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Music Monday: Hero of Time March 27, 2017

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hero-of-time-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-album-coverI am very excited this week to feature an album that just launched last night, Hero of Time, a The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arrangement album produced by Materia Collective.

When I first discovered the Kickstarter for Hero of Time last fall, I was thrilled at the idea of a fan-produced arrangement album of Ocarina of Time performed by a full orchestra, not to mention arranged with the help of some VGM musicians I recognized and liked. I was then immediately saddened to find that with maybe five days left, they still needed to raise something like $30,000 to reach their goal. I contributed my share because I wanted to show my support, but I never expected it to actually succeed.

Lo and behold, in the last few hours of the campaign, they reached their goal and my excitement mounted again, and I spent the next six months watching the updates on its progress and eagerly awaiting its release. Now, here we are, and while I am still waiting for my download code, I have listened to the full album on Bandcamp.

(it’s also available on iTunes and Spotify)

Hero of Time tells the story of Ocarina of Time in epic orchestral form. There are some original sections added, mainly for transitions or track openings, but for the most part, the original tracks from the game are arranged fairly true to form, but generally on a much grander scale, with varying tempos and the addition or encouragement of sweeping strings, booming brass, and huge orchestral hits. The story was condensed for the sake of the album, and some notable tracks from the game are absent, such as Zora’s Domain and Death Mountain, and Kakariko Village appears only as a minor key cello adagio as part of the homage to the Shadow Temple (though the rendition is haunting and beautiful).

What remains, though, paints a beautiful picture of the game’s story, transforming it into a musical journey that seriously sounds like a modern movie score. The original soundtrack for the game was melodic, delightful, and memorable, but not necessarily very emotional. In this rendition, however, Materia Collective did an amazing job bringing the mood of the tracks to life, highlighting the grandeur of Hyrule field and castle, the awe of uncovering the Master Sword, the horror and failure as Ganondorf uses that opening to take over the kingdom and plunge it into darkness, the mystery of Sheik, and more. And in the end, it’s a near straight rendition of the ending credits as performed by a full orchestra, immensely satisfying to someone who has happily listened to the original track in its 20-year-old synthesized splendour over and over again.

I can’t say enough good about how this album came out. In one listen, it has immediately jumped to my top 5 VGM albums of all time. If you played Ocarina of Time and/or enjoyed the soundtrack at all, buy this album. You will not be disappointed.

Music Monday: Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album April 4, 2016

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Xenogears was an RPG for the original Playstation, with soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, famous for his Chrono Trigger soundtrack, arguably one of the best video game soundtracks of all time (at least in my decidedly limited opinion).

I never played Xenogears. It wasn’t for lack of interest, rather money. However, I’m all about video game music, so when a friend ordered a copy of the soundtrack and received two, I was happy to take the extra. It was different from Chrono Trigger, with a more focused style and distinct Celtic influences in a more orchestral soundtrack, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I don’t know anything about the story that happens when this music takes place, but there are a lot of great and some amazing tracks, and I enjoyed it enough to pick up Creid, a Xenogears arrangement album produced by the original composer that I also love.

51sfd32uc2blYet somehow, a second arrangement album also produced by Yasunori Mitsuda managed to slip under my radar. Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album was released in 2011 and contains fourteen tracks, mostly performed by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with a couple of piano solos and one vocal track performed by Joanne Hogg (who sounds like the original vocalist for the game’s theme song).

It definitely lives up to its name: the arrangements are very orchestral, using a sizeable symphony along with a choir in some tracks. The arrangements all have quite a bit of depth and are generally fairly dynamic/bombastic. Some tracks I actually wish had some heavier elements truer to the original tracks, but that’s because most of the renditions are pretty close to the source material. There is a little variation in styles at times, but there’s not much alteration of the melodies themselves and many of the songs are straight orchestrations of the original tracks.

Not that that is in any way disappointing; the depth and life of these orchestrations are fantastic, really highlighting the quality of the original compositions. One unfortunate exception is “The Beginning and the End”, a choral track that sounds lovely done with real voices but lacks all of the vocal modulations of the original.

Aside from that, I have no complaints about this album. There’s a lot of emotion, great big sound, and the quality of the arrangements and their performances are both excellent. And the piano solos are just as wonderful. I am also extremely happy with the performance of “Flight”, my favourite song from the original soundtrack.

I highly recommend this album to fans of the Xenogears soundtrack. It is available on iTunes, and really, that’s the only way I would purchase it (unless you really want to pay 4x the price for an imported CD).

Music Monday: Chronicles of Time March 7, 2016

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In 2013, a group of indie musicians got together to create Spectrum of Mana, a 3-disc album of arrangements from the Super Nintendo game Secret of Mana. I enjoyed that album; some of it was not to my taste, but largely I really liked the songs.

misc_clogocover_natehorsfallWhen I heard that the same group was putting together a new album called Chronicles of Time based on the SNES game Chrono Trigger, I figured it would be much the same. Well, it ended up being rather bigger, to the tune of 5 discs, almost 6 hours of music, and over 200 contributors (!). The album launched a few weeks ago, so it seemed fitting that it would make a good topic for one of my Music Monday posts, and I’ve spent the past several days listening intently to give, well, I suppose as proper a review as I can manage.

The album was set up in much the same way as Spectrum of Mana, with almost all instrumental arrangements covering a wide range of the source material, organised per disc by genre, with a lot of accompanying artwork. There’s a lot of live instruments, a lot of collaboration, and the production quality is very high.

The first disc largely consists of the type of standard rock arrangements you often hear from indie arrangers, particularly live ones. There’s a track or two in acoustic, a little bit of funk and jazz/fusion mixed in (as well as one R&B track that wasn’t to my taste), but generally, there’s a strong focus on electric guitars, bass, and drums, not too heavy – runs on a scale roughly from AC/DC to 90s alternative rock – and generally fairly upbeat. There’s a good variety in the sounds for as consistent as it is overall and I love the directions some tracks took the source material, particularly “Runnin’ in Circles” by Ivan Hakštok & streifig and “Critical Heat” by Grospixels.

The second disc has a lot of the same musical theme as the first, though it adds in a bit more variety to the typical rock model with some electronica and a touch more of the jazz/fusion and funk from the first disc. There’s also a three-part chiptune medley from Derris-Kharlan, who had a similar medley in one part on Spectrum of Mana. While I’m starting to get tired of chiptunes, Derris-Kharlan gives it a lot of depth and movement and after giving both a chance, I’ve ended up thoroughly enjoying both. Overall there’s a lot of depth of sound in both this disc and the entire album, and the arrangements here are solid. I’m always impressed when a musician can take a less than 10-second source and expand it into a full song, so one of my favourites was “Norstein Bekkler’s Song of Horrors” by, once again, Ivan Hakštok, as well as “Epoch ~ Wings of Time” by Kirby’s Dream Band and “First Tentacle of Mars” (a play on the original title “First Festival of Stars”) by the group of musicians known as DROIDEKKA.

The third disc moves away from the electric guitars and heads more into new age, with a bit of jazz, orchestral, and Latin mixed in, and even a wonderful string quartet arrangement that utilises the instruments to their fullest potential. I thoroughly loved this disc, and every track is staying in my collection. Once again, there’s both great variety and great arrangements, and it’s hard to pick just a couple favourites.

The fourth disc is the jazz section. Where there’s been hints of it in the previous discs, it jumps to the fore in these tracks, ranging from lounge to swing to blues to salsa and beyond. This ended up being my favourite disc, which came as a bit of a surprise, since I’m all about the new age. There’s just so much movement, excellent arrangement of the source material into sometimes entirely different styles, great horn/sax solos, and such big sound that a lot of these tracks make me smile just to hear them. I absolutely loved “Primevil” by Eight Bit Disaster and “Cantina Automatica” by XPRTNovice (which I discovered last year from a different website, but I loved it so much I have no qualms at all with paying to have it again, and also contains some great humour for fans of the game).

The fifth disc got a bit heavier with more punk rock/heavy metal type arrangements. Several of these tracks were a bit too heavy for my taste, and I ended up not enjoying more of this disc than the others. I still liked more of this disc than not, particularly “Arena Rex” by Midee (featuring Ailsean, finbeard, norg, prozax & Snappleman).

Overall, it turned out to be a very strong album with a lot to like. I ended up keeping almost 80% of the tracks in my collection, and for almost five and a half hours of quality music? I’d say that’s worth $20. Fans of Chrono Trigger will most likely get a lot of enjoyment out of this album, and if you’re a fan of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack and jazz music, you should definitely check it out.

If you’d like more of an idea of what to expect, the group released a name-your-own-price preview disc over at Bandcamp. The full album is available via Loudr and iTunes, and you can get full information on the songs at the project website.

Music Monday: Video Games Live February 23, 2016

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In the interest of posting more about the things I enjoy, I am resurrecting my short-lived feature highlighting some of the music I listen to. This week, I want to talk about Video Games Live.

VGL is pretty much what the name suggests – a concert series that performs live arrangements of video game music, with a symphony orchestra as well as electric guitar usually played by the creator of the show, Tommy Tallarico.

I heard about VGL pretty much right from its beginning in 2005. It seems like something that I would have jumped on, but it took me a couple years to get into it. Live shows aren’t usually my thing and I’m generally more interested in recordings I can listen to later, which weren’t available for VGL for the first few years. Mainly, though, on reading about it, I was convinced that they primarily performed music from new games, and it’s been about 20 years since I was anything close to current in my video game habits.

But, in the summer of 2007 or 2008, I was alerted on short notice to a free concert that they were playing in downtown Toronto. I decided it was worth a trip into the city to see what they were all about.

I am so glad that I did. What I discovered that afternoon was not just masterful orchestrations of video game music both new and old, but an amazingly fun and engaging live show. There was a game of Frogger with the symphony providing the music live as it happened, with the player – a member of the audience – using herself as the controller. There was a Guitar Hero competition on-stage with two winners of an earlier competition before the show where they played Guitar Hero Aerosmith, which was not yet released, and the winner absolutely killed it.Tommy Tallarico himself brought so much energy to the show and drew the audience in and had everyone singing along. And I embarrassed my company by screaming my head off when the encore started, a medley of music from Castlevania, which I recognized from the first two notes while Tommy Tallarico was still introducing it.

I have since gone back to VGL at Gen Con and Toronto. I’ve seen lots more great features, special guests, post-show meet and greets, and even a proposal. I’ve never had so much fun at a live concert as at Video Games Live.

And, of course, I’ve bought the music. I purchased the first two CDs at shows, both of which are signed. For the third and fourth albums, Tommy Tallarico used Kickstarter to fund them and I contributed enough for digital copies. I love them all thoroughly, even the songs from video games I’d never played.

Now, he has started a Kickstarter for VGL’s fifth album. As a previous contributor, I was alerted to it right away, and I’m thrilled to see that barely five days in they are already within 85% of their goal, and I sincerely hope that they will reach at least some of their stretch goals and add more tracks to the album.

I’ve already contributed and I implore you to consider doing the same. For $10 you can help bring this project to life and get high-quality digital files of the entire album when it’s released, along with a bonus disc of an assortment of music from various guest artists – and I can tell you from experience that these bonus tracks are almost as good as the new album itself.

To give you a taste of the kind of music to expect, I’ll leave you with my unexpected joys from each album so far, tracks from games I haven’t played but ended up loving these arrangements.

From the first album: Kingdom Hearts suite

Video Games Live: Level 2 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu (Duet Version)

Video Games Live: Level 3 – Secret of Monkey Island

Video Games Live: Level 4 – Too many favourites to choose, but for a taste of something different, Metal Gear Solid – Snake Eater