Earthbound Papas: Octave Theory
Earthbound Papas: Octave Theory
Dog Ear Records
Mar 16, 2011
Buy at CDJapan
The Earthbound Papas is the second band of Nobuo Uematsu, the legendary composer for the first ten games of the Final Fantasy series and one of the biggest influences in the video game music industry today. Since leaving the series, Uematsu has left behind the Black Mages, formed Earthbound Papas, and performed at numerous live events. The sophomore album, Octave Theory, features a mix of covers and original work.
The album opens with a classical piece – unusual for the Earthbound Papas – beginning first with misleading heavy percussion and followed by a delicate woodwind flurry. In fact the entire first half of “Introduction” comes straight from Tchaikovski’s “Marche Slave” (op. 31), which gives the opening few minutes an extremely different flair than the rest of the album. About halfway through this track, it distorts to become a more hypnotic techno song with a strange spoken melody, which takes the piece up through the end. The opening track is indicative of the rest of the pieces on this album, which frequently utilize in unusual combinations of techniques to create varied effects.
Since the primary focus of Earthbound Papas is to recreate and cover previous compositions of Uematsu, it makes sense that two of the nine songs on the album are from the Final Fantasy series, Uematsu’s largest and most widely recognized contribution to the video game world. The second song on the album is “Liberi Fatali,” the opening song from Final Fantasy VIII, performed in a rock style with male and female soloists giving the song a different twist from its original setting. “One-Winged Angel” follows, the classic final battle theme of Final Fantasy VII, also in a rock setting, with more soloists than just the two of “Liberi Fatali.”Both piece uses the natural skills of the Earthbound Papas and bring those classic pieces into their own comfort territory. Perhaps it is because of this that I was a little underwhelmed by these covers; they weren’t badly arranged, performed, or executed, but both pieces are extremely well-known and played in all sorts of settings, from general game symphonies to the Distant Worlds series that the Earthbound Papas recently followed in the Stockholm concert last year, and these particular covers, in general, did not add much that hadn’t already been done.
That said, I did particularly enjoy one moment of “One-Winged Angel” when, just over three minutes in, Uematsu adds a new section into the piece that serves as a wonderful interlude between the first and last sections of the piece. The chords and harmonies are new, and it gives the piece a refreshingly new and desperately needed section that separates from its predecessor covers. The section reminds me a little of the new ending Uematsu wrote for the Opera sequence from Final Fantasy VI for some versions of the Distant Worlds II concert. While adding new flavor to a classic, it does not break from the original nature of the piece.
“Thread of Fate” is another piece that, like the intro, is divided into two parts, although not as drastically. The piece, from the anime series Guin Saga (and originally based on a 130–volume book series), begins with a delicate harp-and-flute duet outlining a songlike melody, which leads into a more Earthbound Papas-style rock instrumentation with a solo electric guitar, alongside keyboards and drumset. The melody is a nice one, sounding a little like something from Final Fantasy IX. The flute isn’t over, though, and by the end of the piece both the flute and guitar are playing variations, inversions, and accompaniments of each other. The piece is slow, but not quite gentle, and serves as a nice contrast to the preceding “One–Winged Angel.”
“Metal Hypnotized” and “Forest of A Thousand Years” are both original pieces, and both quite enjoyable to listen to. “Metal Hypnotized” has a techno/dance-like quality to its seven-note melody, and is far simpler than many of the other pieces on the album. Even when the melody shifts to outline variations or harmonies, the original melody returns as accompaniment. “Forest of a Thousand Years” is more tranquil and wandering – while not without a melody, it’s an extremely slow and thoughtful one, sounding like a large combination of many of Uematsu’s melodies for previous songs. Overall, “Forest” is a well-executed piece, and a solid one.
My favorite track was easily “Bo-Kon-Ho-Ko,” the cover of Uematsu’s piece from the 2007 game Lost Odyssey. Arranged by Michio Okamiya, the cover is not wildly different from the original – the instrumental sound is not quite as full-bodied as the original, and fewer vocals are used – but as someone relatively unfamiliar with the original score, I loved this piece. Opening with a descending operatic sequence, a guitar solo, and a chromatically descending octave-based motif (which is about as odd as it sounds), the piece soon falls into a 6/8 time and begins the main melody, which carries through the piece, in several forms. It was extremely different from the rest of the album (if nothing else, I always appreciate pieces in compound meter), and I enjoyed the sheer weirdness of the random conglomeration of techniques used in putting the piece together.
The album ends with the appropriately-titled “Homecoming,” which brings about a return of the spoken melodies from the first song in a more natural-sounding setting – meaning it’s not opened by a woodwind fanfare this time. Instead, a new and looser acoustic percussion opens the piece, and the voices seem to fit the setting much better this time around. The voices disappear for long stretches of time, letting the percussion and added ambient sounds take over, and the piece eventually ends with a fade–out.
While Octave Theory doesn’t add much in the way of innovative covers, the album does contain covers from some of Uematsu’s lesser–known works, and is certainly worth purchasing for Uematsu collectors. Octave Theory is certainly weird – one of my favorite parts of it is the lack of inhibition when it comes to utilizing different instruments and styles. I just wish that the same fearlessness applied to the more well-known songs as well as the new or more unheard of ones. Octave Theory is available for purchase at CDJapan and Sony Music Shop.
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Posted on March 4, 2015 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on January 19, 2016.