Gravity Rush 2 Original Soundtrack
Gravity Rush 2 Original Soundtrack (Gravity Daze 2)
February 22, 2017
Purchase at CDJapan
Gravity Rush, originally released for Sony’s ill-fated Vita and remastered last year for the PlayStation 4, is a flawed but fascinating adventure in which players assume the role of Kat, a good-hearted “gravity shifter” who doesn’t fly through space so much as fall through it. The inherent clumsiness of the game’s core mechanic, flinging yourself along the Z-axis, conveyed the inexperience and uncertainty of a newcomer to the superhero profession, but also the exhilaration of finding oneself not merely freed from gravity but given the means to control it. These feelings and sensations, so vividly expressed in the first game’s soundtrack, are matched in the sequel’s expansive sonic palette. Composer Kohei Tanaka is diligent in his effort to bring more of the world into this world music, to surprise the listener at every opportunity by incorporating fresh and surprising textures, and to make every track essential to the telling of Kat’s story. If Tanaka falls short of this lofty goal it isn’t for lack of trying. He, like Kat, is comfortable with his powers and confident in his role.
I’ve just described Gravity Rush 2 as world music, but I don’t mean the vaguely exotic ‘out there’ sound of another culture’s traditional tunes, a kind of video game Graceland. I mean that Tanaka is a sonic seafarer with a catholic ear. His tastes are global, and the result is a soundtrack in which snatches of sound are interwoven to make a restless whole that swerves between styles. Spanning 4 discs, 73 tracks, and 189 minutes, Gravity Rush 2 is a smorgasbord of moods and arrangements that artfully blends many genres into a pastiche that is, if not unique, then seldom heard in game scores. After all, the game is a hybrid of magical girl and superhero tropes dressed in a Franco-Belgian comic book aesthetic. Shouldn’t it have a soundtrack to match?
In fact, much of the music exudes the earnest romance of John Williams, an appropriate touchstone for a heroine who, like the Superman of old, doesn’t take herself too seriously. The album opens with “Gravity Daze 2,” a Tanaka take on Williams’s “Main Title March.” It begins with a call and response between eager strings and a brassy fanfare that recedes to highlight a lone trumpet, one that wouldn’t sound amiss in a mariachi band. But not a minute passes before the track dips unexpectedly into a waltz, the first of many detours that await Tanaka’s listeners. “Storm and Triumph” and “Night Gale” retain the bravado of heroic strings but add the fuzzy crunch of electric guitar to provide a hype track for Kat’s encounters with the Nevi, Rush 2’s shadowy baddies. “Departure,” meanwhile, is an airy duet between horn and string sections that alternate in carrying the melody. A bed of steady, rhythmic strings provides forward momentum while trilling flutes and a trombone solo convey something of flight’s sensation — the giddiness of a barrel roll, the heart-stopping wonder of the landscape unfurling below you.
But the main attractions are the tunes without a clear precedent, in which influences blur until they lose their original character and attain an alchemical novelty. “Banga,” for example, is a bouillabaisse of thumping percussion, delicate ukulele, pan flute, and even a wordless hum-chant that burbles up in the track’s second half. “Candlelit Journey”’s Casio drum track undergirds a dissonant piano that threatens to careen into free jazz. “Hot Pursuit,” on the other hand, plays it straight. It’s big band swing with upright bass and pinched trumpet solos that would sound at home in Cowboy Bebop. And what to make of a track like “Faster and Higher”? Reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s “G-Spot Tornado,” with its frenetic tempo and synthesized percussion, it’s a puckish prankster crashing the album’s chamber pop soiree. The city themes, too, benefit from this cosmopolitanism. “Lei Colmosna” is driven by ska guitar while steel drums and congas contribute to the island feel (the track is named for the marketplace of a floating city after all). But when the towering horns, violin solos, and even an accordion join the band, you know you’re enjoying a Tanaka mutation. “Lei Havina,” on the other hand, couldn’t be more dissimilar. It’s a gentle descent into the champagne music of Lawrence Welk, including a creamy sax solo seemingly lifted from an R&B slow jam.
For every track like the colorful city themes, however, there is a conventional, not to say commonplace, tune that does thematic or storytelling work. “Loneliness” is about what you’d expect given its title — slow, mournful strings and a lone violin that gives plaintive voice to a sufferer’s complaints. The same is true of “Grieving Heart” and “Despair” except that an oboe takes center stage. And the blandly titled “Fundamental Music” provides just that: a track of great urgency, lashed forward by its martial drums and glowering horns. It’s the sound of a great battle, and doubtless it creates the right sense of sweaty-palmed panic in the player who hears it. But against the soundtrack’s eccentric compositions it’s memorable mainly for incorporating the “Mission Clear” jingle.
Surprisingly little of the original score returns, save for new arrangements of “Auldnoir,” “Pleajeune,” “Endestria,” “Vendecentre,” and a new version of the original game’s main theme. Elsewhere, the same track appears in multiple versions. “Wiped-Out Doubts,” for instance, is given four different treatments, each the same brooding intimation of disaster, but with emphasis given to different portions of the orchestra. Here the low end is more resonant; there an electric guitar has noticeably more sting in the mix. Likewise, listeners are treated to four different versions of “Soon You Will See the Ship” and two takes on “Parallel Fatal.” And though the album is rich with lengthy, multi-part compositions, the game’s many short phrases are included here too, such as those that accompany the challenge modes (“Qualify,” “New Record”) or proclaim “Mission Clear” and “Game Over.”
In a 2015 interview with MCM Buzz, Tanaka described his process this way: “When I’m sat in front of the piano everything comes to me in my head. Especially when I’m with an orchestra, I see the score fully formed in my head.” If the score for Gravity Rush 2 appeared to him in this way his head must have been full to bursting. I’m a thousand words into this review and I’ve not mentioned the choral chanting on “Eto” or the organ on “Land of Geometry” or the breathy chanteuse who conjures images of a smoky French cafe in “A Cue aun Tu Oi / A Red Apple.” Tanaka’s prestidigitation produces one marvel after another, enough variety to satisfy all but the most jaded listeners. His score for Gravity Rush 2 is rich in the surprise, adventure, and exploration that is apparently missing from the game. Skip the game if you must, but don’t miss its soundtrack, already among the year’s best efforts.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on March 30, 2017 by Michael Hughes. Last modified on March 30, 2017.