If there’s any knock against the soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, it’s that the film’s trailer already found perhaps the perfect song, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” to capture the heady balance of fear, wonder, and joy that characterizes Maurice Sendak’s beloved tome. Thematically, Karen O and the Kids (Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, along with fellow Yeah Yeah Yeahs Brian Chase, Nick Zinner, and long-time associate Imaad Wasif) faced an uphill climb to top such a singular use of a song. But O and her cohorts are up to that challenge, and the soundtrack is an impressive, structurally rich effort that matches the tone of Jonze’s images. None of these acts are known as composers, nor are they among the most kid-friendly figures in indie rock, but neither of those concerns prevents them from striking the right balance here. “All Is Love” surprises for its unironic sense of joy and for its use of a children’s choir that doesn’t come across as cloying, while “Rumpus” and “Animal” are uninhibited and wild. “Animal,” in particular, impresses for the way it uses O’s trademark feral yelp in an entirely new context—a stretch and a departure that genuinely works. The more abstract cuts, like the austere “Hidaway” and the wordless “Sailing Home,” convey feelings of mystery and discovery that build real atmosphere. If there are occasional missteps (even for a soundtrack to a children’s film, one song that hinges on spelling is plenty), Where the Wild Things Are stands as the rare soundtrack that’s an essential listen.
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