HBO has been impressing me lately with the choices for its shows’ soundtracks. Last year, astute listeners caught haunting covers on Westworld’s piano player. Songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” were each given new life by the show. And just last week, I noticed Mayer Hawthorne’s “Out of Pocket” playing in the background at a bar as Pete Holmes and T.J. Miller conversed on Crashing.

One of the newcomers to HBO’s lineup this spring – Big Little Lies – has blown me away so far with its soundtrack. Through its first four episodes, the murder-mystery/relationship drama based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel of the same name has used a variety of contemporary and classic hits to effectively bolster the show’s emotions.

Without giving too much away, viewers are led to believe that somebody in the show’s incredible cast – including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgård and many talented others – has committed a murder in their picturesque Monterey Bay community. There is constantly tension of all kinds between characters. Violence and aggression fuel acts of betrayal and revenge as relationships are stretched thin over struggles for power.

As one could imagine, this drama hits even harder when accompanied by the right music. A heartbroken Witherspoon softly singing along in the car to “This Feeling” by the Alabama Shakes at her six-year-old daughter’s recommendation is simultaneously solemn and hopeful.

 

The best example might occur in the show’s opening credits. A portion of Michael Kiwanuka’s epic “Cold Little Heart” plays as characters drive along the Pacific coast. These are dangerously windy roads along steep cliffs, and an ominous, gray haze hangs over the rocky shores. On another day, this landscape would be gorgeous and calming. But the dark lens and Kiwanuka’s conflicted lyrics let us know there’s evil hiding beneath the beauty.

“Did you ever want it?
Did you want bad?
Oh, my
It tears me apart
Did you ever fight it?
All of the pain, so much power
Running through my veins
Bleeding, I’m bleeding
My cold little heart
Oh I, I can’t stand myself”

Spotify user Ignatious Pop has compiled the soundtrack in a playlist that’s updated with each new episode. It’s a great mix of soul, rock and pop through the years. For starters, here’s a sampling of my favorites so far.

Frank Ocean ft. Earl Sweatshirt – “Super Rich Kids”

Sade – “Cherish the Feeling”

Irma Thomas -“Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”

Charles Bradley – “Changes”

Leon Bridges – “River”

-Mike Still

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