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.


Staff Picks: Top Albums for Lossless Listening (FLAC & ALAC)

One of my favorite aspects of Murfie is the ability to download my albums in lossless formats.  I personally prefer FLAC, but ALAC is an equally great option.  I was super excited, then, to hear about our partnership to allow lossless streaming on Sonos and VOCO devices.

Now that I have the ability to stream in full, lossless CD quality, I thought it would be fun to recommend a few albums that are particularly great for lossless listening.  This list was put together largely by consulting mixing and mastering insiders.  These are albums often used by studio engineers as standards for how a particular genre may sound at peak performance.  With that said, grab a good pair of headphones or hook up your Sonos or VOCO and relax!

12912-largeSea Change by Beck was mastered by Bob Ludwig, one of the most respected mastering engineers around.  In addition to working on Sea Change, Ludwig has worked with over 1300 artists, including the Kronos Quartet, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and more.  Sea Change does a great job of pumping out clear dynamics without falling too far into the trenches of the Loudness War.  Particularly of note here are the vocal and drum captures.

21411-largeAnother great piece of work by Bob Ludwig is New Favorite by Alison Krauss + Union Station. This album is noted for great clarity in vocals, maintaining solid, crisp levels for the rest of the sonic space, too.  Everything is mixed into a great soft texture that will fill up any room.  A lot of the popularity of this album – which charted on Billboard for both Country and Bluegrass categories – comes from the fact that Alison Krauss also appeared on the exceedingly popular O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack the same year as New Favorite debuted.

6675-largeWith over 10 million sales across all albums, Deep Forest is perhaps one of the most popular world music groups around.  Their debut self-titled Deep Forest album accounts for nearly a third of those 10 million sales alone.  Deep Forest was mastered by Vlado Meller at Sony’s New York studios, and it demonstrates a wide range of sonic qualities, all mastered together as one cohesive unit.  If you want some good sounding lossless reverb, this is the album for you.  Though the group is still active, the only album to outsell their debut has been 1995’s Boheme, with over 4 million sales worldwide.

59377-largeGeorge Duke was a master and pioneer of the keyboard, dominating the world of jazz, as well as mainstream music.  Unfortunately, Duke passed away earlier this month, but his legacy is huge to say the least.  Many of Duke’s newer recordings were mastered by John Vestman and mixed by Erik Zobler, and are used as reference discs for how keyboards should sound.  Duke’s solid arrangements make for very clear, wide recordings that sound great on headphones or high-end systems.  I personally recommend CoolIs Love Enough? and Dukey Treats.

Now that you have some of my picks for lossless listening, I’d like to hear yours!  What album(s) do you think sound the best, particularly in a lossless format?  Leave a comment below, and we’ll give it a spin at Murfie HQ.

Staff Picks: Pat’s Picks

Everybody loves to listen to music at work, especially here at Murfie. Our office is equipped with the Sonos System, so we can stream music right from out own Murfie accounts while we plug away. Often times when the tracks are coming from me, people will wonder what the noises are that are coming out of the speakers. Some things are new, some are older, but most is a little bit different. 

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Four Organs – Phase Patterns – Steve Reich
Steve Reich’s piece Four Organs starts with very short notes on a single chord. Over the course of the piece these notes grow in length by anticipating the chord and trailing after it, causing a general deconstruction of the chord and changing the way it sounds and feels. It is performed by (as you may have guessed) four organs, accompanied by a Maraca. If minimal and repetitive music are your bag, check out more of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. 

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Ascension – John Coltrane
John Coltrane is a household name. What is not as well known is some of the music he made in his final few years. The early and mid-60’s was a time that many musicians, including Coltrane, started to take jazz in a new direction. Ascension is a transition from more conventional jazz into the world of free jazz. This album does not have tunes so much as it has an alternating pattern of collective improvisations and solo improvisations. Without being constrained to chords or a form, the musicians are able to express themselves in new and unconventional ways. The world of free jazz is huge, and musicians continue to add to the tradition. Check out names like Ken Vandermark and Ornette Coleman.

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Tago Mago – Can
Can is one of those bands I wish I would have discovered long before I did. Tago Mago mixes groove and weird as good as any band before or after it, but sounds nothing like anything before or after. This album is from 1971 and has been described as highly influential by many artists even today. This is a good album to play loud.

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Black Angels – Kronos Quartet
Here the Kronos Quartet plays two of my all time favorite quartets. George Crumb’s Black Angels and Dmitri Shostakovich‘s String Quartet No. 8. Being the Kronos Quartet, they deliver these pieces with a mastery not known by many other groups. Black Angels is an interesting string quartet in that is calls for amplified string instruments and glasses and tam-tams to be played by the members of the group. Crumb uses the numerical values of 7 and 13 throughout the piece.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 is one of the most emotional pieces on the earth. Dedicated to “the victims of fascism and war,” this twenty or so minute piece projects extreme sadness, anger, and eventually acceptance.

48501-largeTrout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band 
One of Captain Beefheart’s Commandments for guitar playing included practicing in front of a bush. He instructed guitarists to “Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grain piece of bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.” This album is incredibly challenging for the first few listens, but over time it begins to make sense. It is regarded as one of the best rock albums of all time, and it was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2010. “A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous, got me?”