Various Artists: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Album Review

homepage_large.c7ee91a3This is an [album? soundtrack? piece of art?] I have been looking forward to for quite some time. A few months back, Lorde announced that she would be taking the helm of the soundtrack for the upcoming film, and latest installment in the Hunger Games movie franchise, Mockingjay Part 1. This was very exciting news for, one, fans of Lorde, and two, fans of The Hunger Games. I consider myself both, so this was a very promising piece of news.

Last year, Lorde did a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Want to Rule the World” for the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. It was a haunting rework, slow, dark, and beautiful in every sense of the word. Knowing she had that capability in her hands, I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with an entire album, and endless possibilities at hand.

The first look into the soundtrack came last month, when Lorde dropped “Yellow Flicker Beat”, her first new song since “No Better” was released late last year. We recently featured both the track and it’s subsequent music video on indie/alt, and you can find it in our Song Archive. YFB opens up with a very haunting vocal verse, lacking any instrumentation until the chorus, which “drops the bass” with the words “I’m done with it”.

The song itself fits well with the character of Katniss Everdeen, showing how her image has changed since Catching Fire, and the trials and tribulations she now faces as the symbol of the rebellion.

Since releasing the song, we were offered later with the official track list of the full soundtrack, and it made me even more excited to hear it. Among the featured artists: Haim, CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, Charli XCX, even Ariana Grande had their part in it. So now, it is my great pleasure to finally have the hard copy in my hands, and give you the full scoop on what an amazing piece of work Lorde has put together for us.

The collection opens up with “Meltdown”, a monster of a collaboration between Lorde, rappers Pusha T and Q-Tip, with an amazing outro by Haim, and all produced by Belgian electro songwriter, Stromae. It all begins with a verse from Pusha, setting the tone of the rest of the track as an upbeat rock of a song. Lorde soon comes in with an upbeat hook, trailing into the next verse from Q-Tip. By far, the best part of this song is the Haim outro. It’s the catchiest thing in the track, and will instantly become stuck in your head after the first time you hear it.

“I can hear and see a ghost,” they sing. “In my mind, I know. And if you keep acting up, I’m your undertow.”

The next track is a new one from Glasgow electro-pop band, CHVRCHES. CHVRCHES hold a dear place in my heart as one of my favorite bands, and this track sticks with their basic formula, one that never fails. “Dead Air” is a beautifully polished synth track, sounding like something that would fit perfectly in CHVRCHES’ own album. Lauren’s voice opens up with a sweet air, up to the drop and hook of the chorus, and a repeating phrase that worms its way into your subconscious. “We are all just dead air.”

Tove Lo takes a place as the third artist appearing on the soundtrack, with her new track, “Scream My Name”. This song is a powerful one, and takes a few listens to fully absorb its message. The sound itself is pure Tove Lo, employing all the perfect pop elements that made the world love her hits like “Habits” and “Like ‘Em Young”. Taking place of Queen of the Clouds‘ openly sexual messages though is an aching thought, weaving its way into the Mockingjay story line.

“When I’m dead and gone, will they sing about me? Dead and gone, will they scream my name?”

This contrast and tie-in to YFB’s line, “They used to shout my name, now they whisper it”, makes it tie into Katniss’ psyche even more, proving that Lorde has thoroughly curated this soundtrack to go perfectly with the Hunger Games theme.

The album’s next song is a perfect collaboration that goes to show just how much Lorde was able to do with this project. “Kingdom” is a beautiful ballad from Charli XCX, as well as Simon Le Bon from the band Duran Duran. The track opens with a beautiful piano melody, along with Charli’s voice giving us something we don’t normally hear from her. It’s a step away from the highly polished elctropop sound we normally hear from her, and showcases the power of her voice alone. Later, the track adds in strings, drums, and of course a perfectly matched verse from Le Bon. The track is amazing, and fits in perfectly with the rest of the soundtrack.

Ariana Grande takes a swing at the Mockingjay project for the collections 5th track, one that wasn’t announced until a bit later. This one, “All My Love” is a collaboration between Grande and electronic music project, Major Lazer, featuring DJ, friend of Lorde’s (and now nemesis??), Diplo. The track sounds like a radio-ready pop hit. Ariana shows off her vocal skills with the verses and brief hook, before an electronic breakdown from Major Lazer takes over the tracks sound. It’s a jam of a track, and has a potential to blow up very soon.

The next song is by far my favorite of the mix. It’s “Lost Souls” by 18-year-old songwriter/producer/guitarist/rapper (“Prince of the Post-Genre Generation”, as BuzzFeed calls him), Raury. Raury is an extravagant and very exciting new artist, and this track is a perfect example of why we should have some hope for the future. The song opens with a wildly powerful drum beat, accompanied by Raury’s haunting voice. Then, we get this completely mind-blowing mix of rap and acoustic guitar. It’s just face-meltingly good to be honest. It just keeps building, and getting better and better even when you thought that wasn’t possible. This is possibly the strongest track on the whole record, and one of the strongest tracks I’ve heard at all recently. Everyone needs to get excited about Raury right now.

Yellow Flicker Beat follows, which then leads into the record’s eighth track, “The Leap”, coming from R&B songwriter, Tinashe. It’s a slow building R&B track that showcases the talent Tinashe possesses as one of today’s most prominent up-and-coming artists. It’s not a stand-out, however it works well in the mix with the rest of Mockingjay.

“Plan the Escape” was honestly one of the tracks I was most excited for. It’s a cover of a Son Lux song, one that I loved before this whole thing came to be. Son Lux himself has a huge talent as a songwriter and producer, and has previously collaborated with Lorde on a song, “Easy (Switch Screens)”. This track, however, leaves Lorde out of the main equation, and instead enlists the incredible Natasha Khan, better known as Bat for Lashes, to take the cover reins. The track is a twinkling yet tense electronic cover, featuring Khan’s signature melodic voice. It all melds perfectly together, and draws a dark tone to set as a backdrop for Katniss’ emotions in Mockingjay.

The album’s next track is one from legendary Jamaican singer-songwriter Grace Jones. It’s an upbeat jungle anthem titled “Original Beast”. You can hear her influences in it from the very beginning, with an array of drum noise that sounds like it would fit perfectly in a “running through the jungle” scene in The Hunger Games. The sound of it takes an unexpected turn with Grace’s title line, “Original Beast.” Things then turn into the electronic, adding in a bouncy synth to the mix of drum tones. It’s a very cool and experimental chanty track.

Yellow Flicker Beat comes back around for Mockingjay‘s eleventh track, but this time, at the production helm, Yeezy himself. Yep, Kanye West even put in his two bits in, providing us with a darker rework of Lorde’s epic song. From the beginning, it sounds identical to the original production. However, as we build to the drop, we hear some gothic choral tones, then followed by a heavy, slow industrial drone at the drop. Soon, piano melds in. The rework gives YFB a darker, more hopeless tone, fitting in with the plotline of Mockingjay itself.

The twelfth track brings to light a rising star from Sweden, XOV, specializing in the dark-pop genre Lorde has always dwelled in. The track opens up with an attention catching synth rhythm, which builds into a radio-ready chorus from XOV. The track seems to show Katniss’ darker element surfacing, showing she’s not afraid to fight.

“I’m a cold blood killer. With you, I’m an animal.”

Mockingjay‘s second to last song is by far one of the most rocking, thrash around the room tracks. It’s another monster collab put together by Lorde, featuring the industrial electronic sounds of The Chemical Brothers, iced with vocal samples from Lorde herself, and the main vocals coming from R&B performer, Miguel. “This Is Not A Game” opens with The Chem Bros harsh electronic vibes, then Lorde butts in with the line, “There it is.” This track just gets you pumped. The whole thing works so well together, and as Taylor Swift tweeted, it just makes you want to thrash uncontrollably

“I know what I’m doing babe,” Miguel sings. “Talking ’bout a revolution.”

“There it is.”

Lorde ends the soundtrack in the perfect manner, just as she blew us away with the Catching Fire soundtrack. With a darker and slower production vibe, she gives us a haunting cover of Bright Eyes’ “Ladder Song”. It’s a perfect ending to the record, slow and haunting just as Lorde does best.

Overall, just as she meant to do, Miss Yelich-O’Connor met her goal of getting inside the head of Katniss Everdeen. We journey through the harsh troubled water she faces as the symbol of the rebellion, and the attitude she has of wanting to fight back for what she, and everyone on her side, has lost. Though the tracks themselves may not meet the expectations of the slow and emotional vibe of the plot in a whole, when you dig deeper into every song, the story of Mockingjay is evident. And one more thing becomes clear in this light: Lorde never fails.

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