Thursday, July 26, 2007

Latin is back, in black

In keeping with anime as a gateway to music that I wouldn't otherwise listen to, most of the instrumental stuff I have comes from OST's. Still, I haven't given an OST serious consideration in ever, and to be honest I wouldn't have given the Darker than Black OST a spin were it not for the enthusiasm of an early adopter.

From the 15.24 km view, Darker than Black's soundtrack is another dominantly jazz themed score similar to Cowboy Bebop. I didn't ever see Cowboy Bebop to its conclusion, but all of my friends liked the soundtrack even though, as noted before, they wouldn't normally listen to jazz. They liked it, then, for the novelty factor. I didn't find it as awesome as my peers did, with really only Tank!, Piano Black, Blue, and Green Bird being stand-out pieces, and even Tank! was pretty dry for a big band jazz work.

If nothing else, Darker than Black's original soundtrack is a better effort by Yoko Kanno, sticking closer to some of the influences that define the pieces. I'm not a student of contemporary music and have nothing to back that (or the following) up with, but I think that most of the pieces don't suffer from the cookie cutter effect that Tank! did.

Still, most of these tracks are necessarily pure exposition, and generally aren't allowed to go anywhere throughout their mostly less than 3 minute windows. The reality is that an OST is not a score, just a collection of incidental music that is taken for granted even when consumed with the animation content.

Specifics after these messages.

Update: For a third opinion, see A Gabriela Robin Site.

Update 2: Another review, off Anime Nano.

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GO Dark is pretty straightforward jazz rock (fusion) with a few standard hooks. Trumpets feature prominently, whether they're wailing in the commotion or punctuate the sax solo.

Howling is, well, Howling. It's dark, it's hard rock, and it's got a decent amount of contrast packed into 1.5 minutes. Heck, it's even got vibrato. It's not written by Yoko Kanno, so I'm not going to add anything further.

High heel Runaway is probably an Afro-Cuban jazz form, maybe a fast rumba. I can't pick out the rhythm on the high hat, but it would probably yield a good indication of the style. Prominent piano with stylistic runs and improv section. Nice fade (to black!) tricks the unsuspecting first time listener. There is no back beat — most Latin jazz is played straight up — but energy is derived from syncopation heavily laced throughout the piece.

Tenderly sounds like Take Five. It's not quite quintuple-time (it's phrasing in two major groupings of triplets), but it's got that light, game show music atmosphere. Subtle back beat due to emphasis on the second group of triplets.

Sid is…I won't even try to guess. It's rustic and does not conform to any Western music scale. I suppose that in keeping with the Latin music trend it could be a Latin rustic style, maybe a flamenco derivative. Oh, I did say I wasn't going to try to guess. I'll stop now.

Was — the great urban jungle. Opens with a line sounding like Morse Code, the symbol for all things that beep electronic. Even though there's a wistful guitar line, it yields to the genre that holds greatest influence on this piece: drum and bass. It's hard to mess up drum and bass since it's just pure atmosphere. It's also why drum and bass tracks tend to be insanely long and it can be hard to tell one from the other.

Since Ulrich Schnauss is epic unto himself, I will gratuitously throw in two of his drum and bass pseudonyms, Ethereal 77 and View to the Future. Moving on.

Outside — standoff-ish reverb in chords, with periods of "dead space" (stop time) where the percussion fades out and the guitar is allowed to drift, but where meter is never lost. Problem is, I don't know what the meter is. My best guess is a use of two or more odd-numbered meters that are always in flux. Polyrhythm is always disconcerting and puts the listener on edge because it's an unstable and thus tense temporal situation.

No One's Home is a jazz ballad, and a fairly straightforward one at that. It's not Blue epic because it's not as ethereal and has less build up. At only 2 minutes 43 seconds, length might have something to do with that.

Guy is a typical detective funk theme and gives the character more coolness than he deserves. That sax has way too much real guts for a guy (hah!) who just bumbles around. Nice pentatonic twist gives this piece an asian flavour. It's too bad that the sax doesn't get to expand on that pentatonic rift in the beginning.

ScatCat features, what else, scat singing. Usually scat singing is much faster, using the voice as an instrument in its own improv section. In this case, it's transplanted into a much more laid back blues, hearkening back to the days of the traveling solo performer. Can you picture it? He's muttering in a raspy voice to while sitting alone outside a deserted train station.

Keiyakusha is another big band piece, this time a tightly performed samba. Characteristic bass and percussion patterns provide most of the drive. That energy is counterbalanced by the somewhat uninspired and hollow harmonies of the trumpet line leading into and out of the trumpet solo. Nice bridge, though, which serves as a small modulating playground over sustained trumpets.

Good dancing music, and by extension, fight music, as attention is usually on the participants of either. If everyone's watching the band, there's something wrong.

Shadow is likely Afro-Cuban influenced, given the clave rhythm. The simple intro, outro, and middle passages are present to serve up and round off the two solo sections, the first for piano and the other for guitar. Overall, muted and lazy. Feels like being in a darkened bar in the middle of the afternoon, staring out at the beach.

Kuro reminds me of Hitomi no Theme, one of my favourite pieces from the Escaflowne OST. Both have that cool night atmosphere, and the guitar plays a role in both, Kuro being the more prominent employer. The opening bars gave the impression that it might have been Hitomi no Theme ported over to Latin instrumentation and composition. This isn't as sparse or fragile but it's just as solitary.

Deadly Work — dark, distorted, with vocals. Didn't find anything of interest. Kanno's English vocal work has always been a mixed bag for me. This one is going into the "nothing special" bin. It's better than the "abusing Maaya's upper register and making her sound like a nuisance underneath Steve Conte" bin.

Tentai Kansukou features cavernous piano, ethereal and haunting. Typical stargazing music, if a little short.

BlueCat — cautiously optimistic, like watching dawn break after pulling an all-nighter. That you're not holed up in your room by that point either means you're done whatever it is, or you're slacking, in which case this is the wrong music to be listening to.

Eclectic mix of instruments, keeping the Latin percussion.

Tsukiakari is more to my liking than the OP. It starts off like a casual folk song with warm piano and vocal, builds towards a high point with increased layering of strings and backing vocals, and drops out suddenly leaving Rie Fu alone in the spotlight for a brief moment before closing out. I only wish that the layering didn't dominate her upper register. She sounds so weak in the build up.

Maybe it's worth looking into the full length version.

Water Forest — urban electronica, hazy and open-ended like the future. Brings back memories of Miles-Gurtu. It's a good fit for the preview scene.

Blend in — another victory(?) for adult contemporary. Also going into the "nothing special" bin.

In no Piano is a Romantic era influenced piece with rolling arpeggios and a singing style after Chopin. Decently played, although a bit light on the touch.