Review Summary: Arcade Fire's quaint, intimate film score is also quite possibly their most vital sonic achievement to date.
If Arcade Fire's sprawling and highly regarded 2013 release Reflektor
was any indication of their future direction, it signaled a desire to restlessly experiment with new textures and sounds with each release. The band's progression from debut LP Funeral
can hardly even be considered "progression" at all. Instead, each successive album has proven to be a successful realization of their own respective aesthetic vision.
Interestingly, those same attributes could just as easily apply to visionary director Spike Jonze, whose films rely heavily on the use of mood, aesthetic, and powerful imagery to reinforce their often complex cinematic themes. Much like Arcade Fire, he has proven a mastery of his craft, his singular directorial style evident in each fragment of his varied filmography. His latest masterwork Her
is an ambitious love story whose emotionally troubled protagonist struggles to be happy in a futuristic world that doesn't seem so different from our own- one in which its inhabitants seem detached and emotionally absent from the world around them, and in which their primary solace lies the comfort provided by technology.
Jones' appointment of Arcade Fire to soundtrack duties for the film make sense given their seemingly similar method of creative production - but it certainly doesn't hurt that Arcade Fire may very well be the most widely known and respected artist in the burgeoning "indie" scene, far transcending the limitations of their genre and existing within the broader cultural landscape. Yet, while it seems an easy choice for both parties, there is considerable risk to be had on the part of Arcade Fire's artistic integrity. With their status as (arguably) the biggest indie rock band in the world, why risk exposing a weakness in an area which it may not be as comfortable to operate?
Any worry of that happening can be put entirely to rest upon a viewing of the film's final product. The viewer's perception of lead protagonist Theodore's past relationship is told almost entirely through visual montage sequences which are beautiful choreographed, yet it's when paired with Arcade Fire's poignant and sentimental score that the film ultimately maintains its firmest emotional grasp on the viewer. Jonze and Arcade Fire seem to maintain an almost telepathic understanding of the various sentiments which undercut the film, and similarly, how to convert those feelings into ones the audience can understand.
While the score's sonic template is rooted in both the sentiments of Theodore as well as the overall tone of the film, the means by which Arcade Fire chooses to transform those ideas into a sonic realization are relatively simple. The film is comprised largely of melancholy, drifting piano pieces and string sections that feature a shocking degree of musical virtuosity. While the songs have been largely stripped of the trimmings which adorn Arcade Fire's studio releases, remnants of their trademark sound can be evidenced throughout the album- the electronic buzz on "Milk and Honey," the spacey synths on "Morning Talk/Supersymmetry," and the soft orchestration which punctuates the entirety of the album. With the songs stripped down to their most basic and primal elements, Arcade Fire have crafted a set of songs that exist on a deeply personal and intimate level, yet still maintain their characteristic degree of impassioned complexity.
With the Her score
, Arcade Fire have created a fantastic sonic accompaniment to the film's visual counterpart. Arcade Fire's work goes a long way in reinforcing the themes, feelings, and tone of Spike Jonze's equally gorgeous creation. But what is perhaps most surprising is that the soundtrack itself seems strong enough to exist on its own terms. This is more than just background music, and while the album's various movements are fleeting and elusive like Theodore's various memories of his past lover, the emotions of the score persist within the viewer or listener long after its over. On its own, Arcade Fire have created something just as heartfelt and vital as anything in their own discography, and when paired with Jonze's vision, they have far surpassed it.