The art of making a film score which stands up to being released on its stand-alone merits can be tricky to the point of thankless. Not only will the music it contains have been written to a pre-determined brief, but it will have been designed to be interwoven with a selection of images to create an immersive experience – images, lest we forget, that you won’t have access to when merely playing the album back. It runs a certain risk, but get it right and you can create something as spellbinding as Hans Zimmer‘s Gladiator soundtrack or Brian McBride‘s Effective Disconnect. Get it wrong, however, and you end up with a sprawling, meandering mess like Belle & Sebastian‘s compilation of mostly-unused compositions for Storytelling.
This is the quandry facing Ólafur Arnalds, and his soundtrack for Another Happy Day, which stars Demi Moore and details the factions and frictions of a family reunion at a wedding. Arnalds has proved to be prolific in recent years, releasing three albums (including last year’s well received experiment, Living Room Songs) in as many years. Acting both as a lynchpin in the Erased Tapes label’s top-drawer current catalogue – that also includes A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Nils Frahm – and to the burgeoning new-classical movement, can he run the soundtrack gauntlet?
A precursory glance at the album’s tracklisting reveals a surprising brevity to many of the tracks – around half the compositions are two-and-a-half minutes or under. It leads to a feeling of songs-as-sketches rather than fully-fledged, accomplished suites, especially during the early parts of the album. Whilst a symptom of the nature of soundtracks, it nonetheless makes for an occasionally frustrating experience, as songs end just as they begin to get going. However, from fourth track Lynn’s Theme onwards there’s a marked upturn in the album and the manner in which it’s pieced together, allowing its subdued beauty to come to the fore.
As a consequence of the accompanying film’s subject matter, those expecting a feel-good album need look elsewhere. It varies between out-and-out subdued bleakness and majestic melancholia, rarely diverting from its haunting and sparse combination of lilting piano and mournful violin throughout the album’s middle phase. Look past the brevity of some of the pieces and there is an effortless beauty to be found, especially on The Wait, with its banks of strings that ebb and swell, or the teardrop piano of Poland, to name but two tracks. Towards the album’s conclusion though there’s an added sense of drama and suspense created by the percussive and more urgent Out To Sea and Everything Must Change.
It makes for interesting listening, sitting sonically as it does between Frahm’s minimalism and the rich swathes of A Winged Victory For The Sullen. While not quite hitting the (admittedly remarkable) quality of the aforementioned releases of his labelmates, Arnalds has nonetheless added another release to an already prolific period in his career which, on the whole, avoids the pitfalls of which have befallen other soundtracks when separated from their parent films.