Recorded as if in a humid forest just after midnight, the soundtrack to "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" is an immersive experience, one overwrought enough to darken candlelit teenage bedrooms but deep enough to reward more advanced exploration. Filled with echoed, synthetic rhythms, a maximalist's love of multitrack recording and a warm vibe, the 14 songs on "Mockingjay" were selected by the New Zealand artist Lorde, and her striking aesthetic is all over it.
In fact, the collection runs like a particularly excellent goth-dance mix tape, one featuring new music from Lorde, Scottish synth-poppers Chvrches, rising R&B hit maker Tinashe, Kanye West (who remixes Lorde) and others. Like the best of such collections, it connects enough dots to leave a listener sated and educated when it's over.
Like the two other such soundtracks, "Mockingjay" harnesses current acts to convey the film's dystopian themes, and that grim drama apparently requires lots of echo. It's all over Lorde's excellent "Yellow Flicker Beat," a track that starts quiet before finding a rhythmic dance floor momentum. West inverts the work on a remade version called simply "Flicker," which ditches beat in favor of bleak atmospherics.
Unlike the previous installment, which included guitar-based acts such as Coldplay, Imagine Dragons and Patti Smith, "Mockingjay" is nearly devoid of old-school instruments. Rather, it exists within a continuum that rejects a reliance on six strings and a human drummer, connecting the freak-funky dance floor pioneer Grace Jones with synth-pop heroes Duran Duran (Simon LeBon sings on Charlie XCX's standout track "Kingdom") and mid-'90s proto-EDM producers Chemical Bros. with present-day inheritors who propel beat-based pop music in new directions.
Other standouts include Bat for Lashes' cover of "Plan the Escape," a beguiling song written by the artist known as Son Lux. Featuring a bold, wobbly bass line and headphone-happy rhythms that jump channels and create dizziness, the version suggests Kate Bush as filtered through a bank of analog synths. Jones' "Original Beast" thrives on the back of conga polyrhythms, a weird reggae groove and a menacing synthetic bass-line.
On "This Is Not a Game," the Chemical Brothers team with San Pedro R&B seducer Miguel to build a banger that starts noisy but drops into a clean, futuristic groove that suggests Kraftwerk's robots gone bad. It's a feeling that stretches across the soundtrack, a pessimism foreshadowing that the path forward, filled as it is with potential, just might lead into quicksand.
Original soundtrack to "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1"
Three stars (out of four)