Tonight, Pretty Little Liars aired its 100th episode ever. That means 100 episodes of black gloves, initialed text messages, secret trysts, and a whole lot of lying by every single person on the show. That also meant that PLL brought its A-game (had to with the pun, sorry) tonight in every which way. In an episode where Ali and Mona outright bitch slapped each other as hard as they could in true nighttime soap tradition and Aria and Ezra had creepy makeup sex, the soundtrack to the episode still stood out to me the most. Between perfectly chosen original music from up-and-coming artists to covers I didn’t even know I wanted on this show the episode came together from top to bottom largely due to the soap-tastic music cues. Below, a full guide of songs used in the episode in chronological order with some quick thoughts on each. (My overall thoughts on the episode: a lot of “holy shit!’s” and “sure why not’s”)
Rachel Platten, “Begin Again”
One thing I’ve always enjoyed about nighttime soaps is that there is already so much cheese worked into the general aesthetic of the show that any song choices that go with the scene word for word such as this one don’t seem overly sappy or out of place, they seem as if they were written for this particular use and this use alone. Ali walking into school as a quote unquote changed person is about as unbelievable as most of the events that take place on PLL, but the show wants us to believe it so using a song such as this that spells out how hard she is trying to start over and put on a brave (fake or not) face actually works well here. Platten has been a quietly amazing artist for the past few years, with some minor radio success nationally and much critical acclaim. “Begin Again” has not been released as a single thus far but Rachel is a friend of a friend so I can personally attest to her talents as a pianist and a songwriter as I have seen her perform multiple times. Keep an eye out for the release of this track in the near future, but until then I would recommend the rest of her catalogue whole heartedly. Her 2011 hit “1,000 Ships” is a great place to start.
Wild Club, “Thunder Clatter”
Hanna getting wasted at a party in the woods seemed entirely unnecessary to this episode as whole except to get Lucas worried about her mental state and so she could drunk dial Caleb a million times (the lyric “it was hidden in the fall, waiting on love to call ties in perfectly there). Actually, thinking about it that seems exactly right for what a high school party in the woods was for most people at my school, so I guess an accurate portrayal of a mom putting her drunk daughter to bed and accidentally gleaning some rare information about her personal life in the process is welcome in a show filled with strained parent-child relationships. Such as the party was a spot-on portrayal of that aspect of high school social life, so is the song that accompanied the scene as it would be right at home on any Spotify playlist droning on in the background of a bunch of drunk 17 year-olds playing flip cup. Keep it in mind for your next pregame this summer, as it’s a sure bet to pick the mood up. If you aren’t a 20-something who still needs to stash away drinks before going out to a bar where you have to pay for that stuff, the youthful energy and instrumental would also make a solid addition to any “driving around aimlessly in beautiful weather” playlist.
Michelle Anderson, “Alone”
Another of the song reflecting the situation a little too perfectly. Unlike the first two songs in the episode tonight, this was not only too on the nose but didn’t bring anything to the scene besides a literal musical interpretation of a conversation between characters. Caleb showing up at the coffee shop and surprising Hanna was nothing but incredibly creepy and out of the blue. We all know Ravenswood got canceled after a 10 episode run, and that entire plot detour was explained away in one line, but we can’t just act like Caleb showing up out of nowhere and standing behind his ex-girlfriend is normal. Also, he cut his hair into a gelled up mess so he’s basically no longer welcome in these parts. The song’s repetition of “never alone, never alone” only adds to the creep levels at play here. The one thing Anderson’s lyrics and voice have going here is that they truly sound like the kind of bland pop that is played at coffee shops all the time. Good thing this small town latte vender pressed play on this particular background blandness right as Creepy Caleb had a craving for a cappuccino.
Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”
Hands down, this was the best music cue of the night. It was one of the only songs that added any emotional connection or desire to pay attention to the scene at all. The use of this music as Aria walks into Jenna’s house to see her blindly sobbing on her bedroom floor was certifiably creepy and had me on the edge of my seat expecting some great tragedy to have befallen Jenna or some such. It wouldn’t be the first time one of The Liars wandered into a near-abandoned house of a crazy person and nearly paid for their stupidity. Obel’s haunting voice melds exquisitely with the scene’s setting and the overall feel the show was going for. The song is filled with longing, sadness, and beauty at the same time. The way the instrumental stays mostly steady in the background but lets the vocals take the main stage for the most part works wonders when it comes to putting you inside the emotions of the characters on screen, and using it during a largely wordless scene that takes its time to unfold only helps.
Denmark & Winter, “Every Breath You Take”
I mentioned briefly above this episode included a cover I wasn’t even aware I would be happy to hear, and here we are. Denmark & Winter bring an even creepier feeling to this Police classic than the original band did when it was first recorded. At least The Police had the common decency to make their version somewhat upbeat and happy so it would take longer than 10 seconds for people to realize how hardcore stalker the lyrics are. It sounds like a love song when Sting sings it, but with Denmark & Winter behind the microphone the serial killer quality of it is all that more apparent, which is probably as it should be. So what better use for this great cover than a scene where Ezra and Aria once again fall into bed with each other in all of their statutory rape glory. This was bound to happen, as the writers can only say no to fans clamoring for this for so long. I have no need to see these two maintain their relationship just for the ‘shipping community to be happy, but if the show is slowly coming around to the insanity of this pairing than I might be OK with where this storyline goes. Maybe Aria can remember that they thought Ezra was A and then found out he was sexing up Ali before they met? For five seconds? So she doesn’t seem like such a tart in great clothes every once in a while? No? Ah well. Maybe Death Cab for Cutie can cover “Turn Around and Look at Me” by The Vogues the next time Ezria goes out for a nice dinner.
Plumb, “I Don’t Deserve You”
I like Plumb well enough. I’ve heard a few songs of hers before despite never being a huge fan of her overall catalogue. This song is just fine, not great nor awful, but the weird part about it being used in this episode is that it was originally recorded as a contemporary Christian rock ode to God’s love and yet is played in a scene where Spencer and Toby take part in some pretty heavy petting in his truck and who knows what else. I’m not nearly religious enough to mind this in any way, but you would think the music supervisor here could have chosen a song that wasn’t so explicit in its original meaning for a scene such as this. Without knowing the primary intention of the song it does make a nice pairing with Toby declaring his love and dedication for Miss Spence for the 3400th time this year, I just can’t shake the though that there were an abundance of other options out there for a teenage love scene than this particular choice.