West of Loathing (Original Game Soundtrack)
West of Loathing (Original Game Soundtrack)
|Record Label: Materia Collective|
|Catalog No.: MCOL-0045|
|Release Date: August 10, 2017|
Buy at Bandcamp
Four accessories depicted in West of Loathing’s amateurish cover art tell the entire backstory of the album. See that crude stick figure cowboy? He’s handling two of them and wearing another: revolver, beer mug, cowboy hat. That’s West of Loathing, the game, in a nutshell: a “western” indie RPG, in more sense than one, paring down the genre to a goofy rendition of its basic tropes.
Now, see that phonograph behind the cowboy? That’s Ryan Ike. Well, kind of, anyway.
Ryan is the music backing the madness that is West of Loathing – literally, in the case of the cover art. His job is to take Asymmetric Publications’ cartoon cowboy romp and ground the game tonally without hampering its whimsical character. That’s a fine line to walk, and with West of Loathing a week young again on Nintendo Switch, it’s high time we take a look at how Ryan managed to walk that line.
Following four seconds of banjo fanfare called “What in Tarnation,” the album kicks off in earnest with “West of Loathing (Main Theme),” as classic a cowboy tune as they come. Sweet whistling, twanging electric guitar, a zesty percussive bed and mournful brass set up a perfect cowpoke aesthetic. Just in time, too, because that dry western flavor turns sugary and comical in the first handful of tracks that follow.
The culprit is the xylophone. Whether backing the bass line in the steady, solemn march of “A Cave Is A Sideways Hole,” darting across frantic chromatic lines in the haunting “The Quick and the Undead (Spooky),” or blurting out an agitated ostinato in the dusty battlecry “Draw!,” the xylophone lends each track it touches an appropriately cartoonish sheen. Sure, it’s an odd choice of instrument for the soundtrack to a western game. Then again, when it comes to West of Loathing, oddity is practically the name of the game.
That instrumentation quirk isn’t the only trick West of Loathing has up its sleeve. “The Sticks-For-Hands Rag” contorts a classic ragtime piano sound with subtle detuning, filtering, and dreamlike reverb. “Dirtwater Jam Band” takes a drier approach, applying a scratchy texture behind staccato guitar strums and parched banjo. “Misbehave (In This Cave)” comes out of nowhere and thrusts that banjo into a groovy funk track complete with syncopated staccato guitar, playful fretless bass and perky violin swoops. “This Song Is Public Domain” is…certainly public domain, alright. One of West of Loathing’s greatest strengths is its unabashed adoption of tropes, and Ryan shares the game’s affinity for the tried, the true, and the ticklish. So, here we are, with a fun, bubbly, waltz-like take on a classic carnival trope that proves “Entry of the Gladiators” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Each of these tracks contributes to the spirit of levity that makes West of Loathing so charming. Special touches like the laughter turned coughing fit at the end of the main theme’s reprise in “Please Buy Our Game (Trailer)” and the applause in the “Y’all Level Up, Now” fanfare keep that charm alive even in the tail end of the album.
At twenty tracks in length – four of which are fanfares that run their course in a matter of seconds – West of Loathing is a short listen, more concerned with setting the stage than telling a tale. Even despite its brevity and the variety on offer, tracks do tend to blur together a bit in their pursuit of a uniformly bombastic and borderline ridiculous tone. That’s not to say, however, that West of Loathing doesn’t know when to reel in the fun and humor. Contrasting the chipper moments are acoustic guitar musings like “These Boots Were Made For Moseyin’” or the contemplative “Sit Fer A Spell.” “Newfangled Contraptions” cuts the general urgency of the album away with pure synthesized ambience, occasionally broken by gentle guitar interruptions. These tracks may fall into the minority on the album, but they provide an appreciable contrast to the rest of the soundtrack and help to make its absurdist overtones a little easier to take in all at once.
Hindsight, of course, is twenty-twenty. West of Loathing earned its spurs already back when it launched a year ago, and Ryan has since returned to the new frontier in a sweeping homage by the name of Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. Yet West of Loathing’s soundtrack still stands tall in the face of time as a solid – and decidedly silly – caricature of the wild west. And heck, some days just call for embracing the “wild” side of the west, where a stick figure cowboy can assail a demonic cow with a bug-eyed snake for a whip. On those days, partner, West of Loathing will have you covered.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on June 7, 2018 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on June 7, 2018.