Cinema Sounds: Where The Wild Things Are

When was the last time you traveled? Where was it that you went? Remember those times in your childhood, when playthings were just an addition to the fully loaded amusement park that was built in your head? There was no need for airplane travel then. In that time, there were such things as bedtime stories, under-bed monsters, and wild dreams. In that time, there was a place where the wild things were.

On October 16th, that place appears once more in the mind’s eye of our generation. Spike Jonze, the cinematic genius that directed and produced countless music videos and others for giants like the Beastie Boys, Pavement, and Bjork, now brings us the live action adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. Wielding a star studded cast and throngs of expectant spectators, this movie couldn’t be more complete if it had a solid soundtrack. And, what do you know? It just so does.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs unyielding frontwoman Karen O takes the score on her ex’s newest silver screen adventure, delivering a compilation of delicate and raucous sounds that enrapture the imagination and jump start the heart. The vision for this album, which turns out to be a story more than a collection of songs to go with the movie, was innocence. Over about two years of collaboration with the likes of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Raconteurs like Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence, and Nick Zinner and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O & The Kids managed to capture the child-like innocence and untamed emotion that characterizes Sendak’s classic story.

Oh, Karen O. With a voice that sweet, what are you doing playing rock star? It’s time you went back to the choir of mermaids that expelled you. Or maybe it was a pack of wolves herding you into an “Igloo”. The first track off the Wild Things soundtrack introduces Max’s extraordinary imagination land via O’s sugary hum, accompanied by some soft strums and twinkling childhood sounds. However, versatility is definitely Karen O’s bag, and this album’s no exception. On “All Is Love”, the flowery single released this August, O’s vocals could be mistaken for Max’s dialogue. It features O’s charmingly shrill shouts, whistles, and whoo’s that meet with an untrained children’s chorus to form the magnificently innocent and playful sound that characterizes the story itself.

O commented on the band’s MySpace that she

“didn’t want to make music that was hammering you over the head or go for some kind of pushbutton emotion. What [she] initially wanted to do was close to Cat Stevens in Harold & Maude, really simple, but memorably and seamlessly woven into the movie.”

And woven into the movie it was.

“Rumpus” is a savage musicalization of main character Max’s (played Max by Records) rise to royalty among the wild things, and it so seamlessly blends the soundtrack quality with audio clips from the actual motion picture. It’s the motion picture soundtrack — to the max. It’s remarkable how, in tracks like this one and the rampant “Animal” and “Heads Up”, O sounds so much like one of the kids herself.

There is full sensitivity and ample range of feelings spread across Wild Things. Just like in any good story, there are changes in mood and tone. The transitions go from “Capsize”, the Death Proof Soundtrack’s April March sound-alike to the lament “Worried Shoes”. The latter features lyrics as such: “I made a mistake that I never forgot/Tying knots in the laces of my worried shoes,” pretty deep lyrics considering it’s a children’s story. Then again, it is a children’s book that touches on the consequences of misbehaving and the lengths to which punishment can take someone, so it’s extremely relevant, just so beautifully expressed.

After “Rumpus Reprise” comes the solitary “Hideaway”, where O’s chords thicken (a la Feist‘s Let It Die) and moan along a soft percussive background in a lonely, somewhat Asian feel. From sadness to hope, fear to celebration, nostalgia to desperation, The Kids have got it all.

For a movie that has not yet premiered, the soundtrack is the initial window to its magic. This work of patience, perseverance, and empathy is a breathtaking adaptation. It’s more than a group of songs that sounds nice along the scenes. It’s a robust, yet sensitive aural narrative of the story that for years was but visual.

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