Karen O and the Kids

Where the Wild Things Are OST

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: DGC/Interscope

First thing’s first- I have no idea how Spike Jonze will translate Maurice Sendak’s beloved 10 sentence book Where the Wild Things Are into a feature length film. As that’s the case, it’s difficult to think of how the soundtrack is going to measure up to the movie. It’s my own little Gordian Knot of the day, but fortunately, Karen O and her collaborators, a group of indie luminaries known collectively as the Kids, have created an album that can stand proudly on its own. It’s not what the book was and I don’t see it much being what the film’s going to be, but it’s a fine piece of whimsically dreamy music by itself.

Karen O’s alternating personas of camera-averse pop singer and shrieking rock ‘n’ roll icon-in-the-making have often shrouded the fact that she’s a uniquely gentle songwriter. Where the Wild Things Are is filled with acoustic guitars, woodwinds, pianos and shouting, joyous choruses; if the thought wasn’t so antithetical to the mind, it could be Yeah Yeah Yeahs Unplugged. And that’s not far off- her compatriots Brian Chase and Nick Zinner both contribute to the album, in addition to Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox (his usage of delicate bells is particularly fine), Imaad Wasif and many others. But this is a much more gentle album than any one of its separate components would create on their own, though the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s most recent album It’s Blitz certainly pointed the direction with tracks like “Little Shadow.”

“Igloo,” the opening track begins with a brief vocal snippet and Karen O’s quiet humming against an acoustic guitar; it’s a brief example of where the album will lead the listener. For as famed as her howl is, I’ve always loved how quavering and warm her voice can sound. The first single from the album, “All is Love,” amps it up considerably, with frantically strummed guitars and a choral vocal chanting “L-O-V-E, it’s a mystery/ Where you’ll find me.” It’s incredibly catchy and childish at the same time, full of enthusiasm to the point of bursting. It’s reprised near the end of the album in a fuller, statelier form, but the rawer, looser version warms my heart for just those reasons. “Capsize” is probably the most disturbing track of the album, dark and filled with pounding drums and fuzzy guitars. It’s perfectly evocative of its title, like the theme to a thunderstorm on water. “Hideaway” is perhaps its inverse, beginning with a low hum and a single guitar following the stark vocals note for note. The melancholy of lyrics like “Ride away/ Gonna take me from my man/ By the way/ Know they’ll never understand,” could be cloying or miserabilist from another singer, but the honesty which Karen O imbues them can’t be denied.

The instrumental tracks on Where the Wild Things Are, like “Lost Fur” or “Cliffs,” might strike some as filler, but the entire mood of the album is so hazy and dreamlike that the lyrics sometimes fade into the sound already. Even the sole cover of the album, Daniel Johnston’s “Worried Shoes,” manages to fit so well into the overall wistful tone that you’d have to be told it wasn’t always part of that world.

Karen O has steadily risen from the frantic exemplar of the early ’00s garage-rock revival that she was once pegged as. As it is, Where the Wild Things Are shows that she’s a tremendous songwriter in her own right, and has more than beer-gobbing under her belt. Even if I have to wait to see the film, I’m thrilled to have this album.

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