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SEGA Remix Zone

SEGA Remix Zone - Album Hands-On: Blue Skies, Green Hills

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So just like the previous blog, this week will approach an entire album. This time it's Blue Skies, Green Hills, an album done by many musicians within the Indie videogame music composition community and any ties to it. It's 10 tracks long, but there had still been some great attention being given to a handful of defining games for the series, all being taken in some very creative directions.

Organised by Paul Veer, the album was released just this Wednesday, and it's in this blog that I will be happy to layer down my thoughts on the whole thing, in which I have to say it's been a very exciting effort!

1 - Jeff Ball - Everything Was Green (Wacky Workbench Past)
I've grown attached to Jeff Ball's writing approach for some time, which works well with this rendition of Sonic CD's Wacky Workbench, fusing electronic and organic elements to create a surreal atmosphere that to me reflects on the collision between environmentalism and industrial development. It takes nearly 2 minutes for the beat to kick in, but when it does it aids the soundscape throughout with great attention to dynamic detail. Probably the only two irks that may bring it down are with the way the melody is handled - doesn't bother me because in spite of the radical changes, I can hear it nice and clear - and a weak ending, though given how the next track starts, it may be for the best. It's still pretty stuff from Jeff, and one that really built up the feel for the rest of the set.

2 - Kozilek - Eternal Guardian of the Sky (Sky Fortress Zone)
Electro house time! It may take a while to build in, with percussion and pulsing sequences along a British-accented vocoder voice citing the lyrics for "Sonic Boom", but you start to realize it really sets the mood the minute the Sky Fortress melody kicks in. The pitch-shifting bass and rhythmic flow really works for the dirtier side of house, while still doing a lot for familiarity with those familiar with the source material. Mixing wise though, it may be a little bit on the muddy side especially when the bass makes its movement with the rest of the instruments, but then again this genre is extremely difficult to pull off the energy just right, and Kozilek's approach with Sky Fortress did just that nevertheless.

3 - Meszahline - Second Adventure (Sonic Adventure 2 Mashup)
It's around here where creative differences can occur within the album, and Meszahline provided the sole mashup, building a beat around "The Last Scene" and the Metal Harbor stage music. I actually liked what was done around the former, which took up the first half of the song - surprising amount of energy taking on with the additional elements, which made it feel so infectious, as well as having a neat amount of clarity. Oddly, I wasn't feeling it with the Metal Harbor segment (though brownie points for the silly yet neat transition), with the mixing being muddy and unclear in comparison. But even then he still took Metal Harbor into a firm enough place for a mashup and caught me with the ending to boot, so props for doing something more distinguished here.

4 - Rekcahdam - Hidden Palace on Pumpkin Hill
If "A Ghost's Pumpkin Soup" wasn't love-hate enough, Rekcahdam took it to 11 with this quirky mix fusing with Sonic 2 Beta's Hidden Palace - starting with a funk-rock-driven cover on the former. So when it did the bait and switch and started using piano riffs when switching to the hip hop nature behind Pumpkin Hill, you may mistake yourself for going into a completely different remix. Naturally, there may be some haters for the pitch-shifted vocals down here (not sure if it's Rekcahdam's vocals or the source's acapella), but I still thought it was witty, with the bonus addition of an expansive arrangement through the backing music! This may be set to split some opinions, but on my side it's creative, clever and pays homage to one of the biggest earworms in the entire series.

5 - Souleye feat. RaKeeM - Final Project (Sonic 2006 Result)
One of my personal faves is this poppy number, taking "His World" into a chiptune-riffed rap song. Considering the source, there's enough done with the shaping to cater RaKeeM's vocal delivery, plus I was also surprised seeing a new set of lyrics to a previously existing vocal song. Mind, the lyrics can be morbid, and to me they seem to tell two sides of the story - between the side effects of Solaris consuming the world, and the pressures behind Sonic '06's development. It may even be seen as a message to live for the moment, which given the instrumental made sense to take it in this more lively direction. All in all I got to say this really managed to stand out for me with all the layers going on, while still remaining really accessible - a fine effort from Souleye!

6 - Gryzor87 - Sonic 1 Bonus Stage
Probably not the most original mix title on the album, but this is still a very short yet sweet rendition of the Special Stage theme. In a rarity with the rest of the album, we have a sweet and lush orchestral number that manages to capture the ethereal nature of the rotating special stages just beautifully, with some well attentive piano work, great brass expression (which is rare in a remix nevertheless) and some overall wonderful humanization This would've fit right at home as a cutscene in some RPG or something in terms of view - to me, it's absolutely lovely to take in, just really wished it didn't end so quickly!

7 - JMickle - Huge French (Jungle Joyride Night)
Mad props for covering Jungle Joyride Night from Sonic Unleashed - a huge fan favorite! For this remix, let's get the negatives out of the way first - arrangement-wise, it's too much of a straight cover with two variations and a fade out, which doesn't sound good on paper. But if you see past it, there's a sweet soundscape that fits the delicacy behind the source, with some serene piano expressions and great energy from the other rhythm instruments. I can't say I was keen about the violin's expression though, but I do understand it's hard to express just right. I may be really critical of this particular track, but it's hard when it's a likable source that was handled well in the feels - I saw this mix as a "diamond in the rough", and one that fans of the source will still enjoy.

8 - Falk - Faster Than A Speeding Ballad (Radical Train - The Chase)
Another pleasant surprise was Falk's take on Radical Train, giving an energy burst near the end of the album. Just like the prior track it's very conservative, but here there's actually a LOT of personification brought in to give this a raw live performance/improvisation feel. Approach-wise, I almost drew parallels on the line of "Devo meets the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra with a hint of Morricone", which considering the stage's setting seems appropriate. Also, the sax solo starting at 2:05 - which I assume is from Clay Lyons - really showcased some great expression right at the end and really built up tension. And considering how hard Radical Train's mach speed section was for many gamers, this kind of treatment really hit the feels for a lot of us. Nice going Falk!

9 - doseone - Aqua Lake Zone
8-bit Sonic 2 - a very bizarre mix with sfx and additional instruments built around the Aqua Lake chiptune. Say what you want but I like the direction; liking the glitchy approach and artistic merit. Something about the mix made me think it could be compared to similar sounding tracks that one may hear in the Katamari Damacy series. The only qualm I have is more based around the percussion writing; I'm fine with the energy, but it gets almost too easy to lose track of the downbeat with everything that's going on, thus one may struggle to track the rhythm. Thankfully there's enough being done with some of the more passive backing instruments to help you re-adjust, and when you do adapt, you're in for a trippy yet mesmerizing ride.

10 - Matheus Manente & Gryzor87 - Casino Night Zone
Very appropriate closer - a sweet jam session for Sonic 2's Casino Night Zone. It's similar to how it was arranged for Generations, but as more things are added including a nice early bass solo and lush brass / guitar writing, it ends up being shaped based on expression more than anything else and really manages to stand out on its own going by expression. As sweet as the jam effort was, I thought that the pads felt too loud to the point of distracting due to elements of dissonance. But going past it and seeing the raw jam components, you can be sure to be in for quite the jam set, and I absolutely felt Matheus's ways of solo improvs on both the guitars and bass are a great demonstration of what he's capable of, and given his previous arranged album streak, I feel happy being able to hear more from him as a musician in the future.

Overall, this album is generally very nicely produced - each artist had their own artistic values behind each track, and that is something that I can easily respect. Course, given the nature of the Indie composition community not every track may be accessible to the average listener, but there are some real gems in here that are generally more accessible especially when going towards the four 'modern' (Sonic '06 and beyond) mixes, with there still being some tracks still handling both creativity and accessibility at the same time. One thing I may have wanted to hear more of are any further representations for Sonic's Saturn / Dreamcast days, but otherwise it's a comprehensive split, and definitely worth checking out. Getting the entire album even offers a couple of nice little bonuses too, so with the full experience you've got a very solid album overall. I definitely say that one should give this a chance!

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