For those of us 30+ gamers video game music is embedded deep inside us. Having played the same levels over and over and over … and over again has left a mark on our memory that will likely last longer than our memory of our own offspring. The music is tied to our failures, our victories and new discoveries. When I first saw the track list for The String Arcade I immediately looked for game names that I recognized; Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Galaga and The Legend of Zelda. What I was surprised to discover is several modern games including some mobile games. I would be lying if I didn’t scoff and get a bit snobby about it, “Why would they pick those games? Who wants to listen to Plants Vs Zombie?!” I put my prejudice aside, put on my headphones, ignored my children and listened intently to The String Arcade.
Produced by composer Dren McDonald, The String Arcade is arranged and performed by a string quartet. The String Arcade goes far beyond simply recreating video game music, the arrangements are lush with complexity and depth. While each track is unique, the album is arranged as a cohesive unit. Thematically it sounds like a soundtrack complete with a beginning, middle, ending, and epilogue. Grasswalk kicks it off with a playful pace mixed with grade-school-Halloween spookiness complete with zombie moans. Engii evokes the sounds of a space opera complete with epic solitude. Echoes of Ecco, Sonic 2 Scherzo and Altered Beast Title Theme all have beautifully rich cello work that gives them a lot of edge that was indicative of those games back in the day. Also there are parts of Echoes of Ecco where it actually feels like you’re underwater complete with dolphin calls. Ferdinand Wanders Out for a Late Night Haircut and Medicated Cow Walks the Cobbled Streets with Disgruntled Goat were both big surprises to me because they were inspired by mobile games but are brilliantly done. Dance of the Space Bugs and The Legend of Zelda Title Theme both rely on the original songs’ melodies but are both more vibrant than any other recreations I’ve heard. Especially The Legend of Zelda Title Theme closes the album out that truly feels like the end of an epic adventure.
Having now listened to the album several dozen times: every time I hear something new. It begs to be listened to from beginning to end over and over. I actually feel a little uncomfortable if I have to stop listening to the album before I get to the end. I feel guilty having had reservations intially from reading the track list. Track numbers may break up The String Arcade but it should be listened to as a whole. It is a true joy to listen too and I plan to keep it in my rotation for a long time.
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