What happens when the work of Western game composers gets meshed together with those from the East? In Flux happens.
Brave Wave Productions (formerly known as Koopa Soundworks), which previously brought game music fans two compilations of remix albums in the form of World 1-2 and World 1-2: Encore last year (my review here), have just released a new album entitled In Flux.
Described as “an East-meets-West music album that merges the two oceans together in an unprecedented way,” the album features returning Japanese composers like Manami Matsumae (Mega Man, Mighty No. 9), Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) and Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden, Captain Tsubasa), who join forces with Western-based musicians such as Eirik Suhrke (Spelunky, Ridiculous Fishing) and Grant “Stemage” Henry (Metroid Metal) to provide several original tracks spanning various genres.
The digital album is on Brave Wave’s Bandcamp page for $10, while a physical CD release will run you $15 plus shipping.
Read on as I review the album track-by-track and get immersed in its diverse sound waves.
“Iridescence” by Marius Masalar
The album kicks off with a chipper opening reminiscent of a the kind of music you’d expect in a Disney film. The track features some dramatic shifts in tone, inducing feelings of hope with its swells of strings and chiptune interludes that later fall into bouts of uncertainty with its piano outro.
“Diamond” by Monomirror
Monomirror provided a Metroid remix in World 1-2: Encore which I called “spacey” and “lullaby-esque.” “Diamond” by comparison is incredibly different, featuring an upbeat concoction of chiptunes and atmospheric synths that washed over me like a wave. It’s by far one of my favorite tracks on this album.
“Blue Star” by Manami Matsumae & Tim McCord
Manami Matsumae and her piano are joined by an incredibly surprising guest, that being Evanescence bassist Tim McCord who provides a slew of backing instruments. It’s a very emotional piece that erupts in its final minute into a powerful combination of strings, distorted guitar, drums and piano.
Originally a song by Indie Game: The Movie composer Jim Guthrie, Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka reworked the track to feature a more refined sound that sports more instrumentation, including his signature use of backing electric guitar. While the vocals may not be for everyone, the track is hauntingly moody, which only seems right for a musician who’s scared the pants off many a survival horror fan.
Ninja Gaiden composer Keiji Yamagishi and Spelunky composer Eirik Suhrke combine their talents in this track to produce a playful tune that channels the best sounds of the FM synthesizer from the Sega Genesis/Megadrive. It makes me want to break the system out and forget that I ever had a beef with Sega kids in my childhood days.
“Putting the Beacons to Bed” by Stemage & Manami Matsumae
You’ll come to find that Matsumae collaborated with a bunch of Western-based artists on this album. Here we have a very atmospheric, space-like track that features some creative odd-time guitar riffs that fit right in with Matsumae’s piano playing. And of course, it’s not an exceptional Stemage track without some wickedly good guitar harmonies.
“Manta Ray” by PolarBirds
“Manta Ray” thrusts the listener back into some sprightly chiptunes, with a backing synth pattern reminiscent of the type you’d find in Hotline Miami’s soundtrack.
Like World 1-2’s “Memories of T” before it, this feels like a long-lost Ninja Gaiden tune with its complex, fast-paced drum beats laid upon infectious chiptune melodies.
“Shattered Moon” by Saori Kobayashi
Seeing Panzer Dragoon Saga composer Saori Kobayashi on this album was a huge surprise. Her contribution to the album is top-notch and much like the Panzer Dragoon soundtracks, features very worldly, tribal influences that are presented together with ethereal synths. This carries on until the end, where the track throws us for a loop with a sea shanty.
“Chloroplast Skin” by Lifeformed
Dustforce’s composer’s addition to the album is very off-kilter, in a good way. This track is comprised of echoing, sexual-sounding feminine vocal moans and ambient synths that are carried forth by a slow yet intense beat. From beginning to end, this track left me in some form of a trance.
“Menacing Wonders” by Chipzel & Manami Matsumae
“Menacing Wonders” is perfectly titled. The track starts off menacingly enough, with a chip melody that makes it feel like the theme of an epic final boss fight, before switching gears to form into something more uplifting.
“Blue Star (Piano Mix)” by Manami Matsumae
Closing out the album is a piano-driven version of the third track, a neat reprise that caps things off both nicely and softly.
In summation, In Flux is a great example of the kind of magic that can be conjured up when game musicians of differing backgrounds come together. What stood out even further than that for me, however, was its ability to prove once again that game composers and musicians are more than capable of creating meaningful music even when videogames aren’t involved.
For all of that, In Flux gets the PK seal of approval.