The curse of compiling annual lists of our favorite releases is that a few soundtracks are always released too late in the year for us to properly digest. We thus present the last of three albums that would have been worthy additions to our list of 2018’s best videogame soundtracks. We believe that, for listeners, they set a very high bar for videogame music in 2019 – one we may be unable to ignore come the end of the year.
Berlinist ~ Gris
Its painterly visual style may have grabbed the headlines, but indie game Gris has a stellar score to lend weight to a narrative more discerned than described. The set is likely the first you’ve heard from Barcelona-based Berlinist, a band formed in 2011 that ‘dreams about music and makes music like dreams’.
While certainly dreamlike, this orchestral soundtrack of keys, strings and choral sections radiates confidence and focus. Its opening pieces are sombre and sedate, and the two qualities stay within arm’s length for the duration. No energetic opening statement would be appropriate for a game whose protagonist, Gris (‘grey’ in Spanish so the ‘s’ is hard), starts the game lost in her own world, bereft of colour to signify the unknown grief in which she is mired. “Gris, Pt. 1” gives literal voice to her despair with a leitmotif conveyed through singing, the female vocal touching and wordless ~ as is the whole game.
Colour gradually seeps back into the landscape, and the drama unfurls with the patience of flower petals. Its arrival is all the more vibrant for this. Tidal swells of organ arpeggios wash over a tentative piano progression in “Perseverance”, their sudden departure as surprising as their arrival. Perhaps Gris is undergoing a test of faith, trying to reconcile two opposing inner monologues. Whoever wins, she seems to stir with resolve ~ but only momentarily (“Boundary”).
The band weaves electronics carefully through the loose threads of piano and strings. Across the sparse “Debris”, reverse synth swells sound like gasps for breath. Arpeggiators gently skip into view to fill the gaps left by the dulcet piano of “Chiasm” and between the guttural cello stabs of weighty yet restrained “Karasu”. Long passages of the set flirt between comfort and coldness ~ an unspoken distance between player and protagonist mirrored in the game’s long-shot view ~ but the synth drones and Rhodes passages add warmth, the occasional scuttling details a sense of intimacy.
Above all, Gris tells a very human story of an aching heart. While we do not know what ails her, the simple progressions and indelible melodies sing of a grief that is catholic. While development is subtle, a sense of quiet acceptance in time arrives, and when Gris’s theme returns toward the set’s close, it starts a sequence more loquacious than anywhere else. The character has found her voice again. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)