If there’s a hard-to-shop-for Sigur Rós fan in your life, say a little blessing to the spirit of corporate synergy for making 2011 the year your holiday shopping took care of itself. Between the just-released Inni concert set (which is available in five editions, the most of elaborate of which contains a Blu-ray disc, two CDs, a vinyl EP, and some tchotchkes) and Jónsi’s oddly fussed-over soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo, there’s no shortage of appealing but totally inessential stocking stuffers on the market—perfect for fans of avant-garde Icelandic pop who might be feeling a bit light in the wallet after going all in on one of those absurd Biophilia boxes. While Jónsi has a way to go before he’ll match Björk’s knack for repackaging scams that are as artful as they are gratuitous, he’s probably set himself up for a nice bonus this winter solstice.
I’ll leave it to the experts at our film section to tell you what’s going on with Crowe’s film, which strikes me as a fairly odd use of its stars’ and director’s talents. Whatever role the trio of Jónsi, Nico Muhly, and Crowe envisage for these songs in the context of their film, the soundtrack for We Bought a Zoo, taken on its own, serves two purposes, and it fulfills both of them efficiently. As a hold-me-over for fans awaiting the next batch of songs from Jónsi or Sigur Rós, We Bought a Zoo offers a respectable batch of new compositions, which are only mildly disappointing in that they sound quite a lot like the songs from Jónsi’s Go. Eclectic instrumentation, whimsical vocals, moments of ambient repose: Jónsi delivers it all, but without branching out of the flamboyant new-age shaman role he crafted for his solo debut. The only track on the album that presents a significant variation on Go‘s sound is “Gathering Stories,” a track co-written by Crowe. It’s neither a revelation nor a disaster, and its ornate swirl of tones are ultimately apiece with the older songs, including “Go Do” and “Boy Lilikoi,” which are two of the most charmingly inventive pop songs to be released in the last few years.
The soundtrack also includes Sigur Rós’s “Hoppopilla,” a terrific Takk… selection that’s probably the single best introduction to the band in terms of accessibly packaged bombast. The band’s orchestral rock has been used to terrific effect in film before, most notably in key sequences of Crowe’s own Vanilla Sky and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, and a similarly inspired showcase in We Bought a Zoo might just hook newcomers who are intrigued by what they hear.