Grant Kirkhope – Banjo-Kazooie (iam8bit vinyl edition)

5 out of 5

Label: iam8bit

Produced by: iam8bit

In reviewing some other Rare games’ soundtracks, I’ve noted how the composers have taken recognizable themes and worked them in to their music, lending some instant familiarity, or have sort of latched on to what would be expected of a score to a particular style of game – like a boppy platformer – and then layered on some extra character.

Grant Kirkhope’s Banjo-Kazooie score – this edition brought to LP by iam8bit – does both of these things, but also does so, so much more.  As with his Perfect Dark work (not to mention his other scores), Grant elevates the genre immensely, giving each track not only tonal touchpoints that make them very immediately experiential – this is a desert level; this is a winter level; etc. – but also giving the score a sound that is uniquely Banjo-Kazooie’s.  There are a lot of fun game scores out there that end up being somewhat faceless – that is, they’re definitely enjoyable, but can seem somewhat mechanically derived; a gathering of fortunate bleeps and bloops.  There’s always a composer behind those bleeps and bloops, but it’s unfortunately easy to forget that sometimes.  Grant’s work, in general, injects a very living and breathing sensibility into the music, and B-K is all over this from start to finish.  This allows Kirkhope to work in themes organically, and when we get to the climactic ‘Final Battle’ on the D-side, when all of those themes come together – when Grant whips out random intrusions of banjo – it’s epic, and as grand feeling as the actual ‘final battle’ from the game itself.

The music is part of the experience, in other words – it adds to it because it embodies its own range of emotions while also making sure to complement what’s on screen.  Iam8bit has the good fortune of a lot of great work to select from, here, meaning we don’t suffer from extended looping that’s padded out other scores – each side on the LP is sequenced such that tracks come and go at the right times.  The artwork is also quite excellent, and is so quirky in and of itself that the packaging has its own personality, and makes up for the lack of any liner notes.

Banjo-Kazooie just looks like a fun, great record, and that certainly carries through to every minute of its runtime.