10. Orange Is The New Black, Season 4
Standout Episode- S04E03, Toast Can Never Be Bread Again
Orange is the New Black gave its best season in 2016 when it went away from the spotlight. The one thing the show isn’t dependent upon at all is its music and somehow the music that has been used in the series has been absolutely on point. From the iconic opening anthem by Regina Spektor to the song used in the closing credits of every episode, it has consistently been spot on (much like Silicon Valley‘s bass-heavy rap or electronica at the end of every episode).
Even so, OITNB‘s “music game” in Season 4 was better than it has been so far and the end-credit song has been used to reinforce the tone of each episode. When Alex murders a guard in the first episode, it’s followed up by an upbeat ukulele, Motherfucker Got Fucked Up where the lyrics are hilarious and make a point of how the motherf*cker got f*cked up ’cause he got in the way. Similarly, El Blue Del Ping Pong, a song by The Rita Indiana; Los Mysterios, signalled the power shift in the prison. Every song adds up to something, and manages to do it subtly and yet reinforce or pervert the tone. It honestly is brilliant.
9. Narcos, Season 2
Standout Episode – S02E05, The Enemies of My Enemy
Narcos is a show that doesn’t rely heavily on music unlike most other shows on this list. Yet, there are certain moments where the music hits just the right note. To begin with, it doesn’t seem like there is any other song that could match the quality and nature of the show better than Rodrigo Amarante’s Tuyo which is used, rightfully, as the theme song for the show and, possessively, as many people’s ringtones.
Jamar Chess who has been credited for most of the music on both the seasons of the show really upped his contribution this particular season, with all the vintage Columbian classics and what-not, that added way more than just a little groove to the tales from the colourful life of Pablo Escobar.
8. Vinyl, Season 1
Standout Episode- S01E01, Pilot
HBO’s highly anticipated series Vinyl, boasting a line-up of executive producers that included names like Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter, had us all very excited. The show perhaps didn’t live up to the hype, but we got phenomenal music through that, and what else do you expect from a show centred around label head Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), as he tries to save his record company? The music should be phenomenal considering the music budget per episode was six-figure, with each edition featuring up to 30 songs. Randall Poster and Meghan Currier are the music supervisors, with Scorsese, Jagger and Winter all weighing in with suggestions.
Depending upon one’s knowledge of rock music and its history, the soundtrack of the show could serve as a nice revisit of various songs, or a great way to become familiar with a host of new bands and performers worth discovering. Seeing David Johansen take a run at classic New York Dolls cuts Personality Crisis and Stranded In The Jungle was absolutely delightful. The one song that stood out was Dee Dee Warwick’s soulful take on Elvis’ Suspicious Minds, which had many say it was even better than the original. There is a representation of classic as well as modern in this soundtrack and that is what makes it so damn good.
7. Black Mirror, Season 3
Standout Episode- S03E04, San Junipero
Netflix has always looked out for shows that had to face non-believers and Black Mirror is just one of them. This doesn’t always workout for the show. The current season of Black Mirror, however, gained a huge cult following owing partly to it’s great music collection which was also released by the showmaker as a whopping 42 track long playlist on Spotify. The music is 80s inspired and blends well with the feel of the show and has been used tactically at significant times on the show to enhance the impact of the moment. A case in point is the episode San Junipero where the music strongly adds definition to the drastic events of the episode
6. Flaked, Season 1
Standout Episode – S01E04, Palms
We can debate all day about how layered or underwhelming Will Arnett’s new Netflix show Flaked may have been, but what is indisputable is the fact that it had one of the best soundtracks on Television last season. The soundtrack obviously caters to the needs of the show, a slow cutting drama that seems superficial in the beginning but has more depth in it. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus composed original tracks for the series and Flaked also features carefully curated songs from across guitar-driven indie rock including Warpaint, EL VY, Car Seat Headrest, Grandaddy, My Morning Jacked among others, giving it great indie cred. There are exclusive tracks contributed by Local Natives, Kid Bloom and S. Carey. A particularly great use of Bowerbirds’ Tuck The Darkness In at one of the show’s many emotional climaxes tugs at your heartstrings. Malkmus’ original score for the show is also incredible and must be mentioned separately.
An amazing line-up of artists, I started watching Flaked for Arnett but continued to view it for the brilliant music. If you want to listen to some great light indie rock from eclectic (and hipster) artists, put the playlist of the show now!
5. Westworld, Season 1
Standout Episode: S01E02, Chestnut
The show’s title sequence is a cinematographic masterpiece and is the work of Ramin Djawadi, the show’s composer who is also responsible for the infamous opening theme of Game of Thrones. The plot revolves around an amusement park set in the future, populated by robots controlled to satisfy every desire of its visitors. If the story isn’t already interesting enough, Djawadi’s scores tell the tale of Westworld in a way the script can’t. As a viewer you are bound to be surprised by the familiar piano tunes. The soundtrack includes piano covers of songs by Radiohead, The Cure and Amy Winehouse. Chestnut, the title of one of the episodes is also used to describe a song which is played so many times it starts to get old. The composers use familiar tunes in unfamiliar settings to invoke a sense of something sinister brewing and to create a contrast. An EP entitled, Westworld Season 1 was released by Ramin Djawadi featuring five tracks
4. Game of Thrones, Season 6
Standout Episode- S06E10, Winds of Winter
This year, the show got a lot bigger. Storylines developed and characters evolved further. This meant that the music had to grow in magnitude as well and Ramin Djawadi was more than up for the task. In some cases, he masterfully revamped original compositions to meet the demands of the scenes, for example, the Stark song The North Remembers for the “Hold The Door” scene or Hear Me Roar for last mighty Lannister sequence of the season. In other cases, he went all out and created a brand new composition which had enough power to stand out, even in one of the most powerful scenes of the show, like the song Light Of The Seven used in the season finale.
To put out so much original material for a show so grand, so that the music becomes a part of the identity of its characters, is highly commendable and that is the reason why this one by Djawadi finds itself on number 4 of our list. It is safe to say that the music was good enough to give the chills that the scenes they accompanied intended to and that Djawadi tops the list when it comes to background scores for powerful and popular thrillers.
3. Stranger Things, Season 1
Standout Episode – S01E02, The Weirdo on Maple Street
The 80s was a strange time. From bizarre music videos (watch Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me by Oingo Boingo and judge for yourself), eccentric pop stars, heaps of one hit wonders to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial audiobook narrated by the King of Pop himself; the 80s presented us with a bit of everything.
The soundtrack to Stranger Things, just like the series itself, imbues the tiny bits of the 80s sonic memorabilia without embracing the corny bits. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, who are a part of the Austin band S U R V I V E, are the force behind the creepy nostalgic score. “We discussed having a classic tone and feel to the music for the show but being reserved enough that it wasn’t ’80s cheese while offering a refreshing quality so that felt modern”, Stein stated in a press release. This Isn’t You a mellow track with lazy arpeggios and a distinct euphoric echo which plays throughout most of the second episode is one to listen to. The soundtrack perfectly encapsulates the pace and tone of the series. The jittery yet calming title theme hits the listeners with the nostalgic gavel, that is the signature synth sound, synonymous with the 80s synth scene.
2. Bojack Horseman, Season 3
Standout Episode- S03E04, Fish Out Of Water
To trust a music composer with the entirety of a silent episode is a massive step, one that the makers of Bojack Horseman were courageous enough to take, and genius enough to execute. Fish Out Of Water was one of the most talked abut episodes of the show, and of TV. An enormous amount of the credit goes to Jesse Novak, who brought the almost wordless episode to life, leaving us all utterly speechless.
Novak did not stop there. There was a mix of goofy originals like Sextina Aquafina’s Get That Foetus, Kill That Foetus and the generic songs of all the eras of musical evolution, adding weight to the humour scale of the show. Bojack Horseman is a show which is hilarious and sad at the same time, and the music compliments the complicated structure of the show brilliantly. Take, for example, the episode called That’s Too Much Man! (also a landmark episode of the season) where the music knew just when to come on and more importantly, exactly when to go off.
The opening theme and the closing credits have had us swooning from the get go, season 1 onwards, and we thank Patrick Carney and Grouplove for their respective compositions that we never skip through, even when we binge watch.
1. Atlanta, Season 1
Standout Episode – S01E04, The Streisand Effect
Something I envied greatly after watching Atlanta was Earn’s (Donald Glover’s character) playlist. Hot damn, it’s a miracle the songs did not cause his iPhone to spontaneously combust by the time the first season of the new FX show ended. The show as well as the soundtrack, written and curated by Donald Glover, skilfully twines drama, comedy and social commentary for a poignant effect. Much of the music we hear is actually through Earn’s earphones, sub-woofers of an amped up car driving through the ghettos of Atlanta as well as the local radio station. All this grants a seamless transition between different songs and scenes. The songs themselves have been so masterfully curated and blends in so well that it is impossible to tell whether a scene was written around a song or the other way around. No Hook by OJ da Juiceman, a straight up trap piece with the signature rattlesnake hi-hats and thin snares, is perhaps the trillest opening song in any pilot episode in recent times. Although it would’ve been a sham not to include names like Migos and Future in the soundtrack, what makes the skilfully curated music even more fantastic is the fact that it does not suffer from a lack of diversity. Home Again, a track by British soul musician Michael Kiwanuka, renders the viewers pondering at the end of Episode 4 while Kodak Black’s SKRT, a mellow ballad-ish trap song drives home the point “Girl I’m done with you” during a humorous altercation at a Mcdonald’s. An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum by Shabazz Palaces and South Korean rapper Keith Ape’s IT G MA which feature in two of the most memorable scenes from the show are bound to bob some hip hop heads.