Review Summary: An adventure; for Gomez, and for you
Detaching a soundtrack from its accompaniment can be an extremely difficult thing to do. The moments that work alongside the music can be imprinted indelibly into our memories, and it can be impossible to separate them, for better or for worse. While many games, films and soundtracks can stand on their own two feet, it is a rarity for two mediums to complement each other as perfectly as the FEZ game and soundtrack. The two work together seamlessly, weaving soothing ambient electronic passages and bright chiptune melodies around Gomez (the protagonist in FEZ) through all his discoveries and tribulations. These 26 songs are extremely personable, specifically designed to sit alongside a man on an adventure, and recalling warm memories of the video game for those who've played. However, even for those that haven't played the game, the way one-man project Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland) approaches his music makes it easy to superimpose your own story atop the tracks. Here, Vreeland has succeeded in crafting a perfect aural representation of discovery.
While most chiptune tends towards a brighter, more upbeat style (ala Anamanaguchi, Victory Road), the FEZ soundtrack takes it's lead heavily from electronic ambient and creates an engrossing atmosphere more reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream than the majority of 8-bit and chiptune music. The vast array of moods and soundscapes formed by such a minimal sound palette is an achievement in itself, but the way he incorporates each element into the album is what makes this the experience that it is. The rare times that percussion forms the songs structure (Adventure, Home), or the mix becomes scratchy and envelops you in oppressive static (Pressure), or a song comes along entirely devoid of warm fuzz (Nature), it has an impact. Each small change in the soundtracks atmosphere feels significant, and this greatly improves its replayability as well as affecting the listener on an emotional level. This also goes a long way in making the album feel natural, like an organic structure that would crumble without one of the many integral elements that make it up.
Though the album absolutely must be appreciated as a whole, much like any adventure, there are definite standout moments. The distortions throughout 'Glitch' succeed in creating a harsh atmosphere that induces a sense of foreboding in the listener, and catches the listener by surprise as the first somewhat dark track in the albums run time. The ominous run from 'Death' to 'Pressure' gives an intense feeling of unease, being the antithesis to the rest of the album whose primary attribute is it's ethereal, dream-like sound. 'Continuum' is particularly notable for being Vreeland's 8-bit re-imagining of Chopin's Prelude in E-Minor (op.28 no. 4). A bold risk to say the least, but it doesn't disrupt the flow of the album and adds an extra dimension (ha!) to the album's sound and diversity. Where Disasterpeace excels, however, is in creating simple but memorable themes that stay with the listener hours after they've left their computer. Whether it's the repeating arpeggios in 'Home', the meandering pads and synths throughout 'Compass' or the upbeat melody that drives 'Adventure' forward, each time you come back to this soundtrack there's something new to find.
Disasterpeace has made something truly special with the soundtrack to FEZ. Nearly 80 minutes of ambient chiptune may not appeal to many people's tastes, but there is a gem tucked into every minute of the albums runtime. The stylistic diversity ensures the listener never gets bored, the array of moods and emotions carry the listener through the many ups and downs of Gomez's (or your own) adventure, and the atmosphere is nothing short of perfect. Vreeland has taken leaps and bounds since his earlier work, forged his own niche in the already unique chiptune scene, and has the potential to take the genre to new heights in the future.