Album Review: “Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Various Artists

I’m not the kind of person that listens to a lot of movie soundtracks. When I do pick one up, it’s usually because of its use in the film itself (see for example Hans Zimmer’s recent Interstellar score, or the excellent Clint Mansell collaboration with Kronos Quartet and Mogwai for The Fountain).

Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

As I write this, however, Song One‘s full theatrical / on-demand release is still a week or so away. While Interstellar‘s music blew me away in the theater, I went into the Song One soundtrack with a completely different context. Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) piqued my interest last November when it was announced that songwriting duo Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice were set to score the film and produce its soundtrack.

I’ve been a Jenny Lewis fan since the days of Rilo Kiley (side note: as a kid, I for sure had a crush on her in The Wizard, but that doesn’t count). Luckily, in the post-Rilo Kiley years, there has been no shortage of Jenny Lewis listening. From the b-sides Rkives album to her recent solo album The Voyager, Lewis has kept busy.

Jenny and Johnny debuted their collaborative efforts all the way back in 2010, which makes Song One an interesting place to reunite in a formal way. The pair serve as both writers for all but one of the soundtrack’s original songs and producers of the album and recordings. You’ll also find their talents in the form of occasional backing vocals.

Peppered among the soundtrack’s original tunes is a generally well-curated selection of other songs. Most of the songs fit really well, making Song One feel much closer to an album than a random selection of soundtrack-y hits. Standouts include the excellent “One Day” by Sharon Van Etten and America‘s “I Need You.”

While most of the soundtrack feels cohesive in tone, there are some questionable inclusions that may take the film’s context to appreciate. I’m a big Dan Deacon supporter, but in an album of folky, country-influenced rock songs, “The Crystal Cat” is a strange choice. And while Portuguese song “O Leaozinho” is interesting, I just didn’t enjoy this recording all that much.

Song One Still
Song One stars Johnny Flynn & Anne Hathaway

The meat of this soundtrack is clearly the original songs, which all—to my relief—feel like they could have been Jenny and Johnny canon. Nothing feels like a throwaway. In a world of cash-ins and sequels, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a film like Song One turn into a late-to-the-party Once ripoff, but it’s crystal clear that everyone involved with this soundtrack cared a lot.

My favorite originals have to be “Iris, Instilled” and the soundtrack’s single “In April.” It’s important to mention some excellent performances by one of the film’s stars, Johnny Flynn, the voice behind Song One’s originals. Beyond vocals, Flynn also contributes guitar, piano and violin throughout the soundtrack.

For a movie about music, it’s refreshing to see such obvious collaboration through and through. The songs that really work here are the ones where Johnny Flynn, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice are all involved. If you’ve heard a lot of Jenny Lewis’ work, it’s easy to hear that Flynn’s delivery serves her style of phrasing well.

While not bad per se, the lone original not performed by Johnny Flynn, “Marble Song,” was probably the most forgettable. Likewise, “Afraid of Heights,” which seems to be taken directly from the film, was not written by Jenny and Johnny. The recording quality on that track is notably worse than the rest of the album. If it was indeed taken from the movie itself, the poor mixing is a concern.

Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is not perfect, but it is certainly a treat for fans of Jenny Lewis, Johnathan Rice or their combined efforts. The worst thing about Song One is that you might want to skip a track here or there, but that’s hardly a problem when the soundtrack is so generous with good, original music. Here’s hoping we get more Jenny and Johnny sooner rather than later!

Jenny and Johnny
Jenny and Johnny


John Kruse
@johnkruse

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has written a lot of music. With over 150 films under his belt, you have heard his work—whether you can name a movie he’s done off the top of your head, or spot a tune when you hear it.

While Zimmer began his music career playing synth for new wave and punk bands (see The Buggles‘ classic “Video Killed the Radio Star“), he’s perhaps best known for his marrying of electronic and orchestral sounds. If you’ve seen Rain Man, The Lion King, The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc, etc, etc, etc, Hans Zimmer has wormed his way into your ears.

Hans Zimmer - InterstellarBeyond a doubt, Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar is singular in his career. The true magic of Interstellar is that Zimmer did not compose this music as a background to the film. Rather, he worked hand in hand with Christopher Nolan to create the score in tandem with production. While I highly recommend the film (particularly in IMAX, for which it was specifically tailored), Hans Zimmer’s score absolutely holds its ground as a stand-alone album.

If you’re at all interested in the music of Interstellar, you should definitely get your hands on a CD copy of the album. Not only does it feature essays about the scoring process by both Zimmer and Nolan, but the CD and packaging serves as a working star wheel (or planisphere) itself. If you’re an astronomy junkie like me, the functional design is an added bonus.

The packaging and liner notes included with the Interstellar soundtrack drive home the fact that Zimmer—along with Nolan, who serves as executive producer on the recording—wanted this music to exude the themes of the movie. The accompanying materials reveal that Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan met before filming began, at which point Nolan gave Zimmer one day to create some piece of music based on the main themes, with specific instructions to throw away past motifs common to Zimmer’s work. With no corresponding footage or plot points, Zimmer created “Day One,” which—even as an early track—serves as an emotional backbone of sorts.

Interstellar Star Wheel
This is how you do CD packaging right.

As the recording process continued, Zimmer and Nolan worked closely to integrate film and music, and it really shows. If you’ve seen the movie (again, it’s plainly worth your time), hearing Zimmer’s score will pull you back to the core moment these pieces represent.

Interstellar was almost an electronic score, but on a hunch, Christopher Nolan convinced Hans Zimmer to record an orchestra, and most notably, a full 2500-pipe organ. The real innovation in Zimmer’s score is a masterful implementation of the pipe organ. It is unequivocally and decidedly massive. Zimmer’s essay in the liner notes indicates that this was a stressful gamble, but it clearly paid off.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Interstellar score is that Hans Zimmer proves he is unafraid of dynamic range. Unlike many modern scores (and almost all modern albums), Interstellar takes full advantage of subtle lows and impressive intricacies at volume. Pulsing synthesizers and gentle strings provide an effortless floating sensation. Tense or exciting moments are driven through with blasts of energy. Tracks like “Stay” and “Detach” are unabashedly epic.

Alright, I think I’ve satisfied whatever gland in my body has been gushing praises for the Interstellar score by now. Unlike any other work (or almost any other album of 2014), I have listened to Interstellar many times since its release. If you’ve read this far, however, I guess I can share with you the parts of which I’m not a huge fan. In all honesty, there are only two gripes, and as minor as they may be, they will likely be turnoffs for less patient listeners.

Continue reading Album Review: “Interstellar (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Hans Zimmer