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The 15 Best Soundtracks Of 2013

The Playlist 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.
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The Wolf Of Wall Street

10. "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Though Martin Scorsese's three-hour long, hedonistic masterwork credits Howard Shore with original music, his contribution could probably be contained on a CD single because just about every second of the entire hulking, sweaty, cocaine-hoovering affair is coated in preexisting source music. Then again, his similarly sprawling "Casino" didn't have a composer at all. "The Wolf of Wall Street" takes a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to the music, giving little attention to the actual '90s time period (for the most part anyhow) the movie is trying to portray or what batshit crazy mood it's trying to convey. Sometimes this purposely anachronistic streak works (Me First And The Gimmie Gimme’s covering The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.”), as in a couple of the bacchanalian party sequences, but other times it falls flat on its face (like when there's a temporally displaced Foo Fighters song wedged in there for no good reason). There are a few giant "music moments" too, one set to the jumped-up Italian disco cover of Laura Branigan's "Gloria" by Sebastián Lelio (the second time the foreign language version of the song was used to tremendous effect this year) and when Leonardo DiCaprio and his depraved buddies are singing along to "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature, on his insanely opulent yacht, even mimicking the song's trademark arm move. Simply, there's a ton music, and so much it works (The Lemonheads' cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs.Robinson," Howling Wolf, Bo Diddley, Sir Mix A Lot, Eartha Kitt) , that it's hard not to just kind of stare at "The Wolf of Wall Street," mouth agape and ears just soaking it all in. It's an overwhelming audio/visual experience and definitely part of what makes the movie what it is.

Drinking Buddies
Magnolia Pictures Magnolia Pictures' 'Drinking Buddies'

9. “Drinking Buddies
If last year, Rick Alverson tapped indie-rock label Jagjaguwar Records to curate one of the most unexpectedly soulful soundtracks of 2012 with “The Comedy,” then filmmaker Joe Swanberg did similar work by going to indie-rock label Secretly Canadian (and yes, Jagjaguwar) for much of his “Drinking Buddies” soundtrack this year. Of course, the soundtrack isn't just tracks from those two labels (two of the key cuts are on Orange Twin and Subliminal Sound for example), but more importantly, what’s he’s done is created a cohesive collection of music that captures the spirit of his indie film that perceptively observes the fine (and complicated) line between platonic and amorous relationships, and when and where those lines tend to blur with the help of a little bit too much booze. The playful and flirtatious side of “Drinking Buddies” is well-represented in popular, upbeat indie tracks by Cayucas, Rubblebucket, Foxygen and electro rockers Phèdre, but since “Drinking Buddies” is essentially about two friends (Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson) whose social drinking-borne affection for each other is growing in ways they’re not really mature enough to understand (plus he’s in a committed relationship), the lonely longing aspect of the movie is its emotional core. And the cuts that best express that downhearted mood are the movie’s most powerful: The Amazing doing their best Nick Drake impression with “Dragon”; Sibylle Baier’s quietly sad “Tonight” (a housewife from the ‘70s whose belated home recordings were released in 2006) and Richard Youngs’ “Soon It Will Be Fire” provide much of the affecting musical heft. But “Drinking Buddies” also has a sort of contemporary ‘70s movie vibe to it and Swanberg finds two modern cuts that evoke that shaggy feel so perfectly: Plants and Animals’ “The End of That” and Richard Swift’s "Lady Luck" both of which are bouncy cuts of course, but with an subtle underbelly of melancholy coursing through them. Hell, at the very end of the day, it’s just a really terrific collection of tunes you could do a lot worse than owning.

Simon Killer

8. "Simon Killer"
Like the film itself, the soundtrack to "Simon Killer" (it never gained an official release, leading fans to cobble together their own version) is both haunting and mysterious and it throbs with a sinister electro pulse that suggests lots about the tormented mind of the film's protagonist. The compelling and often brilliant movie follows the exploits of Simon (Brady Corbet), a young American visiting Paris. It's here that he develops a relationship with a Middle Eastern hooker and a Parisian woman, and starts to exhibit increasingly psychopathic behavior, until he ultimately (violently) erupts. The moody sheen of the soundtrack (which includes Austra, Glasser and Matthew Popieluch) oftentimes functions as the very literal playlist of his life—we listen as he repeats a song, "It Takes A Muscle to Fall in Love" by Spectral Display, over and over, as he walks around Paris (some great soul choices by The Arrows and Richard Cook). There are also wonderfully oddball choices like Japanese girl group The Suzan covering Miike Snow's "Animal" and an overlong, borderline hypnotic dance sequence set to almost the entirety of LCD Soundsystem's lengthy, throbbing disco track "Dance Yrself Clean." Even if the movie left you feeling skuzzy and at sea, you had to admit that the soundtrack wove a certain spell, one in which Euro-dance trashiness and a genuine cognitive disconnect intermingle to create a maddeningly effective atmosphere, one that more often than not kind of makes you want to dance… even when truly abhorrent things are happening on screen.

The Broken Circle Breakdown

7. “The Broken Circle Breakdown
For anyone looking for a primer on modern American music in 2013, they haven’t had to venture much further than their local arthouse cinema. While the Coens have made folk music popular again with “Inside Llewyn Davis,” highlighting the seeds of a genre that would expand and further flourish decades on, Felix Van Groeningen’s “Broken Circle Breakdown” goes even further back. Believe it or not, traditional bluegrass and country music is apparently a thing in Belgium and that scene serves both the backdrop and emotional throughline to the film. Starring Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh, the pair play partners, parents and collaborators in a bluegrass band, as the events in the story shape their relationship, they express their innermost feelings through their performances. And the songs are nothing short of fantastic. Like the tunes in the Coens’ film, there are no bells and whistles or fancy adornments, but timeless songs delivered impeccably. The standard “Wayfaring Stranger” still sounds new led by Baetans, while the showstopper has to be Townes Van Zandt's “If I Needed You” (watch it here), a stirring and beautiful song which finds Baetans and Heldenbergh trading off vocals, as their characters go through the final stages of a relationship that has gone past broken, and become shattered. Simply, this is one of the most satisfying collections of music—from a movie or otherwise—you’ll hear this year.

The Bling Ring
"The Bling Ring"

6. "The Bling Ring"
There were a lot of cool soundtracks in 2013, but only one cool enough to be released by Def Jam Recordings, the same folks who put out Yeezus, and that soundtrack was "The Bling Ring" (It also explains how they were able to secure not one but two Kanye West songs for it). Director Sofia Coppola has always been a notable soundtrack curator (she's married to Thomas Mars from Phoenix, after all, and the band obviously have a track on the album) and this might be her most purely enjoyable collection of songs (which also includes Frank Ocean, deadmau5, Rye Rye and the call to arms Sleigh Bells cut from the trailer). Perfectly evoking the main characters' desire to be taken seriously as thugs while giving off the vibe of young Disney Channel stars, the soundtrack mixes hard-edged hip hop (like "9 Piece" by Rick Ross) along frothier pop moments like M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" and "212" by Azealia Banks, which, for all its provocative filthiness, is as bouncily catchy as anything on the mainstream radio. It helps that Coppola doesn't feel beholden to the movie's slight period setting (of a few years ago), making for a wild grab bag of everything from 2 Chainz to a song by German prog rockers Can. There is also a nearly 7-minute selection from the original score, co-composed by Brian Reitzell and Daniel Lopatin, whose band Oneohtrix Point Never are also represented on the album. A haunting bit of swirly electronic score that suggests that, while the main characters (and the rest of the soundtrack) might give off the vibe of YOLO-ing criminal masterminds, inside there's some deep, dark nothingness.

This article is related to: Best of 2013, Best Movies of 2013, Soundtrack, Features, Feature, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, Simon Killer, The World's End, The Bling Ring, American Hustle, Something In The Air, The Wolf of Wall Street , Sightseers, The Kings Of Summer, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Drinking Buddies , Afternoon Delight , Frozen


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