Upon completing my post from last week in which I referenced the soundtrack to Red Dead Redemption, I immediately had to listen to it again. I remain amazed at just how cohesive and brilliant it is in all its “Old West” mimicry. And, as much as it made me want to roam the prairies of New Austin once again, it also had a great side effect: it served as some much needed stress relief.
Granted, not all the sounds of RDR are serene enough to keep sleeping bandits at bay, but one of the early songs off its soundtrack, “Born unto Trouble,” is enough to promote a few healthy, quiet breaths.
For much of the game’s first act, licks of “Born unto Trouble” pepper the backdrop of John Marston’s solo ventures in the New Austin wilds. One step at a time, Marston’s horse clops along in the tall grass, or the desert brush, or the taller trees, and slowly, out pop a few lonely whistles and a lazy guitar. Overhead, a couple vultures start circling, and a hawk sweeps down from the edge of the sunset onto its prey. Far off in the distance, a lonely wolf howls for its companions, and few coyote shrug away in the shadows. Maybe it’s near sunset and the night sky is just starting to imbue the horizon with ghostly shades of purple. Or, maybe it’s near dawn and the sky is just starting its call to morning. Whatever the time of day, “Born unto Trouble” begs for solitude. It gives the player a respite between heightened missions and emotional outbreaks. It illustrates the desolate, underpopulated world, and it plays so well against Marston’s own struggle within that world. It’s both magical and unsettling, as quiet times in the game only serve to mark calms before the storms
Until now, I really only had one soundtrack under my belt that served the same purpose – stress relief – and that would be the soundtrack to Super Metroid. Again, like Red Dead Redemption, the soundtrack to Super Metroid isn’t full of lullabies. No, it ventures unscathed into intense and captivating territory, not the least of which is through Ridley’s forceful, escalating theme. But when it comes to celebrating the quieter moments, you really can’t beat the theme that plays in the underground portion of Brinstar.
In Super Metroid, Brinstar has two sections. One is a section that’s full of plant life – it’s theme is punchy and synthesized, and it almost sounds like a theme song to a 1980s cop show. The second section is more stark. It’s a nuetral, sandy, and nearly silent place. And its theme is as deliberate as it is satisfying. It’s also too simple for its own good.
What makes this song perfect in times of stress is its rhythm. Take two bars and breathe in, and then breathe out on the next two. Repeat over and over, and before you know it, your mind has floated off into the wake of serenity. Going back to the RDR comparison, as “Born unto Trouble” might play just before Marston stumbles into a gunfight, in Super Metroid, exploring the underground depths of Brinstar provides a few levels of relative seclusion before facing off with the game’s first major boss, Kraid. As the theme itself changes over the course of the song – adding various instrumental choruses – the player is imbued with a sense that things will change for Samus as she progresses. Just as with “Born unto Trouble,” Brinstar’s theme is a great example of enjoying the calm before the storm.
What game songs/soundtracks help tame the savage beasts of your own minds?