Best Music 2019: These Are the Video Games That Rocked This Year
Some of the best music being made these days is not on the Billboard Top 100, but actually in multimedia — be it film, TV, or video games. Technological advances have provided video game makers with a bigger toolbox to work from, empowering not only Triple A developers but all artists, including musicians.
There is more and more media content being produced every year, so for anything to stand out it has to not only have an element of luck on its side but it also must be unique. It must have its own personality that lets it take center stage over its competitors. Nowhere is this more true than in the music industry. Music composition and recording has moved from the big studios into an artist’s home. And in video games, like many artistic endeavors, the cost barriers have been lowered significantly, which means more content — an ocean’s worth — filled with waves indistinguishable from one another.
Unless the artist can make his creation unique — universality through specificity. Name a popular game, whether it be The Last of Us, any Zelda game, any Mario game, or the Uncharted Games; add you own favorite and chances are you also hear the music associated with it in your head. The music gives a game its emotional personality.
It’s a delicate balance that few achieve. Targeting a product to reach the broadest market possible makes said product generic. Making music stand out is probably the hardest creative nut to crack because music works on us at emotional and subconscious levels. A piece of music can trigger emotional responses from each listener. Ideally, the best video game music is a great balancing act of supporting the emotional beats of a game while still lending personality to the game, and thereby giving it easily identifiable uniqueness.
The unique emotional connection music makes to its listeners is also why this category tends to be the most contentious, when the music you or I loved the best does not make it into the list of finalists. But 2019 proves that video game music has come a long way from the first computer speaker blurts and buzzes right up to actual fully fledged orchestras playing compositions tailored to a specific game.
Out of an initial list of 14 candidates, the following 5 made the nominees list for COGconnected’s Best Video Game Music in 2019, and are listed in alphabetical order.
1) Cadence of Hyrule — features an electronic bouncy symphony that blends iconic Zelda themes with rhythm beats that totally fit this Indie game’s marriage of Zelda to Crypt of the Neuromancer.
2) Days Gone — captures the epic apocalyptic setting of the game as well as the landscape and character of Oregon. As well, the orchestral score captures the mood of the fallen world and the longing of the main character Deacon as he is separated from his wife, Sarah.
3) Death Stranding — orchestral/electronica/oral lamentation mixed with twisted versions of everyday sounds and layered with synthesized music that is intentionally crafted to sound slightly off.
4) Outer Wilds — uses frontier themed music with banjo picking that evokes memories of FireFly.
5) Sayonara Wild Hearts — vocally upbeat, hopeful and carries the narrative weight of a game with no dialogue.
The Winner: Death Stranding
While the Death Stranding score may not be the most pleasurable to listen to on its own, it most definitely echoed the chaotic setting of the game where basic physical laws are being twisted if not outright broken. The Death Stranding score is based on unsettling emotions through twisting the textures of normal sounds into sounds that create unease.
Hideo Kijoma handed Death Stranding composer Joel Corlitz a copy of the It Follows horror movie soundtrack as a starting point. Kijoma wanted dark and gritty and Corlitz took that direction and ran with it. Banging pipes, dragging chains, hitting frying pans, and going wild recording a variety of sounds at a Home Depot all went into the tapestry of the music.
Corlitz also modified a stand up piano, adding playing cards between the strings; he duct taped the dampers, and put bricks on the sustain pedals. Mods in place, then they played the piano with a variety of objects such as a rake, a rubber mallet, and a sledgehammer. Not only did they use these instruments on the strings but on the piano frame too.
Like the twisted world of Death Stranding, the score composed for it reinforces the off-kilter nature of the game and does it so well, the score captures the 2019 COGconnected Game of the Year 2019 Award for Best Music in a video game.
How about you? Which game of 2019 would you pick for Best Music? Let us know your thoughts below in the comments. And be sure to also check out our other COGconnected Game of the Year 2019 articles, as we close out December by looking back at the absolute best of the best in all things gaming!