If there’s one thing this list of soundtracks and scores represents, it’s the diversity of 2016’s best media. Each soundtrack here is inextricable to the film or show they represent, not just for creating tone and ambience, but perfectly capturing the complex ideas and emotions behind what they were written for. Each of these are great when viewed in context, but they also have a life of their own when singled out and listened to alone.

Honorable mentions go out to Sean Callery’s Jessica Jones, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s Luke Cage, Jay Wadley’s Indignation and Nicholas Britell’s Moonlight. I’ve heard great things about Scott Walker’s work on Childhood of a Leader, but haven’t really gotten to see the film or take a deep listen.

In no particular order…

Green Room / Brooke Blair, Will Blair: The most suffocating film of the year surprisingly has one its most understated scores. Rather than overpower Jeremy Saulnier’s tight direction, the Blair’s underscore it with menace and unexpected beauty. The entire thing is punctuated by some choice punk/metal cuts and a pitch-perfect Creedence selection.

Assassin’s Creed / Jed Kurzel: Kurzel first blew me away when he scored Macbeth, and his latest follows suit. It’s an aggressive, percussion heavy score with melodies that wrap around us like snakes, fine tuning tonal shades of grey and the film’s heady themes with ease. I loved this crazy film and wish more people caught on, but even if it didn’t interest you, the music is worth a listen.

Halt and Catch Fire / Paul Haslinger: The punk/new wave tracks that litter the show are really great, but Paul Haslinger’s score is so underrated, offering synthy ambience that evokes the tension and strain of the shows’ characters. It sounds old, but feels modern – he’s really going after tone rather than surface aesthetics, and in the process, pushes the sound forward.

American Honey / Various Artists: The best thing that Andrea Arnold’s masterful film does is capture an era – it simply is the pulse of a young, hungry generation looking for connection. By lining the film with a myriad of hip-hop/trap/pop tunes, both obscure and accessible, this smart collection of tracks captures lightning in a bottle. You also gotta give the film credit for delivering one of the best scenes ever set to Rihanna’s “We Found Love”. Check out the unofficial Spotify Playlist HERE.

The Lobster / Various Artists: Another collection of tracks, this time spanning old classical pieces, Greek pop standards and more. This may be the sound of heartbreak. Danai’s “Apo Mesa Pethamenos” (Dead on the Inside) makes me want to curl up and die in the best way.

Don’t Breathe / Roque Banos: Chances are, if Banos has turned in a score for the year, it’s going to end up being one of the year’s best. Reuniting with director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead), Banos combines his penchant for eerie orchestral compositions with inventive arrangements made up of household items such as hammers, cutting wires and the sound of metal surfaces. He’s mentioned that he wanted to make “the house play music”, and it makes for some fascinating sonic possibilities.

Knight of Cups / Various Artists: Director Terrence Malick is on a level of his own, and this soundtrack shows it. Like his most recent efforts, the film boasts a mixture of grand, classical pieces all stitched together with original compositions by Hanan Townshend. The result is something that mimics the poetry and awe of his lyrical films, with patient dynamics which range from anthemic melodies to haunting interludes.

High-Rise / Clint Mansell: The soundtrack to the apocalypse. Mansell takes a genius approach here, blending baroque influences with pure chaos. Like Ben Wheatley’s film, the result is an ever-transforming beast, one that tempts us with beauty, only to strike when our guard is down.

Jackie / Mica Levi: Not as unsettling as her work for Under the Skin, but still every bit as fascinating. It’s minimalist, yet powerful, somber and beautiful, alluring yet temperamental – you get the point.

The Neon Demon / Cliff Martinez: Cliff Martinez can do no wrong with Nicolas Winding Refn. Their latest collab is on fire, a dense shroud of disco electro that goes from sparkly to sinister at the flick of a switch. Listening to the score alone, you can really get a sense of its range and Martinez’s skill at creating mood. Julian Winding’s “Demon Dance” and Sia’s end credits contribution, “Waving Goodbye”, are the icing on the cake.

Swiss Army Man / Andy Hull and Robert McDowell: Given the cinematic nature of Andy Hull and Robert McDowell’s band Manchester Orchestra, it makes sense that they’d be such a great fit for Daniels’ insane feature debut. Hull and McDowell attacked the project in an unexpected way, creating a landscape of acapella tracks and found objects to bring the characters’ madcap awakening to life. It totally makes sense on a conceptual level, but I don’t want to spoil why in case there are some who haven’t seen it yet.

Hail Caesar / Cartel Burwell: Coen Bros’ stalwart Carter Burwell proves again how he’s on the same wavelength as his singular collaborators. Though the film features a host of wacky characters, its silent character is the idea of chance and unpredictability, intangible themes that throw a wrench into each characters’ schemes sooner or later. Burwell’s score sounds like a deep ponderance on this concept, and how nature is a fickle beast.

Nocturnal Animals / Penny Dreadful by Abel Korzeniowski: You just can’t listen to any of Korzeniowski’s scores without being moved. I’m listing two here, because I can’t choose which one is better, and they’re both masterful works of art that only get stronger when viewed on their own. Both are full of depth, taking Korzeniowski’s romantic melodies to the brink of heartache and back, yet also evoking hypnotic rhythms and a blinding sense of melancholy.

La La Land / Justin Hurwitz and cast: This is a no-brainer statement, but, there is no La La Land without Justin Hurwitz’s music. His pieces are the other character in the film, imbuing the entire thing with a blinding romanticism that can’t be faked. Whether it’s the musical numbers or the instrumental pieces that hold everything together with subtlety, Hurwitz’s score is a triumph of passion and artistry, just like the film.

Arrival / Johann Johannsson: Easily my favorite score of the entire year, backing up what is also the year’s most mythic and important narratives. There’s a sense of hope and wonder to director Denis Villeneuve’s film, and Johannsson captures this through deep nuance and restraint. Just like the film, there’s always infinitely more going on than you think, and it’s truly something to behold. Listen to Johannsson pick apart the track “Heptapod B” at Song Exploder to get a glimpse of his genius.

BONUS! Best reissue, Fight Club / The Dust Brothers: I mean, look at that packaging! And those tracks hold up better than ever!

SG