Megan McDuffee ~ River City Girls
Electronic music & the violence of videogames is a constantly recurring relationship ever since Streets of Rage, but what McDuffee has done here is to give that relationship a punk enhancement: kicking ass goes perfectly well with synthpop. Nevermind the intense, crunchy beats of synthwave or the bloody, goth aesthetics of darkwave, here’s an OST that sees in the glossy catchiness of music that is more new wave than techno a potential for gleeful aggressivity.
Given that RCG is a new game in a series that begun in 1989, its pop qualities grow from references to the context that gave us the modern, youth-friendly music of the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog. McDuffee, along with her guests (Chipzel, NateWantsToBattle & Dale North), perfectly arranges and mixes retro and current synth sounds in a way that most synthwave artists don’t, inasmuch as she allows the listener to unironically experience both as they build upon each other. No need to knowingly force a distance from the original context or to elude it altogether – in RCG, past and present lean together into something new, something that’s memorable, something that’s easy to listen to, which also makes you feel like dancing. And punching pixel people in the face (same energy, as the memes say).
Part of the pop appeal is introducing vocals to quite a few tracks, as well as eclectically moving into pop-rock territory, giving the two-hour OST more than enough variety to keep your pulse running, to keep imagining how all those fantastically violent scenes in cinema scored with punk or electro would look amazing with a Madonna-like track on top. They’d – obviously – feel great, because what RCG does is intertwine the happy cruelty of punk and its street fistfights with the shiny production of (synth)pop, giving old sounds a perfectly precise twist of the new.
Available through various platforms here.
Thomas Lilja ~ Vane
Few artists have managed to capture a particular sensation old Vangelis soundtracks evoke: to be a witness to the ruins of the future (think, of course, Blade Runner). I’m glad to say Lilja’s work successfully reproduces the Vangelis blueprint while leaving the Greek composer’s predilection for bright, forceful, often folky melody behind, focusing instead on drones and layered electronics.
In other words, this is a Vangelis soundscape, an atmospheric approach to the future-synths that in their lack of definition and narrative come to flourish as the sounds of a second nature now lost to time. Vane shines when it suggests direction only to deconstruct it, its melodies short and unique, the result of ambient-like tone build-ups whose energy needs escape; their power lies not in repetition, staying in place, but in their inevitable dissolution, the reminder that this game takes place in a desert full of futurist ruins.
Lilja’s melodies are not heroes, and they are not permanent. They are as ephemeral as the electronic noises that feature throughout the OST as casual interlocutors of more consistent drones, always fading, fragile before the density of time itself. Only at the very end does a decisive turn takes place: “Escape” begins and finishes with a short melody sung by Keiko Tatsumi, introducing a warmth that pervades the closing track, “Sacrifice”. The desert is not the absence of life, the ruin is not solely death, and the future is not only the end of a melody. (David Murrieta Flores)