Mind-reading’s been here for a while, sort of. Just in short: while the 20th century’s most famous conjurers were trying to beat one another, it was Joseph Dunninger who specialised in reading others’ thoughts. His trick impressed even the great Harry Houdini. More recently researchers try to use AI and machine learning to convert thoughts into text, but for a real-life mind-reading like the one in Psychonauts 2 we’ll have to wait a long time. Or not wait, not at all.
Psychonauts 2 is a retro vibe.
Anyway, Psychonauts 2 takes place right after the previous part. Raz (officially: Razputin Aquato), a young skilled psychic who can literally visit others’ minds joins the international psychic organisation (Psychonauts, indeed) as their secret agent, but their leader’s seem odd since he was kidnapped. Nothing expresses it better than the noir big band… who’s not always noir and is not a big band, if we peeked into the backstage. But here’s where the magic begins. Ladies and Gentleman, curtain up!
Peter McConnell kind of followed the convention from 2005, but there’s the first difference – last time he included some virtual instruments and this time he wanted to record only live ones. And in this case, the difference is huge. All the little noises, imperfections and nuances on strings or frets, they’re all there. If Google asked this soundtrack to confirm its humanity – yes, these are definitely humans. I said humans because McConnell invited his friends to work with some part of the score. With Michael Land and Clint Bajakian he went to the legendary Skywalker Ranch that belongs to George Lucas and fulfilled his destiny. Plus, for one song the trio was enlarged to the 4-piece band with Jack Black (Tenacious D).
The surface of the game is rather insane and unpredictable, but the story dives beneath it going towards a spy intrigue, bright characters, and plot twists. McConnell goes above and below that surface, switching moods so seamlessly. Let’s take Something Fishy At Headquarters as an example. It starts with the string and brass sections having a dialogue with each other and the electric guitar putting its oar in. But suddenly the thread stops short and the conversation turns into an almost cartoon-like punch line.
I can only imagine the Skywalker Ranch’s appearance with Peter McConnell and his mates playing around with all these music styles like in a magical jukebox. In fact, what never leaves Psychonauts 2 is a retro vibe, but each instrument shows plenty (plenty!) of different faces. Strings and brasses – with a tension between them they go for noir and spy films (Casino Monorail with the super-dry drums from the era), but when relaxed they bring a jazz band to a little stage in a smoky room (Feeling Lucky Tonight). The tuba, the lowest brass instrument, sounds quite soft in the background of Traversing The Stacks, but it becomes a massive metronome in The Flea Circus, a march similar to Julius Fučík’s Entry Of The Gladiators. The guitar with Bajakian’s vintage pedals, on the other hand, either goes funky, blues or rock and roll.
There’s always a good reason for McConnell to change instruments one by one and sometimes it’s not just about the sound, but the character that imitates an image. A perfect example is the double bass. It swings in Here’s How It’s Done, but a bit later, in Truman’s Ship In A Bottle the double bass becomes heavy and creaky like wooden boards in a hull of the ship and plays its own sea shanty. So, when the curtain falls the Peter McConnel’s show definitely deserves an applause. For the fans of the game or such diversified orchestral music it may keep its place on a playbill for weeks.