I’ve had really high hopes for Café SQ. I loved Chill SQ, although my major complaint was that it was too short. While it was formally announced even before SQ Chips, I thought that perhaps this album was in trouble given that SQ Chips was released back in September but we still hadn’t seen Café SQ, but here it is.
True to its name, it features a lot jazz and other styles of music that would be appropriate for a café, although there are a few curve balls included as well. Does it live up to mine and many others’ expectations?
Find out in our review.
Let’s jump right in with the jazz, which was the style I was most looking forward to with this album. I have to say that the artists here have really raised the bar with their arrangements, as live performers are featured all throughout the album. The jazz material in particular is the real deal with some great free-form jazz contributions. The two that really jump out are “The Dream that Time Dreams” from Chrono Cross and “Rose of May” from Final Fantasy IX with the former being incredibly smooth and loungey and the latter being more electronic-infused and abstract. “Johnny C. Bad” from Final Fantasy VI even jumps into swing territory.
The star, of course, is “Troian Beauty” from Final Fantasy IV by Schroeder-Headz who’s my new favorite artist for their choice of material. The swaying piano is intact with some nice improvised flourishes as well as a jumping upright bass and even a drum solo. And again, all live performers. I couldn’t be more satisfied with this arrangement.
While you’d expect a lot of jazz from this collection, there are many dreamy tracks that you can’t classify as jazz, but still clear the album’s theme. The opening track, “Muisc Box ~ My Home, Sweet Home” from Final Fantasy V has pop and jazz qualities about it with a glassy pad weaving in and out of the mix to give off that ethereal feel. “Corridors of Time” fuses organic and electronic sounds in a very subdued arrangement of the much-overranged theme, and is actually one of my favorite remixes of the track that I’ve heard. “Over the Hill” from Final Fantasy IX and “Suteki da ne” also both work wonderfully, falling more on the electronic side with echoing synth lines and belltones in each, and I have to say the re-recording of the vocals in the latter are quite nice. Finally, “Final Fantasy VII Main Theme” gets a dreamy rock approach that is fantastic, reminding me of a more upbeat version of Radiohead.
Then there are the tracks that don’t really fit in with the theme at all. I’ll start with the ones I really like, which include “Jolly Ol’ Spekkio” from Chrono Trigger which also incorporates “Gato’s Theme,” bringing in fiddles and toy percussion for a fun arrangement and “Suite Xenogears” which is a piano-only medley spanning 10 minutes that is simply stunning.
From there, we have the return of Räfven who were completely out of place on the NieR Tribute Album –Echo- CD, and likewise here, their polka-styled “Chocobo’s Theme ~ Fat Chocobo Appears” is downright strange, although the crawling tempo makes for one of the most interesting versions of the theme I’ve heard. “Seven Heroes Battle” from Romancing SaGa 2 is an electronic excursion with pumping percussion, while “Last Dungeon ~ Theme of Dewprism” and “Matoya’s Cave” sound like hold-overs from SQ Chips with their heavy 8-bit influences. The Dewprism track gets a nice jazzy club vibe going while Deadball P’s “Matoya’s Cave” is more energetic chip rock like something out of a shmup title (in other words, I love both of them), but again, they don’t really fit the whole cafe theme very well.
In all, I have to say that I’m not disappointed. I was hoping for more of the jazz-oriented stuff, especially in line with the “Troian Beauty” arrangement, but most of what’s here is fantastic despite a few duds. Still, with fifteen tracks and some great arrangements, I’d say Café SQ is up there with SQ Chips among the best of the series. With some of the previous SQ series albums falling a bit flat, I’m glad to see Square Enix continuing with this themed album approach… now they just need to be more strict with enforcing the given style across the entire album!
There’s not much going on with the packaging aside from the cover which is illustrated by Black Butler artist Yana Toboso. The booklet contains credits for all the performers which is nice. The album is apparently proving popular, as it’s back ordered on Play-Asia and available in limited quantities on CD Japan for a reasonable 2,000 Yen, so pick it up if you want more SQ!
What do you think of the Café SQ theme and the arrangements contained within? Does anything come as a surprise, and are there any tracks that you think are dying for a café-themed arrangement?Tags: Arrangements, Cafe SQ, Deadball P, Jazz, Remixers, Remixes, Reviews, Schroeder-Headz, SQ Series, Square Enix