A few months ago, I was driving home from my cottage on a late summer day when I heard a song that desperately made me want to turn my car around and head straight back to the Muskokan wilderness. I immediately distinguished the singer as Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, but it didn’t sound like PJ -- save for their memorable version of “Last Kiss.” I soon discovered that it was a cover of a tune called “Hard Sun”, originally done by little known Toronto band Indio, and part of Vedder’s solo disc which doubles as the soundtrack to Sean Penn’s film Into the Wild.

Fast forward a few weeks to the Toronto International Film Festival and there I was, viewing Into the Wild and bearing witness to the raw emotional power of Vedder’s amazing voice. The film stars Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, an idyllic twenty-four year old whose rift with society forces him on a harrowing two-year journey that ultimately ends with his death from starvation in the wilderness of Alaska. I absolutely love the film and it’s one of my favorites of the year, partly because of the uncanny role that Vedder’s music plays in the narrative. The only other example of music being this actively involved in a film’s story telling is Amadeus, which makes sense because it’s about the life of Mozart. Stripping down to a mere acoustic guitar and sometimes a ukulele, Vedder seems to be along with Chris every step of the way, using his deep baritone to convey Chris’s thoughts, feelings and emotions throughout the varying stages of his journey.

Now I suppose you’re wondering (and rightfully so) if the disc holds up on its own, and the answer to that is a resounding yes. I finally got around to buying it a few days ago and it’s still sitting in my CD player; actually check that, it’s currently playing for the twenty-second time in three days. It’s the type of album that you can listen to cover-to-cover three times in a row and not even realize it. Part of the reason for this (and my only complaint with the disc) is that it runs for a relatively short thirty-three minutes, and only four of the eleven tracks are over three-minutes long. Songs like “Setting Forth” and “No Ceiling” seem on the verge of greatness when they suddenly end before truly getting started. Having said that, the whole album fuses beautifully, almost like a single thirty-minute track, and I find that it’s a uniquely soothing experience.

“Hard Sun” is undoubtedly my favorite tune from the soundtrack, but Vedder pens a few poignant lyrics of his own that perfectly channel the spirit and life of McCandless. The mandolin driven “Rise” offers the lines, “Gonna rise up, burning black holes in dark memories. Gonna rise up, find my direction magnetically.” Vedder’s ability to produce fittingly meaningful music makes him the perfect choice to aid Penn in bringing a young man's fearlessly naïve and tragic life to the screen in an extremely provocative manner.

I’m a big fan of Pearl Jam, so I’m very familiar with Vedder’s work, but I don’t think it’s a requirement for enjoying his Into the Wild Soundtrack. Vedder creates an intensely personal feel that’s perfect for either intimately emotional listening, or casual and relaxing background noise. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d love for Vedder to branch out even further next time and bring us a full-fledged album of just his guitar and a whole lot of that spine-tingling voice. When it’s separated from any noise and distortion, it truly penetrates the heart and soul, generating astoundingly beautiful music.

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