Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Music: RPG Soundtracks & General New Albums

THREE DRACONIC SOUNDTRACKS FOR RPGs

Alex North, Dragonslayer

A recent re-release of the soundtrack for this classic fantasy film. The music’s pretty amazing- borrowing quite a bit from Russian composers, but certainly strong enough to stand on its own. One of the most listenable scores I’ve heard in recent years. The pieces fit together and there’s little filler. A great work to listen to or use in the background for a fantasy campaign.

Brian Tyler, Dragonball Evolution

I’ve generally liked Tyler’s works even when the film’s he’s scoring are terrible…like this one. This one combines epic action cues with a spirit of the fantastic. The soft bits have a predictability to them, but that often works for these kinds of scores. When he does hit the full-on action rush, he sustains the pace throughout. While Tyler falls back on some clichés, generally he mixes that with lovely melodies and some interesting switches. Good for action games or any with movement and tension.

Klaus Badelt, Dragon Hunters

Based on the excellent CG film, rather than the terrible animated series. I enjoyed the film, but the music here is pretty meh. I’ve tried to listen and have it resolve for me a couple of times, but there’s nothing that hooks me. The scores a little all over the place for me to recommend anything but a few pieces, like “World Gobbler’s Death” to throw into fight sequence music.

NEW GENERAL MUSIC

They Might Be Giants, Join Us

I haven’t enjoyed the last couple of TMBG albums as much as their earlier ones. There were some great songs on The Spine and The Else. But too many felt slight, goofy or just didn’t hook me. On the other hand, I enjoyed this album from the first listen. “Cloisonné” song made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it. “Protagonist” and “Judy is Your Viet Nam” I loved as well. I’m really happy with this album. Incidentally my five favorite TMBG albums: John Henry; No!; Flood; Apollo 18; and Factory Showroom.

Fountains of Wayne, Sky Full of Holes

Boy, these guys have a lot of work to do in order to measure up to Welcome Interstate Managers. That’s one of my favorite albums- it holds together as a whole. Both this album and the last one have a few songs that really work. But neither this one nor that works fully. Mind you I like some of the songs here. However a couple of times when I started to hear one, my immediate thought was “Oh, yup, that’s a Fountains of Wayne song…” They fall into some obvious patterns and styles a little too often for my taste.

Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care

I love Explosions in the Sky- they’re among my favorite groups to have playing when I’m working (along with early Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor). I had been worried since they’d suggested that this album would spin them off in a new direction. I wouldn’t say it does, but neither is it boring. This album resolved faster for me than any of their others. Recent Mogwai has been boring, but I don’t have any of that reaction listening to them.

Zoe Keating, One Cello x16

Meh. This ought to be the kind of thing I like. I like strange musical arrangements working to create a new kind of soundspace. For example, I like Piano Circus, the more avant-garde work of Evelyn Glennie and J.G. Thirwell. I mean what she’s doing is interesting, but nothing sticks for me. She’s layered the cello sounds excellently, but I don’t have a feeling that the device is more than a device.

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead, Tao of the Dead & So Divided

I know that Source Tags and Codes is the ‘classic’ and essential album for these guys- and I do enjoy that one. But I also enjoyed the strange meanderings of Worlds Apart which followed. So Divided is more like that, with a few single-oriented tunes. It is a decent album. But Tao of the Dead- well I imagine a lot of people will hate this one. It is a full-on goofy prog-rock album with goofy lyrics, funky sounds and some drop downs into serious noise. But overall it is a polished beast. Dumb fun.

Florence + The Machine, Lungs

I’m late to this party, but it kept popping up in the list of recommended albums for me on Amazon and Qriocity. I love the sound of most of these songs- a few of them I’m already skipping through, though. However I find myself having to deliberately not listen to the lyrics- when I do, my enjoyment of the song goes down significantly. It reminds me of anime theme music- I love the songs for the sound, but based on the on-screen translation, I would just be shaking my head if I understood.

The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart

Good fun in an indie folk kind of way. Light- I’m not sure exactly how to place them. I like the sound of the songs and the actual lyrics work for me.

Viva Voca, The Future Will Destroy You

Here’s another one that’s popped up in my recommendations, but I’ve always ignored. When I finally went to listen to them, I like it immediately. They’re solid indie- like a fun version of Interpol, perhaps? There’s a little of Rilo Kiley and the New Pornographers in there, but less adventurous and more polished.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Hysterical

I love their first album, which remains one of my top ten “I Don’t Know What I Want to Listen To” albums. It remains a great album after many, many listens. But I didn’t like Some Loud Thunder that much. Sherri really enjoys it and I like a couple of the songs, but it doesn’t hold together. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Hysterical from the first listen. It is different in that it is cleaned and popped up, but it works for me. I love the first two songs hugely, and most of the rest I enjoy. I’m surprised to see so many negative reviews.

Tori Amos, Night of Hunters

I enjoyed this more than some of her other recent work. As opposed to something like Elvis Costello’s classical collaborations, Tori Amos actually finds a space where that connection works. The piano’s excellent and her voice really gets a chance to shine through. The additional vocals from her daughters compliment a haunting album.