Video games offer us mathematics, art and ideas, science, structure and logic all in a multitude of incarnations. But often what helps to elevate them to a sublime and emotional experience is the music that serves as a proxy for the soul of the piece. Here we focus on the creative geniuses behind some of the year’s best compositions in support of their catalysts.
10. Chaos Reborn
Music by by George Strezov
A gorgeous hybrid of more traditional orchestral fantasy LOTR business, with a slick contemporary Blade Runner vein running through it, Strezov’s intoxicating compositions suspend the ultraviolet world of Chaos Reborn in an exciting visceral glittery fog of war.
9. Gravity Ghost
by Ben Prunty
Imagine that Tom Waits lost a box of tapes from his Bone Machine era and it was found by a 16th century Spenser fan who likes reverse crashes and the North Bay of San Francisco in the autumn, and you’d get something that sounds like Prunty’s “Welcome to the Afterlife” from Gravity Ghost.
Other tracks like “Nebula Carver” go deep into a blissful, Deuter-like New Age vibe, while “Owls” relies on percussive bowls to elicit a sense of ethereal occasion.
Among all these ideas there is a cohesion to the works that creates the fresh universe of Ivy Games’ standout physics-based puzzler.
by Toby Fox
With hundreds, if not thousands of hours worth of Let’s Plays uploaded for Undertale in 2015, the soundtrack may be one of the most pervasive in indie gaming right now. Whether you know it or not, this catchy score is now locked somewhere inside your gray matter, beckoning you back to a world of nonviolence and postodern mitigation.
7. Fran Bow
by Isak Martinsson
(Killmonday Games HB)
IGR writer InfinityWaltz fell in love with Martinsson’s oblique synthy distantly Klezmer-infused soundtrack for a very chilling animated adventure: “Perfect for Fran Bow’s tale of childhood terror and madness – set in a creepy asylum, no less – Isak Martinsson’s compositions are softly spooky. Pieces like music boxes playing in dusty attics – all tentative and wispy pianos – give way to synthesized choral ambiance and slowly creeping chords of chamber music malevolence.”
You know those “haunted house” cassette tapes they used to sell at party stores for you to play for trick-or-treaters on Halloween? Imagine Angelo Badalementi made one, and you get the idea.
by Marios Aristopoulos
Hypnotic and foreboding, Apotheon‘s soundtrack flares with bristling dissonance, threatening whispers and bubbling menace. A rich palette to support a wholly original and daring title.
A particular standout is “Hades Underworld,” with bowed cymbals, digitally sampled sopranos, sustained drones dredging across a reticent viola chucking away the darkness as a muted churchbell tolls in the distance, warnings of a gentle piano twittering in fear.
A dreamy, carnival-like tone pervades this interesting blend of styles that sits in the pocket of contemplation and curiosity. That sounds like a bunch of ambivalent word choices, but the soundtrack is prettier than all that and is worth listening to in its own right. The game’s art style is itself a fusion of retro pixel art sidescrolling to reveal more contemporary visual effects, like your refection in the river which you are constantly skirting…a lot like the soundtrack.
Music by Mikko Tarmia
Using a wide variety of real analog modular synths, pedals and an Akai digital mouth breath controller Tarmia creates an incredibly eerie and bravely minimalist atmospheric outing that recalls Robert Rich, Dave Torn, Pete Namlook and other ambient greats. His score perfectly supports the notion that we are somewhere at the end of the world, as seen from the bottom of the heartless ocean caught in a horrible dream.
3. Axiom Verge
Music by Tom Happ
What is most startling about this utterly compelling Delia Derbyshire progeny in the form of a chiptune score is that its creator is also the programmer, designer and artist for the same game. Deploying EQ filters to create a sense of dimensionality – not something typically used in 8 and 16 bit composition – Happ’s effort is an amazingly dimensional and modern experiment in merging forms and technology to create something wholly original.
At times it sounds like the restrained remixes of NIN done by Coil (“Rusalka”), at others like Michael Dyanna met up with T.I. and tried to fix a Commodore Vic 20 (“Inexorable”). Or how about Gary Numan and Einstürzende Neubauten played through a Gameboy (“Apocalypse”).
In his review of Axiom Verge, IGR’s FictiveTruism praised the soundtrack’s “flexibility to convey both the serene and more urgent moments of the game.”
Music by Chris Schlarb
A soundtrack as eclectic as a season of 1970’s Sesame Street that leans towards Chick Corea/Zappa tropes, Chris Schlarb perfectly counterbalances the crawling nightmare of Dropsy‘s life and beingness with this uptempo joy. The soundtrack is actually a real band’s reinterpretation of the original video game music that Schlarb wrote digitally. See the video below for more on this:
InfinityWaltz, who reviewed Dropsy for IGR, had this to say: “Dropsy is nothing if not quirky, and Chris Schlarb (best known in the indie game world for his work on NightSky) delivers the perfect soundtrack, incorporating everything from New Wave to dub to jazz to evoke both the game’s essential strangeness and its sentimentality.
The game also features cassette tapes that you can find and listen to; in homage to the ’90s setting, these are all rendered as chiptune equivalents of everything from thrash metal to industrial rock to riot grrrl punk.”
1. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Music by Jessica Curry, Voice by Elin Manahan Thomas
(The Chinese Room, SCE Santa Monica Studio)
This was IGR writer Karl de Mare‘s OST pick of the year: “Emotional chills like never before. Jessica Curry with full choir and orchestra is a match made in heaven. The music fits perfect with the mood and different character stories.”
At the risk of coming off effusive, Curry and Manahan’s collaboration is simply a masterpiece. Rife with nostalgia, solitude, melancholy and dare we say, hopefulness, the combination of Manahan’s yearning vocals with the hyperminimalist ether of Curry’s orchestration is sublime.
What was your favorite indie game music soundtrack in 2015? Let us know in the comments below!