Future Primitive Sound (US); Marvelous Entertainment (JP)
November 18, 2003; August 4, 2004
Buy Used Copy
The XIII Original Soundtrack is an hour long groove of smoothly transitioned hip-hop and dance tracks dedicated to Ubisoft’s acclaimed cel-shaded first-person shooter. Brought to you by the Future Primitive Sound label in the US and Marvelous Entertainment in Japan, the album is an innovative release sure to turn on new listeners to their underground sound. It features the collaborative work of seven Bay Area DJs, who spin a continuously morphing hip-hop, funk and electronic soundscape. Strewn amongst the excellent beats are melodic gestures that will bring to mind chase scenes from 70’s cop dramas and even “blacksploitation” films like Shaft.
While I can guarantee the soundtrack is quite refreshing, the introduction reveals that voice acting in XIII is less than Hollywood caliber and the sound design is rather sparse. Do yourself a favor and skip the intro track or you might not take the rest of the music seriously. Once the mix begins, it does not let up for a solid 12 tracks of music. Yes, there are 13 in total — seems appropriate!
The instrument choice throughout the album is excellent. Nothing is really cheesy or generic — the instruments, samples and synths featured in XIII have stood the tests of time and are officially vintage, organic sounds that really claim their space in the mix. Each track builds upon these vintage 70’s era grooves, providing several distinct instruments that give the music depth and identity. For instance, J Boogie’s Dubtronic Science’s untitled contribution intertwines samples from the game with a number of vintage sounds: Rhodes keys, some nice brass hits, synthy effects and a great beat. DJ Zeph’s “Crusade” shows off some funky guitar and Hammond organ and some great sax swells and riffs, while Romanowski’s “Thirteen Thieves” enters with this great duo of what sounds like a flute and slide whistle amidst a solid beat.
With all of the accenting features, the heart of the music really lies in its beats: driving, energetic, and entrancing. One can easily get lost in the rhythm which is mixed superbly, often layering drum kits with full percussion and congas or bongos, and even using found sounds like police sirens or chopped up voices. Perhaps a favorite of mine is “Covert Ops”. It features an intricate mix of voice samples, upright bass, several layered beats and a slew of processed sounds; it is probably one of the best examples of modern hip-hop in video games to date. It even manages to blend a vocoded voice with a deep, bowed upright bass (at least that is what it sounds like!) — quite a bold sound when played through the right systems.
Listeners can hear excellent use of voice samples from the game on several occasions (even if the voice-acting is not top-notch). Bing Ji Ling’s contribution, for instance, remixes excited samples of the enigmatic Major Jones and the main character with a smooth beat and some classic organ and wah-wah guitar performances. The mix even seems to have a definitive progression, and with the transition into the last track, “Lord of the Pants”, one can almost sense a growing intensity and a climax in the mix.
Obviously, this is album is really akin to a modern hip-hop mix disguised as a video game soundtrack. This won’t appeal to all, but the depth and quality of each song is striking. Each artist that took part in the collaboration is obviously a master of his craft. It is somewhat inspiring to hear the music set up so well; after all, a great mix is a thing of beauty.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Jay Semerad. Last modified on August 1, 2012.