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Where the sing-a-longs are

By Danielle Gewurz

Section: Arts

October 15, 2009

Adapting a 10-line Maurice Sendak children’s classic into a Spike Jonze visual epic that’s endlessly delayed poses a number of problems, not the least of which involves finding an appropriate soundtrack for the beloved book. Currently “Where the Wild Things Are” is being aggressively marketed with a gorgeous trailer backed by the Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” Unfortunately that song, which seems perfect for the movie’s themes, isn’t on the soundtrack.

Instead, Karen O, lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and a group of indie-approved musicians billed as Karen O and the Kids, have recorded a set of new songs and one Daniel Johnston cover, interspersed with occasional introductory clips from the movie’s dialogue and an untrained children’s choir on a few songs. The soundtrack album nonetheless strives to reach the ease and grandeur of “Wake Up,” though it never quite manages that feat.

On the whole, the album is somewhat lacking without the accompanying film, but it’s a joyous acoustic-sounding soundtrack, making the sort of non-“Kidz Bop” kids’ music that adults can enjoy too. The cast of musicians involved includes Yeah Yeah Yeahs members Brian Chase and Nick Zinner, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, Liars’ Aaron Hemphill, and the Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence. The album is hooky, mostly upbeat sing-a-long style, and far from fussy or overworked. Mostly, it sounds like indie rockers going to camp and singing around the fire; a fitting choice for a movie whose forest setting provides much of the source material’s atmosphere.

Single “All Is Love” features an untrained and unrestrained children’s choir backing Karen O as she spells out “L. O. V. E./It’s a mystery/Where you’ll find me…all is love.” Spelling, that glorious “Sesame Street” device, is used again in “Capsize”: “C-A-P-S-I-Z-E all the way home/I’m gonna tilt awhile/M-I-S-S-M-E all you want/You’re gonna wait awhile.”

At least both those songs remind the listener that no matter how much the movie appeals to twentysomething hipsters, there’s a childlike wonder in Max’s, and the entire book’s, point of view. Karen O and the Kids thankfully reject artifice, stripping down these songs to the bare minimum of instrumentation and building each track out of deceptively simple music, humming, and of course full-chorus chanting. It’s direct and immediate, open and accessible—in essence, the epitome of childlike perspective.

By contrast, the most mature song on the album is most definitely “Hideaway,” exploring themes of loss and denial over a woozy, sprawling track that features Karen O’s solo vocal talents. Still, the refrain, “Hideaway, where they’ll seat us in the sun/By the way, know you’ve always been the one” is one in which audiences of any age will no doubt find resonance. It’s also wonderful to hear her working outside the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; even though she’s joined by both her bandmates, it’s clear that Karen O feels less bound by structure and sonic expectations in this project. Though she brings the same vocal temerity as usual, far more fun was had on this album than in “It’s Blitz!”

The two songs that truly feel like extensions of Sendak’s work are “Rumpus” and “Rumpus Reprise”. The latter is a slowed-down, wordless track featuring humming, ending with a calming acoustic guitar and echoing the musical themes present throughout the soundtrack. The former is a chanting, stomping, hollering track that possesses all the immediacy of an overexcited child preparing to get wild.

The album serves best to whet your appetite for the film itself, though it’s certainly worth a separate listen for Karen O fans, and probably their children (or younger siblings, as is far more likely) as well. The soundtrack can be streamed for free at imeem.com/karenoandthekids.

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