What You Will Hear: It starts with mostly a small ensemble of piano, guitar, vibes, celesta, and a mixture of light winds. As it progresses, the orchestral tracks grow in instrumentation. Each track has a healthy jazz influence and there are a few full-on jazz charts, as well. The songs are written in a modern classical musical style (that's a thing, right?), also full of jazz.
Standout Tracks: Every track on both albums will be worth your time. Both albums are definitely in our Hall of Fame!
Will You Be Humming Along? Mia & Sebastian’s theme is prominent, with a large collection of song variations throughout.
The album this makes me want to dust off: The Muppets (2011)
Will I come back to it? This isn’t a score. It isn’t a musical soundtrack. It’s an experience. La La Land is a rarity from start to finish. Written with the unbridled optimism of decades past, you won’t be able to help yourself. You are going to feel uplifted. Presented in two separate albums, one focuses on Justin Hurwitz’s songs while the other gives us his background score. Whichever you choose to enjoy (and you should choose BOTH), you’ll get nothing but hope, fun, and musical joy.
The wide variety of instrumentation is one of the stars of this experience. Hurwitz is apparently a master with both small and large ensembles. From the big vocal numbers (See: Another Day Of Sun), to the big band charts, small jazz combos, and the full orchestra moments (See: Credits) – the mix is always noticeably perfect. His ability to maximize each instrument's individual potential shouldn't be overlooked either. Every note, every choice was made with care. No matter what group or instrument is performing, La La Land is as cohesive as it gets. Through all the variety, it maintains an amazingly clear and beautiful identity.
The main theme (See: Mia & Sebastian’s Theme), most often heard on piano, is light and playful. One of the highlights is a full orchestration of the theme (See: Planetarium). Beyond this theme, some real fun exists in the composer’s use of material from the songs in the score. If you listen to both albums, it is like a massive exercise in themes and variations. Begin with the song versions and then move to the orchestral score. Every tune is enjoyable, and each type of ensemble gets a turn at interpreting them in their own way. The absolute best material is found on "Another Day Of Sun." Check out this opening track and then listen to the credits version. I can’t stop dancing. The seamless juxtapositions of Latin and swing jazz styles are a delight. It might be my favorite music of the year. Every song gets its fair amount of time in the score. I find myself having a tough time deciding which part of this music to listen to at any given moment. I want to listen to every track simultaneously.
Another enjoyable quality was the timely use of the 3/4 time signatures. It isn’t dominant, but this time returns enough to give the entire score a waltz-like feel. For a musical love story, such as this one, I was enamored by my need to move while listening. Every part of Hurwitz’s effort has a wonderful groove, but the three feeling stands out in all the right ways. Again, for a movie with so many different musical voices, this is another way that it maintains an amazing cohesiveness.
This is the score you’d hear in your head if we lived in a perfect world. In that world, no one would walk down the street - we'd dance and sing. Maybe we can't do that in our real world, but this music will get you close. More than anything, I wish I could have played on this recording (Especially the Credits). You can just tell how much fun the musicians probably had putting this together. The only people having more fun with it will be those that return to it time and time again for decades to come. I look forwad to repeated (constant!) listens.
P.S. – The featured trumpet player is a force of nature.