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. Over the coming days we present two albums that would have been worthy additions to our list of 2019’s best videogame soundtracks. They set a very high bar for videogame music in 2020 – one we may be unable to ignore come the end of the year.
Tumult Kollektiv ~ Pine
A world where various species have undergone evolution in exactly the same ways humans have: the premise of Pine presents a wilderness that is all-too-human, full of vast landscapes, passionate conflicts and ambitious adventures. Its soundtrack follows by successfully capturing the romance of such a life, in quite traditional but beautifully executed ways. Fully orchestrated, Pine takes pages from the thematic memorability of the work of John Williams, but also the flourishes of the classical, impressionist ambiences articulated by Jeremy Soule in his various Elder Scrolls OSTs.
Tumult Kollektiv’s use of the orchestra is oriented, then, towards the ebb and flow of expression, the tight control of the emotive core of melodies and harmony in order to heighten the listener’s awareness of tranquil plains and dangerous nights in a dark forest; by preventing full, torrential release, there is always an underlying demand for full attention. This means that the ambient side of this equation shines brilliantly, the strings slowly building a background dense with warm tones that are then fruitfully used by the rest of the instruments – usually the winds – as the starting point for layered melodies that quietly immerse listeners in a sense of awe.
The impressionist character of the soundtrack is also highlighted by the format itself. The longest track runs barely below three minutes, and most pieces last for about a minute and a half. Tumult Kollektiv are not given to meandering, and every track, however short, fulfils its own little journey. This means its strengths are greatly balanced, with full – if brief- musical ideas developing even at its most laid-back. Nothing overstays its welcome, and when the OST pulls away from its regular tone, for instance, when it incorporates a very brief, vaguely indigenous sequences in “The Litter” or “The Cariblin”, it always takes care not to leave any element stranded, treating its escapades with the respect they are due. This is pretty refreshing in an environment where videogames (and their soundtracks) often stray into exoticism unthinkingly, to say the least.
In the end, Pine is an extremely pretty album, unfortunately too late for the 2019 party, but in another sense, early for 2020’s. It is a great way to kick off this year’s momentum, and it gives me a reason to look forward to whatever Tumult Kollektiv’s next videogame project is.