Jocelyn Reyes ~ Overland: Biomes
A tactics and management game about leading a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic setting: the premise sounds perfect for a dramatic, tragically-infused soundtrack. And yet, that’s exactly what the excellent Overland: Biomes avoids, opting for an expressionistic use of ambient, infused with drones and contrasts that result in harrowing synth soundscapes. Survival games tend to either be quite bombastic or overtly dramatic, so it is a triumph of the music of Overland that the moments of tension and release feel significant, uninterested in preset narratives, immersing the listener in environments of very concrete, very warm despair. Brighter tracks like “Rumors”, which take a more traditional approach, cement the freezing clarity of the pure drone layering of those like “Landmark”. At 3:40 minutes’ length, the latter feels eternal, its central drone becoming fragments of others like a gust of wind brushing the copes of trees; it is quietly disturbing noise-making, its jagged edges proliferating, becoming sediment of a chilling “natural” horror. By the end, Jocelyn Reyes lets these flows of brightness and cold collide, producing in the last two tracks a powerful sense of unease. In “I Think I’m Ready” the clash takes the apparent form of field recordings of ebbing sea waves, in “One Future of Many” it uses minimalist repetition and melody to create a satisfying, expressive ending.
John Leonard French ~ Iris and the Giant
The lullaby tone of Iris and the Giant hides an epic, in much the same way most good children’s media does. The tender piano melody can quickly turn into an ambient harmony that signals something darker is afoot, that there is a mystery at the center of this adventure, and that tenderness does not equal helplessness. It is, after all, the soundtrack to a wargame, in which the titular character fights her own demons in an imaginary world of her own making. The landscape is fraught with danger, but the music does not take the relatively easier route of an action OST, preferring instead to frame this struggle as one in which the lone voice of the piano sometimes faces the arrangements of other classical instruments, its victory uncertain. It is the lullaby tone of the lonely hero of an epic that is not about saving the cosmos or some sort of world order, but oneself. Thus, John Leonard French crafts music that highlights the romance of the tale, but does so meditatively, without giving in to the tropes of “epic fantasy” soundtracks, rather sublimating its impulses into tranquil moments of great intensity, as in tracks like “The Giant”, where the romantic flourishes help establish a melancholy, yet fighting, tone. Don’t let the soft outside fool you – this OST harbors an interesting, dark interior. (David Murrieta Flores)