Figurehead Original Soundtrack
Figurehead Original Soundtrack
April 6, 2007
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Few would deny that Koji Hayama is a vocal figure in more ways than one. Since acquiring fame with his albums and shows related to Cho Aniki, he has been appreciated by a cult audience for his entertaining and humorous vocal performances. Nevertheless, he has produced several instrumental works, among them the recent score to the PC game Figurehead, half of Front Mission 3‘s score, and his self-declared masterpiece Gran Chaser. Yes, this is the same Koji Hayama that also proclaims “to say [a game composer] can rival me is ridiculous” in addition to numerous other wonderful quotes. While this is all part of an outrageous persona, Hayama clearly challenges composers and listeners alike to disagree with him or be brainwashed. Sampling his works reveals a strong entertainer’s spirit but an often crippling lack of musicality in his instrumental composition. No score quite exemplifies the latter point as much as Figurehead‘s.
With the opening three note motif of “Classical”, the first thing one is inclined to think is ‘what is that horribly synthesized instrument?’. I can’t offer an answer, but Koji Hayama admits that his preference for working alone results in him being rather backward technologically. With the subsequent layering of random phrases from upper forces above the ever-repeated motif and exotic drum beats, one wonders exactly why the track is given the name it is. If this is what Hayama imagines when he listens to Classical music, it is no wonder he has contempt for it. The track attempts to be a colourful blend of all sorts of instruments and ideas, but the implementation is too unpolished and unpleasant both technically and, thanks to the copious amounts of unintended dissonance, musically. With “Rough Space”, Hayama relies on a raw three note motif once again and similar drum samples before separately uttering a childish melody, jazzy piano chords, and some synth arpeggios. Only the drums and bass adds any sort of unity to the piece, while the other additions seem completely unrelated to each other and any sort of overall idea. Expect more of the same from “Salvage”, “Adventurers”, “Like a Comedy”, and “Hope”, all obnoxious and clunky compositions that aim for a light sound through amateurish ramblings.
Delving deeper into the soundtrack, a horde of poor imitations become apparent. “Moon” aims for an ethereal sound using a piano to accompany a feathery synth melody; the piano opens with awkward repeated chords before moving to uninspiring root arpeggios. Talking of piano pieces, one must wonder why each bar of the soft “Homesickness” needs to be introduced with a jarring orch hit or why “Hidden Sorrow” alternates between dark and light sections every eight bars in a way that is too random to even justify its name. “Charm” brings with it pizzicato strings, whimsical lyrical phrases, and tuned percussion as any cutesy composition might be expected to, but with an overriding sense of emptiness. After their respective headache-inducing introductions, “Confusion” and “Sortie” employ the unforgettable crisis chord progression ripped from Front Mission 3‘s “Problem”, admittedly with clumsy piano support and a slower tempo to add an originality factor. Even “Cartharsis” integrates the motif somewhere, though at least has some technically original figures to make the generic crisis music tolerable, while “Suspense” takes the ‘suspended strings with minimal else’ approach. “To an End of Sadness” is an attempt at the soft piano and strings ending theme, but repeats passages inanely and is accompanied by a misplaced techno beat.
There are a few themes that are enjoyable to listen to. “Burst” features a strong rock beat and distorted organ chords that soon gives way to some delightful organ passagework. Though more harmonic exuberance would have helped, it is comparable to above-average RPG battle themes of similar kin. The main vocal theme “Figurehead” is a ‘love or hate’ affair, but those who enjoy Hayama’s other vocal work should enjoy it. It’s an atmospheric rock ballad featuring Yui Sakakibura’s soft vocals over ’70s-inspired drum-heavy accompaniment. The vocal melody is excellent, the accompaniment affecting, and the passage into the interlude provides the biggest highlight of the score. The non-vocal version is not as effective due to the hasty replacement of vocals with a piano that sounds very artificial. It’s still pleasant, but doesn’t have the same sense of drama or humanity that the vocal performance provided.
It is difficult to find a score quite so amateurishly composed as this one. Maybe it’s correct that no game composer can rival Koji Hayama, but essentially for all the wrong reasons. With the possible exception of two evocative themes, everything featured is unpleasant due to reliance on unfocused or derivative ideas, use of simple motifs and awkward harmonies, and employment of unrealistic and grating synth. Production of such poor music should be discouraged from any composer, not least those that intend to influence with their delusions of grandeur. This is the weakest album release from Koji Hayama that I’ve heard and represents a composer that has definitely weakened over the years rather than learnt to overcome his obvious limitations. It is unrecommended to all, the two above average exceptions aside.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.