In the spirit of High Fidelity, LIFE IS NOISE is making its own 'top five' lists. Every week, ALEX GRIFFIN will give you five pieces of his mind. This week he’s looking at the best five songs to listen to while you’re playing Legend Of Zelda.
From birth, Link gets put through a lot of rough, interminable junk, including but not limited to:
- Being courted by an amorous fish
- Being abandoned as an outsider orphan into a (magical) fairy community
- Having to wear green all the time forever
Moreover, when Link inadvertently reaches manhood by way of touching and lifting a magical sword (yeah), he discovers his homeland has become a wasteland inhabited only by the plucky, the aloof, and the zombie undead. Rough.
Despite this, the feel of the game when playing with Adult Link only sporadically becomes darker; Koji Kondo’s elegant musical score (the unimpeachable excellence of which will not be challenged here) stays unchanged, which leads to some dissonance forming between how depressing the plot is and the tone of the gameplay. For example, the theme music for Hyrule Field (the space in the game which connects all of the areas where the dungeons and actions of the game are located) remains buoyant and galloping when Link becomes an adult, despite the fact that in every direction dudes are being repressed by magic (of the evil kind).
So, here is some suggested listening to rectify this inherent contradiction in moods.
5. Maggot Brain by Funkadelic
RECOMMENDED SPATIAL LOCATION: When riding/walking around Hyrule Field OR when inside Hyrule Castle Village
“For I knew I had to rise above it all...”
Link walks out of a Temple seven years older, alone except for the visions he’s had and his spiritual guide (accessible through the C-up button). In the town he once visited as a child, there are only the demented, perverse shells of humans left; the castle which symbolised order and safety in his land is now the seat from which evil reigns, casting his earth into darkness and ruin. He is confronted with the knowledge he, and he alone, must save the Kingdom,
“...or drown in my own shit.”
George Clinton ain’t even got to do a thing sometimes except pick the right people and give them something to play at. The medieval, minor-key lilt of the fingerpicked guitar and the deranged, spiralling weep of the lead make this pretty much untouchable when it comes to soundtracking sadness without resorting to horror or affect. If the dude from Castaway had this to listen to all day he would have walked into the ocean and not turned around before he even discovered the volleyball.
4. Bushels by Frog Eyes
RECOMMENDED SPATIAL LOCATION: The Water Temple
The Water Temple fucking sucks; it’s the most difficult dungeon ever except for the Superman N64 game which glitches every time the bald guy turns up and you get stuck inside a wall. Passing it is dependent on opening doors in specific orders (especially hard in such a labrynthine dungeon) as well as fighting Dark Link, who is a bitch.
It’s easy to lose your spirit, if not your temper; so Bushels, where Carey Mercer’s marble mouthed holler does pitched battle against what I wished the Arcade Fire would grow to sound like. An aquatic, plunging arpeggiating piano sweeps through the verses, like doing sword tricks as you dive off a high board into the Aegean. The thrilling tumble of the song makes everything it rubs up against feel grandiose and majestic; even Link’s lank, clumsy sidestroke swimming which dominates the Temple can finally feel like a part of the heroic adventure you’re completing.
Additionally, the stop-start momentum of the song manages to reflect the fallow periods of wandering around aimlessly, without making you feel like you’re being mocked in the way an endlessly looping soundtrack can.
3. Before Today/Dazed in Dreams by Ariel Pink
RECOMMENDED SPATIAL/TEMPORAL LOCATION: Kokiri Forest
- I am led to think something from The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society would be right for when Adult Link returns to the Kokiri Forest, where he lived as a human, orphaned child taken in by the Great Deku Tree to live amongst the ageless Kokiri fairy children.
- The Kokiri are all walking around wearing green and being eternal children so calculated obscurantism may be a queasy fit.
- I was going to say just Phenomenal Cat from that Kinks album, but the Kokiri don’t seem to fare well with animals being about headheight to a toothbrush and the fact there’s all killer dekus and mansize spiders hanging around.
- If Ray was singing about something else aside from cats it might work though
- Wicked Annabella may have the greatest riff ever, so I’m always probably going to be too drawn to Village Green when I am thinking about music for situations this is a bias of mine.
- Thematically, though I think this is appropriate because the music Link should be hearing as he returns should have some spirit of whimsy blending with nostalgia you know.
- Actually maybe there are a whole heap of better pastoral folk psych records out there which might communicate that sensation.
- Okay I have now gone through my iTunes and I am well prepared to recommend that you listen to Phenomenal Cat but it is digging at me that there are much more appropriate songs for this situation perhaps by Bert Jansch but he’s always really moody.
- Just think of a song that includes panflute.
- Oh wait, never mind folk music what about some chillwave or something glo-fi and sad and nostalgic that is a good idea, especially with the whole green misty colour scheme which is going on in the Kokiri Forest that place is dank.
- Chillwave privileges the backbeat way too much though and that is not acceptable.
- Think about Ariel Pink I can’t be bothered going through Robert Pollard/GBV.
- Goddamn why does he have to beatbox all the time anyway.
- Wait, got it.
2. The opening 2:01 minutes to Isis Unveiled by …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
RECOMMENDED SPATIAL LOCATION: In Boss rooms, vs. Ganondorf
It’s tempting to throw Dragonforce at a battle scene, but the dudes have nay soul to go with their chops and this does not cut the mustard for a game with a minimum completion time of thirty hours (unless you CHEAT). I’ve had this song, or at least this riff, recommended to me by people who were better at the game than me, so I’m following it.
The opening riff to Isis Unveiled is a three-headed beast that drums up from under the ground, snatching at the sky and dovetailing upon itself with a manic intensity that would be cartoonish if you thought about it too much. I’m in thrall to the idea of video game music becoming more syncretic, allowing different genres to co-exist at different times and places within a game, instead of maintaining what’s often a monochromatic palette across disparate gaming situations. Often it’s a single composer who is entrusted with an entire soundtrack, which is reasonable in that it allows an overarching cohesiveness to be formed within the music, but also limiting, as the composer is more likely to fall upon a preferred or limited palette of sounds which in turn affects the emotional prism through which the player views the game. If we’d been listening to something as ass-ripping as this when we were trying to defeat Ganondorf for the first time, after about fifty hours of gameplay, we might’ve been a lot more emotional about how we went about it and how we felt when we did it.
It’s still a shame Conrad Keely can’t sing per se, and it’s worse luck that the song gets pretty dismal afterwards (“it’s called ‘dynamics’”, Keely whispers, a tear rolling down his face. “Dynamics”. “Source Tags and Codes was dynamic”, I mutedly think, but it’s too late. Conrad has seen the look in my eyes), but it’s more intense than anything else on the soundtrack, and the contrast is what I wanted. When I battle Ganondorf, I want to feel like the world is teetering; opening up in cracks beneath my bare, fly-bitten feet.
1. The Seventh Seal by Scott Walker
RECOMMENDED SPATIAL LOCATION: On the back of a horse
It’s too perfect.