Monday, November 17, 2014

Mockingjay - Part One: Official Motion Picture Soundtrack | Various Artists


★★★★☆

Not many people would think that handing a curator position to a teenage girl would be a wise decision, but then again, Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O'Connor) isn't your typical teenager. At only sixteen years old, Lorde had the world in the palm of her hand with her debut single, "Royals," and subsequent release, "Team." After turning seventeen, Lorde was volunteered as tribute to stand as the executive producer and sole curator of the soundtrack to upcoming motion picture, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One. Earlier this month, she turned eighteen and who knows what this next year will bring for our young musical (pure) heroine. Lorde performing in space with Lady Gaga? Lorde as a presidential candidate with running mate Hillary Clinton? Lorde winning the Nobel Peace Prize? The possibilities are endless, but perhaps she will be able sit back and bask in the success of this endeavor instead of illegally running for president or somehow winning a prize that she probably isn't eligible for.

After her haunting rendition of "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" for the movie series' previous soundtrack, it is clear why Lorde was hand-picked to curate this new project. Besides being the leading director of this soundtrack, Lorde contributed "Yellow Flicker Beat" and a cover of Bright Eyes' "Ladder Song" to this album. The former song was released as the lead single to the soundtrack and features elements of Joel Little's traditional drum-heavy production with a surprisingly expansive chorus, while the ladder latter allows Lorde to switch into a light-voiced persona over a minimal instrumental background. The album's opener, "Meltdown," is labeled with a slew of features, including a significant portion from Lorde. This song marks the first that we've heard Lorde over a production that isn't from her faithful sidekick, the aforementioned Joel Little, but it turns out well. Her signature sound already stemmed from hip-hop beats, but adding chunky synths and rapped verses only complement her further.

Some of this year's biggest names were welcomed into the recording of this soundtrack: Charli XCX, Tove Lo, Tinashe, and Ariana Grande, to name the most notable. Charli XCX, who has already received massive attention this year for her feature on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and her own hit, "Boom Clap," is rendered nearly unrecognizable on her contribution to the soundtrack, titled "Kingdom." She replaces the bratty vocal tone with a high-pitched, cutesy approach and implements a piano-led production that eventually flows into her native synthpop territory. Both Tove Lo and Tinashe don't venture far from their own respective genres, either. In her driving track, "Scream My Name," Lo asks, "When I'm dead and gone, will they sing my name? Dead and gone, will they scream my name?" and manages to reference her own radio breakthrough, "Habits (Stay High)," with final murmurs of "oh, oh." Meanwhile, on "The Leap," Tinashe warbles over the seductive R&B beats that filled her debut album, Aquarius. Finally, Ariana Grande, in collaboration with Major Lazer (a.k.a. producer Diplo under an alias), brings "All My Love" to the table, a radio-friendly and club-ready banger with bouncy synths and airy vocals. "All My Love" and Grande and Zedd's "Break Free" go hand-in-hand to solidify the versatility in Grande's voice from genre to genre.

Lorde also made sure to pick out some acts that may seem a bit more obscure to many music fans that listen solely to Top 40 radio. Most notably, three-piece synthpop band, Chvrches, brought their sparkly, bouncy craft to the table with "Dead Air." Just like many cuts from 2013's The Bones of What You Believe, the band manages to contrast deep, dark undertones with glimmering synths and front-woman Lauren Mayberry's light vocals. In the same loosely-categorized echelon as Chvrches, Bat for Lashes (born Natasha Khan) graces the track-list of this soundtrack with a cover of Son Lux's "Plan the Escape." Khan easily flows through the song and echoes in the background with high-pitched wails as the instrumental continually blooms with enchanting combinations of automated drums and synth patterns. The truly-independent artist XOV offers his self-described "dark pop" sound in "Animal," complete with somber synths and electronically-enhanced vocals. Oppositely, the long-standing, Grammy-winning duo, The Chemical Brothers, produced a glitchy anthem featuring hard-hitting instrumental stems and vocals from singer-songwriter Miguel.

The balance between the familiar and the unknown is nearly optimal on this album. While some curators beg to be seen as ultra-indie and others are in the deal to make the franchise a profit, Lorde picked up the best of both worlds. If this soundtrack doesn't convince you that Lorde has a wise ear for musical talent, nothing will; seeing her name on another soundtrack wouldn't be surprising. (Perhaps she will be allowed to create the musical companion to the second half of film adaptation of Mockingjay?) Most importantly for a compilation album, this set is sonically cohesive, for the most part (the Ariana Grande piece almost doesn't fit, but it is such a highlight that I would hate to have seen it axed). While Mockingjay: Part One isn't out just yet, as Lorde sings in "Yellow Flicker Beat," the film marks the "start of how it all ends." At least we know that musically, the franchise is going out with a bang.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One: Official Motion Picture Soundtrack is out now under Republic Records.

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