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Various Artists: Juno: Music from the Motion Picture

[Rhino Records]

By Steven Rosen · February 6th, 2008 · Short Takes

The film Juno, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, seems poised to make a star out of its chief soundtrack contributor, Washington state-based Kimya Dawson, as well as its lead actress Ellen Page and screenwriter Diablo Cody. (The soundtrack album, in fact, rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard album charts following the Oscar nom.)

Dawson's playful, childlike Folk Rock songs -- think a female version of "Ice Cream Man"-era Jonathan Richman -- provide a context for understanding the mixed-up confusion that a sensitive, intelligent teenager like Page's Juno is undergoing after discovering herself pregnant.

Juno includes nine Dawson songs -- five solo, two by her band Antsy Pants, one by the Moldy Peaches (her and Adam Green) and one cover of the Peaches' "Anyone Else But You" sung by Page and Michael Cera on screen to close the film. That song captures the appealing oddity of Dawson's writing -- it's a sweet, affecting, ever-so-slightly-rocking declaration of love and music-making with lyrics that grow weirder as you listen to them: "You squinched up your face and did a dance/Shook a little turd out of the bottom of your pants." Huh?

Then again, Dawson can also slip political activism into her naive lyrics and kindergarten-choir voice. Check out the contempt for President Bush on the chant-like sing-along "Loose Lips." Beyond Dawson's contributions, the film uses Pop music to draw the conflict between Page's Juno and Jason Bateman's Mark, a thirtysomething professional who plans to adopt her baby. Several of Mark's favorite songs -- Sonic Youth's version of the Carpenters' "Superstar" and Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" -- are on this album, and they both brilliantly reveal his enduring melancholy. Grade: A



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