Daily Prompt: Polymathic Playlist

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about music. Specifically, the kind of mix tape/playlist you’d make to introduce yourself to someone new. This one took a while to make, mainly because I was raised with a really eclectic music selection. I’ll just let the playlist do the talking. Happy listening! EDIT: For the sake of simplicity, I made a playlist on YouTube.

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Soundtrack Saturdays: Super Smash Bros. 4 – Gaur Plain

Since I went back into Smash 3DS to review it this week, I spent some time with its small but oh-so awesome OST. “Gaur Plain” is a track from Xenoblade Chronicles, an excellent RPG for the Wii. It’s hard to explain the plot – it involves a teenager with a magical sword and his friends fighting an army of mechanical monsters – but the game has one of the most gorgeous and expansive settings in recent memory. Imagine huge grassy fields and hills teeming with all sorts of wildlife. You’re given free reign over this amazing landscape, allowing you to undertake an epic quest at your own pace. Few games encourage that kind of exploration, making Xenoblade Chronicles such an amazing experience. It’s only fitting that an epic theme like “Gaur Plain” accompanies you along the journey.

If you want more Super Smash Bros. 4, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Uncharted Series – Nate’s Theme

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When you talk about Playstation, many game series come to mind. God of War. Gran Turismo. Tekken. Metal Gear Solid. But when you look at the PS3 in particular, one series tends to stand out: Uncharted. Its trilogy introduced us to Nathan Drake, a young explorer/treasure seeker/Indiana Jones-esque anti-hero. In his world-trekking exploits, he often uncovers conspiracies and treasures centuries in the making…and manages to get himself into trouble with everyone else looking for wealth and power. The games usually involve climbing around ancient ruins and cities, solving puzzles, and having shoot-outs with various ne’er-do-wells.

Yeah, it’s so Indiana Jones, Sony actually got Indiana Jones to play the game!

What makes the Uncharted games different from other platfomers and shooters is its emphasis on storytelling and cinematography. Nathan doesn’t just climb an old brick wall; he strains, grunts, and starts to slip after a while. The second game starts with him trapped in a train hanging over a snowy cliff! Unlike other stoic action heroes, he knows he should be scared when outgunned. Sunken ships, dank catacombs, burning mansions, collapsing buildings, occupied cities, crashing planes, Borneo, Nepal, Colombia, the Arabian desert, the Himalayas…each game tries to outdo its predecessor, and almost always succeeds. It’s not always about the spectacle, though; it’s also a character study. What becomes of a man who spends his life looking for treasure? Why is he looking? What does he believe in? And what has he lost? Such moments are often overshadowed by the action, but people definitely noticed; Uncharted has won countless awards and become a gaming mainstay. The games’ soundtracks are just as epic as their gameplay. Nate’s Theme is just one of many, many awesome examples.

If you want more Uncharted, you can find the first OST here, the second here, and the third here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Tetris: Type A

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Quick show of hands: Who’s played Tetris? I know at least some of you have; it even has a cognitive phenomenon named after it. It’s been around since the mid-80’s, though people in my generation probably associate it most with the original Gameboy (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary this week!) and NES. I don’t think I need to expound on the virtues of the greatest puzzle video game ever made. The fact that it’s lasted this long is testament enough. When Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii, they were sure to pay homage to one of the many games that put their consoles on the map. Case in point: A fully orchestrated version of the classic Type A theme, which itself is an arranged version of Korobeiniki, a 19th century Russian folk song.

As far as Brawl goes, however, Type A is just one entry in its over 250-song soundtrack. It’s such a massive ensemble that it would take almost eight hours to complete! You can find a song listing here, and a partial playlist here.

Good gaming, good music.

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (Feat. Stéphane Grappelli)

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Wish You Were Here is one of my all-time favorite songs, so I was immensely pleased to come across a rare recording featuring Stéphane Grappelli. It sounds amazing. Thank you for the link, Open Culture.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Shadow of the Colossus – In Awe of the Power

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A knight slaying a dragon is one of the most well-known legends in our historical canon. Of course, someone had to make a game about it eventually. Shadow of the Colossus is about a young man named Wander and his attempt to revive his dead girlfriend by slaying 16 gigantic beasts. Armed with nothing but a sword, a bow and arrow, and one of the best horses in video game history, Wander has to figure out a way to kill creatures that are hundreds times bigger and stronger than him. Seriously. His first enemy is about 70 feet tall, and the scale keeps pulling further back with each battle. The final boss is about the size of the Statue of Liberty! You ever see a bug crawling on your arm? This game depicts what it’s like from the bug’s perspective.

Yeah, it’s pretty epic. Since its release on the PS2 in 2006, Shadow of the Colossus has become a modern classic. In a game almost completely devoid of voice acting and other gaming conventions, the soundtrack needed to be able to convey the mood and atmosphere on its own. It pulled it off spectacularly; few soundtracks thrill you in one moment, and make you cry seconds later. In Awe of the Power captures those desperate minutes in which you’re making the perilous climb up a creature’s hairy back, and all you can is cling for your life.

If you want more Shadow of the Colossus, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Records My Parents Played

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about music. Specifically, the music you had while growing up and how it influenced you. This is going to sound bizarre, but I was raised with an eclectic mix of R & B, soul, pop, disco, rock, easy listening, and show tunes. No, seriously. My parents had wildly different tastes in music – probably not a factor in their divorce when I was two – so I got to hear something new depending on who was watching me. Neither were around much, but they gave me full access to their record and cassette collections. My mother’s vinyl library was small, but it had some of the greats. She used to sing along to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Vanessa Williams, and Dionne Warwick. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense; my mother was part of a church choir growing up, so it’s no wonder she loved listening to those powerful voices. I’m pretty sure she considered I Will Survive her personal theme song. She was also an avid Michael Jackson fan, and had at least a couple of Earth, Wind & Fire albums. She also had a great love for more traditional singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole. She had a cassette of oldies that stayed in her car for well over a decade.

I didn’t spend nearly as much time with my father (every other weekend at most) but I could tell he was more a straightforward rock fan. Not the stuff from the 80s onward, but mostly songs from the 60s and 70s. He got me hooked on Elton John, The Beatles, The Eagles, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, and several others. I’ve always been kind of curious about learning the guitar, and I think it’s because I listened to Hotel California and Fire And Rain so many times as a kid. He also made sure I listened to classical music as well; I’m pretty sure I was the only sixth grader in my class who knew O Fortuna and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by name. It probably helped that I asked about the Looney Tunes background music countless times…Dad was also a big theater geek, so he had me listen to the entire Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, specifically the one with Sarah Brightman as Christine. He even took me to see the play when I was in the 8th grade. He also had the taped version of the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, complete with the legendary 17 Valjean encore!

Wow, I’m actually geeking out over all this.

Needless to say, such variety had a huge influence over my musical tastes. Even to this day, I prefer songs with guitars, pianos, or strings. Santana, Hendrix, and Clapton are mainstays on my playlists. The genre doesn’t matter, though; I can rock out to DiDuLa’s Arabica, Seals and Crofts’s Summer Breeze, and Oasis’s Champagne Supernova depending on my mood. A considerable portion of my library is dedicated to older rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, and many others; I’ve listened to Kashmir and Under Pressure more times than I’d care to admit. I’ve got a soft spot for somber ballads, too; Andy Duguid’s Don’t Belong, Simply Red’s Home, and Fastball’s Out Of My Head are practically essential for my evening commutes. Wichita Lineman is still the loneliest song I’ve ever heard. Mel Torme’s version of Stardust comes pretty close, though. I wonder if my liking those songs is a reflection of musical taste, or just an emotional state.

Oh, and fun fact: I may have all these songs completely memorized in my head, but I can’t sing them. My voice is too soft. How’s that for irony?