Review Summary: Everything everywhere matters to everything
For an almost entirely a cappella soundtrack to a Sundance film about a stranded man and his best friend the farting corpse, Swiss Army Man
is surprisingly easy on the ears. Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra spent thirteen months crafting the most interesting soundtrack of 2016 around the concept of music happening entirely within the character's heads, foregoing instruments and most of the English language for a meditative journey through loneliness and love.
Though Dano and Radcliffe both take a swing at the microphone with notable success, Swiss Army Man
is most important as a milestone for Andy Hull. Once a young, nervous frontman with a shaky voice and a penchant for brilliant turns of phrase on the page, Hull has graduated a decade later to crafting an almost wordless album fuelled by only the power of his voice. The harmonies recall everything from The Beach Boys to Damien Rice to Devin Townsend, a bizarre soundscape of 'ooh's and 'aah's echoing into the emptiness around the protagonist as he hums to keep himself sane. The album still runs the entire gamut of emotions of your favourite Manchester Orchestra album, rivalling even the most ecstatic highs of Simple Math
with "Montage" and delving to rock bottom with the moody loss ballad "Cotton Eye Joe" and the near-ambient "Don't Tell Sarah". It careens from sparse, choir-like vocal arrangements to the sounds of skittering electronic beats made by body percussion and quick intakes of breath. The only moment which seems at all anchored in our own reality is a chilling cover of the Jurassic Park theme song, at least until "A Better Way", the first song written, makes sudden sense of a recurring melody and pulls everything together in the album's final moments.
We don't come across an easily quotable trademark Hull lyric until about three quarters of the album has passed, when the heartbreaking "River Rocket" builds to a revelation of "everything everywhere matters to everything". It's undoubtedly embedded in a vital character moment in the film, but it also seems to stand in contrast to Hull's past assertion "you mean everything to nothing". The two ideas are not necessarily antithetical; instead they stand as two landmarks on an increasingly fascinating journey, one which has taken Hull and his bandmates through heartbreak, loss and wordless beauty. The Swiss Army Man
soundtrack is an oddity, yes, a faintly hilarious and strangely beautiful one; but it's also the sound of a songwriter rising to a challenge with unbelievable results.