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Out Of The Box: jdkthx Bye!… Wait, Buy What?

November 11, 2010 | | 12 Comments Share thison Facebook Out Of The Box: jdkthx Bye!… Wait, Buy What?on Twitter

It’s been said that if OSV were a band, I’d be the backing singer. So it is with due amusement and pleasure that I want to introduce a new feature to the site, one that might add ‘back up singers’ to your playlist. ‘Out Of The Box’ takes a much-loved game soundtrack and attempts to find other albums fans of that music might like. In my case, I’ve tried to go outside anything we’d normally cover here, but that’s just my take on it. Rather than trying to match tracks, I’m ultimately aiming to pinpoint or at least isolate what it is about this soundtrack that we love, and to discover if some of that can be found elsewhere, either from before or after. It’s not about accusations of plagiarism so much as the idea of shared tastes and inclinations, and perhaps an acknowledgment that game music doesn’t exist in a bubble, and neither, I think, should we.

Since I’m introducing the feature, I get to pick an easy one. The Oath in Felghana, with Falcom Sound Team jdk as a natural extension. A refresher on the album is highly recommended, because I’m going to launch right into it… right after you click… here.

1. Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells (1973)

Commendation: It’s like listening to the bits and pieces of a J-RPG soundtrack, one at a time

Caveats: That can be kind of boring at times; don’t expect “Strongest Foe” or “Searing Struggle” here…

Availability: Widespread, but be wary of different versions (2009 remaster)

This is the only album on my list that I didn’t already have when I began this little project. Naturally I’d heard what I thought were tubular bells and for a lot of people, Tubular Bells means The Exorcist, and they’d recognise first and foremost the 3 minute piano-driven version created just for the movie. Despite that, Mike Oldfield’s 1973 masterpiece is actually almost an hour long, spawned three sequels and two ‘improved’ remixes. As an aside, the orchestral version (1975) sounds uncannily like Symphony Ys and even some Sugiyama (yes, even he had predecessors). For the sake of clarity and purity, I’m using the 1973 original, even though the 2009 Remaster is higher quality. I just find the original has more impact in its roughness. It seems almost improv at times, and yet the craftsmanship of this album is evident throughout.

I’m not even going to pretend to be musically educated enough to delve the brilliance of this album, and that’s fine, because you’ll find plenty of analyses and reviews around the ’net, even a decent breakdown of the movements on Wikipedia. What concerns us here is why it’s my first choice as a non-linear step beyond Oath in Felghana. Put simply, listening to the two-part composition is the closest I’ve ever come to hearing game soundtracks deconstructed. Part of why it deconstructs so many elements that would later feature in video game soundtracks is due to the recording style: even though Oldfield used overdubbing and performed most of the parts, solos and duets, simple rhythms progressing through various instruments abound. This album demands that the listener do precisely what I call for so often: forget the ‘original’ context and just listen. When I did that, I was shocked to hear something inexplicably reminiscent of “Premonition=Styx=” in the first movement. Piano, then organ, bass guitar: adding layers until an electric guitar introduces a new but complementary melody. Sound familiar?

In the 2003 rerecording of Tubular Bells, Oldfield broke the sections up, making them much easier to navigate, and I’m tempted to use those, but instead truly encourage you to persevere through the whole thing beginning to end, at least for Part One. Although slow and at times a little too steeped in the psychedelic tendencies of its era, Part One ends with a finale where a ‘Master of Ceremonies’ announces each instrument used, followed by the addition of that instrument to the music. Not only is the climax worth the wait, the accumulation towards it is strangely educating, not unlike the clear assignation of instruments to characters in Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf.

(This is from the 2003 recording — John Cleese serves as the Master of Ceremonies.)

Part Two is even more low-key than Part One, and I’ll admit the end to Part One completely overshadows it. With that in mind, it is just as loaded with the single-celled ancestors to the game music organism – a random example: jump to 8:50 and you’ll be treated to electric guitars mimicking bagpipes, backed up by a basic but effective pulse which reminded me of the heart of “Steeling the Will to Fight.” Again, I’m not saying it’s as good as, only that there are, to me, clear thematic and stylistic similarities.

An unused but ever-present track on various iterations of Ys III is “Dancing on the Road,” and its gaiety (yeah, that’s the word for it) so drastically contrasts the rest of the OST that I figured it was some sort of weird leftover from the PC-Engine days. But if you skip right to the end of Tubular Bells Part Two, you’ll hear what is today simply known as “Popeye’s theme” – “The Sailor’s Hornpipe.” It didn’t occur to me until I heard Oldfield’s version just how much “Dancing on the Road” resembles this little ditty, although it does get faster and soon leaves “Dancing” behind.

Despite all this, my favorite moment in Part Two isn’t really comparable to anything in Felghana – around 11:48 or so, things get rockier, but the weird growls (supposedly Oldfield himself) are almost proto-metal.

The influence of prog rock on not only Falcom Sound Team jdk but also the likes of Motoi Sakuraba, Nobuo Uematsu and possibly the majority of early Japanese game music composition itself is evident in the nuts and bolts of Tubular Bells. If nothing else, treat yourself to the finale of Part One, but I promise a full listen-through will deliver many moments of surprising almost-recognition.

2 . Two Siberians: Out of Nowhere (2005)

Commendations: Guitars+ electric violin, Russian folk meets metal/rock, a bit of jazzy sax and at least one really, really good electric guitar solo

Caveats: While you might like “Trading Town Redmont” or “Illburn Ruins” as a part of the whole, an entire album of that style might be a bit too much

Availability: Amazon

From the culturally maligned to the culturally obscure. You won’t find a wiki entry for these two, and most of the YouTube videos are listed in Russian. Two Siberians, believe it or not, actually is two Siberians: Yuri Matveyev on the guitar and Artyom Yakushenko on the electric violin, and between them they simply refuse to adhere to any one genre. Unlike my lengthy exploration of Tubular Bells, this endorsement for Out of Nowhere is going to be fairly brief, because I’m not that inclined to do any direct comparisons, but a few might be appropriate. Certainly, “New Russian” is likely to be the favorite track for a jdk fan, since it presents a mix of violin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and rock percussion that encourages comparison to “Illburn Ruins’ if not “Valestine Castle.” This track sold the album on me, just as sometimes a track sells me on a game album (“An Approaching Nightmare” by Go Shiina for God Eater, for example).

But this is not to say that the rest of the CD is inferior. If “New Russian” is the fighting/field theme, then “Outpost Radio” and “Natasha, Havana” are towns, one provincial, the other (surprise, surprise) coastal. Most of “On The Tundra” could be a mirror-filled tower-dungeon, although I find the acoustic guitar a little distracting. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” and the 9 minute monster “Searching for Power,” however, are their own pieces combining everything the Two Siberians can muster. “Power” in particular pulls out all the stops; it could easily be several end-game scenes. It starts subtle and hopeful, not unlike those ‘false’ happy endings, and at 2:24, with string stabs growing in urgency, the fight is on. It’s amazing what an electric guitar and an electric violin can do in the right hands (but we’re jdk Band fans – we knew that already, right?). I am reminded of Mitsuda’s work here as well, particularly “Last Battle” from Xenosaga Episode 1. Maybe it goes on a little long, but I’m happy to assume this end-boss is particularly tough. At the six minute mark, things dwindle away and we hear another end-game trope: the sound of wind, followed by the renewal of acoustic guitar rhythm and a mellifluous violin melody. The very end has a surprise addition which I won’t ruin, but if you’re following my progression of end-game the-world-is-in-harmony-again, you’ll probably be able to guess.

Out of Nowhere is literally that. It was recommended to me by some random on the Internet years ago, and now I’m sort of paying it forward. I’d never have thought to get it if not for whoever-it-was. I don’t even know where you’d find it in a real music store: world music, perhaps, which is like putting Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco in the Mystery section of a bookshop because it’s about a murder. Maybe that’s a generous comparison, but Out of Nowhere is far more complex and rewarding than at first glance. And here’s my ultimate selling point: listening to this album will take you a little further into the mysterious heart of whatever it is that makes Falcom Sound Team jdk music so damn good.

Hit up their much-underloved myspace here. If nothing else, check out “New Russian.”

3. Epica: The Classical Conspiracy (2009)

Commendations: A real metal band performing with a real orchestra that isn’t Metallica; original work ‘orchestrated’ and classical works ‘metalified’; lead singer can actually, seriously, really sing; extremely high quality live album

Caveats: It’s an opera-trained singer doing metal, so there’s less emphasis on guitar solos; some of the classical works might be a bit cliched; the grunts are okay but sit at the lower end of the overall product

Availability: Amazon, but get the European version (for one very important extra track)

Tubular Bells is a seed of thematic RPG music. Out of Nowhere is a surprising example of two things we love about Falcom Sound Team jdk. But what we haven’t had so far is the bombast and power of Oath in Felghana. That explosion of brass and a full strings section in “Tower of Destiny;” the choir at the beginning of the demo version of “Valestine Castle.” The rock/metal tunes that, until fairly recently, were so distinct in the game world as JDK Band. And where do we look for some sort of non-game source of these?

Holland. More specifically, a Dutch band performing with a full orchestra and choir in Hungary. Fronted by classically-trained singer Simone Simons, Epica incorporates progressive, symphonic and power metal. Due to this, Classical Conspiracy fully realizes the faux symphony that Epica has always used, and this makes for an instantly agreeable experience if you happen to be a fan of Epica (as opposed to many fans of Metallica responding to S&M). If not, here’s where to start.

Conspiracy is even less directly comparable to Felghana track-wise than the previous two albums. This is perfectly fine by me: it’s all about the essence of the music, not the faces. It’s only going to get more and more visceral from here in. By the same token, there’s definitely more recognizable music here than on the other albums. This is owing to the focus of the first CD: classical and movie music given a massive metal kick in the butt. And as I said above, it never feels tacked on; there’s real innovative arrangement going on here. The balance between band and orchestra is never compromised, and that alone is an achievement. Simple example: “Dies Irae” has always been a clear inspiration for those end-boss choruses, but in Epica’s hands it tears along with very specific drumming augmenting the choir; at crucial moments, the band is entirely silent. “Ombra Mai Fu” and “Stabat Mater Doloros”’ only have the mezzo-soprano Simone singing with the orchestra. There is no competition for sound here, just faithful (as faithful as can be expected) renditions. “Adagio” is possibly my favorite, but I’m a bit of a Dvořák fanboy, and Epica treats him right.

On the newer front, there’s a little Elfman via a “Spiderman Medley” and some Zimmer with a very rousing “Pirates of the Caribbean” suite (European release only; told you it was important). But the first CD, for me, is owned by their version of “The Imperial March” (that’s two articles in a row I’ve mentioned it taken out of context!); the only thing that could make Darth Vader’s theme cooler was the invitation to head-bang to it. The double-kick drum synergizes really well with the oh-so-familiar brass fanfare, but I’m more impressed by the triplets a little further in; hearing a bass guitar handle the bass line is also wonderful. Speaking of drumming, there’s a very neat little fill at the end of Grieg’s “Mountain King.” All in all, it’s possibly a bit clichéd a selection but if you can’t tell, I seriously believe the fusion of metal and orchestra, as in not only certain Falcom titles but also stuff like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, can really take orchestral music to another level. If done right. Always that caveat.

There are 10 classical tracks out of 28. The rest is pure Epica. A few, like “Palladium” and “Unholy Trinity,” are from their movie score; in their originality, they seem more game-like to me than the classical pieces. But the rest are Epica songs: that is to say, unmistakably metal supported by orchestra rather than orchestra augmented by metal. We’re definitely out of game music territory here, but not necessarily out of jdk scope. I’m just going to say that if you don’t find Ikarus Watanabe’s singing along to your favorite Ys tunes too jarring, Simone’s very competent voice is well worth taking in. “Sancta Terra,” “Sensorium” and “Never Enough” are fine examples of Epica’s epicness.

But even if you can’t stomach metal with orchestra and choir, I heartily recommend this double CD for the classical and movie renditions on the first disc.

4. love solfege’: q.q.g.(2004)

Commendations: Doujin genre madness! Classically-orientated piano and violin compositions, bits of techno, electric guitar solos, j-pop, j-popera (!)…

Caveats: Doujin. Genre. Madness. Classically-orientated piano and violin compositions, bits of techno, electric guitar solos, j-pop, j-popera (wtf, really?)… and no Jenya

Availability: Fairly rare doujin album. Purchase links exist on their site, but a Google search might reveal other avenues

This was the toughest pick of all. A friend and fellow JDKophile introduced me to love solfege’ through their most commercial album, Futari no Watashi. (released as ‘Love Solfege’ – there’s apparently a difference). I’d love to feature that for its availability but it just isn’t as good an example as q.q.g. Every album by love solfege’ has something on it that makes me twitch with Ys-like glee; every album by love solfege’ has something on it that seriously shouldn’t work but usually does.

What is love solfege’? From what little research I could manage*, it’s an unrelated group of musicians led by pianist and composer Auguste Beau (which is almost certainly a pseudonym for Shinichiro Matsumoto but we’re just not sure… anyone?), held together by… love and solfège. Or maybe love OF solfège. Either way, you have the pianist, an electric guitarist (Hiroaki Katou) and an interesting mix of singers. If I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Jenya, who sings in Russian and is basically what you’d get if you crossed short-lived sensation t.A.T.u. with the Kanno-aligned Origa. Unfortunately, q.q.g. precedes her joining.

This particular album, split into two parts (‘Traditional’ and ‘Pops’), has only two singers: Linna and Ayu. Linna does anything from super-cute staccato pop (“White Lolita”) to an operatic piano duet (“Uta Nikki”), but I’m partial to the very Hayashibara/Okui-flavoured “AUTUMN BREATH.” Ayu actually gives a good example of what loving solfège sounds like with “presto agitato,” which has no real lyrics and is again accompanied primarily by the piano. She also has a turn at the cuter stuff with “Yuitsuushin,” a silly-happy song that wouldn’t sound weird as a vocaloid piece (… weird as that idea might sound). Of her songs on q.q.g., I think “Morning Star” is the best: catchy and with a nice infusion of violin and electric guitar.

But these are not why I’m recommending q.q.g. as an introduction to love solfege’, although there are enough ingredients there to be intriguing. No, it’s the instrumental pieces, and q.q.g. has quite a few, including ‘off-vocal’ versions of several songs. In addition, love solfege’ spruce up a snippet of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with “PraeludiumⅡc-moll(instrumental),” opening with a guitar solo any jdk fan could appreciate. Then drums, keyboard and strings join in, with the guitar still smoothly snaking up and down. Halfway through, there’s some very familiar role switching as the guitar, keyboard and violin toy with each other. No less impressive are the piano pieces, “Kogoeru Shizuku” and “Shukuzentaru Ashita e.” I’m fairly sure someone with more experience in music theory could tell you the influences on these, but I want to endorse “Ashite e” in particular, and strangely, for much the same reason as I used before: it’s catchy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also complex and goes from light, fast twinkling to a crashing, almost chaotic descent in under four minutes… but it does so in a very catchy way.

Click here to hear “Shukuzentaru ashita e,” complete with nifty notation!

The big one (every album seems to have one) is “Красная стрелка(off vocal).” Nope, no idea how to pronounce that. But it’s the ‘off vocal’ bit we’re interested in. It’s almost 9 minutes, since Красная стрелка is actually three songs. What impresses me most about this one is it has blatantly techno grounding with a rich violin ‘voice.’ “Sealed Time,” anyone? And that’s not to mention the electric guitar and piano. There is also more than a hint of Castlevania vibe in this one. In short, love solfege’ off vocal tunes are right up there with the JDK Band ones (… i.e. quite like the original pieces we loved in the first place… )

Smooshed right near the end is an 8 minute radio session which, to my limited Japanese but acute ability to sense such things, sounds very silly and likely staged. A fluent speaker might get a lot more out of it.

There are very good songs on other love solfege’ albums: “La Fatalite,” “Le Blanc Et Noir,” “Over the Surges,” (all title tracks) and “The Wise Snake” (from Akurugu kaiseki ni yoru jiyuu e no kyousa) all are excellent, but q.q.g. is the album I’d say most exemplifies what I hear in love solfege’ as most reminiscent of Falcom Sound Team jdk.

You can listen to a few samples from q.q.g. here.

[*massive credit to Leon for his information, feedback and nitpicking. Oh, and for introducing me… ]

5. Yousei Teikoku: Gothic Lolita Doctrine (2009)

Commendations: Heavy, heavy sounds; chunky, chunky guitars; so much more metal than many other ‘kei’ bands, albeit gothic

Caveats: Not a real drummer (on this album), can get repetitive, not all songs are that heavy, and… uhm… fairy-like vocalist, in Japanese

Availability: Amazon Japan

None of my picks so far have aptly captured the frantic drumming of jdk Band at their most furious. It’s somewhat ironic that when I finally find one, the drumming isn’t even real. I said ‘on this album’ because Yousei Teikoku recently acquired not only a drummer but also a bass guitarist, which to me is a clear level-up and puts them well into range of a group I’d travel to Japan to see live. I’d also like to see a ‘best-of’ album with these new members.

Yeah, really. I would fly to Japan for a Yousei Teikoku concert (which also puts them, in my strange hierarchy, on the same shelf as not only jdk Band but also Yoko Kanno). Yousei Teikoku (Fairy Empire) do a mix of low-key anime songs and original work; they’re typically classified as ‘gothic rock’ and ‘electro,’ but I like to call ’em ‘fairy metal.’ You have Fairy Yui’s delicate, light voice dancing on the tense surface of what is otherwise relentless, heavy drumming, electric guitar and keyboard. Apparently the ‘Fairy Empire’ is a serious movement in Yui’s eyes, such that she believes her music will herald a return of the fairies and their empire. I’m… not really sure about that, but much as I feel no compulsion to join the monastery because I like Gregorian chanting, I think it’s okay to like this music without subscribing to the supposed message behind it.

Gothic Lolita Doctrine (unfortunate name, but I take it as an undercutting, given Yui’s not-very-Lolita goth look, complete with very neat but likely fake tats) is a best-of album, with only one new song. But hey, if you’ve never heard them, consider this a cutting-to-the-chase. The other best-of, Gothic Lolita Propaganda, was their first real album of compiled singles, and it’s just as good, but it lacks a few songs I want to highlight. Naturally, they’re all in Japanese. There’s another caveat. I’m hoping that love solfege’ has sort of prepared you for that.

First, skip straight to “Hades: The Bloody Rage.” Sepulchral, distant bells and moaning gibberish set the scene just before Yui’s introduction, high-pitched and almost feverish. Then it’s all drums and guitar under spidery keyboard; monosyllabic chants punch the beat. The chorus at 1:15 is just as thrashful (that’s now a word) as Ys SEVEN’s “Vacant Interference” or Oath’s “Searing Struggle.” Next, let’s jump back to “Kikai Shoujo Gensou.” Now this is heavy. In fact, the start sounds more than a little like the Black Mages’ techno-ish version of “Those Who Fight Further” for FFVII:AC. Where “Hades” lets up here and there, “Gensou” just maintains the speed; again, it’s a serious shame the drums aren’t real, and here you can hear the synth drum fills, which really do draw Yousei Teikoku away from being metal, but not so far that I’d happily call them ‘electro.’

The rest of the album is much like this. No big problem for me, but it’s not all head-long rushes into sore-necksville. There are a few slower pieces, with a standout being “Simulacra,” which foregoes a fast guitar/drums intro for strings and keyboard that sounds somehow watery. For whatever reason, that sound makes me think of underground water and Castlevania. “Weiβ Flügel” returns the electric guitar but retains the strings, and only keyboard arpeggios during the verses. These two songs both sound more ‘J-Poppy’ than a lot of Yousei Teikoku’s material, and that’s not really a bad thing either.

If anything, I’d love more off-vocal/karaoke versions of these. It’s not that I hate Yui’s voice: it works when it really shouldn’t. It’s just that these songs would sound very neat as instrumental pieces.

Below is their latest single, “Baptize,” not on any full album yet, but… real drummer.


So that’s it! From prog rock to fairy metal, I’ve suggested five albums that I think someone who enjoyed Oath in Felghana, and Falcom Sound Team jdk’s music in general might not entirely dislike.

In closing, here are a few near misses and why:

Crooked Fiddle Band: Australian group comprised of electric violin, double bass, guitar and percussion. Great music but not consistent thematically. Check out a few songs here.

Bond: Incredibly successful Australian/British strings quartet. Some brilliant classical work. Bit too pop. Check out their live version of “Korobushka,” though — wait for the end, it’s worth it.

Yngwie Malmsteen — Rising Force: Falcom Sound Team jdk totally riffed “Far Beyond the Sun” from this album for “The Grand Ordeal” from Ys IV and we loved them for it. It’s a shame Yngwie sings on the album. Because when he doesn’t, you get something like this (skip to 2:55 for possibly the best live Ys IV you’ll ever hear, even if the arrangement is all about Yngwie… ) Unfortunately the orchestral “Far Beyond the Sun” is DVD only — but if you have the means, grab it here and rip away, because this is bound to appeal to any jdk fan. (There is an import CD but at $60 or so, I just can’t recommend it.)

Alestorm — Black Sails at Midnight: this was a very close call. Pirate metal goes big with the very jdk-tastic 6-minute ”Leviathan,” but most of the album isn’t as grandiose. I defy anyone not to sing along with “Keelhauled.” (And I don’t even really like rum that much…)

Yasunori Mitsuda — KiRite: Okay, so it’s not a game soundtrack, but come on… Mitsuda. That’s kinda cheating, even if it really is something any fan of good music (never mind jdk) should listen to.


Now the fun part – what do you think? What music reminds you of Oath in Felghana or any other work by Falcom Sound Team jdk? Also welcome is general discussion of this new feature. Thanks for your time!

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