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

Posted by thejinx in music.
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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).

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Music Monday: Chronicles of Time March 7, 2016

Posted by thejinx in music.
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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.