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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Various Artists: Juno, Music from the Motion Picture

I am your typical quiet movie goer. (Wait. Quiet? Typical? Okay. Maybe not.) I don't take up a lot of space, I refrain from snacks that are loud, I don't ask every five minutes "What?" or "Why did he do that?" I am always there early and missing previews really makes me cranky. I even tip the waiter if it's a swankier-geared-towards-adults theater that serves coffee and booze. I am respectful of a darkened theater and the greatness (most times) of whatever is on the screen in front of me. I paid for it, after all, so why not enjoy it? With that said, this was me during Juno:

"Oh. My. God. Oh my god. This soundtrack is perfect. PERFECT." I think I said it about 90 times, but I'm not really sure as I stopped keeping track at 45. I'm not normally one to pay attention to a soundtrack unless it's key to the movie. (La Vie en Rose, for example.) Mostly I tune them out and forget about them. The oddest part? I proclaimed the Juno soundtrack to be perfect about ten minutes into the actual film, which I realize is a little bit of a premature assessment to make, but there was something about the music that made me feel like I was in for something incredibly special. I was right.

The songs on this soundtrack are not songs I would normally gush over. They aren't even musical choices I would make for myself. You wouldn't think I'd be drawn to this soundtrack at all seeing as how it's really sitting on the fringes of Classic Rock and I am, not at all, a Classic Rock person. (So much so, in fact, I won't listen to it at all, even though I do recognize the greatness of some of genre's more outstanding albums.) Quite simply, the music on this soundtrack really isn't my cup of tea, as it were, but I am drawn to them and that isn't because of the movie.

You also wouldn't think I'd be drawn to a soundtrack such as this one because, well, I am not an Indie music fan. I appreciate the Indie music scene and I think it's got some really great things going for it. The music of that particular genre doesn't appeal to me and, well, I freely admit I don't really give Indie music a fair chance for that fact. People keep telling me, and I keep reading, that the Juno soundtrack is perfect because it's the music today's kids would listen to. I have to respectively disagree...while that may be true for some kids, it's not true for all. In my own personal experience, it isn't the kids I know listening to this music, it's the Indie fans who turn a nose up to anything mainstream that listen to music like this. (Sorry. Opinion, remember.) It's "their" music and they are embracing it tightly, a concept I find amusing because typically, once the Indie crowd realizes something they love has gone mainstream, they drop it quickly and pretend it never existed. Or if it did, that it was only good when they listened to it and *only* then. Harsh? Perhaps, but in my opinion true, and that's a very sad opinion because there's so much goodness on this album that will be dismissed by a lot of its fans at some point here shortly.

They are witty, fun, simple song songs that come together to make a point: true love and it's heartaches are there. The soundtrack is as quirky as the film was and I am a big fan of quirkiness. This soundtrack frames so perfectly the giggling, the laughter, the teary-eyed moments you wouldn't expect. It truly is the soundtrack of a relationship, namely the one on-screen, but it could any relationship. There's something to Juno, the character, that is unspoken but the soundtrack helps her along; the music helps you realize that there's more to her and how she feels beyond the wise cracks, pop culture references, and the inconveniences of being pregnant. The music also does what music should do and that is form a bond between two people. Admittedly, that relationship was a bit suspect, but there was a bond over music between two completely different generations. The relationships build themselves and the music perfectly illustrates them.

Enough with the editorializing. Here are the reasons, why I love this soundtrack, start to finish:

"All I Want Is You" by Barry Louis Polisar: No kidding, I used to have a Fisher Price record player and this was one of the singles. I was totally into the kiddie music scene there for a bit (until I discovered Show Tunes, thank you.) and this song was a favorite. Imagine my surprise when it was the opening credits song. I thought it was the sweetest love song ever and sang it frequently to my animals, who really didn't get my undying affection for them. (Maybe they weren't into analogies?)

Kimya Dawson, who contributes the most to this soundtrack: There isn't much I can say about her...I don't exactly like her. I sort of feel like I'm listening to someone audition for American Idol (yes, yes, I watched it this week because it was on and I figured why not see what it's about? I won't make that mistake again, trust me.) who has some kind of talent but really needs to flesh it out before sharing it with the world. At first, I thought it was a man and upon researching it, I realized it was in fact a woman. I've been struggling to figure out why I do in fact like it; I realize I haven't given her the most thoughtful of words in the beginning, but I do like her. Her lyrics are very smart and sweet and snappy. They're bittersweet lyrics and I like that; "So Nice So Smart" is my new favorite break up song. What I realized as I was writing this was that her music is very child-like. Not immature, but playful. Fun. With an adult edge. And those qualities even further make them perfect.

There's a theme, of sorts, with the following songs and I didn't realize it until I was about to finish up this review. The songs "A Well Respected Man" (the Kinks), "Dearest" (Buddy Holly), "All the Young Dude" (Mott the Hoople), and "I'm Sticking With You" (The Velvet Underground) are all old(er) songs that sound as if they could have been recorded today. "A Well Respected Man" doesn't sound late 60's and it's joking about the 9 to 5 life is as valid now as it was 40 years ago. Buddy Holly's "Dearest" is short and sweet, a come back to me song with no over-the-top pleading. Did you know that Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" was written by David Bowie in 1971, his own personal effort to keep the band he loved so from breaking up? "I'm Sticking With You" by the Velvet Underground is just a toned down version of their usual creepy, stalkerish, amusing songs. They're all timeless, they're all freakishly perfect in their own ways, and they are basically the grandfather(s) to the Indie Rock that found it's way onto this album.

Then there's reason number 1 I love this album so: Sonic Youth's cover of the Carpenter's "Superstar". I am a Carpenter's fan; I admit it freely. Karen Carpenter had the most amazing voice ever, capable of evoking emotion I did not think possible. "Superstar" was a cover for The Carpenter's also but they were the ones that made it famous/popular. Sonic Youth took "Superstar" in 1994 and did what Sonic Youth does: distort it and turn it into this Rock masterpiece that is almost as good as The Carpenter's version. It's very edgy and sounds like it should be used for a grizzly killing scene in some Rob Zombie horror film and not in a teen dramedy about pregnancy. Thurston Moore makes me feel his pain and in the process probably created the best Sonic Youth song ever. (The Carpenter's version because it's a truly sublime song. Please. Compare. Don't be afraid of The Carpenter's.)

There are two short blip instrumentals ("My Roller Coaster" and "Up the Spout") that I could have done without, but they are nice transitions between songs. "Sea of Love" by Cat Power made me realize that while I've never been able to get into Cat Power she can do a cover song well. Almost how a cover song should be done; she manages to make it even more romantic than the original version. In fact, "Sea of Love" helped make the decision to listen to her new album, even though I was going to cast it aside and forget about it, so that's something there. I'd also never listened to Belle and Sebastian before and admittedly, for some reason, confused them with Coheed and Cambria. Don't ask me why. I was listening to "Expectations" and kept thinking "wow, doesn't sound like that screaming dude with the curly hair." They sound NOTHING alike and I don't even know how I confused the two at all, but imagine my surprise when I realized I was in fact wrong. I was embarrassed there for a moment because that's such a huge mistake to make. Needless to say, once I recovered, I started to enjoy even more the goodness that is "Expectations" and "Piazza, New York Catcher."

Winding down to the last few songs..."Vampire" by Antsy Pants makes me want to bounce up and down in time with the music. Antsy Pants, in this case, is the perfect way to describe how this song makes me feel. It's silly verging on downright stupid, but it's fun and playful. Then there's the two versions of "Anyone Else But You", one by The Moldy Peaches and one by Michael Cera and Ellen Page. If two people were going to sing to each a love song that sums up exactly how they feel, then "Anyone Else But You" is the song for them. I admit I took the Cera/Page version off the track listing for myself, simply because I didn't need to hear it twice. Not that I didn't like it, I do. I love how it works, easily conveying simple thoughts of true love and happiness with another person. I just like one version better than the other.

Let me sum it: some of the songs are witty, fun, and simple. I know I keep using that word, but what else are they? They are simple songs that are true and enchanting. Some of them, all of them maybe, are songs even the most tortured of souls can identify with and hold in a revered position. They are songs that in any other setting would seem oddly put together and I probably wouldn't listen to them in any other form. With that said: I'm quite glad I paid attention.

Key tracks:
1. "Superstar" by Sonic Youth
2. "Anyone Else But You" by The Moldy Peaches
3. "Vampire" by Antsy Pants
4. "So Nice So Smart" by Kimya Dawson
5. "Expectations" by Belle and Sebastian

8 out of 10 Stars

1 comment:

Megan P.I. said...

I LOVE the Antsy Pants Vampire song.
The soundtrack is wonderful enough that I had to buy one for me and my best friend. And I'm a cheap bitch and never buy stuff for my friends.

I do love Kimya though. She's not polished, and she doesn't write songs that would be considered deep, but she's one of the most honest, shining musicians out there, and I'm glad that a wider audience gets to hear her.