This probably appears to be an excessively obvious choice, but it’s still worth considering if you really haven’t listened to it yet.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy had some of the longest soundtracks in recent years. In an age when a 100-minute movie is considered long, only Bollywood soundtracks boast a longer average duration than those for LOTR. While the standard-length albums are a fair representation of the scores, there’s a great deal more to glean from this extended cut.
The Complete Recordings version of this soundtrack is notoriously difficult (and expensive) to obtain – not to mention the fact that it cannot be legally purchased as a download to date – but YouTube bootleggers have been universal in their belief to share a good score with the world…and they have a point. This might be the longest soundtrack you ever listen to, but it might also be one of the most worthwhile ones you find for a very long time.
One of the things that struck me about this score is how un-orchestral it can feel. Many soundtracks feel like they’re scrambling for arrangements that sound suitably sophisticated. Instead, this one just looks like music that happened to be recorded with an orchestra. Some of it would sound fantastic on a swarm of half-tuned ukuleles. It’s grand stuff but rarely grandiose. Considering the effort and scale involved to make such a soundtrack, everyone involved made it look incredibly easy in the finished product. You’re more likely to find restful moments than busy “adventure” ones. It’s sweeping but inviting. It’s exciting and awing without also being sugarcoated. It’s also 16 years old but still feels as fresh as morning dew.
If you can’t find something amid this huge landscape – foreboding choirs, thrumming double basses, noble horns – to spur on your writing and general creativity on, you might want to get your head examined.
Fantasy RPG games always run the risk of being too abstract or too dense to be approachable. Yet some well-wrought character development and a knockout soundtrack kept the world of Thedas grounded and more than a little palatable in this third installment. Trevor Morris (yes, his second appearance on this blog this month) managed to keep a balance between intrigue, excitement, and melancholy. Too many “let’s go save the world with swords” stories go straight for the jugular and try to make every musical cue heavy and loud – in short, “action” music. That’s fine for combat sessions, but the calmer moments of landscape exploration or cinematic cutscenes need something a bit different. There are plenty of haunted but rational moments to mine from this lengthy album, to which I give a hearty bravo.
Yes, yes, I already mentioned a song from this album in a previous post – but you’ve never heard Elizabethan-themed music quite like The Virgin Queen. Underdog Martin Phipps, mostly known for his work in British TV, nailed this album. While little to none of it is a direct transplant from bygone centuries – this is not a historical reenactment album – it’s still rather gorgeous most of the time. While the Bulgarian vocals might baffle you, their arrangements aren’t actually out of place (amazingly), and they add a unique and seldom-heard tonal quality to break up the hazy daydreams of guitars and subdued orchestral portions. Contributions from the Mediaeval Baebes add a softer touch and good ole mojo.
Cadfael was a quirky medieval murder mystery TV series. You wouldn’t think that the music for such a subject would be interesting or atmospheric, but you’d be wrong. Synthesizers and primitive instruments coexist beautifully. Even if you skip over the vocal portions, this album is worth flicking through.
Wallander began as a mystery novel series. It was later turned into a TV series in Sweden and was more recently re-interpreted by the BBC (both versions are worth watching, by the way). This song – sadly only a fragment – plays at the end credits of some BBC episodes. Emily Barker apparently received such a flood of requests for this version of the song (it was originally recorded with a full ensemble) that she decided to post it as a free download. While the original is enjoyable enough, there’s something downright haunting about this briefer snippet. I frequently use it to work through the broodier sections of my writing.
Vocal time for a few seconds, if you please. Something about the brevity of this one (it was only intended as a partial demo but still managed to rack up 60,000+ plays) gives it an unsettling yet angelic vibe…anyone writing war or death scenes should take notice, even if you don’t typically listen to religious music.
Ambient chillout of the very highest caliber – probably because it sounds like it isn’t breaking a sweat to achieve that sound. I’ve found almost a thousand worthy songs on Soundcloud since discovering the site a few months ago, and this is still one of my favorites.
Video Games Live (or VGL) is an ongoing project striving to collaborate crisp new recordings of popular or exceptional game music. I’d call it “Pops for Gamers” but that doesn’t quite explain it. This song features the lovely Malukah on vocals (a warning if you don’t like her sound: I shall gradually seed this blog with almost all of her songs). It’s difficult to sum up a song like this one, so I’ll just say one thing: if it doesn’t make you wistful and fill you with longing, you don’t know what wistfulness and longing are.
A pinch of tribal vocals from Poland for your consideration. Liz Katrin is capable of extremely operatic sounds (including a tremendous lower register, if I do say so myself), but she focuses many of her efforts on game tributes (often originals) and soundtracks. Anyone who says that conventionally-trained musicians can’t work in a spooky context needs to wake up and listen to this lovely lady.