Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jim Guthrie: The Ballad of the Space Babies

     This is going to be a strange review. Jim Guthrie, a Canadian singer-songwriter, according to Wikipedia, has recently released this, the soundtrack to an IOS game I've been playing, and enjoying, for quite a while now, called Sword and Sworcery. The game itself is more of an experience than a game, with a heavy focus on sound and music. In-game, each track has a purpose that amplifies every second of the adventure to a point almost transcendent. On record, however, I cannot help but feel as though if you hadn't played the game, and without the art style and effects of that, the sounds would come across as almost lost. They're great, but for some will be separated from the journey that makes them outstanding. Nevertheless, I would assume that the only people interested in purchasing this soundtrack would be people who have played the game, and who while listening would be visualising the said game around them. Therefore that previous problem is ironed out straight away, and shouldn't cause much bother to what I assume is the target audience. Matched with the IOS experience, this record makes for an equally impressive and surreal flight over lands only splayed out in our wildest dreams!
     As a start then, there are a few different tones to this record. Throughout the twenty-seven tracks, there are menacing atmospheres that lead into ones more playful. Bleak soundscapes fuse into sonic walls of noise that are splattered in the electronic chiptune paint which feels both very fantastical and reflective of the game's unique and inspiring art style. Experimentation with sampled sounds and noises also works extremely well, with the hums and prolonged notes providing depth that's a joy to jump into. One of my favourite tracks, 'The Prettiest Weed' has two versions, with the remix strangely retaining more of my admiration. The said remix sounds decidedly more mysterious, with the haunting piano plinks drawing forth a muffled, reverb heavy drone that oozes fear.
     The opener 'Dark Flute' is the tribal walk through an overcast forest, with the raindrops softening the ground and the smell wafting between the leaves. This is in part probably due to the game's raining effect, but as I tried to block out this image, the atmosphere refused to diffuse. 'The Ballad Of The Space Babies', from which the record takes it's name, is also crucial to a section of the adventure. The ethereal 'space babies' float and sing in a way not unlike angels ascending to heaven. I have to admit that these thoughts are heavily influenced by what I saw and played through, which leads me to the conclusion that the record needs to be paired with the game to have the maximum impact.
     'The Whirling Infinite' has the same sort of apocalyptic thunder-cloud that looms over 'The Prettiest Remix'. That, matched with the contrastingly upbeat 'Little Furnace' marks the end of the first half of the record and the start of for me, the more interesting twenty minutes. 'Cabin Music' feels the most stark and bleak, with a few sincere pinpricks of hope piercing the paper sky. The next two songs, 'Battles 1' and '2' are obviously meant to be fight music, and the beating heart and sharp intakes of breath certainly emulate this. The ritualistic drums on number two also imply a foreboding sacrifice and uneven matching that I can't help but love. 'Mushrooms' then arrives, startling with it's Mario-esque pitch and feeling. There definitely isn't a shortage of variety on this lp, which is an element important for me, especially on one as long in track number as this.
     The last few songs feel almost like a last stand, and having not played this far into the game, I'm jumping with anticipation. 'Death To Everyone's unholy screams and organ drones. 'Confronting The Wolf's sense of fear and snow-covered fir trees, your breath billowing into the crisp morning air. 'Activating Trigons' is another of my favourite tracks, with it's electronic hums and climaxing notes reminding me of goose-bump inducing movie moments, with it's conclusion having a similar effect. The finisher 'And We Got Older' gives the impression of a warrior returning from war. His emotions and physical well being are in tatters, but repair themselves when his wife runs from her house, tears streaming down her face. Some parts of this record, I realise by the end, are truly stunning, but have been made more so by playing the game. This album is like a body bar the arms. It's still functional, but half as beautiful without them. Think of it like that, and if possible, get both!