Portal 2 – Songs to Test By
Portal 2 – Songs to Test By
May 25, 2011 (Volume 1); July 1, 2011 (Volume 2); September 30, 2011 (Volume 3)
Download at Official Site
Soundtracks to puzzle games are difficult for your average fan of videogame music to appreciate. Composers often provide subtle, ponderous tracks to support the atmospheric nature of the gameplay, which is exactly the type of music that works best for this genre. Yet, taken out of the context of the game, these soundtracks must often struggle to be appreciated by listeners unfamiliar with the setting from which they are drawn since they are, by nature, designed to be unobtrusive. Portal 2‘s tripartite album release — available upon completion as a single download — faces these same challenges but veteran composer Mike Morasky avoids (most of) them with the same creativity that players use to play through the grueling puzzles of Aperture Laboratories’ rogue AI.
The pronounced discrepancy between upbeat electronic songs and subtle ambient tracks is the greatest asset, and liability, of the album. Still, fans of traditional videogame music might be slightly disappointed by the offerings present on Portal 2 since it lacks the feel of a coherent album. Perhaps the largest problem facing Portal 2‘s soundtrack is the lack of melodies and coherent musical themes (again, a product of the genre). Many of the tracks require a bit more investment in the game to fully appreciate, and some are potentially alienating in this three volume stand-alone release.
One the upbeat and electronic themes, “Science is Fun” leads the pack with distorted synthesizer playing over a steady, if simple, backbeat. “Bombs for Throwing at You” picks up on this theme, but has a more complex underlying rhythm and presents a more developed track on the whole from start to finish. “I Saw a Deer Today” and “The Friendly Faith Plate” will likely appeal to fans of dubstep, which is working its way into more and more soundtracks via included remixes. In the case of Portal 2, it fits perfectly with the feel of the game so its presence on the soundtrack makes a good deal of sense. The thumping backbeat is not a lie.
As far as atmospheric tracks are concerned, “TEST” sets the standard for subtlety punctuated by electronic interference. “9999999”, “The Courtesy Call”, and “You Know Her?” all follow suit, building from a slow, steady introduction to something one might expect to hear during an interlude at a Blue Man Group show. “I Made It All Up” stands out from the atmospheric tracks for its a trippy, new age feel, as do “Ghost of Rattman”, “Haunted Panels”, and “Robot Ghost Story” — the three of which would be perfectly at home on a haunted house playlist or music to play while you’re driving alone at night to keep you scared and awake.
It’s worth noting well that even the most understated and ethereal of the ambient pieces, for example “Excursion Funnel” and “Love as a Construct”, gleam with excellent production values. Though this type of music won’t appeal to some listeners, every sustained, synthesized note is infused with enough vibrato or distortion to help it stand out from more generic background music. This production and variation is necessary since often in these pieces a single sustained note will be the only sound present for a handful of measures.
Outliers such as “Concentration Enhancing Menu Initialiser” and the fan favorite “Cara Mia Addio” — with its distorted operatic vocals — are notable and enjoyable. Others such as “I AM NOT A MORON”, “Music of the Spheres”, and “Machiavellian Bach” (+10 points for use of harpsichord!) shine wonderfully on their own. Also worth noting on Portal 2 is Morasky’s exceptional ability to use music to convey a computer’s sense of frustration and anger, which plays out perfectly on “Don’t Do It” and “OMG, What has He Done?” While subtle, this effect fits the feel of the game perfectly and is something that compensates for the lack of memorable melodies.
Portal 2‘s soundtrack is available as a free download of 64 tracks and there are few odd ringtones thrown in as well, so it’s difficult to say that you won’t get your money’s worth out of this album. It offers a staggering variety of extremely excellent tracks that would integrate well into existing ambient or electronic playlists. Yet, with the sheer volume of songs present on the three Portal 2 albums, one could easily create a “study” or “don’t fall asleep” playlist comprised solely of Portal 2 tracks. It took me a good many listens to warm up to the soundtrack for its alien, postmodern nature, but after a steady rotation on my iPhone I can say that most anyone will be able to find a few tracks on here to justify the download.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Matt Diener. Last modified on August 1, 2012.