Both Mike and I had nothing but good things to say about Supergiant's Transistor when we reviewed it back in May 2014. A light action RPG that teased at memories of games like Parasite Eve and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, Transistor managed nevertheless to define itself as something distinct — even from its own predecessor, Bastion.
Transistor's appeal lay equally in its enigmatic narrative, in its time-halting RPG combat system, and in the melancholy atmosphere that spread through every nook of its setting, the futuristic city of Cloudbank. And that atmosphere resulted in large part from the game's excellent soundtrack. At once complementing and contrasting the game's austere environments and high-tech overlays, Darren Korb's compositions combined electronic beats with ethereal vocals — songs presumably intended to be works by the protagonist, a fugitive chanteuse referred to by the narrator simply as "Red." The game sounded as brilliant as it looked, so when Supergiant put a 2LP soundtrack up for sale through the company's website a few weeks ago, it seemed like a must-have purchase for me.
In terms of content, the soundtrack's 2LP rendition appears almost completely identical to the digital release from nearly two years ago. The record includes a single new track, "She Shines," another haunting vocal piece, but otherwise this is simply a physical edition of the original soundtrack release — one that costs four times as much as the iTunes release, though the record does include a download code for a lossless digital duplicate of the soundtrack to soften the blow.
Then again, the record itself goes a long way toward justifying the price. This is not a cheap or sloppy release. Game soundtrack releases seem to fall along two lines: Novelty picture disc releases meant to be collector's items, and carefully mastered releases for the sake of presenting the music in its optimal format. Transistor's 2LP issue falls into the latter category: It ships on two now-standard 180g vinyl discs (manufactured a sort of milky, translucent color), and the jacket feels as weighty as the records. In fact, the cardboard stock is so thick that the Transistor album pokes out a fraction of an inch above the records around it on the shelf. The sleeve uses a simple gatefold design, with a beautiful illustration of Red and her mysterious sword filling the front cover and text filling half the interior. The sleeve's glossy finish really makes the front illustration pop, even if I'm generally not a fan of high-gloss covers.
Ultimately, though, this release is about the music, and on that front the soundtrack truly delivers. With the music spread across two records, each LP side has breathing room for the tracks, and the music sounds clear and pristine — even in those tricky inner grooves. It's an excellent (if low-key) collection of music, and it sounds great here. The natural divisions of the vinyl format work in the album's favor, really; an hour and a half of somber, mid-tempo electronic could become tiring in a single non-stop stretch, but the side-change breaks that occur every 20 minutes or so create natural divisions to give you a breather and a mental break between "sets."
Each of the four album sides becomes its own self-contained suite of music. Every side contains one or two vocal melodies, which serve as a sort of centerpiece or bookend to the instrumental compositions. Much of Korb's work here revolves around similar beats and instrumentation, and the breaks make it easier to appreciate the variances that appear throughout the album: Distorted audio here, an accordion there; a more focused vocal line here, a more intense battle theme there.
Transistor's soundtrack initially sounds somewhat monotonous when stripped from the context of the game, but the more you listen the more you can parse the underlying narrative in the music. The compositions tend to blend together, stylistically, but each track brings something different to the sonic palette. With its reliance on electronic percussion and building a somber atmosphere, the music here hits many of the same notes as the Axiom Verge soundtrack — but where that frequently felt oppressive with its heavy beats and stark synthesizers, Transistor goes for a warmer spirit. Despite the presence of ethereal female vocals in both soundtracks, Transistor has a more comforting, feminine tone versus Axiom Verge's suffocating masculinity.
In any case, they've both instantly become essential pieces of my collection: Great records to put on when I want to chill out with some great electronic melodies. Supergiant clearly put a great deal of care into this release, and it paid off; this album is worth owning for any fan of the game... or of great game music in general.
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