Soundtrack Review: L.A. Noire

 

I Like My Music & Detectives Hardboiled

 

Back in the day, there was a throwback radio program back in Seattle called Harry Nile. While the stories and characters never reached for the hardboiled glory the show was going for, I'll always remember the sad trumpet that accompanied the program that made the down on his luck detective a lot more down than he actually was. And that's the point of Hardboiled Noire music.

You might hear it in coffee shops, or on rainy nights, but there's no mistaking it. When a down on his luck Private Dick is narrating, this is the music that accompanies him. This is also the type of music and mood that the L.A. Noire soundtrack nails down perfectly. The strength in the album really lies in the fact that it works on two levels: The level of atmosphere, which anybody that's played the game can probably attest to, and the level of just being great music. The genre is very specific, and isn't played with that much nowadays, but composer Andrew Hale not only gets mood down pat, but he also takes the liberty to explore the themes, playing around with the original compositions to really peg the era.

Granted, 40 minutes straight of it can seem monotonous at times, but it also gives you the chance to savor the quality that went into it. In particular, the main theme and its variations work well, and the track "Fall From Grace Pt. 2," is a great suspenseful piece so effective that it's the main piece they use in advertising the game.

The only place where the soundtrack really falls down however is the 3 vocal compositions at the end. Not only do they not nearly live up to the quality of the time, but the singer they found is sort of awful and annoying. Let's just say there was a lot of cringing, especially since you know they didn't have the budget to get anybody bigger.

Overall, if you like down on your luck trumpets, then this is a soundtrack for you. It's really a surprising and original effort that you're not going to find anywhere else, video game or movie-wise.

4/5 Stars
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Soundtrack Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops

  Soldiers, Spies & Horror

 

Call of Duty has always been known for its great soundtracks. Michael Giacchino anybody? But after the Modern Warfare 2 soundtrack, partially composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer, the bar was raised a bit higher. So would composer Sean Murray take the ball and step up his game to take Black Ops to the next level, or are truly great Call of Duty soundtracks destined only for Infinity Ward productions?

Comparing this to Modern Warfare 2, you'll notice a few key differences. One, it's more low-key, with less bombastic moments. Secondly, it's a lot less theme driven. Thirdly, rather than the cinematical approach of Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops takes a decidedly moody approach. The music is meant to compliment the tense atmosphere of the game, and at that it does quite well. There's almost always a feeling of dread hanging about, almost feeling like a horror movie soundtrack at times. The music feels intense, but at the same time, it doesn't draw attention to itself.

It's a solid effort and very well-done, but it's not exactly a soundtrack you'll want to revisit often. There simply isn't a whole lot to bring you back for more. It's good for a one-time listen overall, and maybe a few tracks to keep on repeat, but that's about it. Not the fault of the composer or the game, it's just the tone of what they were going for.

3.5/5 Stars  
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Soundtrack Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game

Music To Collect Coins To

 

 Can we make it official? After the deluge of Scott Pilgrim soundtracks, I think it's safe to call 8-Bit video game music an actual instrument. What's more is that the film and especially its music, revels in it, from the Universal theme, to remixes. It's everywhere. All of this is of course personified in this video game soundtrack with is rife with the music. Composed by Anamanaguchi is 46 minutes of nothing but pure 80s video game throwback music. 8-Bit music with added rock guitars for pure musical value. Only problem is that it's kind of a gimmick. And a very long one at that.

Essentially, for me at least, the joke wears off, much like its songs do, after 10 minutes. Then it's like, okay, this was nice and creative, oh wait, we have 35 more minutes? Oh bother... Maybe it's that it just works better for me in short bursts, but it all starts blending together in some nerdy mish-mash that becomes one. If you grew up on the stuff, then you'll probably love and cherish this soundtrack. For the rest of us, or at least me, it's just a little bit much. Another problem is the songs themselves, or specifically, their length and how they go out. Most of the time, you're just listening to the song, and then it fades away, signaling that that's all the song there is, then it just gets repeated for the purposes of the level. It's kind of awkward. And considering it happens some 24 times, it's also kind of annoying.

Overall, as an EP, I would probably cherish this. As/is however, it's just a bit... Much. Some will love it, others will hate it, some will like it, but wish they could have loved it. I fall into the latter category, but it's still well worth a listen for its originality. 
 
3/5 Stars
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Soundtrack Review: Modern Warfare 2

Hans Zimmer Goes To Virtual War

 

When playing a video game as much as Modern Warfare 2, some of the musical beats may be engrained in their brain. And even though these beats may be short, they are there. The Modern Warfare 2 soundtrack expands upon these familiar beats into full-length tracks. The results are surprisingly good.

Most/all of the music comes from the underrated portion of the game. From the opening title credits music, to when you first walk out in a war-torn Washington DC, to the momentous end credits. The score completes the game, and since it's done by Hans Zimmer, you know it's going to be highly professional, and at least some of it is going to be memorable. I'll say this about the soundtrack, is that it certainly fits the mood of the game. It's the type of music you'd find in a war film, and action movie, or a fast-paced drama. In fact, the only problem I have with the soundtrack is the title naming. It would be nice to know which track is from which particular scene. If you know the game well enough, you can guess, but it would be nice to know specifics.

Overall, if you found yourself a fan of the music found in Modern Warfare 2, by all means check this out. They didn't have to put out this product, but they listened to the fans and gave us a great, complete package. Bravo Infinity Ward, Hans Zimmer, etc.  
 
5/5 Stars

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Soundtrack Review: Mass Effect 2

It Will Have A Profound Effect On You

 

 The score for the first Mass Effect was absolutely groundbreaking & enjoyable soundtrack in every sense of the word, and I still often turn to some of the more memorable themes off of there. But that was also its main problem, it was a theme album, consisting of tracks that captured the essence of the music, and not much more. Mass Effect 2 is ground-breaking on a whole other level. It also takes the complete opposite approach in how it's done.

Mass Effect 2 is more about over-arching scores that are hinted with motifs. They're also a lot more drawn out. While the tracks in Mass Effect 1 rarely went over 1:30, all but 2 of the tracks go over that mark, many stretch out over 5 minutes, and a few make it close to 10 minutes.

Perhaps no other track illustrates this more than the updated version of the star map theme of "Uncharted Worlds" from the old game. True to that soundtrack, it was 1:16, and just took the essence of the score and nothing more. Here, the track is updated & expanded upon in "New Worlds." It has the exact same theme as the original, but it's expanded upon giving the track more body, and in the end it clocks in at 2:30. Again, fairly slight changes, but it makes a world of difference when listening to the whole soundtrack.

For me, the biggest problem is rather slight, but the tracks are kind of out of place. Like the first soundtrack, it's kind of nice to get a chronological work. Also, it might have been nice to get the full credits song on here, or at least label the track that is used in the credits as such.

Overall, clocking in at almost 2 hours, Mass Effect 2 is about as good as any movie you'll find today, and its soundtrack is about as good, if not better than several of the soundtracks releasing today. I gained a lot of respect for Jack Wall after the first game gave me so many great themes, but I've gained a whole other level of appreciation for him after hearing him expand & play with the motifs now essential to the series. I doubt it will hold the same spot on my MP3 player as the original still does, but it's still a valiant effort by Wall & the rest of the composers. Another achievement for video game scores everywhere, if you're a fan of soundtracks, or just a fan of the game, I highly recommend you check this out.  
 
5/5 Stars
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Soundtrack Review: Mass Effect 1

One of the Best Soundtracks Ever Heard for a Video Game

 

 Mass Effect is flat-out one of the best games of the past five years. And one of the things that makes it so great is the soundtrack, which is a real score, instead of some cardboard effort, or some stock music. Nope, this is full studio work, and actual thought went into it. No, the the soundtrack isn't there for background, it's part of the living breathing game. They build off each other. The soundtrack helps complete the mood and atmosphere, instead of hindering it.

It's a tribute to 80's sci-fi movies with its constant synth use, but there's also plenty of horns, some piano and somehow, it all comes together in epic fashion. And epic it is. This could easily be in any movie, and it should. Jack Wall and Sam Hulick did an amazing job here. Not once did I think that a piece of score was overdone while listening to the music itself. Something I can't say for most modern movie composers.

Memorable Highlights:

"Mass Effect Theme"
"Love Theme"
"Uncharted Worlds"

I also found the credits track rather interesting. It's not amazing, but it'll keep any electronic/indie/80's music fan happy. The guitar work in it isn't half-bad either.

Overall, another great achievement in video gaming: an amazing soundtrack that makes others cringe in terror. An amazing game, an amazing soundtrack with memorable tracks, keeping you interested and into the mood. And although it's too short (most tracks clocking in at 1:30), it's still an amazing job. The standard in video game music has just been set a lot higher, courtesy the synths and scores from Mass Effect. 
 
5/5 Stars
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