Gameologerinos, we’ve compiled this Inventory into a YouTube playlist, and we encourage readers to nominate your candidates to the list in the comments (with a YouTube link if you can find it, please). We’ll choose our favorite nominations, add them to the YouTube playlist, and present the final collaborative compilation in the Keyboard Geniuses column at the end of the week. The theme this time is “chill music from chilling games”—relaxed but still unsettling tracks from horror games.
Deadly Premonition was a whole lot of things—creepy, cool, vaguely satirical—but one thing it definitely was not was focused. The biggest factor keeping people from enjoying the game was how scattered the whole experience was, never quite sure of what voice it was striving for. “Underground” suffers from none of that. This jazzy little tune knows exactly where it wants to be, where the game wants to be, and where the audience wants to be. It balances masterfully atop that all-too-thin line that divides confident swagger from abject horror. The swirling organ reverberates with unease, but it maintains a steady rhythm that nods its head along with the nonchalant drum set, brushed deftly with a hand that gives only as much beat as is needed and not a drop more. A saxophone wails, moving toward and away from center stage whenever it deems fit. Are its bleats celebrating human existence or are they the squeals of the undead, come to tell us that it is too late to save ourselves? The reality is that “Underground” is both, the coronation and the mournful dirge. Grab some coffee and stoke the flames, we’re in for a ride. [Derrick Sanskrit]
Akira Yamaoka’s reputation as the composer of Silent Hill’s insane run of great game soundtracks stems primarily from how he uses squealing feedback, static, and dissonance with Kevin Shieldsian precision to create unnerving soundscapes. The screeching static from a pocket radio, the telltale sign of nearby bloodthirsty freaks, is his signature work. For the deep-cuts seeker, though, his soundtracks are rife with minor key IDM and post-rock, which are only heard in truncated snippets. “Breeze—In Monochrome Night” is emblematic of these tracks, a pulsing wash of snare beats, synth drone, and a tinkling piano melody that grows from a tentative, almost sweet lilt before winding upward into a dizzying high that never quite climaxes. A fraught striptease of a song, it’s Yamaoka at his sweet and bitter best. [Anthony John Agnello]
Normally, a trip to the ocean is relaxing. Sunny days, a cool breeze, the calming flow of the tide lulling you into an afternoon nap. Normally—unless you’re going to Rapture. Django Reinhardt’s recording of “La Mer” (“The Sea,” for the monolingual among us), a song originally written by Charles Trenet in the ’40s, is a beautiful, sleepy paean to days spent in the water. As one of the tunes playing on abandoned phonographs around BioShock’s underwater-paradise-turned-deathtrap, it becomes something else entirely. BioShock loves to use the phonographs to play up the dissonance of its formerly idyllic setting, and hearing Reinhardt’s formerly soothing acoustic guitar as a crazed, screaming Splicer in a bunny mask charges you is as baffling as it is terrifying. Maybe it’s time to go back to dry land. [Jake Muncy]
Between the aforementioned Deadly Premonition, The 7th Guest, and the recently announced return of Twin Peaks, it seems that people have always known that lounge jazz is the scariest musical genre. The 7th Guest’s soundtrack waffles between smooth jazz licks and more traditionally creepy ambient tracks, but its greatest successes come when the two genres bleed into one another, like in “Dark.” The song is built on a jazz club foundation of hi-hats, slap bass, and piano, but it also introduces eerie Gregorian chanting and distant MIDI screams. The track itself seems to gradually decompose over time, slightly slowing down and sneaking in the odd sour note just to keep things unpredictable. Listening to the whole thing is like listening to a neglected music box struggling to play its old tune before winding down for the last time, its little porcelain ballerina wrapping cobwebs around itself as it spins. [Patrick Lee]
The ice cold ambience of Limbo’s soundtrack often made the entire world feel unwelcoming and dreadful—which in this case, it was. “City,” though, is something slightly different. Coming in at one of the refreshing parts of the game where nothing is mere seconds away from killing you and the player can take their time to explore, “City”’s crystalline coos are somewhat inviting. There’s warmth to them. The fuzzy tone in the atmosphere, as if the whole world is a vinyl record caked in dust, still carries that air of death—there’s no escaping that—but the way each tone lifts ever-so-slightly as they sustain—and oh, they are trying so hard to sustain! There is hope here. There is belief that something good could come of this, eventually. Most importantly, there is time. Time to stop and consider. Time to breathe. Time, at last, to relax, if only for a few moments. [Derrick Sanskrit]
Even if Castlevania falls short of invoking terror, it does create surreal and creepy environments from all the old monster tropes it apes. In particular, the soundtrack for Symphony Of The Night the creep factor with touches like a tinny harpsichord reverberating through a haunted library or a chapel filled with the moans of a ghostly choir and the brassy clang of a great bell. When Alucard first drops into the underground caverns, the level’s backing track, “Crystal Teardrops,” begins appropriately enough. An echoing drip and a distant bass imply a vast, dank network of caves. Then the bright, slippery piano comes in, turning the track into a startling piece of upbeat jazz. It may seem a bit thematically dissonant, befouling yourself with Merman guts to such an urbane piece of music, but Alucard is a hero who pursues his violent quest dressed all in tight black satin. Maybe Dan Siegel-inspired jazz is more appropriate than musty old chamber music. [Nick Wanserski]
Rule Of Rose is horrific for a number of reasons, from a graphic depiction of cruelty between children that would make William Golding squirm to its bizarre shifts in setting, shunting you from orphanage to luxury zeppelin and back with little rhyme or reason. It’s also almost unplayable, a mess of shattered controls and bugs. There’s a morbid power inside of Punchline’s only horror game, and it comes in part from Yutaka Minobe’s discomfiting chamber music score. “Track 6” is unique among the game’s other penny dreadful jams, a lone uptempo piece for violin, cello, and piano that arrives in the game right when its weirdness and the heroine’s confidence are peaking. (You’re still stuck on the airship, but now the hardwood, gilded hallways are inexplicably covered with flower petals and grass. Really.) The track itself reflects that sense of new power, but right as the melody reaches its bravest, the song undercuts it with the sound of rhythmic scratches against the piano strings themselves. Bold, freaky move, Minobe. [Anthony John Agnello]