Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist and lyricist Andrew Bird composed Norman for the indie film Norman, directed by Jonathan Segal.
The film follows in the footsteps of indie works such as Juno, telling a story about a sarcastic and quick-witted boy who pretends to have cancer for attention and must deal with the consequences as he becomes a social outcast. Throughout the film, Norman falls in love with the new girl at school who reaches out to him, copes with the death of his mother, and comes to terms with his father, who falls terminally ill.
The score is different than anything produced by Bird thus far. It is intriguing and haunting, with each song about two minutes long. The score adds depth to the plot with songs that range from cold and desperate to ones that bring a breath of fresh air and hope.
The album begins with “Scotch and Milk,” a song that is also featured on the trailer and sets the tone for most of the album. It complements “Hospital,” an appropriately melancholic song. It opens with the same dreadful pulse that we hear in “Scotch and Milk.” The violin makes an array of sounds with its quick push and pull, while the soft vocals and occasional piano notes bring a temporary optimism. The build up and fall of the song gives it a mournful feel, which weighs heavily on the heart and almost pleads for some happier musical moments.
“Arcs and Coulombs” gives the album a touch of desperate romance. “Your serum in my veins and you/You help me not remember the mix.” The addition of drums in the song gives it a happier feel, but some of the lyrics (“Your candy apple lips have been sinking on my ships/and you’re the one”) come off a bit clichéd.
A lullaby-esque “Night Sky” is bombarded with metaphors and what-if questions that contemplate how two souls could be so fortunate to find each other: “What if we hadn’t been born at the same time/What if you were 75 and I were 9/And I come visit you/Bring you cookies in an old folks’ home/Would you be there alone?” One cannot help but fall in love with the easy genius of the lyrics and acoustic guitar.
There are also three covers on the album, which don’t stray too far from their original renditions, but rather bring a fresh feel to each song. “S.O.S” features Khaela Maricich from The Blow. The dreamlike effect of the song lures listeners into a trance as she begs: “Just this once I’d love to stay/Please if you get a minute would you come and look for me/‘Cause I’m not really here/And so far you are the only who sees.”
Wolf Parade’s “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” focuses on the electric guitar, percussion and accordion for a twisted and eerie sound. In Chad VanGaalen’s “Rabid Bits of Time,” the cello and guitar give the song a lonely feel: “You’ve been dead for years/but you never knew/And the rabid bits of time have been eating you/No one knows where we go when we’re dead and when we’re dreaming.” The song introduces a piece that is pessimistic, to say the least. It captures us in a moment of the movie, or maybe those moments in life where we question our existence.
Bird does a wonderful job of making this a soundtrack to Norman’s life, emphasizing themes of loss, sorrow, the rise to maturity and young romance—themes that feel so close, it could be a soundtrack to your life, too.
Andrew Bird – Norman tracklist:
- “Scotch and Milk”
- “Arcs and Coulombs”
- “S.O.S” (Performed by The Blow with Richard Swift)
- “Nice Hat/Exit Sign/Angelo Speaks”
- “Medicine Chest”
- “The Kiss/Time and Space/Waterfall”
- “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” (Redux) (Performed by Wolf Parade)
- “Cancerboy Strikes Again/Monsterstream”
- “Rabid Bits of Time” (Performed by Chad VanGaalen)
- “Build Up to the Fall”
- “Epic Sigh/The Python Connection”
- “The Bridge”
- “Night Sky”
- “Afterspeak/Things Come to a Head”