If anyone said that my most listened album the first half of 2020 would be japanese keyboard-based progressive rock with a lot of jazz influences I would’ve scoffed and continued with my day. The reality is however that, Motoi Sakuraba’s album Gikyokuonsou has been my steady companion to and from work a lot this year.
Motoi Sakurba being my favourite video game composer after enthralling me with the music for game franchises like Golden Sun, Star Ocean and Tales of. His unique style that always flirts with progressive rock has always caught my ear since it always challenges the listener. Having playing some of the games that he has composed for gives me an interesting insight in his “newer” stuff, making this record even more appealing since it’s older than any of the OST’s of his that I have listened to. Being released in 1990 it’s evident that he writes music that he likes even in the games he composes for. There are a lot of similar ideas and phrases on Gikyokuonsou and the games.
Starting with the positive sounding and bouncy Humpty Dumpty which opens like it would be an epic sci-fi theme. That illusion is quickly over and the main theme is presented. Quirkier theme is hard to find, but it’s son catchy and the track cements Gikyokuonsou as a progressive rock album. There are also some very dramatic parts, and a solo that reminds me of solos of the swedish prog movement during the seventies. The following part does however throw that likness out the windows and continues on with more traditional prog rock.
Following the quirky Humpty Dumpty, we have the rockier Tone Access, which almost sounds a bit like Deep Purple meet oriental notes. This can probably be argued to be the heaviest of the eight tracks. Most of the tracks all have a very serious sounding atmosphere that get resolved into something more playful. A solid track. The main theme is by far my favorite part of the song.
The next track Byzantium, reminds me more of solos by prog keyboard virtuosos like Jordan Rudess and Rick Wakeman, followed by a lots of chromaticism. The solos are accompanied by playful drums and the very heavy bass that can also be found in many themes in the Golden Sun games. Every song is an adventures of there own, being extremely varied, but still coherent. The way Motoi plays with chords being suspended then resolved into a new chord is very pleasant to listen to.
Motion is the albums marathon track, clocking in at over 8 minutes. It is some of the more jazzy-sounding songs, with a large portions of the song in a more traditional trio setting, grand piano, bass and drums, instead of synths. With parts that reminds me of bossa nova and other parts that rely heavy of chromaticism this makes for a very entertaining track. Unfortunately for me, it is also the track that contains the most keyboard masturbation solos, where it’s mostly show-off passages, that to be is less interesting than the more jammy nature of the rest of the songs. The catchy parts of the song are very catchy and it’s worth multiple listens. It it however, not one of my favourite track.
That title is earned, but not one, not two, but three tracks in a row, making the later half of the record my favourite. The trio of song are Paradigm, Narratage and Scrap and Build. The opening song of these three is the track that I would say sound the most like a possible video game song, possibly a fighting theme, with great energy in the more active parts. There is also a pretty weird, but cool slower solo part. It’s a bit out of place. It does however very contrast the main theme perfectly giving it extra impact when reintroducing the main bit, making the slower part a great addition to the song.
Narratage is a beautiful track, the introreminds me of ballads by power metalband like Sonata Arctica, it does however transition to a beautiful piano piece with a very nice active bass that complements the piano perfectly. Narratage does, like Paradigm, also have a clear video game music quality, which in my ears are a always welcome. The bass has some very nice descending parts, which makes this an outstanding tunes. The theme that’s introducing in the latter part of the song, is a very simple but extremely effective piano line, which surprised me a bit the first time. One of my favourite tracks for sure.
Now to the track that made me react so much that I had to send it to my father to listen to (he never listened to it though). As a bass player this is a very awesome track. The bass doesn’t just complement the rest of the song, it lives in a parallel world as the drums and the keyboard and creates a tension to the other instruments without feeling out of place. As with the two latest tracks, this also has the video game quality to it. Again boss music vibes. With tempo changes, polyrhythm and signature changes, this is the most progressive song of the bunch. There are also very jazz-inspired sections in Scrap and Build.
Closing the album is Drama Composition, a track with a lot of synth action going on. The heavy bass that I know Sakaruba for is also present, very rythmic and accent heavy. The atmosphere in Drama Composition is a very good way to end the album. The main theme of the song really benefits from its use of octave notes that really elevated the theme. The end is very abrupt, which is a bit sad, but it’s quite effective.