20 TV shows with the best soundtracks and music

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True Detective

Season 1 of the HBO series True Detective is often an exercise in existentialism, brutal human truths and painful personal realizations. Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle gave one of the most compelling performances of that year, and the interplay between Rust and Woody Harrelson’s Martin Hart crackles with chemistry.

The onscreen action is so engrossing, in fact, that you often don’t even realize the scenes are scored by the likes of Wu Tang Clan or Father John Misty. Such is the immersive nature of the series. The music feels like an extension of the action … or the horrific nature of the story. However you look at it, it works.

Also set in south Louisiana, True Detective‘s first season shies away from the glamor and showmanship of New Orleans, trading it in for the quieter, often more barren, rural landscapes of the bayou and the swamps. It follows an investigation of the ritual murder of a young woman, a case which both Rust and Marty worked on in the past. Its non-linear narrative and grotesque cinematography makes for a harrowing viewing experience.

The music helps to both soothe the rougher elements, but it also works with the tension of the storytelling. Weaving into both the crime story and the personal lives of the detectives, the music acts as a guide through the complicated first season. The soundtrack swings wildly between genres and artists, featuring contributions from artists such as Primus, Kris Kristofferson, Bo Diddley and Emmylou Harris.

Watching the first installment of the series was one of the finest TV moments of 2014, but any time I need to lean into my existential crisis or wonder why I’m here, I dip back into this soundtrack.