Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett's 'Her' Score Mixes Quiet Minimalism with Big Emotional Payoffs
Published Mar 23, 2021Arcade Fire's career has been devoted to maximalist anthems and epic, arena-sized grandeur, with only one notable exception: their Oscar-nominated score for Her, Spike Jonze's 2013 romcom that asks the question "if you love your computer so much, then why don't you marry it?" The music leaked online around the time of the film's release, but it's never been officially available until now.
Largely composed by Will Butler along with co-credited collaborator Owen Pallett, the Her score trades out Arcade Fire's usual Springsteen worship for Satie soundalikes, its piano miniatures bearing almost no resemblance to anything the band have done before or since.
It's a breath of fresh air, showing that Arcade Fire are capable of packing an emotional punch even without all of the band members "whoa"-ing in unison. Her (Original Score) is a whisper, not a shout.
This experiment in subtlety takes a few different forms. On "Milk & Honey #1," it's stark chord swells that sound like a gnarly organ patch, or maybe even a cello run through a distorted guitar amp; in the back half of "Morning Talk / Supersymmetry," it's borrowing some of the burbling arpeggiators from the closing track to the band's 2013 LP, Reflektor; on "Milk & Honey #2," it's ominous synth drones and sparse, lonely guitar plucking.
But for the most part, Her is full of delicate piano compositions: "Song on the Beach" is melancholically gorgeous, despite being a clear knockoff of Satie's "Gymnopedie," while the cascading arpeggios and dramatic bass notes of "Photograph" are absolutely begging to be imported into iMovie for a compilation video of wedding photographs. Her is a futuristic movie about obsession with technology, but much of the score sounds less like science fiction and more like something from a Parisian salon in the late 1800s.
Even though Pallett is credited as an equal collaborator, the score is low on his signature strings. "Some Other Place" and "We're All Leaving" have some swelling orchestrations that bear some resemblance to a traditional Hollywood score, but they melt away quickly, only to be replaced more soft keys.
It's entirely not clear why Her (Original Score) hasn't been officially released until now, especially since it leaked almost immediately and has been available online for anyone who cared to look hard enough. (Perhaps Arcade Fire didn't want to flood the market, as the film came out just a couple months after Reflektor.) Whatever the case, this official release restores an important Arcade Fire artifact: proof that they can craft an emotional payoff with minimalism rather than the usual pomp. (Sony)