‘Almost Alice’ offers delightful blend of electropop, rock

caitlinhardee

On Tuesday, March 2, the release of Almost Alice,  the groundbreaking companion album to Tim Burton’s new movie “Alice in Wonderland,” showed the world yet another aspect of his artistic vision. Almost Alice is rare among film albums in that it is not a soundtrack: Tim Burton’s longtime musical partner  Danny Elfman scored the film, but for the companion album, Burton chose to seek out and commission a wide range of the music industry’s strongest young artists for a collection of songs inspired by the movie.

Possibly the strongest track on the album, Owl City’s “The Technicolor Phase,” was not written for Almost Alice, but appeared on Owl City’s 2009 album, Maybe I’m Dreaming. Adam Young’s signature bubbling vocals are laced with autotune effects, but manage to utilize them effectively. It is rare that a song creates such a visual experience: Young’s vivid, color-based imagery, sweet, addictive voice and synths absolutely transport the listener. His backup vocals murmuring “my darling” in the final choruses are pure beauty.

Another standout track is “Strange,” a collaboration between  Tokio Hotel and Estonian pop singer Kerli, which  follows the theme of male-female vocals found on several other tracks throughout Almost Alice. The song, crafted by Tokio Hotel, Swedish producer Andreas Carlsson and American hitmaker Desmond Child, opens with eerie electronic effects laid over softly warbling guitars, a near-perfect twin to the opening of “Shine” off Tokio Hotel’s latest album, Humanoid. As usual, the soft qualities of Bill Kaulitz’s voice are remarkable. As the song transitions towards the first chorus, Kerli takes over the ethereal vocals and Kaulitz abruptly drops from singing high and sweet to a lower register, striking gorgeous harmonies.

The album’s first single, Avril Lavigne’s “Alice,” is somewhat less impressive. Lavigne’s vocals retain their characteristic sound on the verses, with breathy low notes and bell-clear high notes, but spiral into pitchy monotone on the choruses, and the entire track dwells firmly in the realm of formulaic pop. “Alice” is the only song to actually appear in the film, and plays during the end credits.

With “The Poison” from The All American Rejects, we have the exact opposite of a prosaically structured pop anthem. The track, for the most part, is low-key and contemplative, a love song hidden in the underpainting of a fluid mental landscape. However, the structure is jarringly broken with a shocking transition to Muse-esque theatrics and convulsively acidic lyrics before returning to slow and melancholy.

“Painting Flowers” from All Time Low is again solidly within predictable pop boundaries, but with much more success than “Alice.” “Painting Flowers” is a delicious anthem of love and longing, so sugary sweet it aches; Alex Gaskarth’s voice is the stuff car singalongs are made of.

Also remarkable is “Welcome to Mystery” from Plain White T’s. The song opens with an obvious waltz structure, which is eventually subsumed under the synth and head-nodding beat of the chorus, but remains in the underbelly of the entire track. This odd rhythm for an rock song ends up lending itself superbly to visual interpretation; one can very easily imagine ornately clad masqueraders whirling around a ballroom à  la David Bowie’s “As The World Falls Down” in the film “Labyrinth.”

The album also features songs from Shinedown, Metro Station, 3OH!3, Robert Smith, Mark Hoppus and Pete Wentz, Kerli, Franz Ferdinand, Motion City Soundtrack, Wolfmother and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Kerli’s “Tea Party” and 3OH!3’s “Follow Me Down” will be released as the second and third singles. “Tea Party” and “Alice” will also be released in music video format.