Sunday, February 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: February 2015


When it comes to soundtrack composers, there is one who is revered as one of the greatest composers in the history of the world. I am speaking, of course, of the legend Hans Zimmer. For some reason, I have always thought of this man as rather overrated. While he's just as great a composer as everyone says he is, that doesn't make him shine above the rest. There are many other far less-known composers who are just as good, and some who are even better. To tell the truth, while I've always enjoyed Zimmer's scores, I've never found that they particularly stand out. He has a specific style to his music that doesn't always strike my fancy.

However, recently a film came out which he had scored, and the music blew me away. I speak, of course, of Interstellar.

The film was a masterpiece. Coming from Christopher Nolan, who was known for such blockbusters as Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy, was a science fiction film about Earth's final days and the survival of mankind in the universe. I didn't know what to expect going into it. His previous films that I had seen were very dark, and focused heavily on moral ambiguity, but the previews of Interstellar made it look more like a science fiction drama than an intense action film. As it turned out, it was a little of both.

It's hard to fit Interstellar into a box. It's a longer story, but at no time does it feel like a long story. It just feels like a more fully realized and complete story than a regular-length film would be able to tell. I feel that in this way it's comparable to The Lord of the Rings films. The film focuses heavily on story, but also has some sci-fi action sequences and whatnot. It's a brilliantly crafted story, and the score only adds to that.

After the movie released (to critical success), there were a lot of complaints about sound design. In some parts of the film the score plays at very loud volume, and makes the dialogue somewhat difficult to hear. Having imperfect hearing myself, I didn't think it was much different from other films I've seen. Besides, the score being extra loud doesn't make the music itself any less good.

This was the film that redeemed Zimmer for me. I have a bad habit of not thinking too fondly about his works, for the simple reason that people give him too much credit. However, for this film at least, he is just as great as everyone says he is.

Featured Tracks

Track 4: Day One – This song is a rendition of the film's main theme. Interstellar is a very emotional movie, and the music helps nail that point. It's beautiful.

Track 8: Mountains – This segment of the movie is very time-sensitive, and we are constantly reminded of this because Zimmer incorporates an actual ticking clock into the score. It's one of the more creative things I've heard in music composition, and it's both effective and really cool.

Track 13: Coward – This is what I like to call the "Theme of Betrayal". You really can't have a Christopher Nolan movie without some sort of twist (or few) thrown it.



Note: The digital version of this soundtrack includes eight extra tracks. This deluxe edition is also on Spotify.

Purchase Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on Amazon or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Game Review: Sneaky Sneaky


Here's a little game I came across recently. It's called Sneaky Sneaky, and in it you do a lot of sneaking.

A while ago I was going through my old Thursday Impressions posts on this blog and I realized that I kind of missed doing it. However, I don't have nearly enough time to write up a first impressions piece every week anymore, so I decided to compromise and do one every month. So then I played the first game on my list, wrote up an impressions piece, and then went and beat the rest of the game long before the post was scheduled to be published. So, screw impressions pieces. Here's a review.

Sneaky Sneaky is a grid-based strategy game controlled only by the mouse, in which you sneakily defeat your enemies and grab treasure on your way to completing each level. When an enemy discovers you (or when you sneakily get the first strike) the game switches into a turn-based mode until you or your enemy has been defeated, or until they've lost track of you (because you like to sneak away).

The gameplay is fairly unique. If at any time an enemy sees you before you attack them, they are able to move before you, and you're not allowed to move out of the way (or attack back) until it's your turn. Additionally, if you're able to sneak up behind your enemy without them seeing you, you can deal a much more powerful blow, which may take them out completely. Thus, stealth is a heavily encouraged strategy. Hiding in bushes for the right time to strike is a technique that works very well, along with sniping your enemy with arrows while you're out of their sight range.

The game isn't very long, and can be completed in just a few hours, but it's most definitely worth the low price. Not only is the art style really cool (and rather adorable), with great music that fits well, but also the game is pretty flipping fun. The difficulty curve is somewhat sharp if you're not prepared, and you might have to replay some already-completed levels in order to get enough money to buy an upgrade or two, but overall it's a brilliant gem of a game.

Sneaky Sneaky is awesome, and I'd love for the developers to make a sequel someday. I'd play the heck out of it.

The game is available on Steam and iOS.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: January 2015


Happy New Year! Welcome to the sixth installment of the Soundtrack of the Month series. As this marks approximately half a year since the beginning of the series, I thought I'd do something special.

When somebody asks me what my favorite animated movie is, I'm always ready with an answer. When somebody asks me what my favorite movie score is, I'm always ready with the exact same answer. How to Train Your Dragon is an adorable and epic tale of Vikings and dragons. Man and beast have been at war for far longer than either can remember, and the one person that nobody thinks could ever make a difference is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a young boy who cannot fight to save his life. To avoid summarizing the entire plot and giving away key details, let's just say everybody was wrong.

The score of How to Train Your Dragon was composed by John Powell. It's really flipping good. You should listen to it.

I feel obligated to mention that the credits song was written and performed by Icelandic musician Jónsi. A lot of people have praised the film's soundtrack for this song alone, but I wouldn't go that far. It's a good song, and I like to listen to it on occasion, but when compared to the magnificent rest of the soundtrack it's almost mediocre.

Featured Tracks

Track 1: This is Berk – One of the greatest opening tracks in the history of filmmaking. "This is Berk" is commonly the first voice-over line in various installments of the DreamWorks Dragons franchise. Berk is the name of the region in which the Vikings live in the film and sequential stories.

Track 11: Test Drive – Reason #47 why How to Train Your Dragon is my favorite movie score ever: Listening to the music makes you feel like a superhero.

Track 21: Counter Attack – Reason #84 why How to Train Your Dragon is my favorite movie score ever: John Powell makes sure there is never a monotonous moment in the score. Even in the darkest and most tense moments his epic and distinct themes are heard throughout.

I have to remind you once again that these three tracks are not necessarily my three "favorite" tracks. If I were to list all of my favorite tracks for this soundtrack, I would have to list pretty much the entire album. Some very honorable mentions that didn't make the "Featured" list include Forbidden Friendship (Track 8) and Romantic Flight (Track 15). Oh, and all of the rest.



Purchase How to Train Your Dragon: Music from the Motion Picture on Amazon or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Thursday Impressions: The Results


Many long years ago (that is, February 2013) I started a blog series called Thursday Impressions. It lasted for a little over six months, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. At the time I had a great many games on Steam, and I thought it would be cool if every week I'd play a game for 30-90 minutes and write up what my first impressions were. This was a great excuse to check out a good number of games in my Steam library that I might not otherwise get around to playing.

At the end of each mini-review, I'd give a verdict. The two main verdicts were "Keep playing," if I thought the game was good and that I'd want to keep playing, and "Stop playing," if the game was bad or I felt that I, personally, wouldn't want to continue. I also took creative liberties and stuck in some other verdicts as well. I'd also give a little blurb summarizing why I'd chosen each verdict. Additionally, the verdicts chosen were based on my personal opinion, and so the "Stop playing" verdicts did not necessarily mean the game in question was not a good game. It simply meant that it was not what I like to play.

Now, clearly a lot of time has passed since I did this series. It's been over a year since it ended, and a lot of things have changed. I thought it would be cool to go back and look over all my Thursday Impressions, and let the world know how they all turned out. Did I actually keep playing some? Did I actually stop playing others for good? Well, you should keep reading to find out.

If you want, you can go and read through all of the Thursday Impressions articles here. I apologize, as many of the image links appear to be broken.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Soundtrack of the Month: December 2014


When I think of movies that were great but received very poor ratings, I usually think of two movies in particular: John Carter and Priest. Both are based on book series, and many who have read the source material (and many who haven't) felt that they just weren't good movies. From the perspective of somebody who has never experienced the source material of either, however, I have to wonder if they're off their rockers. Both movies have their flaws, but what movies don't? I think they are both excellent movies.

Priest is a gothic cyberpunk action adventure film with elements of horror sprinkled in, based on a manhwa. A manhwa is a Korean manga, and I have no idea why they don't just call it a Korean manga. The film uses a premise that could very easily have been sacrilegious, but it really wasn't, in the way it was presented. In short, it portrays a fantastical world where the government is basically made up of the church of Martin Luther's age.

One of the coolest parts of the movie—aside from the plot and the amazing visuals throughout—was the score, composed by Christopher Young. It flows with majestic, dark and sometimes quite eerie themes that very well reflect the universe of Priest. Young is particularly known for scoring horror films, and that came out a number of times throughout the soundtrack, but it was not the core focus of the music.

Priest is one of the bloodiest movies that I actually like. I've watched it at least twice, and both times I've come away from it thinking, "How can people ever think this is a bad movie?" (aside from how bloody it is). It was incredibly well done. If you ignore that it has source material, and just view it as a standalone movie, it's actually a great film. Some of the acting was sub-par, but that was a minor complaint compared to the spectacular rest of the film. The soundtrack made the amazing world of Priest come alive, and it stands as a unique piece of art.

Featured Tracks

Track 2: Eclipsed Heart – I read a comment on YouTube that complained this track was the only good thing that came from the entire movie. From that comment alone it was clear that the commentator had not even listened to the rest of the soundtrack. Or seen the movie, for that matter.

Track 8: The Vampire Train – Priest has vampires. Lots of vampires. They're pretty darn terrifying. The villain of the film travels via train, and there happens to be a lot of vampires on that train. It's actually really cool. And terrifying. The film's climax happens on this train.

Track 12: A World Without End – An incredible track to end the movie Priest. The film ended very much open to a sequel, but since it performed poorly in box office it is unlikely we will ever get one. This may be the final theme to the Priest story we will ever hear. It's fitting, and even the title of the track implies that the story will certainly continue, even if we won't get to see it.



Note: A 2-disc, largely expanded edition of this soundtrack was also released. I did not become aware of its existence until recently. Unfortunately, I do not own it as of the release of this article. You can check it out here.

Purchase the Priest soundtrack from Amazon or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on YouTube.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Crossroads

Crossroads
By Reuben Horst

I would walk the world wide
Just to stand here by your side
As we hold hands, I won’t let go
Let us dance across the snow

I stand here at the crossroads
Two paths that I could take
The brighter road, it calls to me
A feeling I cannot shake

As time proceeds in matchless haste
The snow has turned to rain
We must recall and then hold dear
The beliefs which keep us sane

If you asked the question
I would not turn you down
But I’m content to live my life
With that road left alone

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Soundtrack of the Month: November 2014


For some odd reason, I have not watched a lot of anime. I'm not exactly sure why this is, as one thing I've learned over time is that anime music is incredible.

RWBY (pronounced "Ruby") is a 3D anime-esque webseries that takes place in the fantastical and awesome world of Remnant. It focuses on the story of Ruby Rose, a fifteen-year-old girl who wants to become a Huntress in order to defend the kingdoms of Remnant from the nefarious creatures of Grimm. The music is composed by Jeff Williams, and the vocals on many songs are performed by his daughter, Casey Lee Williams. Some additional composing was done by Steve Goldshein and Alex Abraham.

Jeff Williams is previously known for scoring three seasons of the machinima webseries Red vs. Blue, also by the creators of RWBY. While the soundtrack was incredibly awesome for that series while Williams was the composer, I must warn you that both the soundtrack of Red vs. Blue and the series itself are incredibly unclean. Investigate further at your own risk. (Here is a clean example of the soundtrack, coincidentally featuring Casey Lee Williams.) RWBY, however, was intended to be clean from the very beginning, and the soundtrack only includes a few instances of mild language.

Williams is easily one of my favorite composers of all time. The music he writes is right out of a JRPG, and it fits perfectly with the world of RWBY. Additionally, his songwriting is incredible.

The soundtrack to RWBY, Volume 1 comes on two discs—Disc 1 is the "soundtrack", which contains all the songs that contain lyrics; Disc 2 is the "score", which includes sixteen tracks, one for each episode of Volume 1. The first disc includes a wide assortment of tracks. A few of the songs only appear in the series, in part, as brief credits music for individual episodes, whereas on the soundtrack disc they are complete songs. Additionally, some of the songs have multiple versions that are included in the same release.

For an example of how well the music and animation work together, I recommend you check out the Red Trailer, White Trailer, Black Trailer, and Yellow Trailer. These four trailers were released over time leading up to the premier of the series, and each one announced and introduced one of the four lead characters. Musically, the Red Trailer introduces Ruby's theme, the White Trailer introduces Weiss's theme, the Black Trailer introduces Blake's theme, and then the Yellow Trailer does a remixed medley of all three previous character themes before finally introducing Yang's theme in the final minute. Ruby, Weiss, and Blake's themes are heard instrumentally all throughout the series.

Incidentally, there's a specific reason why I chose this month to feature this soundtrack. One reason is that it's one of my favorite soundtracks, ever, and I couldn't wait to feature it. The more prominent reason is that the incredible lead vocalist of RWBY, Casey Lee Williams, turns sixteen this month. Just let that sink in a little. She was only fourteen when this album was recorded, and she had more talent than you will ever have in your life. Yup.

It's my recommendation that you watch through RWBY, Volume 1 before you listen through the soundtrack extensively. It's not a necessity; it's just my recommendation. Don't fret, though, because you can watch the entire series so far, absolutely free, on YouTube, the Rooster Teeth website, and Crunchyroll. Volume 2 of the series concluded a mere two days before this post was published, so we should be seeing the release of the next soundtrack quite soon as well.

Featured Tracks

Disc 1, Track 1: This Will Be the Day – The theme music for Volume 1 of RWBY. The first verse and refrain are played (along with an intro cinematic) at the end of the first episode, and then the refrain and a shorter shorter version of the cinematic play at the beginning of every other episode for the rest of the season. An epic theme song that fits perfectly with the story.

Disc 1, Track 3: Mirror, Mirror (White Trailer) – Weiss's theme is perhaps my favorite character theme. (I say perhaps because they're all very good.) Casey Williams is Weiss's singing voice, and while she doesn't sound exactly like Weiss, it's still an incredible song.

Disc 1, Track 9: Red Like Roses, Part II – Red Like Roses is Ruby's theme, first heard in the Red Trailer. The Red Trailer begins by showing Ruby visiting her mother's grave, as Casey sings a few poetic lines about each of the four main characters. Red Like Roses Part II is a standalone song that works as a sequel to Red Like Roses. Casey sings from Ruby's point of view, expressing her desperation and loss about the death of her mother. Casey's real-world mother, Sandra Lee Casey, sings from the point of view of Ruby's mother, expressing what she would have said to her daughter if she'd had a chance before she died. This is one of my absolute favorite songs to listen to. The first verse and refrain are heard in Episode 8.

Disc 2, Track 1: Ruby Rose – The score to the first episode of RWBY. It begins with the slow, dramatic music that accompanies the prologue (which is narrated by Jen Taylor), before transitioning into the beautiful and eerie cello and piano duo that introduces the villain Roman Torchwick. After that we hear our first battle music of the series, which sprinkles in a few instrumental bits of Ruby's theme, Red Like Roses. We then move on to an interrogation scene, and we end with being introduced to the theme of Beacon Academy. This track covers many moods and scenes, and there's not a dull moment.

Disc 2, Track 8: Players and Pieces – Episode 8 was arguably the most epic episode of Volume 1. It's filled with epic score and some darn epic battles. Be prepared for Nora's obnoxious (but hilarious) "I'm queen of the castle!" to pop in along the way. Additionally, Episode 8 was the episode that featured Red Like Roses Part II, and this track includes the instrumental build-up of the song that is not featured in the version of the song that's included on Disc 1. The track is concluded by reprising Torchwick's theme from the first epsisode.

Disc 2, Track 16: Black and White – The final episode of Volume 1. Many cool variations of themes, including a battle version of Torchwick's theme. The fact that the three tracks I picked to feature in this just happened to be the three that feature Torchwick's instrumental theme is mere coincidence. It is a really cool theme, though.



Note: Track 7 (I Burn), Track 9 (Red Like Roses, Part II), and Track 10 (I Burn Remix) contain brief instances of mild language. Additionally, the iTunes single version of I Burn contains explicit swearing.

Purchase the RWBY, Volume 1 soundtrack on the Rooster Teeth Store or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.