Morrow vs. Hajduch: Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Jim Guthrie: Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space BabiesJim Guthrie: Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies (4/5/11)

Jim Guthrie: “Dark Flute”

[audio:|titles=Jim Guthrie: “Dark Flute”]

Morrow: With a list of accomplishments that includes a solo career, band collaborations, and the co-founding of Three Gut Records, Jim Guthrie is more than a notable name in Toronto’s music scene.  He has recorded as part of Islands, Royal City, and Human Highway and has worked with Arcade Fire, but his newest project transcends the realm of reality to explore a magical/digital world.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a successful cross-platform game / music project for the iPad and iPhone.  Guthrie delivered a great score for it, and now the music is available to purchase on its own.

From the open, The Ballad of the Space Babies is sort of a Legend of Zelda-meets-Goblin blend of space jams.  But pieces such as “The Cloud” and “Under a Tree” — with ambient, chamber, and neoclassical influences — establish different moods entirely, and there are more percussive elements than one might imagine, as tracks such as “Bones McCoy” build around clattering drum fills.  “Ode to a Room” even has a synth line that acts like a reverberated, quasi-Italian-western guitar melody.

Hajduch: As someone who played the game, I find the music to be somewhat inextricable from the experience.  You don’t get to play a strange little contemplative point-and-click adventure game soundtracked with tunes like this very often, so it’s understandably memorable.

With that being said, you don’t need to play Sword & Sworcery EP in order to enjoy this album (although you should anyways!).  The music here doesn’t have any of the purpose-made monotony that plagues a lot of scores.  Although it is evocative and unfolds slowly, the music does not feel like it’s “missing” anything.  Guthrie’s music is also largely absent of the sort of twee 8-bit affectations that plague a lot of this type of work.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the chiptune movement per se (Bit Shifter in particular makes incredible music), but it usually seems like means to an end: it can dress up any mediocre composition as “video game music” in seconds, manipulating nostalgia instead of truly tugging heartstrings.

But enough of what Sword & Sworcery LP is not. Guthrie’s music is largely indebted to the music of Goblin and the driving tempo of krautrock, but the songs here vary considerably, and as a piece, they flow together nicely, stringing together motifs (the low-register piano reprise in “The Prettiest Remix”) and constructing moods as it goes.

Morrow: You’re right — because many of the parts can be looped effectively for the game, you don’t have to sit through many moments where the designer might have said, “Now we need four minutes of droning darkness for our cave level.”  The bonus tracks, mostly in chunks of one to two minutes, come closest to that role, particularly with titles such as “Confronting the Wolf” and “Up a Mountain.”  But the whole album can stand on its own, especially the main tracks.

Overall, it’s a splendid synth score with outstanding organic ornamentation.  (Now I’ve filled my alliteration quota for the day.)  At least pick it up on iTunes.

Hajduch: Or if you’re feeling spend-y, pick up the super nice-looking deluxe LP! The artwork rules, and the packaging looks great. Either way, if you like instrumental/electronic music that has anything to do with the bands mentioned, it’s hard to go wrong with this soundtrack or this game.

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