Today I am counting down my favorite records of 2013, 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 all these artists.
5. DmC (Devil May Cry) Original Game Soundtrack – Noisia
Devil May Cry as a series is largely stubborn and quick to brush aside criticism. It is also one of the many reasons why each successive title in the franchise seems to have lost more and more of that youthful edge it once flaunted so obnoxiously in public. 2013’s DmC finally makes use of the adage of art dictating technology, tossing the grind of system specs and polygon counts at confused investors as a means to turn their attention towards understanding the indecipherable and allowing the developers to work in peace. Dutch trio Noisia was commissioned to remap the entire exercise of inhabiting the body of protagonist Dante. Their signature melding is unquenchable. Noisia seems no stranger to these circles of damnation, always finding new ways to curate and expand on that inherent ambient darkness, appropriating each vicious stomp with a different shade of glass. Noisia’s assessment of threats misses nothing, finding harm in even the poorly tailored loose buttons of its foe’s sports coat. Noisia’s extreme attention to detail beforehand enables them to enter into a musical clash of the unexpected that’s both vibrant, and hemorrhagingly electric . With Noisia at the boards, Dante can finally come free of his adlibbing, drive-in B-movie persona and reinstate himself as THE premiere, THE original demonic threat. And unless I am missing something, isn’t that the point?
4. Dead Island Riptide – Pawel Blaszczak
Strict, purist survival horror really has had a rough go throughout this generation of consoles. The creaking of mansion stairs replaced with laughable, exploding bombast, an endless stock of bullets and the total absence of anything resembling the living dead. While there may be any number of zombie or paranormal games, they have all forgotten about the root from which they sprung: fear. While Dead Island: Riptide may play by these very same set of rules, composer Pawel Blaszczak was having none of it. He was shown storyboards of the island, its saturation of sunlight, and he operated contrary to that direction: and the end result is absolutely punishing.
In my original review of the soundtrack, I mentioned something about piles of seeping azoic bodies, because Blaszczak actually makes you listen to them. He accents that slow, thick trickling of blood right down to the collective pooling of fluids at your feet. In doing so, he also creates the scene of what brought each and every corpse to this spot – none of it pleasant, none of it armed, and none of it shown respite. Blaszczak makes the despair and wretchedness so palpable that the fear itself becomes a living state. Afraid not only of what you can’t see and what you can’t explain, but of everything, everywhere, all the time.
3. The Last Of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla
Rightfully, you have to question the lengths one composer can go with a single theme. How many times can you possibly reassemble the notion of loss, which is most prominent here. The point and counterpoint seem to lie in the same direction, and to simply skirt corners and borrow of the others implies that you had but one idea. This score could have been a road of shapeless, drudging monotony, where silence begat ambiance, begat walking, but Last Of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla deftly transcends this cautionary tale, as here he breaks apart, analyzes, and draws blood from the fascinating, multiple degrees associated with constant mourning. To attempt this is not recommended to amateurs, and it goes without question that Santaolalla is neither new to this arena, nor too timid to drown in its waters. This is quality over quantity as Santaolalla gives away only sparing, though tantalizing, glimpses into what each chapter of the game holds. He’s cut away everything that might distract, might cloud, and anything that would serve to diminish and disconnect the player from the grip of these distraught travelers. Santaolalla’s poured so much of his singular touch into the few and precious compositions that make up this game world, that the impact of each piece carries and builds three-fold on the one that preceded it. Gustavo Santaolalla’s gorgeous contributions to The Last Of Us are likely to be looked upon as the emotional apex of the year.
2. Remember Me – Olivier Deriviere
I have to hand it to Remember Me composer Olivier Deriviere – there’s things in here I have NEVER heard before, and certainly I’ve not heard everything, but after 14 years in music retail, I’ve heard quite a lot. This is a composer willing, and more importantly, able to untwist and untangle his own knotted designs, however confounding they may have seemed in his head, and brought them to life. To do only this would have sufficed: there is enough brilliance in his raw ideas that the unscripted playback of these recordings could have easily brought him accolades from every corner of the musical community. Deriviere however, I believe, wouldn’t have felt complete knowing that there was more to that memory strand, more to add. If his concepts were truly to come to complete coherence, he would have to try to tame them, and Remember Me is his fastidious attempt to cage a beast. He’s not here to add a bit of gloss, nor is he attempting to make pretty things vapidly glisten. To hear his score is to be given unparalleled contingency with protagonist Nilin, and finite instruction as to how to interact within the walls of developer DONTNOD’s Neo-Paris. It’s Deriviere’s rumbling choreography, a mixture of both wailing wall philharmonic and thick gristle electronic pulsing, that makes Remember Me’s score so mind-blowingly hedonistic. As it turns out, nothing can be restrained, nor can it be held at bay. Its stream of consciousness is both poignant in its confusion and exhilarating, as its pressure rises upon descent.
Listen: Rules of Nature
1. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Jamie Christopherson
As a rule, we‘re taught to doubt those who make outlandish claims, respond jadedly to acts of their greatness, and tear apart any proof that might show otherwise. It’s the quickest way to destroy the idea of a prophet or charlatan, and it ensures that most of his or her miracles will remain unseen. It won’t however quiet that low conversation, the whispers, and undoubtedly it will spread. At first, it might result in a few stragglers bending to the knee, or even a small entourage of outspoken believers, but given time, full devotion is inevitable. However, the true test lies in the ability to survive the numerous trials placed on the accused – the idea being that the terrain, either its variable temperature or its unforgiving course of obstacles, will break the false idol. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance composer Jamie Christopherson has made that arid and blistering pilgrimage, void of complacency, and in complete defiance of the expectations and wagers placed upon and against him. Arriving home neither beaten nor weary, Christopherson waves his hands, a new paradigm written all over his wrists.
This is the entirety of Metal Gear’s mythos re-pasteurized, re-translated and rebuilt entirely from scratch, where its constant and adhered to limits are finally stripped clean from the drawing table and replaced by the combustible and unpredictable flash of fire. This is the most dangerous and volatile soundtrack in all of gaming: bolstered by a steeled confidence, an instinctive knack to distill everything that is vital to this newly minted Metal Gear ecosystem, and able to go vastly beyond adding to a template. These are definite, defining musical takes on the world Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima first dreamt about, and they are given life here and only here by Jamie Christopherson. This music is so powerful, that I can envision people making it their lives, choosing to play music, deciding to pick up guitars, battering drums, following Christopherson’s lead. From those first few, to the minions, to the multitudes, Christopherson embodies the impossible and thirty years from now, I imagine those touched by it will have a very interesting story to tell. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance stands alone at number one.