Indie film company Focus Features confirmed in June it had signed an agreement with multi-instrumentalist/producer extraordinaire Jon Brion who will score the animated zombie thriller ParaNorman. The pic, which is being produced in conjunction with Portland-based animation company LAIKA, is expected to be released in August and follows the tale of a small town overrun by zombies. The townsfolk's' only hope is a young boy named Norman who has the unique ability of communicating with the dead.
Over the past two decades, Brion successfully garnered a reputation as one of the more unique voices in cinema scoring and developed a fierce indie following thanks in part to his weekly performances at Holywood's Club Largo. Each week sees him improvising songs as a one man band, looping melodies together and accompanying himself on drums.
In addition to producing albums for Aimee Mann and Fiona
Apple, Brion has produced some of the most hipster-worthy material ever
to grace the silver screen, most notably 2004's close to perfect Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Director Michel Gondry had an aha! moment when he
hired Brion to bring his quirky, melancholy tones to bear, which
gorgeously supplemented the film's fuzzy, memory-bending love story. And because his body of work is so imaginative, clever and heartfelt, we forgive him for doing session work for yawn-worthy '90s alt band the Wallflowers.
Though he's proficient at any number of instruments, his trademark bitter sweet, shuffling melodies are often made by a vintage keyboard-like instrument known as a Chamberlain Music Master. This vintage instrument is configured like a small organ and each key is
attached to an analog tape loop which replays sounds of
trumpets, violins and flutes enabling the user to recreate the sounds of an orchestra, one note at a time. It would make sense then that Brion would be collaborating with Portland animation company LAIKA for this project, which prides itself on doing animation the old fashioned way, frame by frame. Here's a quick list of some of the cooler songs Brion had a hand in creating.
2. “Wise Up” – Aimee Mann: This song had the dubious honor of appearing in two Tom Cruise movies, Jerry Maguire and Magnolia. 1999's Magnolia featured Tom Cruise in a supporting roll as part of ensemble cast. Which pic do you think was better? One of the Magnolia's final scenes features this song with Brion playing the Chamberlain. Though the montage treads dangerously close to Ally McBeal territory, it's still chill-inducing watching each member of the cast breaking character and singing along, notably Jason Robards (in his final performance) as his character lies on his death bed.
3. “Stairway to Heaven” live at some club: Dig this cover of Led Zeppelin's rock masterpiece which dashes cleverly between classic-era piano music and Tin Pan Alley pop showcasing both Brion's immense talent and iconoclastic penchant for mischief. Wait for the five minute mark when Brion begins looping several instruments to create a full band by himself.
4, “Fast as You Can” – Fiona Apple: This song appeared on Apple's second album which was perhaps titled by Apple when she was off medication. Record companies and radio stations took the liberty of abbreviating more than 400 word album title calling it simply When the Pawn. The album was produced by Brion, and as this song shows, effectively channels Apple's white light, manic piano playing with arrhythmia-inducing drum beats and ghostly, layered overdubs. If you listen carefully, you might even hear Brion on the Chamberlain.
5. “Strings that Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: If you haven't listened to Brion's bitter sweet score, do yourself a favor and grab a copy and give it a spin. It's one of the few score's I find I've been able to listen to obsessively. Brion's songs on this project feature an ephemeral mix of sadness and optimism which gorgeously unifies the choppy narrative of this unusual love stories. The following clip is not an official video.