Grant Kirkhope, Graeme Norgate and David Clynick ‎ – Perfect Dark

5 out of 5

Label: iam8bit

Produced by: iam8bit

The label iam8bit was one of the first that caught my eye – I believe with their Battletoads soundtrack – out of the burgeoning video-game-soundtrack-on-vinyl scene.  I didn’t necessarily have much attachment to the games they were putting out (unlike Data Discs’ soundtracks, for example), but I liked the eras / genres they were going after, and their art style.  My opinion has fallen a bit in the succeeding years – their line expanded a bit too much in my opinion, and quality on the recordings is often pretty flat – but the first few scores I got for them had me as a believer, and Perfect Dark was top of the list that made me realize how legit these soundtracks could be.

While I think composers in the 16-bit eras and beyond – Perfect Dark being on the N64 – have the benefit of more room and range for their compositions, that doesn’t automatically make the jams just happen; I’d already been consuming a fair amount of digital soundtracks thanks to Steam and Humble Bundle by the point I put on PD, and Grant Kirkhope’s (and Graeme Norgate’s and David Clynick’s) dark and moody themes just immediately spoke to me, without any experience with the game itself.  There’s firstly a fantastic, cinematic progression to the music – an action-oriented buildup on the A-side to slower, surging “stealth music on B, fast-paced thrills on C, and conclusive and triumphant stings all across D – but there’s also just a sense of patience and depth that’s rare in many scores.  Perfect Dark tells a story.  Yes, there are loops, but it all feels paced out correctly, the repetitions long enough to let their effect sink in, feeding into and carrying you to the next theme.  This is further supported by the physical flipping of the vinyl; the sides each feel distinct, as mentioned above, and allows for this “story” to have relevant peaks and valleys on each side.  The B-side, in particular, works through several variations on its tunes before breaking out with exciting bursts of flourish.

Iam8bit’s packaging on this doesn’t include any extras, but the sleeve artwork and vinyl colors all feel right and effective; I also feel like the lack of liner notes and whatnot adds a sort of mystery to things that matches with the espionage vibe of the game and tunes.  A comment on the Discogs’ page expresses disappointment over the soundtrack culling some music, and I respect that does suck for those more familiar with songs they wanted to hear, but I’m also a big fan of paring down scores – which can often be incredibly extensive, with all cues considered – to what works for an album.  And this works as an album.