Game Music, Indie Music, Reviews

Indie Game Rhapsodies (Review)

February 21, 2014 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Indie Game Rhapsodies (Review)on Twitter

With the popularity of indie games and their soundtracks growing, there has also been a surge in arrangements and remixes of these works. In fact there have been a few new arrangers who focus on indie soundtracks specifically. One of these emerging artists is Brent Kennedy. His previous albums include arrangements for Danny Baranowsky’s music for Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy. Kennedy’s specialty is solo piano arrangements. His writing style can be best described as impressionist (think Debussy or Ravel) with a small dose of minimalist writing thrown in the mix. The covered tracks can vary from energetic and climactic to calm and relaxing. In this latest album, he once again demonstrates a similar musical range.

Unlike his previous work, this newest arrange album, titled Indie Game Rhapsodies, takes a sampling of different indie game soundtracks. The composers covered include Big Giant Circles, Alec Holowka, Jeff Ball, and Austin Wintory. The soundtracks being drawn from are an eclectic selection. Some are chiptune soundtracks, while others are originally orchestral. Kennedy takes each of these selections and transforms them into relaxing and mesmerizing solo piano pieces. The result is a collection of tracks that showcases some excellent game music, while presenting a more classical take on the material.

Listening to how Kennedy decides to approach each piece is an interesting an enjoyable experience. The arrangements each capture some of the personality of the original soundtracks. Tracks like “Flinging High” from Offspring Fling are upbeat and cheerful, while “FTL Themes” captures FTL‘s ambient atmosphere. What’s nice about these arrangements is that he keeps them relatively simple. The original melodies are not drowned out by over-the-top and dramatic variations. It’s less about trying to show off and display virtuosity, and more about the original music that he’s chosen to cover. The pieces showcase the already excellent source material and focus on presenting it all faithfully on the piano.

Many of these arrangements inspire a relaxed and contemplative mood, even in material that served a different purpose. One of the pieces that I was surprised to see on the album was “What’s Yours Is Mine” from Monaco. It seemed odd to me to have a piano arrangement for a piece that was already written as a piano track, albeit an out of tune piano. However, much like the other arrangements, this track is a more laid back and tranquil interpretation of the original music. The music maintains a slow and relaxed pace until the very last moments. Only then does it speed up to the more manic pace that we are familiar with. An excellent interpretation for something that I definitely was not expecting.

The true power of Kennedy’s arrangements become apparent in pieces where the original material already had a tranquil or pastoral presence. A perfect example is in the arrangement of “Flow” from FEZ. Because Disasterpeace’s original soundtrack is already a laid back minimalist work, it works perfectly when transitioned to Kennedy’s style of piano arrangement. What’s particularly striking about this track are the brief moments when Kennedy allows the melody to stand alone, with no accompanying harmonic elements. Even though they are short, these moments help showcase the melodic material that makes the music so memorable in the first place. It also helps to draw the listener in and keep focus on specific elements of the music. This track in particular left me wanting more. I’d personally like to see an entire piano arrange album of FEZ at some point in the future.

Similarly, the “FTL Themes” track demonstrates the effectiveness of Kennedy’s arranging of an already ambient soundtrack. Much like the FEZ arrangement, many of the memorable elements of the music are approached with little embellishment. The opening of this track has an especially haunting mood, where he lets the opening notes ring out and fade. The piece also has an excellent build up to the more energetic themes from the game, before it settles down for a quieter ending. Here again, the artist recognizes what makes the source material great and lets it stand on its own, without interference.

Indie Game Rhapsodies is a wonderful collection of arrangements from some of the top indie game soundtracks. Kennedy’s masterful understanding of his instrument and the means of arranging for it makes this album stand out from the crowd. The impressionist and sometimes minimalist approach to the arrangements gives each track a serene and relaxing tone, which few other arrange albums accomplish. For any lover of relaxing classical piano arrangements, this is a must have album. Indie Game Rhapsodies can be purchased on Bandcamp, Loudr, and iTunes.

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