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Another Earth – music by Fall On Your Sword

It’s an interesting notion, pairing a somewhat morose, navel-gazing (but still compelling) movie with a soundtrack that veers between percolating electronica and moody piano and cello, but the resulting soundtrack is an interesting new entry in the debate about electronica-as-film-score (a conversation that’s been unavoidable since Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won an Oscar with their music from The Social Network.

The main themes of the movie are laid out in two punchy pieces of electronic music, “The First Time I Saw Jupiter” and “Rhoda’s Theme”. The former isn’t a piece of music with any great variety – it stays mostly within a single chord – but it does have an insistent, almost Morse-Code-like rhythm. “Rhoda’s Theme” is more interesting musically, by far, with a repeating but long-lined tune that evolves additional layers and counterpoints, eventually including a wordless female vocal and cello. A new sound emerges in “The End Of The World”, but as it mostly consists of a wall of noise and industrial percussion, it’s difficult to classify it as a theme.

Tracks like “The House Theme” and “Naked On The Ice” are no less synthesized than the tracks mentioned above, but they achieve a more “organic” feel simply by leaving the drum machine off. “The Specialist: Am I Alone?” and “Making Contact” lean more heavily in the electronic direction, without becoming dance tracks like “Rhoda’s Theme.” “I Am Over There” and “Purdeep’s Theme” employ percussion without quite becoming rave-worthy.

Fall On Your Sword turns in a decent score, but somehow it never 3 out of 4quite fits the movie like a glove. The subtler cues are the most at home within the movie, and the more “active” music, while it’s a better stand-alone listening experience, never quite fits as well. It may be best to hear the soundtrack before the movie, and soak up the music independent of the imagery, rather than the other way around.

Order this CD

  1. The First Time I Saw Jupiter (2:54)
  2. Bob The Robot (1:12)
  3. The Specialist: Am I Alone (4:52)
  4. Naked On The Ice (1:46)
  5. Rhoda’s Theme (5:54)
  6. The House Theme (1:22)
  7. The End Of The World (1:54)
  8. Rhoda’s Application (1:37)
  9. Making Contact (1:15)
  10. I Am Over There (4:14)
  11. Purdeep’s Theme (4:22)
  12. The Cosmonaut (2:01)
  13. The Specialist: Look At Ourselves (3:59)
  14. Sonatina In D Minor by Phaedon Papadopoulos (1:18)
  15. Rhoda’s Theme / Running To John (3:50)
  16. Forgive (2:39)
  17. Love Theme (1:58)
  18. The Other You (1:43)
  19. The First Time I Saw Jupiter / End Titles (5:21)

Released by: Milan Records
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 54:11

fun. – Some Nights

fun. - Some Nightsfun.’s debut album was one of those musical first-stretches-out-of-the-starting-gate that made one wonder how the group would top that in the second leg of the race. It turns out they’re doing it quite nicely, even though there are a few stylistic quirks to Some Nights that left me feeling a little bit old. The rock-solid songwriting is more evocative of Queen than ever, and that alone makes fun. worth following.

When I reviewed the group’s first album, I found myself wondering if their chosen band name might be a liability. Perhaps I was worrying too much – in the months leading up to the release of Some Nights, fun. managed to step up its promotional game considerably. The song “We Are Young” was highlighted on Glee months in advance of the album, and it’s also been picked up for a major national advertising campaign as well. This sort of thing shouldn’t be considered “selling out” – if anything, in the download age, strategic licensing of one’s music is bread and butter, and I don’t hold it against anybody trying to get a song placed in an ad campaign. These alliances have served as a showcase of fun.’s music, giving the band the kind of exposure that, in these dying days of radio, no amount of payola can buy.

And it’s really good music. That’s already been mentioned, hasn’t it? It’s really good music. The title track is split across an extended intro and the main song itself; if for no other reason than the prominent F-bomb, the intro will likely be skipped in nearly every broadcast venue. (It’s rather stunning that there’s a video for it, and an uncensored one at that.) “Some Nights” is the first indication that the album of the same name is an entire album of anthems – nearly every song is a celebration of its subject matter, whether it’s youth and the excesses that go with it (“Some Nights” and the perfectly-pitched ’50s rock pastiche “We Are Young”), and resilience in the face of opposition (“Carry On”, “It Gets Better”). With the exception of the world-weary but beautiful “Carry On” (my early favorite out of the entire album) and “Why Am I The One”, Some Nights is upbeat and fun.

If I have a bone to pick with Some Nights, it’s the utterly bizarre use of auto-tune on several songs. I know it’s standard-issue in any studio at this point, but I can’t think of a band that needs it less. After Aim & Ignite, lead singer Nate Ruess was almost inevitably compared to Freddie Mercury of Queen, and given the very operatic, Queen-like “Some Nights Intro”, it would seem that he’s cool with that comparison (and really, what a voice to be compared to!). If there’s a voice in rock music today that needs auto-tune less than Nate Ruess, please point me that way because that person’s probably singing some good stuff too. It’s used here as a style choice, just another tool in the studio arsenal, but I can’t help but feel that it mars the proceedings when it rears its head. Nate Ruess does not need auto-tune. He may just be the best voice in rock today, and I’ll bet he could’ve hit every note without the studio trickery – it cheapens that voice 4 out of 4to turn him into a singing robot.

Give or take a couple of production choices that make it unwisely easy to downplay what an amazing voice fun.’s frontman has, Some Nights is definitely worthy of the hype and build-up that it got. You should definitely keep your eyes and ears on fun.

Order this CD

  1. Some Nights Intro (2:17)
  2. Some Nights (4:37)
  3. We Are Young featuring Janelle MonĂ¡e (4:10)
  4. Carry On (4:38)
  5. It Gets Better (3:36)
  6. Why Am I The One (4:46)
  7. All Alone (3:03)
  8. All Alright (3:57)
  9. One Foot (3:31)
  10. Stars (6:53)
  11. Out On The Town (4:21)

Released by: Fueled By Ramen
Release date: 2012
Total running time: 45:49

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Liam Finn – FOMO

FOMOThe eagerly awaited second effort from Liam Finn was a major event for indie music in 2011; indeed, it was easier to find his new album than it was to track down the latest efforts from his famous father or uncle. I’ll Be Lightning had set the bar incredibly high, with across-the-board great songwriting, crisp (if occasionally slightly lo-fi) production, and mind-boggling performances from Finn, who played and sang every note on the album. How could he surpass that opening act?

With FOMO, it would seem that he wasn’t trying to surpass it, but to steer clear of it. As universally lauded as Lightning was, it was a pretty good bet that the follow-up wouldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. FOMO‘s lead single, “The Struggle”, was a sonic mess compared to Lightning‘s panoramic production and gorgeous harmonies – swampy, even more lo-fi, and more suited to fans of shouty punk rock than to fans of the previous album. It was evolved from the loop-based style that Finn had adopted during endless one-man-band touring for Lightning, but was a little off-putting if you’d grown accustomed to I’ll Be Lightning‘s house style.

Fortunately, it’s also an oddball song on FOMO, which opens with four songs as good as anything on Finn’s debut album. “Neurotic World” picks up where the Lightning‘s relaxing, harmony-based pop songs left off, while “Don’t Even Know Your Name” is a jumpier rock song with improbable ascending vocals in the chorus. The one-two punch of “Roll Of The Eye” and “Cold Feet” is the strongest pair of songs on FOMO, and it’s no accident that the latter was quickly rolled out as the album’s second single with an amusing video to match. It’s with these two songs that one of Liam Finn’s major influences can be found: while his father may be aspiring to be the 21st century’s answer to Paul McCartney, Liam is exploring Lennon territory and doing so boldly. If you’ve been missing the John Lennon sound, just as melodic as McCartney but occasionally bolder and more unpredictable, you need to be following Liam Finn’s musical exploits. “Cold Feet” was one of the catchiest songs I heard in 2011.

“Real Late” has a faux-Eastern flavor to it, but loses a lot of the energy built up in the first four songs. This is followed by “The Struggle” and “Little Words”, another low-key number with some great harmonies. “Reckless” gets things back on track with a jumpy punk-pop feel that – as much as I don’t want to make the obvious comparisons – would’ve fit right into the early ’80s Split Enz setlist. “Chase The Seasons” is a pleasant, beautifully-harmonized shuffle, while “Jump Your Bones” closes things out with a bit of a free-form jam – the closest any other songs on the album gets to “The Struggle”.

4 out of 4Most of the album is a real joy, even in its quieter moments. Liam Finn continues to show expert songwriting and performance chops, and some impressive production skill to boot – bits of “Cold Feet” are almost Lindsey Buckingham-esque (perhaps even moreso than anything Buckingham himself has turned out in recent years), and that’s not a bad thing.

Order this CD

  1. Neurotic World (3:00)
  2. Don’t Even Know Your Name (4:09)
  3. Roll Of The Eye (4:40)
  4. Cold Feet (4:16)
  5. Real Late (3:11)
  6. The Struggle (2:52)
  7. Little Words (2:37)
  8. Reckless (2:36)
  9. Chase The Seasons (3:01)
  10. Jump Your Bones (5:37)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 35:59

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