Listening to a film soundtrack in isolation can feel a little strange sometimes. I'm of the feeling that a film soundtrack should largely blend into a film and not be particularly noticeable, so if a soundtrack has achieved that, I wonder how powerful the music may be on its own. In addition, without the visuals the music is there to support, you're listening to it slightly out of context and this can leave you without something to focus on as you listen, particularly if the soundtrack is just musical enhancement rather than songs in the traditional sense. Add to this that some of the pieces can be very short if they were designed to go over shorter scenes and film soundtracks can often be a little patchy and uneven.
Fortunately, that is not the case with the Golden Globe nominated "Life of Pi" soundtrack from Mychael Danna. "Pi's Lullaby" opens the album and gives you an immediate feel for how things will be, with a gentle Indian sound with sitar and pan pipes mostly to the fore, although there is a French sounding section later on. The song drifts over you with the equivalent of wafting a clean sheet onto a bed, feeling it coming down and gently touching you.
Next up is "Piscine Molitor Patel / Sous le Ciel de Paris" which, as the second part of the title may suggest, has a strong French influence to begin, but also mixed in with some sitar work. It's not quite as peaceful and relaxing as the earlier track, but the gentle tone and tempo to the music in the early parts help it pass by quite nicely, although it does get a little more excitable later on.
"Pondicherry" maintains the French feel and is more of an old European sounding track with the strings making it sound slightly out of place from what has come before, but it's a very short track before "Meeting Krishna" evokes the opening track with a brief vocal and a very calming track with pan pipes and sitar once more to the fore. The opening bars seem to borrow from "Pi's Lullaby", but once it gets going this track is a little louder and more insistent than the album opener.
A series of very short, quick tracks follow with the theme of the album continuing through them all. "Christ in the Mountains" seems to combine all the elements so far into a wonderfully calming whole. "Thank You Vishnu For Introducing me to Christ / Raga Ahir Bhairav" takes longer to type the title than the track lasts for, but it's a fascinating combination of English tea party music which then segues into a more Indian sound and is again wonderfully calming. This leads nicely into "Richard Parker", which seems to take a while to get going and ends on a crescendo that makes it seem a little pointless in isolation, but which works well over the course of the album as a whole.
"Appa's Lesson" is a return to the calming, largely Indian influenced sound of the album so far, but with hints of something a little more European sneaking through in places. "Anandi" again offers hints of "Pi's Lullaby", with the calming pan pipe led sound drifting over you again for just a moment until "Leaving India" takes over, with only the brief break between tracks allowing you to realise these are two separate pieces, so similar do they sound. "The Deepest Spot on Earth" is definitely a distinctive track, with dark strings giving a very forbidding feel that has not been present on the album thus far.
Fortunately, this soon moves on to "Tsimtsum", which whilst it is slightly darker in tone and less calming than much of the album and again holds less of an Indian influence, almost seeming choral in parts, is a relatively soothing song once the pan pipes come in. However, it is positively calming compared to "Death of the Zebra", which despite being largely pan pipe led, has the dark tone you would expect from the title and evokes "The Deepest Spot on Earth" once more but fortunately only darkens the mood for a moment, being only 34 seconds long.
Returning to a few longer tracks, "First Night, First Day" is a little tougher to pin down. It's got a deeper, darker tone to start than many of the others with deep strings and the pan pipes have a more forbidding sound than before. Although darker in tone and feel, this is another track that drifts slowly past in a calming manner for the most part, especially after the first minute when it becomes a little more operatic and sounds similar to some of the "Lord of the Rings" soundtrack.
"Set Your House in Order" edges back towards the more Indian sounding tracks, with the drums leading to begin with. The track becomes more urgent towards the end, which makes it a little less relaxing but provides a decent contrast and there is a riff that sounds a little like the theme to the TV series "House" in parts. "Skinny Vegetarian Boy" opens with a similar drum beat to the previous track, but soon segues into a very relaxing string section which reminds me a little of early Clannad, but with the drums adding an Indian twist. Again here, there is more urgency and a higher tempo later in the song than at the beginning.
There is a very interesting opening to "Pi and Richard Parker" before it settles down into something that is overall quite calming, but which has an underlying tension added by the strings that leads the listener to expect it to explode into life at any moment, but it never quite makes it. "The Whale" continues the calming feel, with the pan pipes once more adding a soothing note over the strings. Again, this is a track that the strings add a lot to the background, although when they do come to the fore later in, it's still within the overall calming feel of the song.
Once again, a few shorter tracks follow, with "Flying Fish" suddenly changing the whole tone, with a very busy track at a much more urgent tempo than before, led by the strings. But after less than a minute, "Tiger Training" again returns to the calmer music, with a hummed vocal that evokes "pi's Lullaby" for a brief spell, before the strings take over and there is a darker and more urgent feel to the song and you can sense the danger implied by the tiger of the title. There is a wistfulness to "Orphans" helped along by flute and strings that drifts along quite nicely, but with real feeling to the music which makes the track relaxing but a little sad at the same time.
The last few tracks are longer ones, with "Tiger Vision" again leading with pan pipes throughout a gentle opening with some choral sounding vocals. Much like the opening track, it really drifts past without making much impact, but it's a beautiful piece of music and it certainly doesn't seem to last anything like the 4 ½ minutes run time.
"God Storm" opens in a similar fashion, but only for a moment until the strings come in and the cymbals in particular really give the feeling of the storm in the title and add to the feeling of peril. If the previous track drifted by me, this one swept me away and whilst it does calm again towards the end, this is a very involved piece of music. Straight after, "I'm Ready Now" calms the storm and it is once again a return to some very relaxing music which drifts past quite easily, even when it becomes a little more orchestral later on in the track.
"The Island" is slightly shorter, but this time led by a harpsichord and gentle bells and drums. There may be a slight difference in sound, but there is little change in mood as the music drifts past the listener once more. The same can be said of "Back to the World", which is a monster track at over 8 minutes in length, but which contains much of the same instrumentation of "The Island", with the addition of some strings and the return of the pan pipes, but which once more drifts past very pleasantly in such a way that you don't believe 8 minutes can have passed when it ends.
"The Second Story" has more piano, but again retains the mood and feeling, being down tempo and calming and an incredibly pleasant experience. The album ends with "Which Story Do You Prefer?", which evokes the album's opening with the gentle, down tempo music with the addition of some strings, but a very peaceful ambience overall.
In these days of the ability to select tracks, skip them and play in random orders, this is a rare album that genuinely benefits from being played as a whole. For 65 minutes spread over 28 tracks, it can transport you to another place; one of relaxation and letting your cares drift away. Whilst there are some moments that demand your attention, this is mostly an album that you want to have on, ideally in a dimly lit room with a glass of wine, although I've also found that it is a superb album to have playing quietly in the background as you lose yourself in a book.
It does help to have seen the film, as this gives you something to anchor some of the songs to and allows you to put some of the images together with the music and with it being such a beautifully shot film, this is easy to achieve. But I've not found it entirely necessary, as in terms of relaxing music, this is an album that can speak for itself. At £10.87 from Amazon, it's still quite expensive, but you can download the album from Amazon for £5.99, or find a copy on the Amazon Marketplace from £6.55 and for this money, with the amount of music there is here and the number of plays you can put it through in the background, it's well worth the investment.