Album Review: The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond (2012)

I’ve recently decided to re-read The Hunger Games trilogy, which, in turn, has given me the desire to re-listen to The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 And Beyond soundtrack.

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Hunger Games, the books and film tell the story of a fictional country called Panem, which used to be the United States.  After a war, Panem rises from the ashes of the US and is built up by 12 districts, each of which are controlled by those in District 1 (also known as the Capitol).  The Capitol is the wealthiest and most prosperous district of the country and maintains their power by oppressing those in the other districts.  One such way the Capitol does this is by forcing every district to participate in an annual competition called The Hunger Games, in which a boy and girl from each district, between the ages of 12-18 must compete against each other in a fight for the death.  The winner of the game wins a year’s worth of food for their district, while the other districts must live off of the meager rations they typically receive.

Not exactly cheerful subject matter.  Likewise, the CD plays as a musical accompaniment of sorts to the first movie in the trilogy, which was released last year.  Though the songs included on the album aren’t heard in the film itself (instead, an instrumental score by James Newton Howard is heard during the movie scenes), all of them have been carefully chosen to reflect the images and themes from the movie.

Nevermind that the lead single off the album is from pop/country darling, Taylor Swift; because, for once, Swift strays from her stereotypical cheesy love songs and wrote a track especially for the film’s main character, Katniss Everdeen. “Safe & Sound” sees a change in lyrical content, and Swift’s vocals manage to come off being both sweet and haunting; the simplistic melody is absolutely lovely.  The track is easily one of the album’s standouts.

Meanwhile, rapper Kid Cudi offers up a hard rock/hip-hop sound with, “The Ruler and the Killer”.  The music is appropriately thrilling, with lots of heavy drums and electric guitars that fit in perfectly in a movie about children killing one another.

The Arcade Fire opens with a ethereal track titled “Abraham’s Daughter”, and due to airy female vocalist, Regine Chassagne, leading the track, it doesn’t even sound like the Arcade Fire we all know.  It’s not a bad thing, however- the medieval-sounding song is a strong opener for the album.

One of my favorite musicians, Glen Hansard(whom you may know from the movie/soundtrack Once), performs a rock song called “Take The Heartland”.  This is probably the hardest I’ve ever heard Mr. Hansard rock; usually he’s all acoustic guitar and piano, but this frenzied number makes me want to form a mosh pit.  Similarly, Maroon 5 is nearly unrecognizable in the song, “Come Away To The Water”.  Of course, it’s hard to misplace Adam Levine’s trademark vocals, but the style is unlike anything Maroon 5 has ever done as a band – it’s less danceable rock/pop, and has more of a folk-rock, almost bluegrass feel.  Singer, Rozzi Crane, lends her vocals to the track, and her and Levine sound very pleasant together, making for an interesting piece.

I’d never heard of the bluegrass band, Punch Brothers, prior to this album, but “Dark Days” has remained my absolute favorite song on this album since the moment I heard it.  The instrumentation here (oh, those mandolins!) sets a soft, melancholy mood, which fits in perfectly with the quiet harmonizing from the lead vocalists.   The melody is so heartbreakingly beautiful and even the refrain (“It can see you through these dark days/Though they seem to darken as I go/Our love will see us through these dark, dark days, sister/’Til it lights the way back home…”) can lead me to tears some days.

Despite all the buzz surrounding her, I’d also never heard of fifteen-year-old Birdy, whom closes the album with the ballad “Just A Game”.  I was absolutely sold on her and her talent within hearing the first minute of the song (quite literally), and immediately sought out her debut album.  It’s definitely her stunning vocals which make this particular track; the ballad itself is pretty substandard and forgettable, but Birdy’s beautiful voice takes over the melody and I found myself focusing on her unique vocals more than anything else.

The rest of the music continues on in a theme of folk music, though nothing else stands out much.  Swift’s other effort, “Eyes Open”, is a bit more upbeat than its predecessor, but doesn’t leave much of an impact.  Miranda Lambert offers up “Run Daddy Run”, another bluegrass-esque track, but again, it doesn’t do much for me- at least, not as much as the other songs have.  I think it’s safe to say that compilations are always a bit of a mixed bag, and it’s hard to find one that has nothing but stellar tracks; at least, here, there are a handful of really good songs among the filler.

As a whole, the mix of folk-rock/indie music is brilliant, and I’m quite impressed with most of the collaborations and the overall quality of the release.  If this first disc is any indication, I’m beyond excited to hear the following movie soundtracks as the rest of the films are released.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Arcade Fire – “Abraham’s Daughter”
2. The Secret Sisters – “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”
3. Neko Case – “Nothing To Remember”
4. Taylor Swift featuring The Civil Wars – “Safe & Sound”
5. Kid Cudi – “The Ruler and The Killer”
6. Punch Brothers – “Dark Days”
7. The Decemberists – “One Engine”
8. The Carolina Chocolate Drops – “Daughter’s Lament”
9. The Civil Wars – “Kingdom Come”
10. Glen Hansard – “Take The Heartland”
11. Maroon 5 featuring Rozzi Crane – “Come Away To The Water”
12. Miranda Lambert featuring Pistol Annies – “Run Daddy Run”
13. Jayme Dee – “Rules”
14. Taylor Swift – “Eyes Open”
15. The Low Anthem – “Lover Is Childlike”
16. Birdy – “Just A Game”

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