This Week’s Best Albums: December 13, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: December 13, 2011

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow choose ALARM’s favorite new releases for This Week’s Best Albums, an eclectic set of reviews presenting exceptional music.

Jónsi / Nico Muhly: We Bought a Zoo soundtrackJónsi: We Bought a Zoo soundtrack (Columbia / Sony)

Jónsi: “Gathering Stories”

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We Bought a Zoo, the upcoming “dramedy” starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, is not the first collaboration between screenwriter/director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) and Sigur Rós front-man Jón Þór Birgisson, a.k.a. Jónsi. The relationship started a decade ago in the making of Vanilla Sky, when Crowe played the Icelandic group’s music on set to inspire his actors, and now the two have teamed up to soundtrack an entire major motion picture. Much of the material therein is re-purposed — a mix of tracks from Jónsi’s solo debut album, Go, as well as re-released Sigur Rós cuts — but it includes notable new compositions featuring brass and string contributions by Nico Muhly, who collaborated with Jónsi on Go.

Though the film may have its limitations, and though the question can be asked whether it’s a good fit for Jónsi, the music itself is buoyant. Twinkling, majestic arrangements pair with Jónsi’s falsettos and Muhly’s strings, creating a beautiful depth against fluttering harmonies of bells, toy pianos, and flutes. Even with soft piano ballads like the title track or percussive pieces such as “Hoppípolla,” neoclassical accompaniment and gleaming melodies sustain the score’s main musical theme. With an ambient introduction and a soaring, multi-layered closing (co-written by Cameron Crowe and Jónsi), We Bought a Zoo is arranged meticulously and proves that, as Crowe has stated, “the best music creates a movie in your mind.”

– Text by Lauren Zens.

Charlotte Gainsbourg: Stage WhisperCharlotte Gainsbourg: Stage Whisper (Elektra / Warner)

Charlotte Gainsbourg: “White Telephone”

In late 2009, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of iconic singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and singer/actress Jane Birkin) continued her adult-life return to music with IRM, a Beck-produced album that yielded major press acclaim. Stage Whisper, her new “double” album, is a sort of addendum to IRM, featuring a number of studio tracks from the same recording sessions to go with 11 live tracks from the same time period.

A few of the early cuts, “Terrible Angels” and “Paradisco,” begin the album on a much dancier and electronic note, but the material shortly moves back to the organic beauty and melancholy of IRM. “White Telephone,” with its delicate melodic phrasing, is one of the album’s biggest standouts, setting the mood with kora-esque plucking before an accordion, violin, and xylophone accent Gainsbourg’s airy vocals.

It might not be the most fitting introduction for first-time listeners, but the live tracks deliver some of her most popular cuts — including the cover of Bob Dylan‘s “Just Like a Woman” — on top of the unreleased tracks. Gainsbourg fans won’t want to miss out.