Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

When we think of fantastic scores or memorable music, most people would tend to go toward artists’ direct albums or compositions completed for movies or television series. Some of the greats, like John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer, have made the movie experience that much greater by matching up the score to the action or drama on-screen. Most people felt a strong reaction when they first heard the fanfare of the¬†Star Wars¬†theme or the playfulness of the music from¬†The Nightmare Before Christmas. It invokes tension, passion, levity, or power.

The same could be said from the world of gaming…

Music in video games has been vital to making some of the greatest gaming experiences that much greater. Star-crossed lovers finally admitting their feelings, the majesty of a new world being opened, and a melodic backdrop that fills out an adventure that is just beginning are just some of the connections that music has made in the gaming world. Admittedly, my gaming experiences are somewhat diverse, but I have tended to appreciate certain series over others. I have been a loyal Nintendo follower but have dabbled in the world of Sony and on the PC, with little connection to Microsoft or Sega. Still, the list below includes some of the best musical compositions I have heard over the years from some of the most memorable games across these many platforms.

For this list, I will only be picking one song per franchise in order to diversify the songs listed. While many title themes can be identified for being extremely memorable, I am purposely going to shift my focus to specific tracks that invoke a level of intense connection with the experience on the screen, with honorable mentions for other songs that are similarly impactful.

10) Metroid РPrologue: The Metroid series has used a lot of mechanical sounds to produce its accompanying themes, but the prologue in Super Metroid truly raised the bar for the fanfare of the series. A true accomplishment, beating Ridley and Mother Brain is no easy task. Neither is traversing a harsh terrain with no true allies to save you. Samus was also revealed to be a woman in this game, which made the experience sweeter. Women had not been protagonist in these games with the same type of bravado and matching soundtrack. The finale/prologue changes the atmosphere to a more heroic element, adding to that accomplishment of halting evil and escaping the collapsing planet. The 16-bit song is just fine, but the orchestrated version takes it to a whole new level.

9) Mega Man – Dr. Wily’s Castle: Having achieved victory over the first 8 bosses, Mega Man finally reaches the end of his quest at the evil Dr. Wily’s lair. Achieving this is no small feat, as the simplified controls and dangerous terrain of the first eight levels does not provide an easy path toward this goal. The high energy brings the player back into the zone with the ability to take on this final set of levels. Some of the other Mega Man games revisited this soundtrack, including a revitalized version in the¬†Mega Man X¬†series.

8)¬†Star Fox – Corneria:¬†The soundtrack to the¬†Star Fox¬†series has a lot of use of electric guitar and in a lot of ways sounds like some of the music from the¬†Mega Man¬†series. What makes this particular song so memorable is that it sets up the epic quest of traveling throughout the galaxy to take on the evil Andross. Starting off the game with such a rocking’ ballad helps to set the tone almost like starting off a great mixtape with¬†You Give Love a Bad Name. The remainder of the game has equally energetic music but only¬†Star Wolf comes close to the level of energy as this one.

7)¬†Mirror’s Edge – Still Alive:¬†While I only ever played this game in its demo version, the main theme from the game is clearly present, upfront, and magical. The song gives the perfect background to the free running experience of the game.¬†Mirror’s Edge¬†was an interesting concept even without its music. A game that is based on navigating through the rooftops and a city on foot without being able to stop for a breath keeps the energy level up and could be a little too intense for some. What the music does is to almost make you feel like you are flying and gliding through the landscape and grooving while exploring each of the runs. This may not be an epic song, a beautifully sad ballad, or a hard-edged battle theme, but it is exactly what is needed to enhance the experience of this game.

6)¬†Super Smash Bros. – Melee (Main Theme):¬†With the first¬†Super Smash Bros.¬†being such a great success, the sequel was highly anticipated and seen to be a potential instant classic on the Gamecube. One of the best things about this song is that it is everything that is amazing about some of Nintendo’s greatest franchises. When I first turned on the system with this game, I was excited to see what Nintendo had produced. With the characters coming alive on-screen (and in a way that was far and above the graphics of the N64), the music just made the experience that much more epic. Even before actually playing the game, I knew this was a true winner.¬†Super Smash Bros. Brawl¬†had a more epic feel to it with the choir element, but the difference between the first and second games was significantly more memorable.

5)¬†Super Mario – Gusty Garden Galaxy:¬†Anyone can say that the first game’s music is the most memorable and it has been adapted to fit the proceeding games in the Mario series.¬†Super Mario 64¬†revolutionized the series with the 3-D worlds, while¬†Super Mario Sunshine¬†raised the bar in graphic presentation.¬†Finally arriving at¬†Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii,¬†Gusty Garden Galaxy enhanced an already memorable series of compositions. SMG¬†as not only 3-D, but it was also so big that it could not fit on one world. There were a few other musical themes that appeared before this one, but¬†Gusty Garden Galaxy is just fun, playful, and majestic to a level that truly boasts the new heights of the series. The plumber is going nowhere and this theme is proof of Nintendo’s ability to still make its primary formula work toward the benefit of the fans.

4)¬†Castlevania – Lost Painting:¬†To be honest, this song is better in the recomposed piano version, but the entire soundtrack for¬†Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is spectacular. The entire game is amazing. It officially combined the RPG genre with the action-adventure genre to create an action RPG. While Alucard is the only true playable character, the ill-fated vampire turns his actions toward thwarting the villainous Dracula from overtaking the world. The castle which he must traverse is full of twists and turns, and a whole assortment of thematic areas with their own musical arrangements. When this song arises, it is like a reprieve from the harsher elements of the game, but not fully removed from the majesty or sorcery of Dracula’s castle. The version in the game was understated from its arrangement, but the many iterations, both orchestrated and arranged for piano, help to better paint the picture of mystery and adventure that the game produced.

3) Chrono Trigger – Magus Confronted:¬†Similar to a series higher on this list, the music from this game truly enhanced the experience in remarkable ways. Battle music in RPGs is typically energetic and hard-edged, but the reveal of the anti-hero and the start of the battle had a level of fanfare unmatched by most other games up to and beyond that point in gaming history. Chrono and his team enter¬†Magus’s Castle, defeat Ozzie and his gang, and arrive at the¬†sanctum at the lowest level of the castle. Walking into the room, there is an eerie, quiet atmosphere about the upcoming confrontation. Arriving before Magus, he goes into a speech about disrupting his plans and then the music begins with some soft strings, vocals, and flute performing a descending ominous introduction to the battle music. Finally, the fanfare begins and the epic battle against the wizard commences. While the fight itself is easy to manage in terms of his attacks and patterns, the battle music gives the experience a much more epic feel. Later battles against Lavos and Queen Zeal are much tougher but lack the sophistication and energy that Magus achieves.

2)¬†The Legend of Zelda – Fi’s Lament:¬†For arguably the best franchise in gaming history, this may seem like an unlikely song to reach the top of the list. The main theme is easily more memorable and invokes that sense of adventure and heroism that has become a gaming standard. Even some of the themes from¬†Ocarina of Time, such as¬†Zelda’s Lullaby¬†or¬†Gerudo Valley, are more widely known. It is because this song produces a much stronger specific response that it wins out in this list. Fi is a character that may be more forgettable as Link’s sidekick, but she surprised gamers when this theme finally appeared in the game. After finishing his quest and while ready to return the master sword to its stone, Link discovers that he is also parting ways with Fi. Though she is a creature without emotion, there is something different in these finals moments that the two characters share. They quested to save Zelda and restore balance to the land, but their goodbye appears to have extracted a sense of emotion out of the stoic Fi. Link appears affected by realizing that he is leaving her behind, and gamers suddenly felt the same way. Navi, the King of Red Lions, and Midna never were able to create that same emotion in their final goodbyes and that achievement should be recognized.

1) Final Fantasy – To Zanarkand:¬†This series could easily have its own top thirty. Each of the¬†Final Fantasy¬†games have been accomplishments in storytelling and composition.¬†FF6¬†has several tracks that take the 16-bit game to amazing heights, including¬†Terra’s Theme and¬†Phantom Forest.¬†FF7 could possibly¬†win as the best musical soundtrack out of the entire series, particularly the¬†Main Theme and¬†Aerith’s Theme. There are even several competitors in¬†FFX¬†that could give¬†To Zanarkand¬†a run for its money, including¬†Suteki Da Ne for its portrayal of Tidus and Yuna finally giving into their passions and sharing a beautiful moment alone together. In the end, the top song on the list serves as the title track and the one that builds the story toward its conclusion for its protagonist. Tidus is searching for proof of what happened to him during the attack by Sin that threw him 1000 years into the future. He joins Yuna in hopes of learning the truth about his time travel and his father while also supporting her quest to defeat Sin. On the eve of reaching Zanarkand, the group gathers for their final descent into the lost city. Lost in thought, this piano theme plays and ties the story together in the perfect way, part love song and part thematic ballad of an ill-fated hero. Just a perfectly composed piece.

Agree with these selections? Tell me what your favorite songs or themes are from your favorite games.

Evolution of Music: Pentatonix

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Music

Recent winners of the¬†Sing-Off, Pentatonix have been creating quite the name for themselves. It is unusual that an a capella group would be able to sell out shows and get more attention than just a gathering on a college campus, but these five singers are quite talented. Whether it is the lead singer’s range or the one guy’s ability to beatbox, it is difficult to be less than impressed with these five performers.

Here is a sample of their talent:

Music of the Moment: April 2013

Posted: April 14, 2013 in Music

Hello all!

My posts are a little inconsistent, but I am going to try to do a little more writing a little more often as I can spare the time. For this post, I would like to take a little more of fun tone and play around with a little more about me as a person. Early when I started this blog, I put up some posts that focused on Top 1os of my favorite music. Now I would like to try something similar but go with the ABCs of my favorite artists plus my favorite songs of theirs. Here we go…

No, I am not going into a whole VH1 tribute or parody. Instead, I would simply like to share a little about the music behind one of the greatest game franchises in the history of gaming. The Legend of Zelda’s main theme is one that is recognizable to so many as the games have been enjoyed across generations. From the original NES world theme to the most recent orchestral soundtrack to Skyward Sword, the music evokes emotion, excitement and joy to match the experience of the adventure on screen. By itself, you may not even recognize that it actually came from a video game.

This past year in celebration for the 25th anniversary, Nintendo hosted a concert in Los Angeles to highlight the music that helps to define this character and the whole franchise’s universe. The 70-piece orchestra played a series of selections and medleys from the games, spanning the entire history of the series. It was originally announced at E3 to joyous applause of the fanboys and was performed on October 21st.

To celebrate the series and reward the fans, a CD was added to the recently released Skyward Sword featuring the music of the concert. Here are the selections from the performance:

The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley –¬†http://youtu.be/UCExYO-NNMA

  • Random assortment of themes and musical selections between the original and up to/including¬†Spirit Tracks
  • Original theme appears toward the middle in a light violin section
  • Includes the following elements: Triforce Theme – A Link to the Past;¬†Theme from Spirit Tracks;¬†Dragon Roost Island – Wind Waker;¬†Original Theme similar to Twilight Princess version; Dark Word Theme – A Link to the Past;¬†Combination of Main Theme and Zelda’s Lullaby

Kakariko Village (Twilight Princess Theme) –¬†http://youtu.be/t_FmaQiQcNE

  • Similar in sound to the theme from Ocarina of Time
  • Very smooth and slightly regal sound, particularly toward the beginning

The Wind Waker Symphonic Movement –¬†http://youtu.be/J7yZ-jAj7Zk

  • Includes music that follows the chronological progression of the story
  • Strong moments featuring the boss themes and sailing theme mixed in with the lighter elements of character interactions

Gerudo Valley –¬†http://youtu.be/THdRs7grqhE

  • Taken from Ocarina of Time
  • Bolder and more defined than the original

Great Fairy’s Fountain Theme –¬†http://youtu.be/U7JQgyNw068

  • Orchestrated with a series of harps to capture the mystical side of the series
  • Not specific to one game but captures the spirit of all of them

Twilight Princess Symphonic Movement –¬†http://youtu.be/nKhLkgqEFZM

  • Similar to the Wind Waker¬†movement, captures the excitement and energy chronologically through the game (particularly in the most bombastic world theme out of the series)
  • Captures the essence of the story more than the actual music programmed into the game

The Legend of Zelda Main Theme Medley –¬†http://youtu.be/qkYSuWSPkHI

  • Greatest focus on 2D games appears in this medley
  • Consists of a collection of interpretations of the main theme across the entire series

Ballad of the Goddess from Skyward Sword –¬†http://youtu.be/hetWofrCz7U

  • Serves as the newest of the main game themes and will fit in nicely among the best of the series
  • One of the few main themes to be set in 3/4 rather than 4/4 time

Not only is this album one of the best orchestral video game collections but it was FREE with the game. I will definitely be listening to this entire album over and over again.

With her quirky style, beautiful voice and down-to-earth attitude, Sara Bareilles has quickly become one of my favorite artists. I was first exposed to her music through some random searching on iTunes for some new songs. Love Song was certainly a catchy hit but the rest of the album drew me into her sound and style. I have said many times that I would love to meet a woman who can sing her heart out, and playing an instrument would make her that much more compelling. Sara truly takes it to the next level with her abilities across multiple instruments and styles of music. Her music can be described as a blend of pop, jazz and soul with an occasional infusion of punk (more so through her sense of style).

After building an interest in her music, I found out she was coming to Chapel Hill, NC to play at Cat’s Cradle and I knew I had to go. She definitely did not disappoint with that concert. I was standing about four rows back from the stage and she came out to start off the evening with a little chatter with the crowd before her opening acts. She was adorable and truly made a great connection with the crowd. After Greg Laswell’s performance, her band took to the stage and played her on. With a powerful jamming on the piano, the show began and I knew this was going to be the best concert I had ever seen. The show included a combination of songs off her newer album, Kaleidoscope Heart, with a spattering of her former hits and random song from Radiohead. I left the concert buzzed by the energy of the performance and would love to see her again.

          

Besides the eventual top 10 list that I am getting to, I would also like to point out that she has some incredible covers that have been highlighted on YouTube. Included within her current set of covers are Beyonce’s Single Ladies, the Beatles’s Oh Darling, Coldplay’s Yellow, Aha’s Take On Me, Mumford and Son’s Little Lion Man,¬†Amy Winehouse’s Valerie¬†and Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay. While the last song of this list could easily be one of my favorite for my top 10, I will simply say that Yellow and (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay are just simply amazing. Here are some teaser before I get to the official top 10 list…

Alright now…I think it is time to get to the top 10 list. When I chose these songs, I left the covers out and had to think about what made each one of these such great hits. I will say now that I do appreciate some of the more mainstream hits, like Love Song and Bottle It Up, but she has so many great songs that I just had to look past what made it big. Each of these songs elicits different genres and emotions. If you cannot find even one song from this list that can become addictive, then there is no hope for your musical taste.

A couple definite quality songs that did not make the cut but are still fantastic are Bottle It Up (great hit mainstream hit), Love Song (the song that truly launched her into the spotlight), Many the Miles (another bouncy hit that either starts or ends her concerts with the strong energy it brings), Basket Case (a mellow but emotional song about missing someone special), Undertow (a beautiful lounge-like jazz song that is probably under-appreciated) and City (a passionate tune that highlights a bit of her range as the song builds).

         

Here are the top 10 Sara Bareilles songs as of 11.27.11…

#10 РMachine Gun: This is probably not the first song that comes to mind when thinking about Sara, but there is an intriguing quality about this song where it seems like she can just belt it out at the top of her lungs and still make it beautiful. I would have loved to here her sing this one live but maybe another time. http://youtu.be/XaLpjdokxls

#9 – Bluebird: Possibly one of Sara’s favorite songs off of her most recent album, Bluebird is a soothing melody that has a bit more of the range that Basket Case does not highlight. This is definitely a Sara original, even though there are plenty of other artists that have songs with the same title. Gather your strength and rise up.¬†http://youtu.be/7H2PI_rVB2Y

#8 – Morningside: With quite a bit more attitude, this is a song that can easily get you moving. It has the feeling like she infused a little bit of funk with the sound of the guitar and the accent beats with the drums and low octave piano. http://youtu.be/FWRiEgFs8vQ

#7 РUncharted: Definitely one of the bigger hits off Kaleidoscope Heart, the music video is actually really simple and hardly features Sara in the images. Her videos have a theme of focusing on a wide variety of people, in a sense to show an interconnectedness of life. Enjoy the Ben Folds cameo and take in her passion for taking the road not traveled. http://youtu.be/zlxB9zGH8GU

#6 РNot Alone: Taking a jazz soul tone, she breaks out of the bounds of even the more thematic sound she showcases. She exposes her more deep, sultry side with a hard low octave piano and bouncy rhythm. This is easily a catchy song that did not seem to get noticed as well as a potential hit. http://youtu.be/HNGDALL4jew

#5 – King of Anything: Serving as the song that kicked off the release of Kaleidoscope Heart, she has released several songs that have the common theme of trying to both produce and defy putting out a pop hit. Love Song was in direct reaction to her record studio’s request for a pop hit (I’m not gonna write you a love song / cause you ask for it / cause you need one) and Bottle it Up highlighted both how love songs are just bottled up and distributed as well as how love gets thrown around without appreciating it. King of Anything¬†highlights both taking a stand against overbearing masculinity and her record studio requesting another pop hit. In the end, she still produced a great one.¬†http://youtu.be/eR7-AUmiNcA

#4 РFairytale: One of her most playful songs, the variation between her original version on Careful Confessions and her first widely distributed album, Little Voice, does not matter because both versions make you want to sing along. Taking famous fairytale princesses and turning their stories on their heads, she produced a bouncy melody that she uses to empower women beyond gender stereotypes. When she was introducing this at her concert, I knew what was coming and she definitely looked like she was having fun with it on stage. http://youtu.be/SgSeF9IBc1M

#3 РLet the Rain: Between her emotional and playful hits, she produces a number of songs that truly invoke a feeling of empowerment of either taking the next step or getting excited for something new. This song is just that, as a message for starting fresh and taking hold of new opportunities. This song gets me fired up when I need an energy boost. http://youtu.be/YpRdv5Tbzq4

#2 РHold My Heart: Although one of her widely appreciated emotional hits, there is just so much passion portrayed both through the lyrics and her delivery. Highlighting how we all protect ourselves by being cautious with our heart, we are all looking for someone we can trust to truly love us. It is amazing how close to the studio version the sound of the live one truly is. http://youtu.be/IY30PLBhzH4

#1 – Gravity: There are a number of versions of this song and every one of them cuts you deep. While the music video takes a more astrologically symbolic approach to highlighting the concept of gravity (with lights and objects representing parts of out solar system), her lyrics are voicing the cries for help of a woman trapped in a challenging and emotionally draining relationship. While the two elements do not seem to match at all, there is a beautiful dance between the video’s images, her melody and the story of a desperate woman. Simply beautiful.¬†http://youtu.be/rEXhAMtbaec

Well there you have it. I certainly love all of her music, but these 10 songs are the ones that have truly stood out and made me a Sara fan. I cannot wait for the next album and hopefully another tour.