4 out of 5
Produced by: Aesop Rock
Various stars in the music industry, known in particular circles – rock, hip-hop, electronic – have swung by and worked on music scores here and there, and sometimes to great effect. Some have made a name for themselves in that space, with their soundtracks held in equal regard to whatever their initial claim to game was.
But I’d challenge: who can manage to make the switch with lyrics, and with those lyrics somehow effective for both the content of what they’re scoring, and also being worth reading and contemplating on their own? Okay, maybe there’s a small pool there of which I’m not aware, but let’s add another challenge in there – what they’re making music for is a pixel art video game starring a spaceship shaped like a finger that blasts aliens. Uh huh. Lyrics worth reading, I’d underline, and that don’t do a disservice to that shooting finger. Still have some candidates? Sure you do. Rather, you’re certainly down to one: Aesop Rock, who contributed first some instrumentals, and then a few full-on lyric tracks to Freedom Finger, the aforementioned shooter being developed by his friend Travis Millard.
At first blush, this all seems rather on point, with raps about saving the day, and some narration of action from the game, but you’ll also catch some meta references to gaming itself… and then digging deeper sees Aesop stretching this across how some of these in-game and out-of-game concepts reflect on life. Meanwhile, it’s still fun – Rock doesn’t forget the mandate to make music that bops for a boppy game – but, as mentioned, it makes the lyric sheet absolutely worth digging into. The lexicon on display may not be the deep bench on AR’s albums, but regardless, this far exceeds what you’d expect from a lil’ ol’ video game score.
Musically, it’s very solid. Opener Play Dead is the standout, blending distorted bleeps and bloops with a beat, and KOWP goes very old school, registering fittingly 80s vibes. Drums on the Wheel is great, though a step removed from feeling gaming influenced, coming across more like an Impossible Kid-era jam. (Which isn’t a bad thing, just not 100% in sync with the others.) Instrumentals of these tracks prove that, just like the words, the beats are not phoned in – they stand on their own – and some short cuts at the end that were looped in game are entirely incidental, but make the package the “complete” score.
The 10″ version from Rhymesayers looks pretty, though I feel like mine had some surface noise. You could argue that enhances the retro vibe, but perhaps safer going digital on this one.