Karen O and the Kids Where the Wild Things Are Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

An arresting set of sweet, deep escapism from Karen O and cohorts.

Mike Diver 2009

There have been more dramatic, rousing soundtracks released in 2009 than this. There have been ones that arguably better complemented accompanying on-screen imagery, ones that were perfectly tailored to specifications laid down by a director with only his singular vision to adhere to. But no soundtrack of the past 12 months has the beguiling and breezy charm, the lo-fi warmth and the irresistible, insatiable playfulness of Where the Wild Things Are.

Karen O fronts a group of musicians – including Yeah Yeah Yeahs colleagues Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound man Bradford Cox, Canadian folk-rocker Imaad Wasif and Liars’ Aaron Hemphill – for all but one of these 14 numbers (the exception, Lost Fur, is by composer Carter Burwell). The professionals are backed by, as the cover correctly communicates, a clap-happy clutch of big-voiced children, who yelp and holler when instructed to (and they do so superbly well). The vibe is a fluctuating one, rocking from boisterous clatter to stripped-back introspection and understated emoting, of a variety so affecting it threatens to not only stop the listener in their tracks, but also stifle their breath for the duration.

With a children’s picture book from 1963 the inspiration behind Spike Jonze’s movie – a widely recommended watch – there’s not as solid a narrative to adhere to as found in similar single-artist-driven affairs – Badly Drawn Boy’s new Is There Nothing We Could Do?, for example. With that the case, O and her cohorts sound free to experiment, only occasional snatches of monstrous dialogue reminding the listener that they’re listening to a soundtrack rather than an album ‘proper’. So the set flits from the yelp-and-coo dynamics of Capsize, with its fantastic spell-along chorus, to the jangling incantation of Animal, via the soft-edged elegance of Daniel Johnston’s Worried Shoes, with little care for compositional consistency. Importance is placed instead on inspiration, execution governed only by the limits of imagination.

Hideaway shines as a favourite after a handful of plays, its mixed-low organ hum supporting an echoed vocal from O and the simplest guitar contributions from Wasif. With Cox on bells, the song’s spectral qualities are sumptuous indeed, the plaintive pitch of clichéd-anywhere-else lines like “my baby’s gone” truly arresting. But the track’s just one of many superb pieces that really do sparkle like no other movie music released this year. The overall effect: the sweetest, deepest escape.

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