start timing my sketches of music in these genres to the picture. It was inspiring to see the animation progress with each edit, and each new visual detail gave more clarity about specific gestures in the music that I could play with.

Pam and Sara fostered the kind of environment that led to me creating an anime-inspired song from the ground up, or (in one of my more memorable scoring moments) repeatedly screaming “THE HORROR!!” into a microphone over a noise rock track while an on-screen character delivers a profanity-laden tirade. I should mention that this was recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, and I had to give my young kids in the next room a heads-up that dad was going to be screaming into a mic for a while, and not to be alarmed.

Pam and Sara’s unique and imaginative vision for My Year of Dicks is so smart, funny, and genuinely heartfelt. It has been a joy to see how the film has resonated with so many people. The collaboration was a start-to-finish rewarding and fun experience for me, and I’m thrilled and honored to have been a part of the film.

This post was written by Adam Blau.

Adam is a composer and songwriter whose diverse works have strengthened many projects across film, television, theatrical productions and podcasts.

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