Donnie Darko scared the shit out of me. Yeah, I know that it’s supposed to have deep and meaningful significance, and that the scary/creepy parts contain profound meanings for the average 20-something to salivate over, but I just can’t get past that goddamn bunny. After watching that movie, I literally channeled the behavior of my childhood, unable to sleep and hiding my head under my pillow, peeking out anxiously to see if Frank was in the corner staring at me. To this day, I still occasionally peer down the long hallway of my apartment building expecting to see him standing there, waiting to blow up my hold on reality. I guess this makes me unhip, seeing as this movie tends to be a favorite among all the cool kids, but whatever, I still refuse to watch it again. Having said that, however, I found the music score of the movie admirable – hauntingly lovely in its creation of the uneasy familiarity of a dream. The composer of the score is none other than Mike Andrews, whose debut solo album Hand on String finds him melding his haunting instrumentals with pop songcraft.
In addition to Donnie Darko, Andrews has also composed the scores for Freaks & Geeks and Me and You and Everyone We Know, and contributed to the works of Inara George, Brendan Benson, Gary Jules, DJ Greyboy and Metric. With Hand on String, released through his recently created label (Elgin Park Recordings), Andrews creates a hazy, dark album of somewhat obscure proportions. “Something Already Happened Again,” the album opener, undeniably reminds the listener of the ambient qualities of Andrews’ film scores, with a dark overlap of string instrumentation, echoic vocals, and disjointed structure. “Just a Thought” and “Sweeping, Cleaning, Organizing” are of the same mood, incorporating artistic psychedelic vocals that build a slightly creepy (yet strangely endearing) vibe. Interjected among the rest of the album are “Tracings,” “Orange Meet Lemon,” “See Me Plain,” and “Hello Lemon,” which are sweeter (citrus references made on purpose, I suppose), with light-hearted, folksy acoustic vibes.
The talent of both Andrews and his contributors is irrefutable – however, at times I failed to connect with Andrews’ ability to construct his songs. At times, he throws in some extra vocal and electronic enhancement, which is the biggest downfall of the album. These studio enhancements are technically solid, but it’s rather unclear as to why they are there in the first place. This plays into the fact that the album seems to lack a certain mood, a certain characteristic or emotion that ties the whole thing together. And when Andrews isn’t careful, some songs move slightly in the direction of elevator music. But that’s not to say that this should be detrimental to one’s enjoyment of this album (in addition to the really cool watercolor-painting album art). Andrews’ vocals are delicate and inviting – think Elliott Smith, without the aching vulnerability, or John Martyn, with more subtle nuance. His lyrics are creative and poetic – “just like me/you’re best as you fall,” “I am grounded by your circuitry” – and manage to not topple over into the realm of cheesy or overwritten. Overall, I believe that Andrews can pencil himself in to the “established musician” category without ruffling too many music snob feathers, and I am genuinely curious as to what he’ll give us next. And on a side note, I prefer Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.