Friday 8 May 2020

Portraits In The Darkness

This time we're going to focus on yet another soundtrack that means a lot to me, the story is pretty much the same as last time! Something I've been holding onto for a while that I'd been meaning to mention and that I was pleasantly surprised to find on streaming!

Enter Boogiepop Phantom, a series that I'd looked at for a long time but not really taken a deep dive into. When I eventually did though it really resonated with me, at least thematically: centring around things like memory, change and escapism and how those things define who we are. Which is pretty much what informs my own art and occasional musings like this one so it was quite an experience. Heads up to those who check out the show based off this post, be aware I am talking about the 2000 version of the show and that it is based of a series of light novels that the series expects you to have knowledge of. You can watch it without, but do expect a couple of "what" moments and maybe a re-watch before it makes total sense. You can always read a breakdown on the net I s'pose too. Also be aware that there is some content in there that you may want to avoid, I'll detail in the final paragraph after the music. Anyway enough of that, onto the songs!

The soundtrack is incredibly up my alley to boot (and in fact is what initially turned me onto the series). As you all may know I am a big supporter of electronic music in soundtracks, obvious bias aside because I think they are just so much more interesting than your standard cinematic strings or whatever. Boogiepop Phantom has that in spades, the soundtrack goes through a variety pack of genres and even features some very well established names for the time! Case in point with track 1 by Flare, an alias of Japanese techno veteran Ken Ishii, who delivers some gorgeous semi-ambient techno.

Track two is one of my favourites, I will be forever haunted by that intro and I wouldn't have it any other way. If there were a perfect audio accompaniment to the absolute bleakness of parts of the series, this is it. In stark contrast to all those other turn of the millennium tracks I talk about that have this sense of optimism, SiLC seems to have taken more than a page from the world of Trip Hop and the end result is super gloomy. It does sound a little dated now, which is to be expected coming up on 20 years old now, but I keep finding myself coming back to this one.

Skipping over the first instalment of Drum & Bass on the soundtrack to bring you another piece from a very established name of the time; Susumu Yokota. Both this and the opening track are interesting to me because they do not appear elsewhere other than this OST, whether that was a contractual thing or something else I can't say. Anyway, with Yokota's contribution that melancholic atmosphere of the previous tracks takes a backseat, instead being replace with a slightly funky house number as one might expect from Yokota's output (though his album released around this time Sakura was much more ambient, go figure). As I say whenever I talk about a soundtrack, I think what makes it particularly strong is that it can absolutely stand on its own separate from the media it's a soundtrack to.

Skipping over another of my favourites (A Furrow Dub by Sugar Plant for those interested, it is like the title says a Dub tune) to take a trip into the Drum & Bass side of things. Again from an artist normally known for ambient & techno, instead Snow Coast comes out sounding a little more IDM in places with those techy sounds sprinkled throughout. It's biggest influence is definitely D&B and Jungle though, with thick basslines running throughout. One of the longer pieces on the album at 9 minutes, I feel it does suffer a little from a lack of variety but I do like the sounds on show here.

And finally playing us out, another big name in the world of Japanese Techno; Rei Harakami. Harakami's works are always lush and full of life, and are some of the productions I point to whenever I encounter that classic 'Electronic Music has no emotion' argument. Pone is no different, incredibly delicate and beautifully constructed, and arguably the most 'soundtrack' style piece so far to the point where you can already picture the accompanying visuals in your head. The way it builds is so smooth, I've sat and just listened to it through around twice before even writing this out. Harakami's work is a beautiful reminder that once in a while you just have to slow down and appreciate the moment. And much like the themes of the series; the tune just comes to an end, not super abruptly but in a way that deliberately leaves you hanging.

Again just a note for anyone checking out the series; be prepared for a little confusion as mentioned in the opening. But also be aware that the series contains content that you may find troubling and wish to avoid; the series contains depictions of self harm, mental illness, body horror and parental abuse towards the end. Not to end on such a downer note but I feel that it is important I at least be up front about it. Regardless, I hope that you've found some things you like on this soundtrack, definitely check out the whole thing on Spotify, youtube or wherever you stream music if you like what you've heard.

And as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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