The best part about being obsessed with both music and video games is that they go so well together. Some of my favorite games earned my love through their music. Most of the classics were written by a single composer, like Koji Kondo, who has worked on every awesome first-party Nintendo title ever. However, these days, developers seem to be open to more varying types of soundtracks. Instead of a composer writing a score specifically for a game, I’d like to see an actual band do that, and I’m not talking about something like what Anamanaguchi does, though I do respect their music.
Contemporary music is very genre specific today, and I believe that it is too often that the singer is what defines the band to most people. When you take the vocals away, it makes the music a bit harder to put into a category, other than the fact that it’s instrumental. Fellow staff writer Jason Eckhart and I played in an instrumental band together, and we always wanted to write something for a game. Fun Fact: we once played a show with Anamanaguchi in Houston, just by chance.
As I was playing Forza Motorsport 5 the other night, I kept thinking of bands that could replace the extremely mediocre soundtrack that is currently there. I thought more about it, and realized there are tons of awesome existing bands that would be a perfect fit for these soundtracks.
My first choice is actually for the Forza series, and is sort of along the lines of the mellow vibe that Turn 10 seemed to be shooting for with their recent entry. The Mercury Program is a four-piece band based in Gainesville, FL. These guys have a really solid rhythm section that really defines their groove, paired with that signature vibraphone sound. It’d be perfect when scrolling through the menus and checking out your cars in Forzavista.
Next up is something quite a bit darker, I’m thinking these guys would be a perfect fit for a Dead Space game. Russian Circles is a three-piece rock outfit currently based in Chicago. They are often lumped into the Metal category, but have a wide range of style from ambient to heavy. Their signature sound is made up of Dave Sullivan’s tapping and looping guitar style, Brian Cook’s absolutely mean bass tones, and Dave Turncrantz’s odd drumming style with fills that sometimes sound impossible to execute. Interestingly enough, they actually had a song from their album Geneva featured in a trailer for Dead Space 2. Imagine creeping down the halls of a decrepit ship to some of their more creepy stuff, or battling a giant Necromorph boss with this song screaming at you:
I’m going to break the rules a bit now. This guy is not a band, but an electronic artist; his name is Eliot Lipp, based in Brooklyn. Even though I’m not as crazy about his newer albums, I think he would make an awesome soundtrack. Lipp is known for his use of analog synths, and it’s obvious in his sound; everything in his music has that nice, full bodied tone. He’d be a good fit for something like Pixeljunk Shooter, but since we’re living in a dream world here, I’d like to see him work on Geometry Wars 3.
Once again, rules will be broken; this band isn’t even instrumental. Junip is a four-piece led by José González, who has a musical appearance in Red Dead Redemption. The success of his song in Red Dead sparked the revival of Junip, and they have since recorded two albums and toured all over the world. They’re a cool mix of folk and psychedelic rock, but with a generally relaxed and mellow vibe. They would be an obvious choice for an appearance in another Red Dead Redemption, but for an entire soundtrack, I think something along the lines of CAPY’s upcoming game Below would match up with their sound nicely.
This last band was introduced to me before their “singer” left and they went fully instrumental. I put singer in quotes because his voice was more of an additional instrument than typical vocals. Battles is now fully instrumental, and their most recent album Gloss Drop sounds like what aliens might listen to on their version of a cruise ship. They already have music featured in multiple games, including Sleeping Dogs and LittleBigPlanet, but the game I had in mind for them to work on would be Portal 3. They’ve got that weird futuristic science lab sound, and I wouldn’t mind hearing Valve step away from electronic music a little bit.
This is just a small sample of some of the bands that I think would be a good fit to write the score or soundtrack for games. The instrumental factor helps them blend into the experience better, and doesn’t lock them into any one genre. There is so much great music out there, and it’s exciting to discover a new artist through a video game, especially if they were a part of the creation of it. Games like Hotline Miami or even Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP have already latched onto this idea of having unique music to help usher you through the story, and I hope many more will follow suit.