The World is Square: Stay Awhile and Listen
The World is Square: Stay Awhile and Listen
May 10, 2014
Download at Bandcamp
For the uninitiated, The World is Square (a reference to Final Fantasy VI) is a five-piece Massachusetts-based VGM folk music cover band that solely focuses on game music associated with Square Enix. The band eschews the distortion and heavy drumming of usual cover acts, opting to go with a more unconventional set of instruments ranging from acoustic guitar, keyboard, mandolin, glockenspiel, hand drums and even a melodica. I love fast-paced, hard-rocking covers of Final Fantasy music as much as the next person, but sometimes it’s nice to kick things down a notch and give the game music-listening crowd something wonderfully unique and relaxing. The World is Square does just that with their upcoming second album, Stay Awhile and Listen, set to be released later this week.
The band’s 2012 debut album No Phoenix Down Can Save You Now featured a variety of tunes from the Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII, IX, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross soundtracks that are not often touched upon by cover artists. Stay Awhile and Listen continues this, while delivering an even bigger focus on Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Newcomers like Grandia II, Super Mario RPG and even Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII are all very welcome jams that help spice up the track list.
And speaking of the track list, you can tell that the band has a knack for the tongue-in-cheek. This is readily apparent in the album’s title, which references the iconic phrase uttered by Diablo II character Deckard Cain. I enjoyed the playful nature of the song titles, which feature humorous names like “Optimism Prime” and “Damn! That’s a Funky Frog,” which is subsequently followed by “Damn! That’s a Funky Mog.”
Following the weather effects and the inevitable drop of that lovable Diablo II quote in the album’s opening, I heard the sound of a jaw harp ring in “Shadow’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI and I could already tell that I was going to have a blast listening to the entire thing. The album’s mix is a noticeably surprising upgrade from its predecessor, with the string-based instruments especially sounding much clearer than before. The mishmash of guitars, bass, mandolin, hand drums and glockenspiel blend together wonderfully, crafting a sound that is not only easy to listen to but highly calming.
I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the use of the melodica with this album. Its usage in tracks like “Damn! That’s a Funky Mog” and “Zozo Town Theme” adds a playful nature to the main melodies. The album is chock-full of moments that will undoubtedly make the JRPG player in you smile, like the band’s collective exclamation of “HA!” during the rest period in Chrono Trigger’s “Millenial Falcon Fair” and the tribal-like backing vocals of Grandia II’s “Kitchen Nightmare Village People.”
While the overall instrumentation is tight, I did feel that the guitars in Chrono Cross’ “ZelBass” could have used more of the twang from the Mitsuda original. Nevertheless, the bass guitar performance on this track is exceptional. And even though I take no issue in the usual “play a tune twice and end it“ approach that permeates a majority of videogame music, it would be food for thought for the band to consider changing things up from time to time for future arrangements.
Nearly every instrument gets its time to shine on this album. Like the aforementioned bass guitar and melodica, the short but sweet “Packie Theme” from Final Fantasy Tactics features some great acoustic guitar harmonies and the glockenspiel playing is really impressive in Super Mario RPG’s “Beware the Forest 1/8th of Mushrooms” and Chrono Cross’ Solt and Peppor theme song “Optimism Prime” (complete with fitting use of a shaker).
It also bears mentioning that the Final Fantasy X-inspired album artwork, done by Nate Horsfall of Spectrum of Mana, is simply beautiful. That image alone should entice you to give this album a whirl.
Stay Awhile and Listen is a fantastic follow-up to the band’s 2012 debut. Though admittedly short, clocking in at roughly 31 minutes, it’s pure, relaxed fun with every listen. The folky renditions of fan favorites like “Scars of Time” are sure to please, but I was especially taken in by the tracks that prior to this album I never gave much thought to, like Grandia II’s “Nightmare Village Mirumu” and Chrono Cross’ “Optimism.” With the entirety of the Square Enix game library at the band’s disposal, I’m genuinely excited to see what else they’ll come up with in the future. I’ll be crossing my fingers for the original Breath of Fire (published by Square in the US) as well as other under-appreciated masterpieces like Brave Fencer Musashi and Illusion of Gaia.
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Posted on May 7, 2014 by Patrick Kulikowski. Last modified on January 19, 2016.