The soundtrack of the film Life of Pi will invoke images of the beloved film, but is alas, only a movie soundtrack, wherein dramatic surges in the score only serve as plot advancements in the film, thereby leaving the isolated music naked without closure. It is a design of images, not composition.
In a new-age, meditation sort of way, Mychael Danna's score is a lovely piece of music, combining traditional Indian culture – as is the ethnicity of the film – with thunder-rousing movie music, complete with full angelic vocal choir. A simple minor piano chord serves as the theme obliging the oceanic orchestra and Indian indigenous instruments (mandolin, sitar, and a host of other Indian percussion instruments).
While there are vocal arrangements throughout, the first track, "Pi's Lullaby," is the only piece with lyrics (and is sung by classical vocalist Bombay Jayashree). Its soft melody and lingering refrain – very much a lullaby – will kindle fond memories of the film. "Are you a flower or the nectar? Are you the fruit of the sweetness?" the song asks as if to a sleepy child. It serves well as a singular song in a "world music" vein, with its European accordion accompanying the languid sound like a drift down The Riviera in a gondola.
Too often the musical passages are simply too short to serve as separate entities. Surging violins will lead the orchestra for all of 34 seconds before one track ends and the next piece begins. It makes for difficult, stop-and-go listening that only serve as bold reminders of the movie.
The music breathes in the longer tracks. "Back to the World" explores the music's theme with slowly vibrating strings ushering in the soft vocal choir and tinkling keyboard invoking the twinkling of the starry night sky. It sounds very much like an exhaustive journey's end. "Tiger Vision" sounds remarkably like a tiger's soft paws stalking through a night jungle, with its quiet, cautious percussive sounds, and mysterious conch shell woodwinds creating a jungle exotica aura.
The album is full of sounds and passages that are both peaceful and disarming, as is the nature of the film. As a single piece of music it is a bit abrupt. For serious students of music who love the film, it is likely essential listening.