Air Original Soundtrack
Air Original Soundtrack
Key Sounds Label
August 9, 2002
Buy Used Copy
Released in 2000, originally for the PC, Air is a visual novel with eroge (explicit) content. The game was critically acclaimed, as was another game from developer Key, Kanon. All aspects of the game were above average when it came to the visual novel genre, especially the music. The Air Original Soundtrack strays from the norm of eroge game soundtracks in the sense that it contains less bouncy and unnecessarily effervescent music and more sentimental, emotional, and solemn music. The music, composed by the Key Sound Team, which consists of Jun Maeda, a prominent figure in Key (also known by the pseudonym ‘KEY’), Shinji Orito, and Magome Togoshi, is also critically acclaimed due to its innovative approach. Taking a step in this direction was a risky one, but it most certainly paid off.
I revere the Key Sound Team after listening to this album; basically, it has left me with high expectations of their other works. Not only do I like them because of their innovative compositional styles (when considering the genre) but also I love them for their intriguing use of instruments to create a melody and atmosphere that captivates one whenever they listen to it. All of these positive traits are showcased in the soundtrack to Air, which covers two discs, all of which loops suitably and not superfluously. In addition to this beneficial factor, the Air Original Soundtrack is one of the few albums I have listened to where I have not found a single rotten track; it truly is a seamless, consistently good experience.
The listener is immediately immersed into the sentimental and hopeful piano solo that is “Reminiscence”, presumably the track that plays in the opening of the game or at the opening screen. This track masterfully gives the listener a taste of what’s to come, since it really encapsulates the tone of the soundtrack well. Other tracks that follow suit when it comes to a mellow, sentimental theme are “Speaking of Dreams” with its beautifully mesmerizing piano melody and a fantastic build-up of instrumentation and suspense; the whimsical and touching melody of”Legends”; and the sad yet somewhat hopeful track that is “Together”, where the contrast makes a truly memorable listen.
Not all of the emotional tracks come off as emotional on first impression, however. A bit of experimentation is utilized in creating some fairly unique and attention-grabbing tracks. Two tracks that fit this criteria are two of the best compositions on the soundtrack; “The River”, with its intentionally repetitive melody reminds the listener of a flowing stream where one goes to reflect or relax. Much like a flowing river, the track flows perfectly which a seemingly flawless transition between loops, making you want the piece to go for much longer than it does. Another impressive track, my personal favourite on the soundtrack, is the subtle beauty that is “Summer Lights”.
At first, this track’s title was what intrigued me; “How can one create a melody which reflects these two rather obscure words?” Fortunately, my somewhat skeptical first thoughts were immediately mitigated. The piano, naturally a common feature in the score due to its light, airy feel, opens the track just after some soothing synthesizers, which prove to be very effective, as they strangely give off a feel of summer. The melody then develops into something so rich, so hypnotizing, and so captivating. A laid-back sitar plays in the background of the climax of the track; this was an extremely unpredictable albeit incredibly wise choice of instrumentation. Similar to “The River”, “Summer Lights” paints scenery perfectly, and reminds one not of summer lights per se, but of the innocuous days of sitting at the beach at sunset.
The Air Original Soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without at least some happy, cheerful tracks. The second track on the soundtrack, “Path through the Field”, is arguably a fairly light-hearted track. What makes this track so effective is the sentimental undertones it bears beneath its joyful exterior. “Ladybug” is definitely the most bouncy theme on the album, and it can come across as annoying or enjoyable, depending on who’s listening. Seeing as I have a tough skin for overly saccharine tracks, I found this one particularly good; the instrumentation used can only be described as weird, and this weirdness uniquely complements the extraordinarily memorable melody. Also of note is “Rainbows”, which lets its awesome instrumentation do the talking. The woodwind instrument successfully creates an atmosphere that can only be perceived as a happy one, perhaps an environment were rainbows abound!
All of the tracks mentioned so far have fit under a specific category. I couldn’t let this soundtrack be if I didn’t mention a few tracks which are so strange and eccentric when compared to the rest, they stand out like a sore thumb. (While most of the connotations surrounding this cliché are negative, I mean to use it in the nicest possible way). A track that fits this description perfectly is undoubtedly the seventeenth track on the first disc, “Miracle Hunter”. I imagined this track would have a safari-like feel to it: a feeling of wildness and adventure. Unmistakably, this track houses a techno, house music vibe, noticeable due to the rapid beats and the severe percussions and bass. This, funnily enough, corresponds very well with the title of the track; it was great to see a track like this, seeing as techno music is rare to come by in video game music, and when it’s done as well as this, you wish the genre would make a more frequent appearance!
Another track unable to be categorized is one of the unused pieces on Disc Two, specifically “Unused Theme 3”. I would imagine this track was originally intended to be used in a dungeon, since it has the generic adventurous and mysterious feeling which most dungeon themes have. However, these moods are shown in such an innovative and interesting way, such as the inconspicuous traditional Asian wind instrument being used here and there. Overall, this is a track that immediately becomes a winner. “Unused Theme 4” is another unique track, with its captivating and bizarre opening and its spectacular build-up to an extremely effervescent climax, located right at the end of the track. And to think that these two tracks weren’t used in the game!
It is now time to mention the vocal themes (and their instrumental counterparts) found on the soundtrack, and all of the variations of them (which are located on the second disc). Firstly, I must say I was extremely impressed with the vocal performances here. There are three vocal themes, and three moods that go along with them. “The Bird’s Poem”, “Blue Skies”, and “Farewell Song” are upbeat, melancholic, and bouncy and emotional, respectively. Having said that, it is apparent that the vocal “Farewell Song” comprises a mixture of the moods. A dreamy, starry melody consists while the oh-so impressive vocals by Lia are showcased, enhancing the already brilliantly calming track, which gains pace at various intervals in the song, making it fairly upbeat while still maintaining some sentimentality through the moving lyrical performance.
Then comes “Blue Skies”, probably the most vocally focused song on the soundtrack. While instruments are used in the background, they seem less prominent than in the other two vocal tracks; this fits “Blue Skies” in a great way, considering its melancholic and moving nature. Once again, the vocals by Lia prove to be sensational. Pertaining to this song is its instrumental version, “The Color Silver”. Just as beautiful as the original, this track represents all that is great about the vocalized version. Similarly, “The Color Silver (orgel version)” uses the same melody but with different instrumentation, in this case instruments used in an orgel. It’s not as impressive as the other two, but it still stands its ground.
Finally is “The Bird’s Poem”, the third track on the soundtrack and also the first of the vocal tracks. I leave this one to last, as it is my very favourite. I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, this song paints a nightscape with neon lights and busy streets. This is what makes me come back to this track time and time again; its rare a track has this effect on me, where it makes me think of a specific place so accurately. The vocals are excellent; Lia truly has a beautiful and diverse voice, as shown by these three varying vocal tracks. The melody is also beautiful, meaning the instrumental version, “Playing Battledore & Shuttlecock”, is just as enjoyable as the vocalized version, with its interesting usage of instruments, in this case a simplistic glockenspiel.
The variations of the vocal themes located on Disc Two are interesting but not too important in the grand scheme of things. They seem so uninteresting when compared to the rest of the soundtrack, but they are still pleasant to listen to. Of note is the interesting arrangement of one of the vocal themes: “Farewell Song (dream version)”. No vocals are featured, but for some reason the seemingly grating instrumentation keeps bringing me back. Something about it just piques my interest.
As shown in this review, the Air Original Soundtrack houses a plethora of track styles, all of which warrant a listen. From the sentimental themes, to the light-hearted, bouncy tracks to the just plain obscure ones, the soundtrack is ultimately diverse. In the realm of ergo game scores, the one to Air acts like a breath of fresh air due to its mature, sensible approach. Because of this, this soundtrack is more widely accessible. You shouldn’t judge it by its cover art, or its seemingly sweet track titles, for if you do you are missing out on one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever had the joy of listening to. From the sentimental and impressively experimental “Summer Lights” to the gorgeous vocals and melody of “The Bird’s Poem”, the soundtrack to Air offers any listener an enjoyable, immersive, and, above all, airy experience.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Murray Dixon. Last modified on January 18, 2016.