Sofia Coppola's impressionistic romance Lost in Translation features an equally impressionistic and romantic soundtrack that plays almost as big a role in the film as Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen do. In the film, Bob and Charlotte are able to stretch their instant connection as strangers in a strange land into something that seems to last longer and feel deeper because of their need to believe in a love like that; their relationship is a beautiful, fleeting little world unto itself, and the music that plays behind them emphasizes the romantic fever dream. The soundtrack's luminous atmospherics come from a variety of sources, but My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields leads the pack by contributing the Loveless classic "Sometimes" and four new tracks penned under his own name. A nearly perfect song from a nearly perfect album, "Sometimes" is so incredibly gorgeous, and so effortlessly accomplished, that in hindsight it's easier (if no less frustrating) to understand why Shields is so hesitant about putting out any new material in the wake of songs like this. However, while his new tracks don't reach Loveless' peaks, they're not intended to; open-ended pieces like the naïve, guitar-driven "City Girl" and the abstractly poignant, Eno-inspired "Goodbye" may be somewhat disappointing as songs (especially new songs from one of music's most reticent visionaries), but they work well as soundtrack material. "Ikebana" and especially "Are You Awake?" suggest some of the electronic forays that Shields wanted to explore with My Bloody Valentine before he stopped working under that name; while both tracks, particularly the latter, are lovely, they're so fleeting that it's hard to tell whether or not they really indicate a new direction in Shields' work.
As worthwhile as Shields' contributions are, it would be a mistake to let them eclipse the rest of this fine soundtrack. Interestingly, many of the other pieces on Lost in Translation sound more like Shields' previous work than his own tracks. Chief among them is Death in Vegas' lovely "Girls," a slow-building epic that combines breathy vocals, deceptively simple guitars, and distant but powerful drumming in a way that evokes My Bloody Valentine but doesn't borrow from them too shamelessly. Likewise, the Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" is nearly as swooningly romantic as "Sometimes." Sebastien Tellier's "Fantino" and Squarepusher's "Tommib" fit in well with Shields' work and also recall the work of Air, whose "Alone in Kyoto" is a smoothly flowing, Asian-inspired piece that reflects both their own sound and the film's setting. Ironically enough, Happy End's "Kaze Wo Atsumete" is the only song by an authentically Japanese group, but it sounds a lot like Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again, Naturally," which was used to devastating effect in The Virgin Suicides. Phoenix's "Too Young," a stylish re-creation of '80s soft rock, is another highlight from Lost in Translation, which works equally well as background music or as a way to replay the movie in your head (the hidden track of Bill Murray's drunken karaoke rendition of "More Than This" heightens this effect). Perfectly defined in its hazy beauty, this soundtrack loses nothing in its translation from a quietly wonderful movie into a quietly wonderful album.