If you're not already bitten by the Hunger Games bug, you may be unaware that District 12 is what's left of Appalachia in the not-too-distant future, or that the games pit 24 teenagers in a battle to the death. But those details loom large over this surprisingly faithful collection of original songs. Here comes Taylor Swift, armed with nerf-metal guitars, advising our heroine to sleep with one eye open, and Neko Case turns the character's transition from invisibility to fiery glory into a grandly swirling pop moment. For better or worse, this is the rare soundtrack that feels like it's made by and for fans. So it's appropriate that some of the highlights come from young adults fresh out of the YouTube trenches, like 15-year-old Birdy, who scored a hit with a Bon Iver cover last year, and who shows up here with the goth-y piano ballad "Just a Game." Thank T Bone Burnett, who gets a production or writing credit on all but one track, and ups the game of even Maroon 5. But blame him as well for creating an apocalyptico Appalachia that has never seen a hoedown and has no idea how to make joy out of mud. Arcade Fire fill the darkness with spectral portent on "Abraham's Daughter," and the Decemberists provide a jolt of electricity with "One Engine," which sounds like R.E.M. in Sixties garage mode. But too often the pervasive mournfulness tilts more maudlin than high-lonesome. Would a little more teenage-wasteland rebellion really have been too much to ask?
Listen to "Safe & Sound":