Playing God
VA: Lost in Translation Soundtrack

last year, Lost in Translation emerged as The Little Indie Film That Could, staying in the theaters for an obscene amount of time and garnering several oscar nominations—including a historic nod for Sofia Coppola, the first American woman ever recognized for best original screenplay. The film was lovely—the humor occasionally fell flat and the plausibility of the connection between the two main characters is fairly arguable, but the movie is never less than pretty as a picture, with nearly every frame serving as a veritable travelogue photo for scenic Japan.

Equally lovely was the music. The unusual combination of starry-eyed wonder and hopeless resignation that made up the film’s central story line was complemented exquisitely by a near constant flow of similarly heavenly, but heavy, music. Director Sofia Coppola even managed to get the king of such musics, Kevin Shields, to come out of hibernation and contribute a couple songs. Add some stuff from legendary scene(ic)sters Air, a shiny ditty or two from Squarepusher and Death in Vegas, and a couple of classics from sighing angels Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, and you figure that the soundtrack would be the stuff that dreams are made of, no?

Not so, unfortunately, or not quite. All the above songs are fairly fabulous, but they are padded with some rather boring ambient noodling that makes the album feel like a real drag towards the end and a couple really quite bad song choices that screw up the flow. The inclusion of Phoenix’s “Too Young” (a personal favorite of Sofia’s) might not have been as heinous as I originally thought, but it still just doesn’t belong on the album. And the ultra-cheesiness of “On the Subway” by Brian Retzell and Roger J. Mannings Jr. isn’t helping matters either. And at least one of those disappointing Shields compositions could’ve been axed at the expense of no one. What’s more, there are a couple songs used in the movie—fast ones, mostly—that would’ve come in handy to perk up the soundtrack when it starts to get really dull.

Without further ado…

01. “City Girl”-Kevin Shields
We excise the pointless intro track and get right into where Kevin’s at right now—making pretty pop songs. There is so little to this song that it’s almost enough to make you think Kevin’s lost his mind (or even scarier, that he’s gotten it back). Still, it’s gorgeous, and definitely has that sighing quality to it that makes the film so delectable. A worthy opener.

02. “Girls”-Death in Vegas
Ah-ah. ah-Ah. Ah-ah. ah-Ah. This is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music you will ever hear, dwarfing all else on the soundtrack. Watching the beginning of this movie with the song playing as Bill Murray checks out Japan for the first time, you’d swear you were about to watch the greatest movie ever made. Here, it fits as a logical extension of “City Girl”—and also serves as a reminder that this is the kind of stuff that Shields should’ve been writing for the movie.

03. “Fantimo”- Sebastian Teller
Blatant score music, but it’s still OK, I guess. Adds to the feel. A necessary comedown after the unimaginable high of “Girls.”

04. “Fuck the Pain Away”-Peaches
Used in the film where Bill Murray visits a stripper and was curiously neglected on the soundtrack the first time around, perhaps because it seems a bit incongruous with the rest of the soundtrack. Still, thematically, “Fuck the Pain Away” (in title, if nothing else) is about as sound as it gets. Plus it’s a good song that works here as a wake up call of sorts.

05. “Goodbye” – Kevin Shields
The most interesting of his four new pieces—a little minimal droning number. It’s quite nice, actually—still not enough to excuse the 12 years of absence, but what are you gonna do?

06. “Tommib”-Squarepusher
Oooh, this song is shiny. Glistens like a brand new penny under a fresh summer sun. Only a minute long, so it leaves you craving more, which is probably a good thing, since its luster would’ve certainly faded after another :45 or so. Good call, Tom. Works as a nice transition into…

07. “Kaze Wo Astumete”-Happy End
…a stupid pop song! In Japanese! This song is pointless, but its charm is undeniable. Anything that’s bubblegum enough that you can sing along to it without understanding the language works for me.

08. “Ikebana”-Kevin Shields
Another one. Not as nice as the other two, but it’ll do. Moody. Next!

09. “Alone in Kyoto”-Air
Eww. Air sorta displease me when they’re being ambient and boring, but once again, it’s all in the good name of mood, which is conveniently interrupted by…

10. “The State We’re In”/”Denmark”-The Chemical Brothers
Since the part of the song featured in the movie was the transition between two different tracks, I decided to keep both on this edition. “The State We’re In” starts out as more misty-eyed reflection, but by the time it transitions into the glorious Euro-Disco stomp of “Denmark”, it’s become a genuine, bona-fide mood breaker. Good work, Bros.

11. “Sometimes”-My Bloody Valentine
The first previously acknowledged classic on this compilation, and deservedly so. I didn’t even like this song that much before hearing it in context here. Now it’s one of the best tracks on Loveless.

12. “Shibuya”-Brian Retzell and Roger J. Manning Jr.
They sorta redeem themselves with this one. Kinda nice, isn’t it? Without being surrounded by another Shields tune and that yawner by Air, it’s far more bearable.

13. “Just Like Honey”-The Jesus and Mary Chain
Kept as the closer because it reminds of the wonderful effect the song has as the last song in the movie as well. Who knows what he whispers in her ear? Who cares? It’s probably something very nice and pleasant and they may as well just keep it to themselves. And yeah, this song is as great as everyone says.

By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2004-03-25
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