By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 11, 2013 at 12:00PM
Some people—a convenient straw man, for instance—might argue that the days of the movie soundtrack are numbered. “From & Inspired By The Motion Picture” releases are less and less common, it's hard to find music videos for specially written singles that feature footage from the movie in the way that was so common in the 1990s (thank God), and in the iTunes and YouTube era, you can find the one song that you love from a movie without needing to pick up a whole CD of stuff you don't care about.
But our convenient straw man would be wrong. 2012 saw two of the biggest selling soundtracks in recent memory, from "Les Miserables" and "Pitch Perfect," and this year has had an impressive run of quality selections. And as long as directors like David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese, Noah Baumbach and Edgar Wright, among others, are still going, there'll still be films stuffed with immaculately selected pop songs.
As such, having covered the best movie scores of 2013 last week, we've picked and ranked our favorite soundtracks from the last twelve months. There should be something for everyone here, from Disney-loving tweens to aspiring indie-rock Katnisses to European electro-heads to old folkies. Check out our picks below, where you can listen to some extracts, and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
15. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Thus far, the soundtracks to "The Hunger Games" series have taken a leaf from those of previous young adult mega-franchise "Twilight," with a series of CDs featuring new cuts from a mix of massive pop artists and trendy alt-rock types, most of which aren't included in the film. The "Twilight" soundtracks were pretty much the sole redeeming feature of that series, which isn't true here, partly because "The Hunger Games" movies are much better ("Catching Fire" in particular), and partly because the albums aren't as strong, with a rather more hodge-podge mix of artists, and some hilariously literal lyrics “Inspired By” the world of the series. But still, amidst the blandness of Coldplay's "Atlas," Of Monsters & Men's "Silhouettes" and Imagine Dragon's "Who We Are," there's a lot to like on the "Catching Fire" OST. The National contribute a typically stirring cut, "Lean," The Weeknd lends some sultry R&B while also teaming up with Sia & Diplo on another cut, girl-of-the-moment Lorde strikingly covers Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule The World," and there's even some Patti Smith. Any young adult franchise that can introduce the tweens to Patti Smith is alright in our book, and we'll put up with The Lumineers at their most Mumford-y in order to get there.
You wouldn't know it from the marketing (due to Disney's usual plan of hiding anything that might put off teenage boys from trailers and teasers), but "Frozen" is, even more so than predecessor "Tangled," a full-blown movie musical, with eight new songs by "Avenue Q" and "Book Of Mormon" composer Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez. And while the competition ("Tangled" and "The Princess & The Frog") isn't that tough, it's certainly the best effort from the studio since their golden years in the 1990s, though admittedly not as strong as "Aladdin," "Beauty & The Beast" et al. Not every track lands, with "Love Is An Open Door" proving borderline unlistenable, and "Reindeers Are Better Than People" and "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" being somewhat disposable. But opener "Frozen Heart" gets things off to a stirring beginning, Josh Gad's comic number "In Summer" is, like the later ensemble piece "Fixer Upper," a real charmer, and "For The First Time In Forever" tugs the heart strings effectively, especially in its reprise. And in "Let It Go" (released, painfully, as a single by Demi Lovato), it has something of a new classic of the genre, one that'll be murdered by musical theater majors in auditions for decades to come.
13. “Afternoon Delight”
Jill Soloway’s 2013 Sundance film about a stripper and stay-at-home mom in crisis with a salvation complex is easily one of the most undervalued indies of the year even if it unfortunately dips into a shrill, messy third act. While it's melodramatic and vexing to some, much of it is beautifully character-based as Kathryn Hahn’s lead essentially reaches her emotional tipping point, uncorks, explodes and makes some incredibly poor choices (that some say break suspension of disbelief; we say they fall knee-deep into comedic ugliness). Soundtracking this hilarious, often hard-to-watch breakdown is a choice, but motley crew selection of songs. Most awesomely accompanying this melodrama is Parliament Funkadelic ("Hit It and Quit It," ""I Wanna Know If It's Good To You," "Biological Speculation"), perhaps the unlikeliest choice of band to soundtrack the drama of a well-to-do suburban house mom in Los Angeles. But lord does it work. Elsewhere, the sexy beat to Juno Temple’s stripper character is supplied by a strutting and propulsive mix of hip-hop and indie electro-beats (Marika May, Swahili Blonde, Purity Ring’s “Belispeak,” JJAMZ) or lyrical introspective cuts (Bowerbirds’ "In The Yard," Wilco’s “She’s A Jar,” Dirty Projectors' "Impregnable Question"). Sadly, no official soundtrack was released from this one, but it was definitely one of the more memorable, striking and eclectic uses of music in an indie movie this year.
12. “The Kings of Summer"
For a teen coming-of-age film, there must have been a temptation, from financiers if not from the filmmakers, to slap of-the-moment pop cuts all over "The Kings of Summer," not least once it was picked up post-Sundance. But as with many aspects of the film, "The Kings Of Summer" shows an admirable sense of restraint, with Ryan Miller's strong score paired with only a handful of songs, all of which prove very effective. The hipster psychedelia of MGMT (the use of their "The Youth" during the house-building montage performed a feat that hasn't happened since about 2008, and actually made us want to listen to the band) rubs shoulders with some delicate piano balladry from Youth Lagoon, dance-skank from The Orb (ft. Lee Scratch Perry, on "Golden Clouds"), and most effectively and unexpectedly, Thin Lizzy's “Cowboy Song.” It might not be the most cohesive musical selection of 2013, but the variety totally works, and goes a long way to bringing about the film's sense of an endlessly hopeful and hopefully endless summer of the kind we all wish we could have again.
11. "The World's End"
A large part of what "The World's End" is about the idea of trying to recapture your youth (along with alcoholism and murderous robots from another galaxy), even if it almost kills you. This is perfectly captured in the film's soundtrack, comprised largely of incredibly specific, incredibly Britpop song from the '80s and early '90s (Pulp, Blur, Suede, Teenage Fanclub, The Stone Roses, et al.). Director Edgar Wright has always been pretty on point about the songs that he chooses for his films, but here he tackled the task with a tremendous sense of focus and intelligence. Sometimes the songs are thematically primed, like Primal Scream's "Loaded," which opens the movie in rousing fashion, and other times they work more as a gag than anything else (like Kylie Minogue's "Step Back In Time," a song we had kind of forgotten was so catchy-good). But no matter how Wright is utilizing the tracks, either to convey a story point or underline the movie's knottier existential concerns, they're all connected to such a concrete period of time that you can't help but think about where the characters came from and how their formative years have influenced who they are today. In "The World's End," nostalgia gets turned into a puddle of inky blue goo and as far as mix tapes for the apocalypse go, you could do a lot worse than this soundtrack.