Behind a motel, there is a tree with a hangman. In the window, dirty Revachol is suspended – the heavy world of poverty and corruption. It’s been like this since a political revolution 50 years ago, but another revolution hangs in the mouth of dissatisfied streets. So everything is suspended. At both sides of the window – because in a motel room, our half-naked character is lying. He’s not remembering his past and who he is. He is hanged like an old coat with empty pockets. It’s a starting point, but it’s not the beginning – it’s rather the middle, because Disco Elysium is a story that thinks about the past more than the future. And it tries to order things from chaos.
The music describes the places really well – dirty and damaged ones that we try to explain and clean up somehow.
This is what the music made by a rock band British Sea Power is like. The term “post rock”, originally (in a review written by a music critic Simon Raynolds from grunge era) described a music that uses a rock set of instruments, but it doesn’t create a casual rock. It quite nicely describes the soundtrack composed by British Sea Power. But, considering it as just great classic post rock would’ve been an oversimplification. And it wouldn’t have been true.
Everything starts with the cornet – a brass similar to the trumpet. It repeats its simple melody. Later its role is taken by the viola played by the only lady in the band – Abi Fry. The background of percussion and long panoramas of the guitars lingers in a deep reverb. This way, Instrument of Surrender introduces to us all the characters of the soundtrack.
The game’s creators come from Estonia. As they admit, they grew up on a wave of new rock and political turmoil – a dirty combination of sounds, conceptual songs and the revolution. A screenwriter and co-founder of the ZA/UM studio, Robert Kurvitz, while visiting British Sea Power in Birmingham, England, understood that it would be easier to finish the game there, because there are more talented developers and artists like Mikee W. Goodman who gave a British accent to the main character. Kurvitz is currently living in Brighton, where British Sea Power members come from.
The guitars once again withdraw to the blurry background in Tiger King. A heavy, rough tremplo played on strings blends with the burbling guitars and synth pads. The song slowly swings with the nostalgic viola and then sounds start to intricately harmonise with each other in a counterpoint.
Tremolo is actually an eagerly used technique across the whole soundtrack – although it appears in different circumstances. For instance, we can hear it in a quite elevated (and great!) Precinct 41 Major Crime Unit, which sometimes relates to western music or to the dark wastelands of the 60s’ rock, and, sometimes, it resembles work of The Black Keys duo. The guitar tremolo is also in a snippet of an atmospheric Krenel, Downwell, Somatosensor – it has the 60s’ spirit as well. In a nutshell: it’s simply brilliant music! On the other hand, in a calm La Revacholiere there is a tremolo played on the viola.
The mood of a wanderer’s western loneliness or that vintage 60s’ rock appears also in Hope In Work And Joy In Leisure. A perfect melody and the harmony of guitars and strings are a musical poetry here. Actually, there is a whole bunch of amazing melodies – what is interesting, again: in different moods. Live With Me is my favourite. Simple, yet very atmospheric piano with a company of only subtle electronic sounds and the quiet cornet. Everything dissolves in a slow melancholy.
An expansion of this song is Burn, Baby, Burn. It takes Live With Me’s themes and makes almost a radio hit out of them. It’s the only truly vocal track. A complete and independent one, like it was borrowed from a separate album of the band… And, honestly – it was. Both songs are a variation on a song Want To Be Free from an album Let The Dancers Inherit The Party. Likewise Tiger King which was included in a soundtrack for a film Man Of Aran. Also, in all versions of Whirling-In-Rags we can hear snippets and inspirations of a song Red Rock Riviera included in a soundtrack for a film From The Sea To The Land Beyond. But this is just a handful of songs – British Sea Power did a brilliant job, composing music for the the gloomy world of Revachol.
As befits Disco Elysium, we have a lot of electronic music here. And I’m still talking about really good melodies. The musicians from Brighton showcased universality. Miss Oranje Disco Dancer sounds like a track from Mass Effect after adding some nostalgic clean guitars. Wild Ecstatic Vibrations, Totaly Transcendent is already a classic club disco – typical “four-on-the-floor” with the kick on 4/4, distorted synths and clean guitars with flanger effect that seem to take us to the past – this time to the 70’s.
I guess Kurvitz couldn’t dream of a better soundtrack for his intricately built world.
All those changes in tempo and mood only increase the feeling of being lost and looking for. This feeling wanders with us from the song no 1 to no 28. The music describes the places really well – dirty and damaged ones that we try to explain and clean up somehow. It was already 17 years old when Robert Kurvitz created his paper RPG in the style of AD&D. Later, based on that, he wrote a book Secret and Terrible Scent which was sold in only 1000 copies. And it drove him into alcoholism. These were two prototypes of Disco Elysium’s world. Going back to the beginning: sometimes game masters wonder what music would be good for a paper RPG session – I guess Kurvitz couldn’t dream of a better soundtrack for his intricately built world.