It took some pondering, but for my annual making-of-the-lists-festive I finally made the distinction between music written for the solemn purpose of being listened to, and music written to help you digest a certain visual medium more effective.
Although I have listened to these albums without their visual component, I thought it was a fun exercise to revisit all the various soundtracks and put them in a list without trying to fit them between a hiphop and a techno album. Full disclosure: some of these soundtracks I have listened to repeatedly without having seen the film or having played the game (looking at you King Arthur and Rain World).
As gorgeous and rich as the game itself, this soundtrack is a sometimes overwhelming but meditative experience from start to finish. Definitely one the most beautiful collection of ambient, nu-classical compositions of the year! I am curious as to what I will find when digging deeper into the discography of both artists but right now I am still stuck in everything this small universe has to offer.
#2 King Arthur
When I learned that Daniel Pemberton would be doing the soundtrack for one of my more anticipated indie games in development at the moment, I was curious of what to expect and sought out some of his other work. Turned out he not only wrote two soundtracks I already adored (The Awakening and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), he also wrote this thundering soundtrack full of heavy breathing, energising drums and interesting integration of folk music. I promise it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. I must have listened to this album while being at work more times than I can count, but as of yet still have to see the movie…
The game GNOG would definitely be much less joyful without the soundtrack, but the soundtrack is still such a joy to listen to on its’ own! Marskye has a great way of combining texture with trippy beats and catchy melodies, giving the game much of it’s playful character. Although the music was written to be shaped by the player, the compositions created for the stand alone soundtrack are still wonderfully unfolding miniatures.
I discovered Cristobal’s work through unarguably one of the best and weirdest soundtracks of last year; Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Technically this soundtrack is also from last year but only popped up on the iTunes and Spotifies as of this year, so let’s cheat a bit. Both this soundtrack and his National Treasure soundtrack are incredible. But on ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ he leans more into an animalistic, unsettling type of scraping soundscapes and textures, making it a very distinct musical score much more in the vein of Ben Frost or Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Zelda music has been pretty straight forward in the way it presented itself since it’s beginning. Don’t get me wrong, they are great, monumental compositions on itself, but we kinda knew what we could expect. Then came Breath of the Wild, reimagining everything we think we know about Zelda. Needless to say that the music also had to adapt. But where the world and the experience of BotW has grown larger in scale, the music got smaller and smaller, giving a lot of room for the environmental soundscapes to breath, while still incorporating all those classic tunes we’ve grown to love. Plus, the moment when the music takes the center stage and the orchestra grows to it’s loudest, the impact is enormous and gave us fans a feeling that was reminiscent of our first experience with the franchise.
by Jeff Russo
Most people will recognise Jeff Russo’s signature from his work on the Fargo TV series. But the music he wrote for ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ is something special. It’s such a loving, deep but somewhat sad collection of almost texture like string arrangements, with some flutes, synths, vocals and other instruments sprinkled throughout. It captures the tragic story of Edith Finch perfectly, whether you are playing or not.
by Tobias Lilja
The soundtrack of Little Nightmares does exactly what it needs to do: getting under your skin in a very inventive and creative way. It rattles, it pounds, it scrapes and it hollows, but can also become small and childlike, or even comical when it needs to. It’s not an easy listening without playing the game due to it’s horror like nature but it definitely belongs on this list because of its’ unique qualities. Tobias Lilja also writes music as a songwriter with a heavy electronic focus, Medicine Sings Triptych is still one of my most cherished discoveries of the year and would have easily been my favourite album of 2015 would I have discovered it then!
#8 Rain World
It’s a game still on my backlog but this soundtrack has already been played many times. It’s a great collection of atmospheric synth textures, playful beats and drowned melodies. Due to the low bit rate of many synths it’s also the most videogamey soundtrack on this list. While never completely dipping into the 16 bit era, it does invoke a certain nostalgia while still staying firmly rooted in the current era. In this sense it is comparable with what Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein did for the Stranger Things soundtrack.
These two men hardly need any introduction. Benjamin Wallfish had a great year with his haunting soundtracks for ‘It’ and ‘A Cure for Wellness’ and with Hans Zimmer having written some of my most favourite soundtracks ever (Interstellar and Man of Steel), I am still baffled that I was so oblivious to their involvement in this film. During the whole movie I sometimes was more thrilled by the music than by the film itself – which was nothing short of great as well. I was so surprised to see their names pop up in the end credits but also thought ‘I should have known’. Beautiful synth textures, very, very deep bass sounds and beautiful but haunting textures from start to finish. Love it!
by Alec Holowka
This one maybe doesn’t work as well as a standalone listen when not having played the game? But when you did play it (and you should), all these melodies trigger memories of such great gameplay and story moments that it’s hard to see the game and the soundtrack as two separate entities. Alec Holowka’s music for ‘Night in the Woods’ is super indie (think Unicorns with too much Nintendo on their mind) but it fits the characters and narrative perfectly. Center stage is the bass guitar. Most of the songs seem written around it, which makes perfect sense cause Mae, the main character, plays bass in her high school band. It just makes not only the story revolve around her but also most of the tracks. I am pretty sure there is also a metaphor to be found in the way the bass interacts with the other instruments in the themes for the other characters… but that is something for another day.
by Danny Elfman
Okay, this is mainly here because I am a big Batman fan and I really love Elfman’s work on the older Burton movies. It is great to hear him come back to the DC film stall and his style mostly works. Too bad he also didn’t seemed that willingly to keep Zimmer’s beautiful themes for Superman and Wonder Woman… ah well, the film was a disappointment on many levels so we’ll see what happens next.