Game Music, Reviews

I Like NightSky, And Long Walks On The Beach (Review)

May 1, 2012 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook I Like NightSky, And Long Walks On The Beach (Review)on Twitter

Some of the most impressive music I’ve ever heard is soft. You think it’s easy to record music at a consistently low volume? Well, do it, and make it sound good. Then we’ll talk, kiddo.

One guy in the last year who recorded some amazing soft, acoustic music for a game of similarly soft temperament is Chris Schlarb. And that game is NightSky. I first played through the game (fun and somehow relaxing, even when frustrating), and later I indulged in multiple listens to the soundtrack.

While I got the soundtrack in one of many various software+music “bundles” in the last few months, the soundtrack has been available since January 2011 at Bandcamp for $5. Streaming listens are free, so feel free to listen along while reading my review after the jump.

The 40 tracks are broken up into sections for each of the areas in the game. Each area gets four short musical ideas, with two exceptions (Ranna Caverns is 3 tracks, Auroras North is 5 tracks). Schlarb’s music is all recorded with actual, live, performed, acoustic instruments. This acoustic ambiance reminds of some of the best Sufjan Stevens tracks from his earlier albums. This is especially true when Schlarb uses brass instruments.

For example, “Brass Echo” is amazing. The opening track for the Ranna Caverns section, it makes me feel like I’m being cradled by the world around me during a warm summer evening. There is a certain talent in writing good minimalist music. It doesn’t take much to evoke strong feelings and memories, but that little bit has to be just the right amount, just the right combination. In all three of the “Ranna Caverns” tracks, Schlarb has it.

Looking for more brass? Though it’s only 25 seconds long, I love track 7 “Valves.” It’s basically just a few notes on a trombone. But it serves as an effective introduction/transition to “Squeak and Bubble Reprise.” The reprise is even more ambient than the original track, and with some grainy/reverb post-recording effects added to the mix. I love it.

The album’s second track, “Circuitous Path,” sets a standard for the entire soundtrack as to how effective soft percussion can be. Here, it’s a trap set with brush sticks. The only tonal instrument is an acoustic guitar. It is simple, and it’s wonderful. Elsewhere on the soundtrack, percussion consists of cymbal rolls and the occasional tom or bass drum.

There are a few electronic tracks on the album, mostly found for the bonus “Nonsense” level at the end, and the “Perpetuum Factory” tracks. Among these, my favorite track is the final Perpetuum track, “The Engineer’s Dream.” It’s one of the longer tracks in this collection of music (which is to say, it breaks the 90 second barrier). I love the syncopated/jazzy brush percussion and the guitar, but most importantly, I love the post-production stuff going on: glitchy stretches and compressions of time.

Schlarb’s soundtrack is guitar-heavy (as opposed to some indie composers who go piano-heavy). But nothing is really “heavy” on this soundtrack. There’s an ethereal quality to the guitar recordings, probably because they remain in the upper registers. But even when it is in the low-mid range, it stays soft, and the undertones of the percussion and brass are never lost (sometimes they even swell over the guitar). See (hear) tracks 23 and 24.

I guess that’s about as glowing an endorsement as I can give. In the current “race to the bottom” (in terms of pricing) environment of indie games and their soundtracks, $5 might seem a little steep for 40 minutes of minimalist musical ideas, regardless of how great they sound. I would encourage you to pay the full $5 instead of searching for the next bargain-bin bundle that features the soundtrack. Chris Schlarb looks to be a “composer’s composer,” doing music for the heck of it. I, for one, would love to see him on more game projects, perhaps moving from indie to larger studios.

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