Artwork for Tiana Major9 and Earthgangs Collide from the Queen & Slim soundtrack.
Artwork for Tiana Major9 and Earthgang's "Collide" from the Queen & Slim soundtrack.

In 2019, there were far more great music projects than I can count, and an abundance of fantastic movies and TV shows as well, but some of the music compilations and original scores behind these onscreen stories are worthy of some serious celebration. Here are some of the Mercury's favorite soundtracks that came out in the last year.
Queen & Slim, various artists
Since the entire duration of Queen & Slim takes place in a car—while the two are on-the-run from a terrifying police stop Bonnie and Clyde-style—the soundtrack to the motion picture has become a wonderful album to play over the holiday break while on road trips to see relatives. In addition to the addictive, high-energy lead single "Ride Or Die" by Megan THEE Stallion and VickeeLo ("I ain't shy/Bust it wide/Cause I been that bitch"), there's so much Black excellence happening here: There's "Guarding the Gates," an excellent new original by Lauryn Hill that she made especially for the film; Solange's "Almeda" from her 2019 offering When I Get Home; the jazzy and melancholy "Runnin' Away" by Blood Orange; and sensual track "Getting Late," by Syd (The Internet). Other highlights include "Still Trippin'" by Mike Jones, "Standin' At Yo Door" by New Orleans blues musician Little Freddie King, as well as "Collide" by Tiana Major9 and Earthgang, which perfectly encapsulates Queen and Slim's unforgettable love-making scene in that vintage turquoise Catalina. The whole album invokes flashbacks of the iconic on-screen couple's epic journey through the South as they run toward some semblance of freedom. JENNI MOORE

Watchmen, Vol. 1-3, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The song “Nun with a Motherf*&*ing Gun” plays in the first episode of HBO's Watchmen, introducing us to nun-themed superhero Sister Night, AKA Angela Abar (Regina King). Like so many songs in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score, it's excellent—starting with a dark but dance-poppy beat, it builds into something stronger, tougher, louder—but there’s more to it than that: The nun of the song’s title isn’t the nun we see onscreen. That titular nun, in fact, isn’t glimpsed until Watchmen’s seventh episode, and even then, only as an image on the front of a VHS box for Sister Night, a blaxploitation flick that inspired Angela’s alter ego (and a film that does, indeed, feature a nun with a mask, an afro, and a motherfucking gun). Watchmen is full of these kinds of loops and callbacks and twists and tricks—layers of meaning and commentary that slice through and jump across the series—and Reznor and Ross’ score is a perfect fit, proving as malleable as the extraordinary show itself. A good chunk of Watchmen’s score is made up of the duo’s familiar, hypnotic, and pulsing ambience, but when they need to, Reznor and Ross duck and weave: “Trust in the Law” captures a jumpy piano that’d accompany the flickering, too-fast images in an old-timey movie house; “Nostalgia Blues” and “Dreamland Jazz” deliver note-perfect takes on 1940s jazz; “Ghraib Me a Terrorist” just lurks, ominous, a bottomless pool reflecting the vague, unescapable dread that Watchmen’s characters swim through. I’ve never seen anything like Watchmen, and doubt I will again; at once playful and brutal, it spins and dives and cuts deep into questions of race and gender and power. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Reznor and Ross being able to keep up—let alone manage, as they do, to add even more depth to so many remarkable scenes. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Various Artists
Stretching all the way back to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s films have been inseparable from their soundtracks—in Tarantino movies, songs are as much a part of the proceedings as anything said or seen. (Just remember: Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” in Jackie Brown, Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” in Reservoir Dogs, Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” in Kill Bill, Chuck Berry's “You Never Can Tell” in Pulp Fiction.) In 2019, the sprawling Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood proved to be not only one of Tarantino’s best films, but also his most ambitious—and that goes for the wide-ranging soundtrack, too. Naturally, there’s film-geek references (Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” I think, might have been used in another movie, one time?), but in capturing the dusky expanse and dark undercurrents of 1969 Los Angeles, Tarantino finds about a billion songs that resonate with both surface-level warmth and more sinister undercurrents. There are rarities here, and tons of vintage advertisements to help set the mood, but it’s hard not to be drawn to the more exuberant hits (Deep Purple’s “Hush,” Bob Seger System’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”), even as one particular track seems to best capture the film’s singular sense of melancholy: José Feliciano’s elegiac version of “California Dreamin’,” a song that echoes with the sense of a time and place long past, if it ever really existed at all. ERIK HENRIKSEN

The Lion King: The Gift, Beyoncé (and various artists)
While Beyoncé's re-working of the The Lion King's original music worked great for the 2019 "live-action" remake, her bonus album for the film was one of my most played albums of 2019 period. Queen B's feature-heavy love letter to Africa is one of the most fun 2019 albums to sing and/or dance along to: from the inspiring lyrics to "Bigger" and "Find Your Way Back" to the perfect harmonies and long overdue message of "Brown Skin Girl," and the life-affirming "Already," to the right-on-time "Keys to the Kingdom," every song goes above and beyond in summing up the themes from the film, like growing (and not running away) from your past, understanding your purpose on Earth, and honoring your ancestral right to be great. Other major highlights on The Gift include "Ja Ara" and "Water," and OF COURSE the Grammy-nominated "Spirit." JENNI MOORE

Us, Michael Abels
Us is a film made up of layers: A wholesome family vacation to the beach stacked on top of a horrifying home invasion peeled back to reveal an eerie, underground civilization fueled by rabbit meat. The soundtrack is no different. Composer Michael Abels stacks haunting, ethereal tunes on top of harmless classic hip-hop tracks—most prominently Luniz’s 1995 hit "I Got Five on It"—to paint a mesmerizing (and weirdly humorous) backdrop to Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece. Recommended listening for your next dinner party. ALEX ZIELINSKI

The Mandalorian, Ludwig Goransson
The magnitude of Ludwig Goransson’s last four years as a musician can not be minimized at all. He helped Ryan Coogler restore the Rocky series to glory by re-contextualizing Bill Conti’s Oscar-winning score for the '76 original and turning it into Creed’s propulsive—but still plaintive—and introspective sound. He followed that up by helping make the best Funkadelic record in 30 years with Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love, and he followed that achievement by providing Wakanda its beating heart in Coogler’s Black Panther, winning a Best Score Oscar for his efforts. Which begs the question: Just how in the fuck do you follow all that up? Well: you take a job with Lucasfilm, scoring their first live-action Star Wars show. No pressure. And then you make it even more interesting for yourself by voluntarily avoiding the use of any of John Williams’ iconic music for the series, while still using Williams and Ennio Morricone as inspiration. And then you go back to the '70s in your mind, and seek out the artists those legends were listening to back then, and you use all of that to create an entirely new musical vocabulary for the genre of “space western" to serve up complete, undeniable, album-length bangers, once a week, for every week that the show runs—a scoring feat that, so far as I know, has never been done before. Ludwig Goransson is a miracle, and The Mandalorian’s soundtrack is some of the best Star Wars music ever written, period. BOBBY ROBERTS