Thursday, June 9, 2011

Albums Written for Changeling: Middle Cyclone

For me, Changeling the Lost and music go together. I’ve seen a good deal of debate about music at the gaming table- some people love it, others find it a distraction. I lean towards it being a good mood setting device. I put together many, many albums which echo the themes of the campaign, hit random and save it as a playlist on the laptop. I try not to muck around with the music directly while I’m playing- I keep the volume low (which I know some people dislike).If I hear something particularly fitting, like tense music in a tense scene, I’ll casually reach over and raise the volume. But generally I could live without music while I’m running. Except perhaps for Changeling- I’ve got a great discordant batch that runs from movies (The Ring, The Cell) to video games (Crimson Butterfly, Clock Tower), to classical (Michael Nyman, Kronos Quartet), to tech/industrial (Front Line Assembly, Dust Brothers), to experimental (Steroid Maximus, Godspeed You Black Emperor) to…well you get the idea- an eclectic mix so that from one moment to the next you’re not sure what you’re going to be hearing.

Now in that regard, I think there are a couple of perfect Changeling albums- that is, albums that tell Changeling stories. The most literal of these would be The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love, a rock opera about the daughter of a river and the adopted son of the queen of night…or something like that. It’s a fun and dark album that I think could give rise to a kind of historical, even Shakespearean Changeling narrative. But that’s a fairly literal rock opera album of the fae. I’d argue that there’s another even more Changeling-y album I listen to: Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone. One would think Fox Confessor Bring the Flood, but this one trumps it. Allow me to run through the songs to make my point. But my first piece of evidence would be the album cover.

I mean, seriously.

"This Tornado Loves You"

The love song of an Elemental Changeling- caught up in his own winds and violent storms. He’s lost the means to interact as people normally would. Does the object of his affection even know about him? The Elemental knows that its madness, but can’t help but spiral into it, can’t help but blame the beloved at least a little for the state he’s in. And there’s the line “What would make you believe me?”- what sacrifice, what revelation, what violence must he commit to bring this love to fruition? The song’s even spookier if you imagine it as the obsession of a Keeper with his future victim.

"The Next Time You Say Forever"

Here’s a Changeling who has tried to go home and realized that he can’t. He’s managed to hurt and alienate those he loved. He’s been away and understands the power of words and promises. When he hears them from others, he flinches. The others don’t believe who he is- he hasn’t been gone, hasn’t changed.

"People Got a Lotta Nerve"

I told you I was a monster, sorry about your arm. The fatality of the lifestyle of the Changeling, and the fall back to base nature as an excuse for behavior. They know how this story will wrap up “It will end again in bullets, friend…”

"Polar Nettles"

Sherri’s suggested the idea of a token artifact known as the “Someday Soon.” A monkey’s paw thing that puts things off until they catch up with you. Regrets, debts, hopes…

"Vengeance Is Sleeping"

Between the Mask and the Mien, the Changeling is always in disguise. How much of that is to disguise what they are from themselves? Isn’t that what a clarity break represents in the game: a recognition of the Changelings broken nature- how far they are from what they consider right or human?

"Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth"

Fearful tale of the Queen of the Spring Court. She grants favors with one hand, but people forget that Spring is the hungry season- the last of the food used up but new things planted. The Fairest Queen of the Spring Court must make those choices, must sacrifice to bring a better harvest and can seem capricious in all things. There’s an echo of The Wicker Man in all of this.

"Middle Cyclone"

The regretful Ogre looks around and realizes how her nature keeps everyone and everything else away. She’s tried everything, called upon the mundane details of the basic contracts. She’s been fooled and knows she will be again. She loves but knows how powerful a force and a gift that is.


The Darkling changeling wanders in the forgotten corners of the freehold, scavenging and hunting. She follows a strange trail leading to an abandoned factory and there comes across her Keeper, dancing and present in the real world. Fear grips her- there can be no escape- she hears his awful enchantments and he hears her heartbeat. He pursues and the Changeling invokes a desperate contract to escape. Perhaps the most literal of the songs on the album.

"Magpie to the Morning"

All contracts have a catch and a cost. Some people play around and desperately grasp for Goblin contracts…with prices that cannot be avoided. Why do the Goblins make these contracts? They bear no love for the Changeling…what’s the catch?

"I'm an Animal"

The broad, declarative song of the Beast. If there was a Changeling musical, this would be the theme song, sung when the Beast first appears and called back every time they appear. The Beast knows its rough fate, and lives in the present moment more than any other Changeling.

"Prison Girls"

I think one of the things underestimated in the Changeling books is the difficulty of Changelings interacting with normally people. They suffer from a kind of PTSD, they see meaning in odd things, they respond and overreact in strange ways. They become obsessed over details, attached to them and making so much more of them, to a dangerous extent.

"Don't Forget Me"

The sad and poisoned love song of a Fetch for his Changeling twin. He hates and loves his adversary, hates his own awful nature. He wants to live, but also wants acknowledgement from that Changeling of his value, of his place- which the Changeling can’t ever provide.

"The Pharaohs"

Here’s the story of a Fairest, a Treasured, who became the consort of the Prince of a Court. She thought she would be a princess, would be happy. But he never comes to her bed, he never pays attention and taking this role has cost her much.

"Red Tide"

What does the Freehold look like after the Keepers return? The last survivor wanders the landscape of devastation. How did it happen? Who invoked them? Who said the wrong thing? “I hate the rain…”

Marais La Nuit

And 30 minutes of crickets to finish out the album….

Anyone else have albums with songs that just seem to absolutely sum up the stories of a setting?


  1. huge Huge HUGE Neko Case fan in much the same way that I'm a Nick Cave fan.

    As for my own games, I did name a campaign after a song off Thrill Kill Kult's "13 Above the Night" ("Velvet Edge" is the name of the campaign). The album pretty much summed up the themes and atmosphere of that gothic-industrial world.

  2. Nick Cave I've never listened too- do you have a couple of suggestions on where to start?

  3. Murder Ballads is a great start.
    No More Shall We Part is down tempo and brilliant and very reminiscent of Neko Case
    I'm seriously in love with Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues
    Let Love In has the song "Red Right Hand", which is probably the most famous song in his repertoire.

    Interesting aside: I discovered Neko Case when she opened for Nick Cave.

  4. Re: I also would start with Let Live In, a best of album, and Murder Ballads. If you want to borrow any of those or a couple others, just let me know.

  5. Coolio- they had all of those Nick Cave albums on Qriocity, so I dropped them into my library.

  6. Every time I get proud of myself for being a good Changeling storyteller, I read your blog and realize that I'm just throwing monkey poo all over the place.

  7. @Christian: Just know that I say the same thing when I read your blog- I think I've watched your relationship map video like a half dozen times.

    @Risus (and Derek): Nick Cave's going to take some working through, I think. But I had that problem with the first couple of listens to Neko. My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult OOH is immediately full of hooks and tugs- super fun!

  8. No More Shall We Part may be the easiest for you to consume first. Keep in mind, former singer for the Australian punk band The Birthday Party and the further you get from that era, the less his music is filled with youthful chaos. Yet as he gets older, his chaos, or fight, changes only in style for his age and musical ability. It's still there, just different.

    The Resistance by Muse is a pretty good album that has a feel to it of being a whole setting. They use different scifi terms throughout the album that remind one of Conspiracy X. The music videos for the album are interesting to say the least.

    Queen's self titled first album and Queen II, their second album (who knew judging by the name?) play into the Changling setting in a blatant sort of way. The titles and context of songs such as "Ogre Battle," "My Fairy King," and "March of the Black Queen" lend themselves to the genre. There's also Freddy's normal mix about one's sexuality and what is it really.

    Wolfmother's Cosmic Egg two disk album works well for me. While there are lyrics on it, the voices fade into the background and don't cause me distractions. It's more refined than their self-titled album. However, I don't find the energy to be at as high of level. The self titled album may have a song or two you could use as singles, but I don't think the album is what you are looking for here.

    I guess you could also go with any of Ritchie Blackmore's work from his band Blackmore's Night for the whole ren fairs theme. I'm thinking it may work for the courts. If you aren't into that music, stay away from it, you'll want to kill yourself, because it's very prototypical of the genre.

    Drive By Truckers do concept albums. Booker T just helped them with one in the past couple of years. They are a cowpunk band from the south. I'd recommend reading up on them before purchasing anything to make sure it's something you want.

    As always, if you want the actual albums to listen to, just let me know.

  9. I'm having trouble thinking of songs that sum up complete settings or stories for me, but I know there are a few that are evocative of pieces of settings. Certain Jethro Tull or Kansas songs (and album covers) come to mind.

    I will say that the chaos of Static-X's "Push It" and The Union Underground's "Turn Me on 'Mr. Deadman'" were big influences on the zombie campaign.

  10. @Derek: OK, I'll keep that in ind with him. They have about six or seven of his albums on Qriocity which should give me a nice cross section. Right now, though I'm in love with Thrill Kill Cult- batsh*t insane funky fun.

    I like Muse, at least I found the Absolution album listenable, but I haven't expanded out to listen to any of their other things. I'd forgotten about Queen's stuff having that strange fantasy riff early on (like Kansas and Rush). Wolfmother I've only heard in Rock Band. Drive By Truckers- that's like the third reference I've seen for them, but I've never checked thme out. I'll have to see.

    @Kaiju: I'm not sure I want to play in the campaign inspired by Jethro Tull songs.

  11. @Lowell: Not Aqualung, for sure... more like Songs from the Wood or The Broadsword and the Beast. Ian Anderson always reminds me of ren-fairs.