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Prescription for Sleep: Volume II (Review)

Prescription for Sleep: Volume II (Review)

May 6, 2015 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Prescription for Sleep: Volume II (Review)on Twitter

Last year Scarlet Moon Records released a video game music arrangement album titled Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies. The project had an interesting premise. Take some of the more mellow and relaxing tunes from video game soundtracks and arrange them as soothing lullabies for piano and saxophone. The group arranging on the album was Gentle Love, comprising of saxophonist Norihiko Hibino (composer for Bayonetta and the Metal Gear Solid series) and pianist AYAKI. The Gentle Love duo have collaborated on a few projects, primarily performing and making music to provide therapeutic relief to others after the wake of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The original Prescription for Sleep album and this sequel is an extension of that work and mission.

The fist album consisted of well known tunes like “Dry Dry Docks” from Super Mario 64 and some lesser known pieces like “Song of the Ancients” from NieR. The album received praise from a number of reviewers, including members of the team here at Original Sound Version. Thanks in part to the success of the first album, this sequel has been released. Prescription for Sleep: Volume II sees Hibino and AYAKI return to cover music from various games in the form of tranquil lullabies. What does this latest addition cover and how does it compare to the first album? Read on to find out.

Prescription for Sleep: Volume II starts off by covering one of my favorite Final Fantasy pieces, “Kids Run Through the City Corner” from Final Fantasy VI. The arrangement starts off simple, with light accompaniment on the piano and the saxophone playing through the theme without any melodic embellishments. After this initial statement of the theme, Hibino begins to improvise with the melody. AYAKI also takes a turn to improvise with his own solo at around 3’31” followed by a closing restatement of the original unaltered theme with Hibino. During the entire track, the music maintains the pastoral vibe of the original piece. Even during the improvisation sections the performers never build up the energy too much and always keep everything at a relaxed tone.

One thing that becomes apparent to anyone who has listened to the first Prescription for Sleep is that this time around Gentle Love has honed in on the tranquility factor for these new arrangements. A handful of pieces in the first album, like “Dry Dry Docks” or “Singing Emotions,” had beautiful and energetic arrangements, but were not very lullaby-like. On this new album, all of the pieces are mellow and serene. They often start up with a simple and light arrangement of the original theme and build up a little bit towards the middle of the piece, before settling back down for the last section. Even during the build up sections it’s never anything too intense or dramatic. The aim for these albums is to help the listener relax and this goal is more consistently hit on Volume II.

One of my favorite tracks to relax to is “The Streets of Whiterun” from Skyrim. True to the previously mentioned formula, the piano accompaniment is very simple and stays in the high register, while the sax performs a handful of variations. The piece builds up a bit at the midway point, with the piano building a heavier presence, before quieting back down with a solo from the piano. It helps that Jeremy Soule’s original piece is tranquil to begin with, and it matches perfectly with the mood that this arrangement album is aiming to evoke.

A number of RPGs get their music covered on this album. In addition to “The Streets of Whiterun” from Skyrim, tracks like “The One Who is Torn Apart” from Xenogears and “Troian Beauty” from Final Fantasy IV also receive arrangements. An interesting selection from Chrono Trigger is also covered. “Scattering Blossoms” is a track that was written by Tsuyoshi Sektio, but never used in the original release of Chrono Trigger. It would only show up later in the PS1 version and subsequent ports. In fact the track’s only official release has been on the Nintendo DS version of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack. It’s an interesting and obscure selection and, as with the other pieces, the arrangement is another peaceful and calming lullaby.

One track I was thrilled to see covered on Prescription for Sleep: Volume II was “Oath to Order” from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. This is one of my favorite pieces from the game, which plays when Link meets the giants after completing a dungeon. It’s a piece that I remember seeing a few requests for, when the idea of a second Prescription for Sleep album was introduced, so I’m glad to see it made the final cut for the sequel. The original piece from the game is quite short and it’s impressive to hear how much Gentle Love does with the limited source material. The track is nearly seven minutes in length, with the AYAKI soloing for a majority of the run time. Another great interpretation of some excellent game music.

The indie game Shovel Knight also gets the spotlight for one of the tracks. The track “Courage Under Fire” is the theme music for the armorer village in Shovel Knight. I have to admit that I was surprised to see a Shovel Knight piece on here. Jake Kaufman’s high energy chiptune soundtrack for the game is not something I would immediately think of when selecting music for a game music lullaby album. However, I have to say that this arrangement certainly delivers on evoking a feeling of tranquility and calm. Certainly a surprise selection, and a wonderful inclusion on the album.

Another 8-bit piece makes it into the arrangement list. This would be “The Moon” from DuckTales for the NES. Like the Shovel Knight track, it’s not necessarily the first track you would think to include in an album like this. But once again, the melodic material is transformed into a calm and soothing arrangement that fits perfectly with the rest of the covered tracks.

One of Hibino’s own compositions gets an arrangement in the form of “Snake Eater” from Metal Gear Solid 3. Again, this was another surprising track for me to see included, but once again the AYAKI and Hibino duo deliver a wonderful rendition of the piece. I found it distracting at first that the piece doesn’t launch into a bigger, more bombastic performance of “Snake Eater” that I’m used to hearing. However, after a few times listening to it, I found that particular listening expectation or tendency became less pronounced.

Prescription for Sleep: Volume II’s final track is an original piece titled “Close Up” and features a duet with AYAKI and cello player Chikako Asai as a guest soloist. It maintains a similar tranquil and relaxing tone that can be heard in the cover tracks. While it is stepping outside of the context of game music lullabies, it’s still a nice track and it makes for a good close to the album.

Like the album before it, Prescription for Sleep: Volume II is an astoundingly beautiful arrangement album. There’s a great selection of tracks from various games and there’s a great mix of well known classic game music tracks, along with some obscure or lesser known selections. This new volume surpasses it’s predecessor in terms of creating a tranquil and relaxing listening experience. If you are looking for an album to help you unwind at the end of the day or just want to hear something different in terms of game music arrangements, you should absolutely pick this album up. This is an excellent arrangement album that should be in any game music enthusiast’s library. Here’s hoping for a Volume III. Prescription for Sleep: Volume II can be found on Loudr, iTunes, and Amazon.

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