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Glen Hasnard and others - "Once" Soundtrack Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008
ImageI don’t know about you but I love surprises. Not the “massive rain and wind storm blew out my plate glass window” kind (you can probably guess why I chose that) but those of the “I would have never guessed how much I’d love that music” type. Once (Music From the Motion Picture) is an example of a delicious, unexpected, heart- and mind-expanding, type two surprise.

When my other half informed me we were going to watch a movie she’d heard about, “a love story where the people sing their own songs,” I instantly looked for something that needed fixing around the house. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching movies with her (I absolutely do), or that I don’t like love stories (I’m a sentimental sap), but the thought of actors singing songs they’d written, well … see, you’re having the same reaction.

I was checking the washing machine hoses for leaks when she insisted I come out and watch the movie. After checking them one last time and conducting a thorough sifting of the cat box and a detailed scan of my Junk Mail folder for [email protected]@ and Monster Penis Expansion offers, I suddenly found myself sitting in front of the TV with a somewhat perturbed other half next to me. And then SURPRISE! My fears about Once slowly drifted up, and out, through our unexpected home remodel site.
It’s a disarmingly simple story; a pair of lonely musicians meet and fall in love over the course of a few weeks. Their relationship, complex, realistic and naturally evolving, is what sets Once apart from other like-minded films. And more importantly, for this review at least, the leads are not actors trying to sing but real musicians who are acting. I loved it so much I bought the soundtrack and SURPRISE! The music sounds just as, or even more, wonderful away from the emotional context of the visuals.

Like the movie, the songs of Once appear simple but are deceptively complex, warmly engaging and emotionally satisfying. Glen Hansard, the lead and primary songwriter, sounds like early Cat Stevens, and with the soul of an Irish poet he ties words and melody together in a way that prods you to remember the moments you fell in love.

“Falling Slowly” opens with the lyric “I don’t know you/but I want you all the more for it,” and builds to a heart-wrenching crescendo that can only be resolved with a delicate restating of the repeating figure that anchors the song. My ancestors are long removed from Counties Sligo and Cork but with each listen it feels like some kind of genetic fingerprint’s being lifted from beneath years of generational dust. It makes me want to drink Connemara, cry joyfully, write epic poems and visit James Joyce’s grave in Zurich. And, as is the fashion in my family, do them all at the same time.

The next song, “If You Want Me,” showcases Marketa Irglova, the female lead. It’s disarming, and is sung over acoustic guitars, strings and an ancient beat box. Her delicate and gentle soprano brings to mind, for some unexplainable reason, Yoko Ono. That is if Yoko could carry a note in a bucketful of music. When the song moves to the chorus Irglova’s voice soars, pure and sweet, and the only remaining connection to Ono is womanhood.

“Fallen From the Sky,” like the opener, seems almost childlike in its deliberate and seemingly non-complex construct, but is another of the many surprises that comprise the music of Once. The unlikely instrument choices (toy piano, ‘70s-era drum machine, synths) combine with the catchiest melody since “Sugar Sugar” to expose the sparkle of new love. It’s a song that you want to listen to 30 or 40 times in a row while reading your favorite book and eating a Milky Way. If you know someone who thinks all good Irish songs are about longing, struggle and heartache, play them this little number and watch them eat their words.

The Once soundtrack does have its soft spots. There’s filler, like “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” a meaningful piano song by Irglova, “The Hill,” and the “we’ve got to have a song by someone other than the leads” tune “Gold,” by Interference. I’m not crazy about Irglova’s song, mainly because I end up comparing these types of solo piano things to Kate Bush (no way for anyone to win that battle), but I’m growing fond of “Gold” because it sounds like Harry Nilsson singing harmony with himself in a thick Irish brogue over jangling guitars. Nilsson plus jangle plus fiddle plus my genetic thumbprint equals drunken enjoyment. “And I love her so,” they sing, “I wouldn’t trade her for gold.” I know exactly what they mean.

But these are minor flaws and in no way detract from the overall wonder that is Once. From the Ben Harper sound of “All the Way Down,” through “Leave” with its Damien Rice sensitivity, to the REM-esque “Trying to Pull Myself Away,” you’re filled by music that is as heartfelt, organic and immediate as today’s radio hits are plastic, non-consequential and soul-draining.

In my perfect world it wouldn’t be surprising to find music this wonderful is still being made, and we wouldn’t have to worry about rain storms or incredibly crappy films that steal your soul and waste your life. But it’s not my perfect world, and I’m still surprised when a movie steals my heart or a collection of music stirs my emotions. Once is, and does, both.

This is an iTunes download of protected AAC files at 128 kbps. I ripped a CD and listened to it through my home theater system and, as you’d expect, the mids were strong, the bass was full and the highs a little dull. The mix is good but a little flat in places. Instead of running it through my usual car test I loaded Once onto my iPhone and took it to my local pub for evaluation. I listened to it in repeat while sipping Michael Collins and pouring back a few Harps. I got piss drunk and loved it even more, but I forgot to make any notes about how it sounded in my little earbuds so you’ll have to live with my HTS test as the arbiter of “all things great and soundly.” This is the kind of music that’s at its best when heard live and I can’t wait for that opportunity, but until then ... it’ll stay on my iPhone. And yes, James Joyce is buried in Zurich. Those crazy Irish!

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