Masdito Bachtiar, Pathetic Experience & Christabel Annora ~ She and the Light Bearer
Hailing from Surabaya, Indonesia, composer Masdito Bachtiar and neo-folk group Pathetic Experience have created an uplifting soundtrack in She and the Light Bearer, full of cute and optimistic music that at times reminds me of the pretty parts of The Observatory’s friendliest songs. The development of the album is quite simple, with a handful of variations upon a few key themes that evolve subtly into complementary emotional directions. What makes it interesting is the way in which it borders easy-listening, utilizing the clichés of light folk music to subject them to the structures of gamelan orchestration. The traditional complexity of the gamelan’s melodies and harmonies is essentialized by acoustic guitar techniques, the bell-like highs and the drumming lows turned into quick riffs and strumming taps. The musicians very ably transition from one style to the other, effectively blending the serene, long development of gamelan-like melodies with the emotional immediacy of folk guitar picking; tracks like “Rikala”, which add a few extra electronic effects, round out the experience of a sweetly moving meditation. The music perfectly fits the tone of a game modeled to tell a fairy tale set inside a colorful forest seemingly straight out of a children’s illustration book, the closeness and simplicity of nature at the heart of folk music coinciding with the view of a harmonious collectivity and communal sense of the natural evoked by gamelan orchestras. Smile, and let yourself become one with the sun.
Calum Bowen ~ Pikuniku
Did you ever stay for a while in the town scenes of the various Final Fantasies, or the shops of Zelda games, just to listen to the music? Pikuniku builds relaxing aural themes indebted to all those happy little tunes that represented sanctuaries from grand dramatic quests, spicing things up with dashes of Latin rhythms and lullabies in the best Kondo tradition. The game’s aesthetic is a mixture of cutesy children’s cartoons and minimalist animation, with the music cheerily following suit, every piece a sort of self-contained scenario instead of having an overarching structure. This allows Bowen to focus on the melodies, most of which, Kondo-style, are sourced from slightly modified Latin rhythms (think bossa, samba, even a barely recognizable reggaeton drum sequence in “Free Money!”), lending the album an overall consistency without sacrificing each track’s separate identity. But “not everything is as happy as it seems”, says the press release, reflected in the very subtle introduction of sad and contemplative tones amidst all those dance beats. This is best represented in the last part of the album, dedicated to the co-op gameplay sections, in which the presence of another player is a motive to both spend a few thoughtful moments as well as raucous ones. From the tranquility of “The Crate (Co-op 1)” to the hip hop punch of “Rope Fall (Co-op 4)”, the strength of this whole part comes from its subtleties as well as from the ways in which it effectively reproduces the ‘cool’ spirit of friendly competition and collaboration from 90s soundtracks like that of Sonic 3. Like in the best parts of said OST, Pikuniku’s eclecticism works styles and beats (that jazzy techno drop in “The Maze (Co-op 6)!) into a simple catchiness no longer easily found in videogame music. In short, I want to stay a while in each of Pikuniku’s scenes, just to listen to the music.
Vinyl available here.
Tommy Foley ~ Fated Era
A game whose main inspiration is Ogre Battle should have an equally bombastic soundtrack, and yet, Fated Era is much more subdued and focused on the clarity, not the possible fidelity, of early synth game music. Completely done in a retro 8-bit chiptune style, this album steers away from the attempts at orchestral reproduction of yore, and is instead much closer to the manners in which composers like Tim Foley (no relation, I think) reimagined the off-center melodies and instrumental interplay of progressive rock within the limits of game sound tech. “Sad Cutscene” is a good example, with its organ-like harmony supporting a simple pop ballad, each of the crunchy electronic sounds really coming to the fore instead of attempting to meld together and hide behind pretensions of instrumentality like many of those old soundtracks did. “Field Theme C” is straight up heavy metal, except the aggression of guitar feedback is done away with, letting the sinister essence of its melody shine. These compositional and technological moves allow Fated Era to bring back that sense of musical rediscovery in which a rock n’ roll piece or a military march (“Troop Menu”) become almost unrecognizable, all their traditional aural qualities stripped away in favor of a simplicity that reveals their emotional core. Short and to the point, this OST takes itself seriously, and is not tinged by the ironic approach of most synthwave or ‘nostalgic’ music, allowing listeners to drop all those familiarizing or estranging mechanisms and just listen. (David Murrieta Flores)