Film, Music

A Delightfully Wild Rumpus

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Karen O. & The Kids—Where The Wild Things Are
(DCG/Interscope Records, 2009)

Earlier this decade, Karen Orzolek, the front woman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs better known with her last name initialised, recorded a series of acoustic demos at her home and burned them to a CD as a gift for the producer and TV On The Radio guitarist Dave Sitek. K.O. At Home, now bootlegged and floating in the digital ether, is a collection of 14 incredibly glum home-spun tunes. A world away from the punky, raucous art-rock of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the songs pair the timid side of O’s voice with a variety of charmingly out-of-tune guitars, a mouth organ, a scattering of light percussion, and even a French horn.

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O returns to a similarly playful territory in her music for Spike Jonze’s forthcoming Where The Wild Things Are, a film based on Maurice Sendak’s much-loved children’s book of the same name. Working with Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, members of the Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and Yeah Yeah Yeahs—including former bandmate Imaad Wasif—and Jonze’s regular composer Carter Burwell, O’s soundtrack resonates a childlike wonder and perfectly captures the spirit of Sendak’s nine-year-old protagonist Max, King of the Wild Things.

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O is backed by an untrained children’s choir—“The Kids”—for most of the album, and the soundtrack incorporates a few dialogue selections from the film, opening with Catherine Keener saying to Max, “I could use a story…” This leads into “Igloo,” a simple melody hummed by the awesomely-named Max Records, the star of the film, before “All Is Love,” the soundtrack’s single, jubilantly bursts forth. Hand claps and jangle-pop guitars imbue the record with a sense of joyousness, and this even extends to “Lost Fur,” the only track taken directly from the score. Here Burwell’s music—normally more in sync with the labyrinthine psychological screenplays of Charlie Kaufman, another of Jonze’s frequent collaborators—is given a levity and grace by O, while at the same time retaining Burwell’s trademark introspectiveness.

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“Capsize” and “Cliffs,” two tracks not included in the film, are alternately boisterous and delicate, and a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Worried Shoes” is absolutely enchanting. “Heads Up,” perhaps the best track on the album, borrows from Britt Daniel’s songbook, riffing on Spoon’s rollicking jazzy pop style, and the brief closer “Sailing Home” brings the record full circle, combining Max’s plaintive hummed melody with the upbeat, rhythmic attitude on display throughout the record. While it probably won’t stand up well outside the context of the film, it’s clear that O and her collaborators have successfully created a self-contained aural landscape that superbly reflects Sendak and Jonze’s vision.

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