AI: The Somnium Files
AI: The Somnium Files
|Record Label: noisycroak RECORDS|
|Catalog No.: NCRI-0059~60|
|Release Date: November 29, 2019|
Listen on Apple Music
2019’s AI: The Somnium Files is best described as an Ace Attorney spiritual successor penned by the mind behind Zero Time Dilemma, merging the quirky characterizations of the former with the gritty twists and sci-fi musings of the latter. One part anime adventure game and one part morbid detective drama, Kotaru Uchikoshi’s latest cult-hit murder mystery is often upbeat, often upsetting, and, on the whole, dynamic.
The same goes for the soundtrack. Happy in one moment and horrifying the next, Keisuke Ito’s score appeals to both ends of the spectrum and compliments Uchikoshi-san’s narrative in versatile fashion. But does this lend itself to a cohesive standalone listening experience?
Comparisons between AI and Ace Attorney might not be fair to the former, but they still have a lot to teach about the content of AI’s soundtrack. Like Ace Attorney, AI packs an abundance of character or location-specific themes. Some of them are downright infectious: “Atlantic Islands” takes the cake with a swinging beat and swirly melody, but the electronic stuttering in “Appearance of Intelligence” and the pristine demeanor of “Artist, Inc.” make for pleasant ear candy as well. Other themes are such sonic caricatures of their respective locales or characters that they come across as comical: “Ambidextrous Identity”, a bossa nova-esque bar tune, pours out a satisfied exhale every now and then, while “Armed Insurgents” evokes the old west with a quavering trumpet blast and moody blues on electric guitar. And still other themes sport a mellower tone, employing soft jazz (“Absolute Isolation”), melancholic guitar (“Awakening Interval”), or subtle synth embellishments and percussive undercurrents (“Agreeable Infirmary”) to set their scenes.
AI takes two particular leaves from Ace Attorney’s book. First, AI often relies on chord clusters and intricate intervalic patterns to create intrigue. Tracks like “委細 -isAI-“, “Automobile Interior” and “問罪 -monzAI-“ make this especially apparent, and even the lulling “Arcane Incantation” playfully subverts the listener’s sense of meter. Second, AI knows how to deliver electrifying tracks when climactic moments call for it. Exceptionally strong beats accompany “襲來 -syuurAI-’s” dramatic staccato string swipes and “敵對 -tekitAI-’s” headbanger-inducing electric guitar riffs, and the main end credits tune (“Adventurous Inventors”) blends orchestral and synth elements into a sensational sendoff.
Yet AI’s main attractions are the tracks that accompany the game’s “psync” sequences. Each psync is an exploration of a given character’s dreamworld, and the effect on the soundtrack is twofold. First, certain psync themes will resemble certain preceding tracks. “Psyncin’ in the Sustain” fashions a new tune from the same basic elements that made up “Awakening Interval”, for example, and “Psyncin’ in the Pain” reprises and fleshes out a creepy carnival tune from the the game’s intro sequence (“Theme of AI – The Somnium Files”). Second, the psync themes are just as diverse and unpredictable in tone as the dream sequences they accompany. Listeners will feel the groove of the electro-orchestral “Psyncin’ in the Villain” in one moment, and in another they’ll trail behind a reverberant oboe through a thicket of cricket chirps and kalimba in “Psyncin’ in the Mountain”. The difference between the first and second “Psyncin’ in the Main” tracks (one a bright and sugary synth-pop track, the other a peaceful temple theme) is especially stark. And where the “Psyncin’ in the Swain” tracks might each elicit a chuckle from their sheer Saturday Morning Cartoon™-level optimism, “Psyncin’ in the Captain” is so tender it may bring the listener to tears.
The psync themes are also largely where AI cuts loose and shows its teeth. Lest the album’s overt positivity lull listeners into a false sense of security, two uniquely shrill and soul-shattering “Psyncin’ in the Vain” themes await listeners midway through the first disc. Toward of the end of the second disc, listeners will encounter the “Psyncin’ in the Chain” themes: one packing screaming synths and a steady, chopping kick, and the other layering dissonant choral and orchestral components on top of one another until they collectively overwhelm the senses. To be fair, though, AI hints at its dark undertones from the very beginning: “Theme of AI – The Somnium Files’s” aforementioned carnival tune quickly melts into a cold soundscape of bleak vocal melodies and bleary piano clusters, and that soundscape returns twice before the album is through. Listeners might also take a hint from the ethereally haunting “Psyncin’ in the Fountain” – though “戲舞 -gimAI-” is waiting on the other side of it to sucker punch listeners with a terse and bizarre hip-hop loop.
Perhaps the main takeaway here is that AI’s darkest musical moments, while fleeting, are fairly potent; but they’re also counterbalanced by several instances of sweetness, sentimentality, and absurdity. Just be prepared to embrace some abrasive sounds when the time comes.
By way of a remedy, AI closes out with five different iterations of its J-Pop show-stopper, “Invincible Rainbow Arrow”. Both the “Grand Finale” end credits version (featuring vocals from almost every AI cast member) and A-Set’s solo version are here and accounted for (in both English and Japanese, no less), but your mileage with them may vary depending on your tolerance for campy and naix nonsensical lyrics. (For those who can’t cope with that, there’s always the instrumental edition.) In sum, it’s a tune that’s more likely to resonate with listeners that have already experienced the game for themselves (especially in the case of the “Grand Finale” version, which retains all of the dialogue – and potential spoilers – from the game’s final end credits sequence). But for anyone who made it far enough in the game to hear the track in its original context, “Invincible Rainbow Arrow” is here…five times over.
AI: The Somnium Files’ grimmest moments may be too grim for the happy-go-lucky, and its happiest moments may be too on the nose for murder mystery aficionados. But on the whole, AI packs a set (you bet!) of strong tracks on both fronts, and the collective contrast makes each individual track all the more impactful. Personal taste will dictate whether or not you love AI on the whole, but give it enough time to psync in and you’re likely to find something that resonates with you.
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Posted on July 10, 2020 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on July 10, 2020.