Soundtracks mean the world to me, and I love indulging in the magic they bring to a film or television series. Here’s a list of my favorite ones from 2016.
Charlie Brooker’s personally curated playlist of music that he claimed were “guilty pleasures” and the strongest influence on his writing for the episode is an 80s dream come true. Each song on the list is perfectly synced to the emotions and narrative tale of the significance and power of love. You’ll dance, you’ll sing along, and you’ll feel it all, every single emotion associated with this stellar hour of television. You can follow Charlie Brooker’s official playlist on Spotify, and I highly recommend you check out the extended version which features additional music that didn’t make the cut. Outside of the soundtrack of hits from the 1980s, Clint Mansell scored the episode in the most beautiful way possible. Staying true to the aesthetic of the episode and keeping pace with the overload of feelings, Mansell’s score brings to life the moments between Yorkie and Kelly that dialogue simply cannot. My personal favorite is “Waves Crashing on Distant Shore of Time.”
This is another Netflix hit that had an equally successful soundtrack and score to go with it. The synth heavy score of Stranger Things feels like a gift. The show is set in 1983 and the soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein allows you to immerse yourself in the show’s nostalgic tone. Personally, I am nostalgic for the 80s, but I missed out on that decade. So when I first watched Stranger Things, I let the soundtrack and score guide me through this period I feel so deeply connected to, but have no affiliation with. It never felt alienating or foreign, and I think the score has something to do with that. Also, just as significant and influential is the fantastic soundtrack of music plucked from the vaults of the late-70s/early 80s which features Echo & the Bunnymen, The Clash, The Bangles, and Toto to name a few.
ALL THE SUFJAN STEVENS! I loved what This Is Us does with music to help bridge the narrative time jumps together and keep it fluid. The soundtrack features music from both the 80s and today as it jumps through the various time points within the story. This soundtrack is rooted in acoustic and indie music including artists like Sufjan Stevens (the show opens up with Death With Dignity, and I screamed), Damien Rice, the Weepies, Alexi Murdoch, and more. It sometimes feels like I’m reliving the glory days of The O.C. or One Tree Hill who always remained on point with their indie soundtracks, but then This Is Us throws in music reflecting the 80s and I immediately fall into a swirl of overwhelming emotions.
Thomas Golubic is one of my favorite music supervisors in the industry. He has a superhuman ability to create a sub narrative with his selections, yet keep the viewer invested in the story and its characters. I love that through each season, we learn more about the characters of Halt and Catch Fire simply through the music chosen to represent them in various moments. Golubic took the time to curate individual playlists on Spotify, tailored for each character, and it’s awesome. Try the personalized list for Cameron Howe or Joe MacMillan! For someone who has an eclectic taste in music ranging from folk to punk to new wave to bubblegum pop, Halt and Catch Fire captures all of the things I love about music and never feels like it’s simply pulling from a list of regurgitated music from the 80s. There’s a ton of great music from artists you’ve never heard of or from artists you may be familiar with but had no idea they had a vault of deep cuts waiting to be found by Golubic. Halt and Catch Fire’s soundtrack is also not exclusively 80s. Golubic incorporates tracks from 2010+ but fits them in naturally, so you never really notice a distinct difference. Notable music moments within the show feature Talking Heads, Go West, The Clash, Ex Hex, Pixies, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
I love love love this soundtrack. Insecure and Atlanta both feature soundtracks that highlight the culture of hip hop and African Americans today. Issa Rae recruited Raphael Saddiq, Solange Knowles, and more to consult on the soundtrack, and it certainly paid off. The soundtrack features Blood Orange, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Solange, Bryson Tiller, D’Angelo, and more.
As mentioned before, Atlanta’s soundtrack is vital to delivering the show’s message and story accurately. A show that is centered on the Atlanta rap scene and the emerging career of Alfred aka Paper Boi. The show was created by Donald Glover who happens to be a rapper himself under the stage name Childish Gambino, so it was inevitable that we were going to receive some solid music. The soundtrack consists of original music written by Glover and his brother Stephen, tracks by Childish Gambino, Yo Gotti, Kodak Black, Outkast, and even Sam Cooke. The blend of rap, hip-hop, soul, and funk brings forth the culture embedded in Atlanta as a show and as a city.
As complicated and disappointing as Girls can be, there is one thing that has always remained consistently great: the soundtrack. Released in volumes that consists of songs from multiple seasons, the original soundtracks are a collection of the best songs featured within the show. Girls: Vol 3 was particularly special, because it directly represented the growth the series had in the latter half of season 4 and all of season 5. Music supervisor, Manish Raval is typically known for his work on comedies, so it’s interesting to see where he takes the soundtracks as the show increasingly dabbles between comedy and drama. Season 4 and 5 manage to give us the perfect balance of the two, and Raval handpicks the perfect music for it. From a marvelous cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” that blows away the many versions of the song we’ve seen over the last two years in television to the heartbreaking tune of sending a loved one off, simply because it couldn’t work by Ellie Goulding, this is hands down the most vulnerable of the soundtracks to come out of this show.
Here’s another Netflix series that has a spot on soundtrack. Love’s soundtrack is interesting, but fits like a glove for the show’s stark differences between characters and other shows on air. Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) couldn’t be more polar, yet the soundtrack allows them to move closer to one another and align themselves with each other. The two character are in their early thirties so there influences are primarily the 80s and 90s. I think the show caters to the millennial generation but also allows for Gen-Xers to relate as well. The show is accessible to any age because it’s well written and hilarious, but it definitely resides within the age group of 25-40. For example, Mickey mentions Elliott Smith in a drunken rant and experiments with an Ambien as the Breeders plays over her restlessness. Gus has a jam session at a party to “Jet” by Paul McCartney/Wings and the two hook up to “Wild One” by Colleen Green. The final scene of the show uses “I’ll Fight” by Wilco to give the final indie, hip touch to the Los Angeles based series while handing out the emotional context of the scene itself. The soundtrack also features Earth, Wind & Fire, Karen O, Violent Femmes, Beastie Boys, Social Distortion, Jamie xx, and more.
Vinyl was very disappointing, but the soundtrack of this show was beyond impressive. The series centers on the music industry in the 70s which blends disco, funk, rock and roll, and the early stages of punk and hip hop. The show did an excellent job at featuring artists from these emerging genres and partner it up with magnificent casting to recreate performances. Scenes from Warhol’s parties which showed the Velvet Underground, an encounter with a young Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Elvis Pressley, and more display the significance of these artists. Most of the songs on the soundtrack are covers, but for example, Aimee Mann’s version of the Carpenters “Yesterday Once More” is produced so well that you get lost within it and forget it isn’t Karen Carpenter’s angelic voice. The soundtrack features covers from Charli Xcx, Nate Ruess, Trey Songz, Neko Case, Andrew W.K., and more. It also has original music from Sturgill Simpson, Otis Redding, David Bowie, John Denver, and songs from the show’s fictional band, Nasty Bits.
10. The Americans
Another show that takes place in the 80s, The Americans has the most diverse set of music from the decade. Through the course of the series, we’re introduced to the many roles Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings take on as Russian KGB agents living in America. This grants us access to the characters they develop and the background stories, including aesthetic and preferences. As the Jennings transform, so does the music we hear in every scene. The music is a vehicle for the narrative to navigate through the intensely dangerous and critical moments the show produces, yet instills some normalcy in the Jennings household as they attempt to blend in as an American family. Music used within the show ranges from Soft Cell, Roxy Music, Queen, Yaz, Leonard Cohen, and a variety of other songs from the era. Unlike Halt and Catch Fire which proudly relies on the obscurity of the music used, The Americans finds balance between popular music and some unknown gems to parallel the lives of its characters. Nonetheless, the soundtrack perfectly captures the decade and accentuates the careful construction of the period through hair, makeup, costumes, set design, and content.
Michelle was deeply moved by the soundtracks below, each of them were profound and incredibly crafted. You just have to hear them for yourselves.
- The Edge of Seventeen
I wish I had a soundtrack like this to help me through 17.
Johann Johansson’s score is the perfect match for Villeneuve’s film. It’s emotional, intense, mysterious, and somehow helps you related to Amy Adams’ character beyond what she’s giving us through her performance.
- Green Room
I’m a huge fan of punk and this soundtrack gives me everything I want and more in a film OST. I love that there are tracks from the film’s fictional band the Ain’t Rights, especially their cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” The score itself mirrors the darkness of the film and it really heightens the suspense of the narrative.
- The Neon Demon
Cliff Martinez’s score is all synth and all the mental manipulation of Nicolas Winding Refn’s film. The final song is one from Sia (who has become the go to finale track in a lot of films) and it plays over a series of cuts of landscape in what feels like an artsy music video.
- La La Land
The jazz, the original songs, the lyrics…there isn’t much I can’t say about the La La Land soundtrack. An original musical that holds up the standards of the classic musical of the Golden Age of cinema, it gives us enough of the new and old to make everything feel right. Personal favorite: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
- Swiss Army Man
THIS SOUNDTRACK IS UNEXPECTEDLY INCREDIBLE. Andy Hull and Robert McDowell deliver a powerful soundtrack of vocal based music that will send chills down your spine. “Intro Song” is a stunning piece of music.
- American Honey
American Honey has a soundtrack that sounds like your music library was thrown on shuffle. With music from Kevin Gates to Sam Hunt to Mazzy Starr, the eclectic lineup doesn’t feel out of place, but rather fits in perfectly with the film’s structure of finding yourself. It’s not always clear cut, and it might not always make sense, but it works and it’s worth it. PS: Anything with “Fade Into You” wins me over.
Lion features another final credits song by Sia that rushes through your body like the rush of emotions you get throughout the duration of the film. The film deals with finding who you are both literally and figuratively as Saroo tries to find his home in India after 25 years of being “lost.” Over the scenes of Google Earth and travel, the score puts you right there with Saroo and recreates the sense of journey in the audience.
Moonlight might be one of the most breathtaking films to come out in the last 20 years. Visually, narratively, etc. it’s unbelievably beautiful, but then you throw in a sensitive soundtrack into the mix and you have the complete package. The soundtrack has a beautiful score by Nicholas Britell and also features Barbara Lewis’ hit “Hello Stranger” from 1963 and also music from Goodie Mob.
- Miss Sloane
Max Richter. Richter has composed some of the best scores in film and television, and Miss Sloane is just another to add to the list. Jessica Chastain’s character is flawed, selfish, reserved, ruthless, and unlike most female lead characters we’ve seen. Richter illustrates and commentates on Chastain’s Sloane with a dramatic, intense score that pushes you into adrenaline rushes and an anxiety inducing audience experience. Listen to it outside of the theater and it’ll take you to places.