Experimental, Game Music, Reviews

The Boys Are Back in Town: EARTHBOUND PAPAS Unleash Octave Theory (Review)

May 23, 2011 | | 5 Comments Share thison Facebook The Boys Are Back in Town: EARTHBOUND PAPAS Unleash Octave Theory (Review)on Twitter

It was some time ago that Nobuo Uematsu announced that he had formed a new band called EARTHBOUND PAPAS. What was the band all about, and was it at all related to Nintendo’s Mother 2, which is known as Earthbound in West? Well, with the release of their debut album, Octave Theory, a couple months back, all speculation was laid to rest. This is Nobuo Uematsu’s new band.

But wait, what about The Black Mages, you ask? Well, The Black Mages belong to Square Enix, whereas the EARTHBOUND PAPAS are an independent group. Does it make a difference? As you’ll see from the track listing, a number of Final Fantasy tracks appear on the album, but the EARTHBOUND PAPAS really offer a distinct sound of their own.

Find out what we think of their debut offering and what other game arrangements are featured in our review after the jump.

Nine tracks, five of which are arrangements, and four of which are originals. Kind of. The album opens with “Introduction ~ Octopus Theory,” the former half of which features excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave Op.31,” providing a regal yet entirely unexpected introduction to the group before their official debut begins in the “Octopus Theory” portion. Strange vocals/rambling by the “nip-nops” (voiced by Emi Evans, the alien language specialist, it seems) accompany a blend of laid back rock (with organ) and synthesized elements including 8-bit arpeggios and other spacey synth work. If this is what the EARTHBOUND PAPAS are all about, then I definitely want some more.

And that’s the thing. The group is comprised of Nobuo Uematsu on organ and keys, Michio Okamiya on guitar, Tsutomu Narita on keys and guitar, Yoshitaka Hirota (surprise!) on bass and “howling,” and Arata Hanyuda on drums. Familiar names, yes, but a new sound. The cheesy 80s rock stylings of The Black Mages are cast aside for a more modern “space rock” sound.

So, it’s then on to some covers. “Liberi Fatali” from Final Fantasy VIII and “Advent: One-Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII follow. Both tracks that The Black Mages have performed in the past, and two tracks I wouldn’t mind never hearing again (I never liked “Liberi Fatali,” and “One-Winged Angel,” well… I think game music fans have heard enough of it) . I understand why they’re here: they’re two of Uematsu’s most popular and hardcore compositions, and I guess they wanted to appeal to fans who are into Uematsu but perhaps aren’t so into Uematsu that they’ve grown tired of these. That said, the arrangements are much more mellow compared to their Black Mages counterparts, which I appreciate. The guitar work by Okamiya is fantastic as always.

Aside from that, there’s a completely unnecessary Japanese language version of “Eternity” from Blue Dragon, which was easily my favorite song from that game. I have to assume that Uematsu is a huge fan of Ian Gillan given his love for Deep Purple, and while I won’t say that Gillan’s performance on the original Blue Dragon soundtrack was his best, there was a cool factor to it. Here, the track gets Japanese language vocals that make the track sound like an anime opening theme, and I have to say that the magic is gone. The jarring “Bo-Kon-Ho-Ko” from Lost Odyssey also feels a bit out of place with its choral-esque vocals.

You’re probably thinking by now that I hate this album, but that’s not true at all. “Thread of Fate” from GUIN SAGA is the last of the five covers to mention, and I’ve saved the best for last. Opening with angelic woodwinds and harp, it isn’t until a minute or two in that Okamiya enters with wailing electric guitar to voice the beautiful melody. The track has a dreamy quality about it, perhaps created by the heavy reverb on the electric guitar that makes it sound like it’s coming from the distance. In any case, it’s a great cover, and a great performance by the EARTHBOUND PAPAS.

Then there are three more originals to cover that go along with the opening “Octopus Theory.” After seeing the album’s track listing and knowing I wouldn’t care to hear some of the arrangements, I have to say I was most excited to see that the group would be putting out original tracks, and as was the case with “Octopus Theory,” the remaining originals don’t disappoint. “Metal Hypnotized” features maddening synth work and wonky time signatures to create a dream-like soundscape that is fun to get lost in. The bluesy rock style featured throughout, including some impressive organ work by Uematsu, is quite a treat.

“The Forest of Thousand Years” not only sounds like a cool track (I love forest pieces), but is one of my favorites on the album. It comes as an unexpected pop ballad of sorts with a slow tempo and a contemplative melody that I swear edges near “Eyes on Me” at times. It’s that kind of tune, but without lyrics. Oh, and it features Emi Evans on the cello!

The closing track, “Homecoming,” features tribal percussion and synth elements that sit behind more of the strange and playful ‘nip-nop’ speech from the opening track. Heavily filtered electric guitar dances between your left and right ears, as if trying to carry you into a confused dream-like state, making you wonder if this crazy journey into space was nothing but a dream.

The booklet contains the lyrics from all the songs as well as extensive credits, and I absolutely love the group’s adorable alien logo. Overall, while I went into this knowing that I wouldn’t like some of the arrangements based on the source material alone, I can appreciate the style that they approached the arrangements with, which shines through the several original tracks on the album. Octave Theory is a promise of things to come: a mellow and more dreamy sound compared to The Black Mages, and one I’m greatly looking forward to exploring more in the future.

The album is available at CD Japan, Play-Asia, and the brand new English Dog Ear Records shop, which features not only every CD the label has released, but also some awesome swag including shirts and reusable tote bags. Check it out if you’re a fan of spacey rock music or Uematsu’s past work. It will set you back about 2,700 Yen.

Does the shift from The Black Mages to the EARTHBOUND PAPAS really make much of a difference to you given that the group is still covering Final Fantasy music? What do you think of the new group’s approach, and are there specific tracks that you’d like to see them perform in the future?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


« Next Post

Previous Post »

More like this Post