Psychonauts Original Soundtrack
Psychonauts Original Soundtrack
Double Fine Productions
September 10, 2005
Buy at Double Fine Productions
The critically acclaimed LucasArts platformer Psychonauts features an extremely varied soundtrack. That’s for good reason; since every level is inside a different person’s mind, it ought to be very diverse. Peter McConnell, also known for his work on Grim Fandango and various Star Wars games, composed the score. He may not be the most well-known game composer out there, but his academic background is impressive and he has a number of great scores behind him. However, Psychonauts is probably his magnum opus. It was commemorated with two soundtracks. The Psychonauts Original Soundtrack features most of the stage music and the Psychonauts Original Cinematic Score features the rest. While both are worthwhile, the former in particular is a must-have and really demonstrates McConnell’s incredible musicality. Let’s delve into the mind of the psychotic soundtrack…
The soundtrack may be varied, but a lot of these tracks share things in common. A lot sound like they could come from a Tim Burton movie, many sound cartoony, and the whole effort feels more like a cinematic score than individual themes. It is similar to a cartoon score in that the instrumental licks tend to flow along with the characters in game actions. “Title and End Credits” sounds like it comes straight out of Danny Elfman’s score to Beetlejuice with its dark yet humorous orchestration. The break down about one minute in is pure creepy fun while subsequent passages range from hyperactive to the sorrowful. So many different instruments get the chance to shine with little solos during the 4:43 playtime and McConnell inserts some of his own trademarks too. The result is difficult to understand on its own, much like a more mature version of Tom and Jerry, but it can fortunately stand up as a musical marvel thanks to the amazing moods and unique instrumentation.
Peter McConnell has ensured everything is so subtle, but effective. His scoring is so extremely detailed throughout that every track is a joy to listen to. And I mean every track too. There are magical tracks such as “The Lungfish Lair” and “Gloria’s Secret Garden” that offer whimsical classically-oriented use of strings and woodwinds. In complete contrast, “The Matador” enpowers listeners with its blend of authentic flamenco influences and rocking electric guitar solos. Others are much more sorrowful in tone, such as “Bonita’s Tragic Muse” with its incredibly meaningful piano wanderings and unusual orchestration. Given everyone in the game is so crazy, half of the tracks on the score end up sounding demented too. The prepared piano work and otherwise random minimalistic instrumentation in “Sasha’s Immaculate Mind” really creates a feeling of going crazy. “The Catwalk Phantom” places a focus on experimental piano work too, but to a different effect, depicting tension, panic, and everything inbetween. Other bizarre but enjoyable additions include “Happy Flowers” and “Dr. Loboto’s Lab”.
Fans of Grim Fandango will be delighted to know that McConnell has elaborated upon its jazz style in Psychonauts. The opener “The Meat Circus” immediately demonstrates this with its lyrical, almost mocking, phrasing from solo violin and various woodwinds. It also really emphasises the cartoony sound, undergoing so many twists during the short playtime. Others will be more familiar due to their distinctive instrumentation, such as “Stay Out of the Moonlight” with its smoky combination of harmonica and walking bass or “Hagatha’s Home” with its Armstrong-influenced cornet work and charismatic saxophone use. He doesn’t rely on any tired clichés like most of his contemporaries and instead keeps things refreshing throughout. There are non-mind tracks that are interesting too, like “Whispering Rock”; this one portrays an overnight and quirky summer camp in a surprisingly tolerable way despite its country influences. In addition, there are action themes such as “Duel with the Critic”, which provides an amusing twist on typical epic orchestra and organ tracks with its slapstick phrasing.
Psychonauts doesn’t feature a catchy soundtrack in the conventional and superficial sense. However, it manages to be incredibly charming and memorable nevertheless. If a listener enters expecting a cartoony score, they’re unlikely to be disappointed and instead will find one of the most diverse and emotional scores of that type out there. McConnell proves himself to be a master of numerous genres and instruments — accumulating the highest solo instrument count on a soundtrack I’ve heard — and felt sufficiently creatively liberated to create exactly what he desired. McConnell used his fair budget to good use too by ensuring all the instruments are real and performed by talented, passionate performers. The result is a fun trip through many crazy minds that also serves as a really inspiring musical journey. Keep in mind that the track times can be short and the soundtrack is incomplete, though there is little else to fault. Keep an open mind and give it a listen. Don’t forget to check out the amazing game while you’re at it.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.