The short version:
Neil Davidge—Halo 4: 8/10
Austin Wintory—Journey: 9/10
The Glitch Mob et al—Drink the Sea remixes, vols. I and II: 3/10
Beats Antique—Contraption vol. II: 7/10
Glenn Stafford, Neal Acree, Derek Duke, and Russell Brower—Heart of the Swarm: 5/10
Andrew Bayer—It's Artificial: 8/10
Lots of great music to recommend recently. First up is Neil Davidge's score for Halo 4, a game I have not played. Overall it's a quite good example of Inspiring Cinematic Action Movie or Game Music. I imagine that it fits the game very well, but it sounds rather nice as an album of energetic background music too. Buying the CD also gets you several downloadable tracks which shouldn't be missed, as the bonus downloads include the Andrew Bayer remix of Green and Blue which is fantastic and bears little resemblance to the original track, excellent in its own right. The remix is really groovy for lack of a better word, and it just puts me in a happy mood. My only complaint is that it suffers pretty heavily from what I believe is properly identified as "ducking"; to emphasize the beats in the song, the other audio around the beats is reduced in volume. The effect is basically the musical equivalent of turning the sharpness filter up waaayyy too high in Photoshop; used subtly it's a nice effect, but overused it's weird and awkward. Anyway, those two tracks are great, and so are Awakening, Haven, and several others. Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of Inspiring Cinematic Action Movie or Game Music.
Austin Wintory's score for Journey is simply one of the most beautiful soundtrack scores I've ever heard. Really my only complaint is that the game Journey itself is very short—just a couple hours—and while the soundtrack is amazing and fits the gorgeous environments in the game perfectly, there isn't a huge amount of variance from beginning to end. That said, this is a soundtrack that you can play start to finish without wanting to skip a track or even pause in the middle, and I think that it would be a pretty incredible experience to hear it performed live. Check out I Was Born for This, The Road of Trials, and Nascence. You can also pick up the free Journey Bonus Bundle, a free collection of B-sides from Journey and the other minigames that come on the disc. Nothing on the bonus bundle is as good as the main soundtrack, but it's still nice. Anyway, the soundtrack came with my copy of Journey for free (it was on the Blu-ray with an option to copy it to your hard drive), but it can also be picked up separately.
The Glitch Mob put out two free albums of remixes from their debut album Drink the Sea, and unfortunately there's one great remix and most of the rest range from pretty bad to mediocre. The reason worth picking it up is the Beats Antique remix of We Swarm which is catchy with some great, weird horn parts. A few others of the 25 tracks are decent but they're mostly just riding on great source material.
Having really liked that Beats Antique remix I've been listening to a couple of their albums, and Contraption vol. II is rather pleasant. Skeleton Key is the standout best, and Colony Collapse and Hero are great too. It reminds me a bit of Caravan Palace and a couple other bands I've found recently that focus on old sounds and instrumentation fused with modern beats and production.
The soundtrack for Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm came with my collector's edition copy, and it's decent but nothing too spectacular, like the music from the previous games in the series. There are several excellent moments in the soundtrack, but they're spread pretty thin between fairly dull parts. The organization of the soundtrack also seems sort of odd; some of the tracks are like three completely different songs mashed together, so if there's a piece of high-energy music from one of the cutscenes you really liked, it might be sandwiched between two slow, ambient, atmospheric bits. Collateral Damage, Conscience, and He Had It Coming are the best.
Thanks to some incessant praise on Facebook and his great remix off the Halo 4 soundtrack I picked up Andrew Bayer's album It's Artificial, and it's very good. It's pure electronica without really attempting to be pop or dance music, and some of the pieces are rather beautiful. The opening track Nexus 6 is gorgeous after a weirdly long two-minute buildup, Monolith is driving and intense, and Paper Cranes just makes me happy. Definitely worth checking out.
And finally, the new OneRepublic album Native came out a week ago, but I am already fully convinced that it is top-notch. Strangely, the first two singles from the album are in my opinion some of the less interesting tracks on there, which made me fear for the album a bit, but I was quite wrong and it's wonderful. The opening track Counting Stars is perfect, from the vocals to the drums to the instrumentation to the production. (On a side note, does the background instrumentation remind anyone of the awesome synths in Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) by Abba as sampled in Hung Up by Madonna?) But that's not even my favorite; the best is Can't Stop, similarly perfect in every aspect, with some incredible high-pitched vocals. And Preacher has a lovely gospel-pop feeling to it. Native is indisputably one of the best albums I've heard, and if you can hear Can't Stop and Counting Stars and not fall in love with them, I don't understand you. Needless to say, highly recommended.
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