You’ve got to hand it to Lorde: She’s a killer curator. (Then again, as a member of the Tumblr generation, this should come as no surprise.)
When it was first revealed earlier this summer that the newly 18-year-old Pure Heroine darkling would be single-handedly assembling the entirety of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 soundtrack, there was some initial skepticism: What would a Lorde-tailored soundtrack even sound like? Gregorian chants? A lone heart beating for an hour? Countryside sing-alongs with her bestest BFF, Taylor Swift?
Nah…no Tay Tay to be found. As it turns out, Lorde’s either an avid MuuMuse reader (likely) or simply has a direct connection into my soul (likelier), because the soundtrack’s tracklisting is essentially the fan-fiction of my very dreams: Tinashe. Charli XCX. Tove Lo. Bat For Lashes. CHVRCHES. Grace Fucking Jones. So many actual queens (and kings!) in one place.
As a result, it should be no surprise that the soundtrack turned out to be extraordinary: From Lorde’s own soldiering “Yellow Flicker Beat” to the dizzying dance euphoria of Ariana Grande and Major Lazer‘s “All My Love” to the menacing cackle of Miss Grace Jones, there’s a whole lot to love about this eclectic, complex and frequently unpredictable collection of genre-blurring gems.
So, I’m volunteering as tribute to take this one track-by-track. See you inside the arena…and as always, may the odds be ever in your favor.
1.) Stromae, “Meltdown (feat. Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip & HAIM)”
Right here should be your indication that things are about to get weird…in the best way possible. While some of the names attached to this track could make sense together in theory as a collaboration, having all five on a song at once is some next-level Frankenstein monster shit. It’s a packed production, but somehow not too cluttered: Kicking off with a quick-fire verse from Pusha T, our hostess of the evening comes in with some appropriately damning, Hunger Games-friendly vocals across Stromae’s “Merci.” “Drop an olive in your glass/Putting on a disguise/It’s an ocular vice,” she warbles. The HAIM sisters make an all-too-brief cameo at the very end, supplying sweet harmonies through to the end. (Between this and their unbelievable Calvin Harris collaboration “Pray To God,” the girls should clearly be going the way of the synthesizer.)
2.) CHVRCHES, “Dead Air”
“Dead Air” is a cut that might as well have been lifted straight from CHVRCHES‘ fantastic debut album, The Bones of What You Believe. The chilly synth-pop production is an absolute earworm from start to finish, with lyrics that certainly scream “battle to the death against our will.” “We’re fighting what we can’t see/We just hold up to an idea/We keep going till we can’t hear/We are, we are, we are all just dead air,” Lauren croons above the hammering pulsations. That chorus hook, especially, is a bit of (grim) heaven.
3.) Tove Lo, “Scream My Name”
And now for something completely Swedish: The Queen Of The Clouds herself comes in for a contemplative power-pop production that sounds like the moody cousin to “Got Love”: “When I’m dead and gone, will they sing about me?/Dead and gone, will they scream my name?” she cries out, supplying the same kind of moody angst permeating through the “The Pain” on her excellent debut LP. And those “ah ah” moments borrowed from “Stay High”? A perfect and familiar touch.
4.) Charli XCX, “Kingdom (feat. Simon Le Bon)”
Here’s your next curveball: Charli’s your best bet for riotous, middle fingers-aloft rebel anthems (“Break The Rules”), but the Sucker darling is no one-trick pony. (See also: Her debut album True Romance, which everyone continues to ignore.) Rather than busting through the speakers on top of jagged guitar licks, Charli gives us a tender, piano-led ballad that sounds like an echoey dream. Like her debut, the production is unhinged — a drum kick here, fuzzy synths there. And then, out of nowhere, Duran Duran‘s Simon Le Bon comes in, crooning casually for just a brief moment. Let’s be real: Everything Charli does is endlessly cool, and “Kingdom” is a fitting title for this young queen.
5.) Major Lazer, “All My Love (feat. Ariana Grande)”
Unffff. I already wrote about this one yesterday, but I feel as though my love for this song is not being properly heard: This song is the business. It could be the best song on the soundtrack. If Rihanna‘s “We Found Love” were given a vaguely tribal gloss and blared from the speakers inside an arena of death, it would likely sound something like this. The #LeftSideOnly mini-diva sounds like her usual angelic, unintelligible self and, of course, Diplo continues to serve up strange, colorful beats. The end result is a kind of euphoria. (With any luck, Madonna‘s giving us the goods like this on her own work with Diplo. C’mon already, you #unapologeticbitch!)
6.) Raury, “Lost Souls”
Raury‘s an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Atlanta, who Pitchfork recently compared to both Lorde (in terms of being a genre-blending youngster) and Bon Iver and Frank Ocean in terms of sound. The introspective cut (“Could I be the hero? Could I be the villain? Trying to be productive, trying to make a living”) feels like a lonely, somewhat dull wanderer (as the title implies), led by some acoustic guitar and soulful howls (“Ahh-woo!”) that would likely satisfy the she-wolf in Shakira. After a string of smashes, this one feels a bit more…well, lost.
7.) Lorde, “Yellow Flicker Beat”
Lorde was smart for putting together this collection, and equally smart for selecting this gem as the lead track: “Yellow Flicker Beat” is as haunting as anything off of Pure Heroine — that is, until the chorus drops. “This is the start of how it all ends/They used to shout my name, now they whisper it,” she declares above a sharp electronic undercurrent, which doubles as the perfect lyrical representation of Katniss at this point in the plot. (Yes, I’ve read the books.) Sure, Lorde’s made her mark with finger snaps and drum machines…but a little bit of synth never hurt nobody.
8.) Tinashe, “The Leap”
SLAYNASHE STRIKES AGAIN. Seriously, though: Tinashe always seems to come through with exactly what I need in the moment — be it her immaculate debut Aquarius, ratchet banger$ with Calvin Harris or supremely sexual duets with Nick J. This time around, she’s supplying equal amounts of somber and sensual with “The Leap,” which feels like home from the first play. The melancholy cut sees the songstress longing for the beau who stayed b(a)ehind while she sets her regrets on fiyah. The verses are haunting (“Why do I feel so numb?”), but it’s that velvety, barely-there chorus (“Le-ee-eap!“) where she really works that Slaynashe magic. Chills and tears and sexy, sad feelings. Just, ugh. She gets it.
9.) Bat For Lashes, “Plan The Escape”
Natasha Khan, otherwise known as Bat For Lashes, has been supplying ghostly gorgeousness for years now, so it would only make sense for Lorde to tap the songstress for a quick spooky spell. Very quick, in fact: Originally recorded by Son Lux, this one only lasts about 2 and a half minutes, but it’s haunting nonetheless. “Hold onto our reasons and plan the escape,” she declares above a dub-laden pulse, atmospheric guitars and heavy piano chords. At times, it almost sounds like something Björk would create. No time to think about it, though. Quick — hide behind a tree!
10.) Grace Jones, “Original Beast”
Lord(e), help me. Can we just stop for a moment to consider the same diva tip-toeing across the stage and wrapping herself in animal print during the actual disco era on Italian variety TV in the late ’70’s is the same one roaring at us nearly 40 years later? “Iconic” is overused, but it’s the only appropriate way to describe the inimitable Grace Jones. Drowned in tribal drums and island (life) flourishes, the living legend serves up the same kind of booming speak-sung delivery as she did on 2008’s Hurricane. It’s as avant-garde and wild as ever, and while a bit more melody would have been nice, it’s just so, so incredible to hear Miss Grace in action again. Also, “You broke the mold when you made me” is arguably the most accurate lyric she’s ever sung. That laugh at the end! Grace forever.
11.) Lorde, “Flicker (Kanye West Rework)”
Kanye West is a very good remixer. Remember when he gave “Me Against The Music” a #SomethingMoreUrban twist back before he became A God? Lucky for us, he’s taken a moment from art directing his wife’s butt to put his own unique spin on Lorde’s soundtrack standout. The result is a much darker, creepier take on the track, stripping the song of its fiery chorus synths and filling it out instead with heavy bass and dark space. Depending on your mood, it might sound even better than the original.
12.) XOV, “Animal”
This was a surprise! I first wrote about XOV in January, back when he was only just beginning to launch with his Boys Don’t Cry EP, which included a stripped-down version of “Animal.” The song’s been given a slick polish since the last time we heard from the Swedish dark-pop superstar in the making — but it’s just as catchy. I mean, come on. That “Gim-may, gim-may, gim-may” chorus? Obviously it’s way up my alley.
13.) The Chemical Brothers, “This Is Not A Game (feat. Miguel)”
Like Stromae’s “Meltdown,” this song (which is, just for the record, not a game) is a kind of insane, genre-mashing beast. It’s a pretty jarring aural experience, shuffling between industrial walls of sound as Miguel wildly sings and stutters his way through the madness. The best bit, though, happens to be Lorde’s single (uncredited) vocal contribution, which weaves its way through the record: “There it is.” Perfect touch.
14.) Lorde, “Ladder Song”
Gulp. Drifting in on a lonesome church organ, it’s up to our war paint-covered warrior to lead us to the finish line with a true tear-jerker of a finale: A cover of Bright Eyes‘ “Ladder Song.” Conveniently, the song also happens to channel our Hunger Games heroine’s inner thoughts (“If I gotta go first, I’ll do it on my terms”) and Lorde’s vision of the world, as captured in “Buzzcut Season.” “This whole life’s a hallucination/You’re not alone in anything/You’re not alone in trying to be,” she quivers as the song fades. Just devastating.
And there you have it: A collection of some of the year’s most exciting new artists mixed in with heavyweight producers (and an actual ICON), all for the soundtrack of one of the year’s most highly anticipated movies. It’s a rare and wonderful thing when a record lives up to the hype, but this soundtrack might have even exceeded those expectations. Get it. Seriously.
The ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1 Soundtrack’ will be released on November 17. (iTunes)