Game soundtrack: “Halo 3: ODST” (Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori)

For an inexplicable reason, many soundtracks in shooter games of the last decade have either leaned into strong rock sound or thoughtful, delicate, semi-choral, rather ambient ones. ODST somehow merges the two. While not without harsh rocker moments, it’s mostly a gorgeous and meandering playlist full of excellent harmonies, sweet piano solos, and gentle but driven programmed beats.

I’m not against programming and beats, but if it does appear in my music, it better have a plan. This soundtrack does. Rather than overwhelming you with extra noise or distraction, it adds to the desired tone. Broody, dark, thoughtful, and somewhat noir thoughts abound. Above all, most of the tracks are on the quiet side or else are tastefully restrained. This music seems too organized and layered to strictly (and exclusively) be “ambient,” but the effect is rather similar. You might not remember many melodies on the first listen, but you might remember the frame of mind that formed when you heard it.

One of the most striking things about this soundtrack is its impressively light tough with the brass section. Plenty of composers (for both games and movies) seem to only understand action if it’s aided by huge swells of obnoxious, rhythmic horns. That doubtless has its place for creating mood, but when it’s the only lively feature in a score, it’s downright lazy. ODST avoids that trap nicely, instead favoring tense string phrases and pleading piano moments. To add some momentum, carefully-calculated percussion lines were interspersed (ranging from timpani and quiet hand drums to more orthodox drum kit loops, though never overpowering the rest of the music in the process).

These songs are structured as suites (so almost all of them are at least 5 minutes long). They often have separate thoughts grouped together, but with minimal editing skills and a basic audio program, you can isolate certain phrases separately if you so desire (that was a hint to people who obsessively use the infinite repeat button, myself included).

This album has enough going on for you to hover between paying attention to your music and your work. It might be too exciting to meditate to, but it could well set the mood for the whole day if you prefer slick, tense, somewhat programmed albums.

It is happily available both digitally and on physical CD (although you’ll have to scrounge a little bit to find it on disc).