Kiiro ~ The Eternal Castle
A game from 1987 that never existed remade, with a brand “new” soundtrack. This is, of course, the premise of any and all synthwave, of which The Eternal Castle is the latest, most exciting example. Like any other postmodern piece of art, this soundtrack pulses with the energy of an idealized past reproduced with excruciating detail, except there are a few bits here and there that are completely ahistorical and out of place. The crisp arrangements of tracks like “The Mortal Scientist” belong less to the age of the synth and more to ours, subtle strings and guitar riffs paradoxically adding noisy layers of excess to an already excessively nostalgic sound. Everything is the same, and yet everything is unerringly unfamiliar. Suggested by the developers in surrealist fashion as a game emerged from a dream, the soundtrack follows suit by utilizing its nostalgic elements for obscure hints at soundscapes, as in tracks like “Suburbia” or “Last Flight”. In the latter, the layered contrasts between clean beats and what are essentially static noises provide a clue for how the music operates, the crisp guitar turned into an estrangement device. In an album whose average track time is about one minute, the culmination comes with the monstrous 5-minute long “A.I.”, which brings all the soundtrack’s elements into able display. It deconstructs a typical synthwave melody into uncanny electronic noises, its classical, poppy 1980s sound mutating half-way through into a noise-rock soundscape of feedback and unclear tones. The Eternal Castle might be short, but it is also powerful, addressing the dream it’s emerged from as a damaged memory, a lapse in brain activity where nostalgia becomes true and the truth is lost amidst the CGA blur of pink and blue.
Chris Logsdon ~ Night of the Blood Moon
A subtly twisted bedtime song, an innocent dreamscape whose edges simmer with unrest – that’s the mood that Chris Logsdon aims at with Night of the Blood Moon, infused with the aesthetics of retro videogame soundtracks. In the game you control a nightmare that invades cheery, cartoonish dreams in order to paint their colorful environments with a dash of purple and crimson, your avatar a fantasy bird of prey that rapidly dashes and shoots around at the denizens of quiet sleep. In other words, your job is to bring absolute chaos to these places, and the hectic pace of the game is ably reflected by the punchy beats of the soundtrack, designed, like “Jungle Chase”, to get the adrenaline racing and the heart pumping. The tone is reminiscent of the playful, light-hearted fright of children’s horror movie soundtracks like Nightmare Before Christmas; in more recent terms, it reminded me of the cheerfully somber music of the dungeon crawler minigame of Night in the Woods. Like those soundtracks before it, Night of the Blood Moon mixes happy and sinister tones, creating fun ‘carnival of evil’ styles of musical images, as in “Castle in the Clouds”, or the cartoon-evil fanfare of “The Hero Will Fall”. Best of all, it keeps the theme constantly in play by distinct, creative means, whether in the twinkling bells and sweet melodies of “Bubblestorm” and “Heatseekers” or the purposefully artificial winds of “Hiding in the Shadows”, set against a beat that transforms in structured, yet surprising, ways.
Maribeth Solomon, Brent Barkman & Micky Erbe ~ Cultist Simulator
A game about occultism, mysticism, and the clarity that only the most ephemeral of dreams can grant gets a pitch-perfect soundtrack of romantic piano and slow ambient. “The Dreams Begin” sways with emotional uncertainty born from the paradoxical encounter between the strength of the piano melodies and the noisy electronic background; as the music pours into “What Now?”, the second track, the uncertainty grows even further, the gothic, echoing piano slowly introducing a fog of sounds whose source and origin becomes hard to pin down. Tracks with a diverse set of classical instrumental sounds (there’s even an erhu solo – ‘orientalism’ was, after all, an importantly driving force of many an occult practice) give the OST its most memorable moments, as in “Apollo and Marsyas: Overture”, with its quicker rhythm and intense instrumentation, as if its energy was attempting to unbound itself. While the more purely ambient tracks like “Those Are Pearls That Were Her Eyes” deliver well in terms of mood building, the chamber pieces stand out as the core of the emotional dizziness that drives this “simulator”, at times dark and strange, but at others bright and predictable. “June the 28th”, where the erhu makes its appearance, is the highlight of this weird journey, accompanied by the piano in a romantic solo whose expressiveness outlines the mad solitude of a mind embroiled in secret histories. Its subtle dissonances indicate the threads of infinite possibilities forever in escape, the very matter of a consciousness in the process of cracking wide open, releasing the terrifying light once imprisoned within. (David Murrieta Flores)