Today I am counting down my favorite records of 2014, and if there is one absolute in my daily routine, it is listening to videogame scores…repeatedly. There is absolutely NOTHING I would rather be listening to. If you knew me personally, you would also know that there is nothing I enjoy talking about more. Congratulations to these tremendous artists.
4. Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth/ Shoji Meguro- Composer Shoji Meguro’s sheepishly long de-railed bullet train of scores in the name of Atlus’s hallowed Shin Megami Tensei ersona series carry with them perhaps the very definition of tangential madness. As such, coherence widely varies from listener to listener as Meguro’s rules of play are dictated with little to no regard for order, direction or movement along any legible or explicitly defined curve. Meguro, however, never misses a stop, and his routes of travel though entirely unconventional and round-about seem to have garnered him a rather ardent and staunchly dedicated mass of devotees. It’s so much bigger than that though; in fact, Meguro is an idol, a household name in his native Japan. His work is the stuff of stratosphere legend now, selling out even the largest of music venues. He has become a viable solid gold brand with unmeasured clout. The only thing on the market still yet to bear his name, though largely foreseeable to change, is breakfast cereal, and I imagine it’s only simply because they are still in the test-market stage. For those new to Meguro’s torrential storm of neon washed mish-mashed shapes, Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth is the quintessential guidance counselor for the Meguro novice walking you through the creation of his batter ingredient by ingredient. But while Persona Q offers up its conductor at his most revealing, his answers raise more questions than answers, and that’s a VERY good thing. Because while others would have sat back and gone creatively bankrupt, happy to collect the residual checks their name afforded them, Meguro creates fiendishly onward. He is seemingly lost in the chase of his platypus muse, devising the ever more convoluted ruse and spectacular quagmire in a never ending cycle of catch and release…to be in love.
3. Alien: Isolation/ The Flight - Fear is least effective when erroneously channeled through the stomach instead of along the nerve. Too often, scores of this nature target a part of the body that manifests its objections all too softly. Queasiness, unease and discomfort all begin in that pitted vessel of churning gastric acid, but it is something readily alleviated, something instinctually subjugated by simply turning away, tuning out.
It can only harm you in the dark, but not in the daytime, and certainly not in a situation you can control. European duo The Flight, however, are the mould and caste of an absolute and primitive horror, attaching and binding themselves to the proteins and nerve endings essential to traveling throughout the body unfettered. Terror is only truly effective at the level of neurasthenia, at breakdown, where closing your eyes medicates one side of the searing sensation but greatly swells the other. It is not something you can ignore or medicate. To get rid of The Flight is to expel its rapidly multiplying burrow from your system, and to do that is to rid yourself of you. The Flight’s accelerated rate of disability in the user is key to their genesis, much like the creature they are remolding some 35 years after its initial contact. The Flight, however, isn’t interested in some gloaming retread of original Alien composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work. While certainly some manner of pastiche may have been discussed, The Flight were quick to scuttle those ideas, and instead intend to sow seeds of horror specific to the times in which they live: where true evil and reality lie familiar bedfellows with one another…the lines have been completely blurred. The menace of The Flight’s Alien is no longer as easily definable, no longer as distant, and most of all, no longer as predictable. As of now, it can come from anywhere. The Flight makes possible the vision of developers Creative Assembly by authenticating their voice with authority, delivering what was once thought to be impossible: an exhaustively rewritten Alien doctrine. Never delicate, never expected, The Flight’s score for Alien: Isolation unleashes the brutality of H.R. Giger’s original designs. They enable them to hunt using fear as a mind killer, fear that travels along the nerve and not in the stomach, and a fear that will find you, regardless of sunshine, sunlamp, fluorescent bulb or otherwise.
2. Disney Fantastia: Music Evolved/ Inon Zur - One of the most unsettling trends I have seen in all my years working music retail is the slow erosion of classical music from store shelves. I started out working primarily with classical music at age twenty, an age associated more with rocking out than it is an explosion of mid-day Baroque. I was at first a bit resistant to my post, but mostly afraid, because to be honest, classical as a genre is one of the most dauntingly complex in all of music. I feared being uncovered, found out by my customers as they sauntered in with their aged list of esoteric movements in whatever e-major or flat they had VERY specifically outlined. Each point on their list took time to research and dislodge from beneath the soil it had seemingly been buried under. Out of print catalog numbers, Sony Red, Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, my customer’s single written clue a miniscule part of a VERY long trail. When I found their piece, we would often listen to it together, and they would do a play by play of their favorite moments in the composition. I learned classical music very much hands on, and find it criminal that an entire generation might miss out on it entirely, because I have seen my stock and sales decline astronomically in the past 8 years, but there is hope.
Composer Inon Zur whose scoring credits span the length of multiple unabridged volumes of encyclopedia Britannica has joined forces with developer Harmonix, and they have somehow impossibly found THE glitch, THE exploit, THE clandestine inside track granting them access to those youth who once shunned them for no real reason, tossing their literature to the ground just as it was handed off to them. Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved is that key. What now though? They finally have a room at attention. You let the master play and let his master marketer interpret. Inon Zur and Harmonix have that rare partnership here, and it is one that is at its absolute best. Where Harmonix once created new devotion for relics of the rock genre, it now does the same for stars of the violin, chamber orchestra, throngs of woodwind and piano. Zur’s newly minted original score plays high level and equal peer amidst some of the most celebrated and recognizable classical themes ever created. Zur brings with him not only his gifts of composition but of conducting and producing as well. His arrangements feel buoyant, vital, at times even coruscant. He has also brought along some very powerful friends: Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields, The London Chamber and Symphony Orchestra to name a few.
The Director’s Cut adds even more color to the overall package as remixes of everything from Tchaikovsky to Dvorak will no doubt make a case to those still on the fence. Each one showcases a different angle from which to view these masterpieces, making them easier on the palate of the uninitiated. It takes only one truly great piece of anything be it music, games, food, movies or books to alter the course of a life, and Inon Zur’s Fantasia: Music Evolved brings with it the possibilities of expansion over extinction, and the hope that new apprentices will one day outnumber the old guard.
1. Strider- Michael John Mollo - It’s not an easy thing to generate an open discussion amongst flat refusals, and for the better half of almost two decades, the only certain things when speaking with Capcom on the subject of Strider was the brief flashing of cards they held so closely guarded against their chest, and the walls instantly erected around the stubborn inquiry. Capcom’s reasoning, though seemingly strained of logic, is not without merit. Developers are given at most the smallest blinking of a mascot, perhaps a smaller grain of franchise, and rarest of all, the natural born legend. Strider is legend, and the few pieces of software that bear his name exist only because each parcel of space they inhabit has passed a litmus test of platinum standards raised by significant degrees of difficulty as each gets the green light. This makes the road more difficult for others to traverse, and near impossible for new contents to meet in whole. Exposure with even the slightest of lapses or compromises can and often does spell the end. Undoing a legacy of past and most importantly, future. Capcom’s reticence then is understandable. This weight, ALL of this weight lay squarely upon Strider’s brilliant new composer Michael John Mollo. Strider becomes HIS story, in his charge, and ultimately the ONLY reason you have a new canonical entry emblazoned with the Strider logo.
Because without his compositions, Strider is only half of what the storybooks make him out to be. Mollo is the fit that had long gone missing, the absent detente that would finally bridge the title from standard readiness to assured perfection.
Without knowing it, Mollo is of the same ilk and heritage as the long buried Capcom house band Alpha Lyla; he’s not foreign but rather the most native and organically spun element of the entire proceedings. He is one of them and always has been their spiritual successor. Mollo’s work on Strider is no sloppy collage of various diametric applications made to fit inside a grid. Mollo is poignantly, naturally textural, and sensitive to the meter of his scenes, and while he may scrutinize, he never once manufactures. To do this though, Mollo needed to fully understand the subject he was scoring, not textbook memorization, but to actually press the flesh, to know Strider, befriend him, and become him. What would have been a dry stage-left walk-on exercise in another composer’s hands instead becomes fully aware and alive with Mollo, who is by all accounts immersed in his method portrayal of Strider Hiryu. Now indistinguishable from the source, Mollo is also completely free to arrange as he sees fit. His compositions touch on the classic Strider sound flawlessly, but his focus remains resolutely on the sound of the future, and that is what separates, defines and elevates Mollo’s LP: his singular prodigious fingerprint. It takes steady hands to live in the shadows of original Strider composer Junko Tamiya, but Mollo won’t be second to anyone, and seeing as he’s rightfully a part of the Alpha Lyla brood, this is a passing of the torch, and an acknowledgement that Michael John Mollo has been, always was, and always will be the only REAL candidate to further one of gaming’s greatest and most hallowed icons.
Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.