Stellar Soundtrack: The Hunger Games – Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Soundtracks have always been one of my favorite ways to capture and retain the mood and memory of a film, as well as to discover new (and old) music.  They are akin to a professional “mix tape”.  And, oh, how I love “mixes”…of course I long ago graduated from mix tapes to mix-CD’s, but I’ve enjoyed countless hours spent compiling assortments of music over the years, in part inspired by my love for soundtracks.  Maybe one of these days, I’ll put together a list of some of my all-time favorite soundtrack albums…I’d love to hear yours, too, so please feel free to share!

T-Bone Burnett

One of the proven “Kings” of film soundtrack production is Grammy and Academy Award winning producer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett.  Here, he has done it once again, gathering a unique mix of musicians, both mainstream and lesser known, all of whom do an exceptional job of capturing the themes and mood of the book (and film) through their songs.  I first listened to this album after reading the book, before seeing the movie, and truly felt like I was reliving the book through the songs ~ via both sound AND lyrics.  In some cases lyrics are taken directly from the pages of the book ~ and they translate in every instance.  Each track has a place here.  Burnett chose his artists wisely…and they certainly delivered.

Very few of the songs on this soundtrack are actually featured in the film.  It is more a compilation of songs “inspired” by The Hunger Games.  There are definitely strains of both Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain in the album’s frequently folksy, Appalachian style, which I wouldn’t necessarily have imagined for this film.  But it works.  Very well indeed.  And there are plenty of non-folksy tracks to satisfy all tastes.

Arcade Fire has the moody and melodic opening track “Abraham’s Daughter”, one of the few songs that actually appears in the film (albeit during the end credits).  It is nearly unrecognizable as Arcade Fire, with the vocals made up primarily of children’s voices…a perfectly haunting reminder of the grim circumstances the young characters in the book must face.

Though I’m not generally a Taylor Swift fan, I actually quite like both of her tracks on this album.  It doesn’t hurt that she uses the wonderful up-and-coming duo The Civil Wars, who also have their own song here, in her (and the) most well-known of the tracks off this album, the lovely, lullaby “Safe and Sound”Her second track, “Eyes Open”, is more upbeat and undeniably catchy.

In the most uncharacteristic of the bunch, Kid Cudi has a heavily percussive, guttural, spooky, yet seductive track called “The Ruler and the Killer” that captures the horror and brutality of the Games more than any other song on the album (and perhaps better than the movie itself!)  With lyrics like “You’ll talk! You’ll say nothing! Okay?!” the song chillingly and effectively portrays the controlling Capitol of the fictional Panem and its ruling elite.  I wish it had actually been included in the film.

Glen Hansard (of The Frames fame as well as one half of The Swell Season, best known for the critically acclaimed musical film Once) has a bitingly forceful track here ~ quite a departure from the softer sounds usually associated with The Swell Season.  “Take The Heartland” is tightly coiled, at once manic and angry, but there’s no denying, it crawls under your skin and stays there.

Maroon 5’s track “Come Away to the Water” is hauntingly beautiful.  Adam Levine‘s vocals are gorgeous and seamlessly blend with the lovely voice of Rozzi Crane.  Again, the lyrics here speak volumes: “Come away, little lamb, come away to the slaughter…We are coming for you…”

Another terrific track is Miranda Lambert‘s country trio The Pistol Annies“Run Daddy Run”.  It too, is bewitching in its beauty, even as it warns of impending doom…”Can you hear the devil drawing near?”  It begins a capella and bit by bit adds a plucking banjo.

The ethereally clear voice of the extraordinary Birdy closes out the soundtrack with “Just A Game”.  While this soundtrack introduced to me to several new artists, Birdy is my most treasured discovery on this album…as much as I’d love to wax poetic on this young songstress right here, I shall save if for my upcoming review of her amazing recent album.

There is nary a bad song in the bunch.  I highly recommend this soundtrack, whether or not you are familiar with The Hunger Games, in any of its forms…though you might appreciate it that much more if you are.

The Hunger Games (Songs from District 12 and Beyond) - Various Artists

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