‘Hunger Games’ Soundtrack: Pre-Game With An Expert Playlist

Hobnobbing helps you get to know the album's featured artists through their best works.

On Monday, Taylor Swift will enter the MTV arena to debut the music video for her Civil Wars collaboration, “Safe and Sound,” which appears on the “Hunger Games” soundtrack. And following the premiere, the country cutie will stick around MTV.com for an exclusive 30-minute interview about the lead single, her upcoming projects and more. So for Peeta’s sake, tune in, OK?

But as any “Hunger Games” fan can attest, Swift isn’t the only artist to be reaped for the T-Bone Burnett-produced companion album (out March 20). Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, Neko Case and Miranda Lambert are all reportedly contributing to the effort. So to prepare for what’s sure to be an epic soundtrack, we’ve asked several music experts to recommend top tunes from each performer—a pre-Games playlist, if you will. So put down your bow and arrow, grab your earbuds and settle in with these hand-picked selections:

The Decemberists
“No shortage of truly great tunes (with truly epic titles) from the Pacific Northwest’s leading purveyors of erudite indie. From the hard-charging horns of
‘Sixteen Military Wives’ (off 2005′s Picaresque) to the 12-string shimmy of ‘Down by the Water’ (from last year’s The King Is Dead) — with proggy dalliances like ‘You’ll Not Feel the Drowning’ and ‘The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone’ in between — the ‘rists have never met a genre they wouldn’t tackle … or a song title they couldn’t stretch to infinity. — James Montgomery, Rock Writer, MTV News

“The Decemberists are often described as ‘indie-folk’ or ‘chamber pop,’ but they are constantly shifting into new genres and playing with foreign sounds. ‘Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect’ is from their first album and doesn’t have the same epic quality that their later albums (most of which are sprawling mini-operas), but it does capture frontman Colin Meloy’s unending melancholy and slightly fanciful worldview. It’s catchy as hell too.” — Kyle Anderson, Staff Writer, Entertainment Weekly

“Asking me to choose a favorite Decemberists song is like asking me to choose a favorite pair of shoes — I have so many! It’s almost impossible! But I’ll do it. The apotheosis of the entire Decemberists catalogue, for me, is ‘Shanty for the Arethusa’ off of their 2003 album Her Majesty the Decemberists. This isn’t a song. It’s a sensory odyssey. Dude, the way they bring to life the creaking of the rotten hull of an olde-timey ship feels so real that I can almost feel myself getting scurvy.” — Tamar Anitai, Managing Editor, MTV Buzzworthy

Arcade Fire
“They broke through with Funeral, thanks in no small part to anthemic, wide-screen melodramas like ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ — songs seemingly created for stadium-uniting sing-alongs — backtracked on that all-encompassing stance with insular, world-weary Neon Bible tracks like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘My Body is a Cage,’ and, finally, with The Suburbs, ‘Month of May’ and ‘We Used to Wait,’ just decided to ditch all the subtlety and subterfuge and just become Springsteen disciples. Hey, whatever works.” — Montgomery

“Canada’s finest indie exports move at only two speeds: Epic and super-epic. ‘No Cars Go’ falls in the latter category, beginning with a simple hum-and-strum, then building into great swirls of chaotic orchestral noise, with the damaged, desperate voices of frontpeople/couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne holding the center.” — Anderson

“Man. THIS is hard. I mean, ‘Wake Up’ is so revelatory and cathartic. And the obvious choice here, if we’re talking ‘Hunger Games’ (which we are) would be ‘City With No Children.’ But in terms of a song that just burrows into your soul like a sonic tapeworm, I’m going with ‘Neighborhood 3 (Power Out).’ The drum line alone deserves a Grammy (if the Grammys REALLY got granular and handed out individual awards for individual song components, but we’d all be pretty bored watching that). And just the menacing rush the song maintains the whole time and the inherent fear of having no electricity (EXCEPT for the New York Blackout of 2003 — that was amazing fun and bars were giving away free drinks) strikes a chord and feels SO District 13. Wait… I didn’t say that. (YES I DID!)” — Anitai

Neko Case
“Case combines Canadian pop sensibilities and dirt road Americana, and the result is oft-transcendent minimalism. ‘This Tornado Loves You’ not only focuses on her incredible voice (that moment she hits that final ‘What will make you believe me?’ is goosebump-inducing) but also her lyrical toughness. The violence in the lyrics is masked by the playfulness of the arrangement and the beauty of the melody.” — Anderson

“Favorite Neko Case song? ‘That Teenage Feeling’ from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. This feels like the sequel to Patsy Cline’s ‘Walking After Midnight’ or a song lost somewhere in the Dusty Springfield archives. It’s just dripping with gorgeous youthful despair. Please. It’s so good. End of story. No contest, no comparisons. Next?” — Anitai

Who’s your favorite “The Hunger Games” soundtrack artist so far? Sound off in the comments below and tweet me @amymwilk with your thoughts and suggestions for future columns!

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