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Music for Art :: Review by Chris

Music for Art Album Title: Music for Art
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: iTunes
Release Date: December 24, 2009
Purchase: Buy at iTunes

Overview

Music for Art is an original concept album presented by Square Enix Music through iTunes. It features contributions by all resident composers and synthesizer operators at Square Enix, from Junya Nakano to Mitsuto Suzuki, presented in the order they became employed at the company. Between them, the 13 artists offer everything from electronic mixes to piano miniatures to rock fusions to vocal pieces, each implemented with high quality technology. Though something of a free-for-all, each composition is nevertheless intended to inspire imagery and complement artwork depicting a range of scenes. The only art actually produced for the album was for the front cover, courtesy of Isamu Kamikokuryo. To what extent do the employees satisfy in offering a musically appealing and, above all, artistically fulfilling production?

Body

Square Enix's longest serving composer Junya Nakano is responsible for defining the focus of the album with the opener "Glitz". The track is reminiscent of his Another Mind score with its uplifting electronic synthpads and dreamy synth whirls, though the production values are considerably higher. The resultant music could certainly complement art of a rich futuristic space scene. Ryo Yamazaki is another composer who has mastered electronic soundscaping. His offering "Flow" is as dreamy as his finest Official Bootleg offerings with its colourful electronic beats and surreal voice parts. A further experimental ambient work, Hidenori Iwasaki's "L&L III" features quite a sleazy element with its bass riff and jazz elements, yet still manages to emanate some warmth from the darkness. Maybe even more impressive is newcomer Mitsuto Suzuki's latest minimalist electronic work, featured at the end of the album. It recounts memories of In My Own Backyard while taking listeners on an imaginery journey across the universe.

There are a few electronic compositions on the album that didn't really convey much imagery to me and sound more like generic background music. Naoshi Mizuta's "Max Contrast 2009" is probably the most obvious example. This track would work as a generic menu theme in a futuristic shooter, but not so much as 'music for art'. The pop and jazz influences are just too cringe-worthy here. Hirosato Noda's "OMNI" is also one of the least artistic contributions to the album, lying somewhere between generic techno and synthpop. However, it still manages to be quite catchy without sounding as cheesy as Mizuta's and could probably fit a science-fiction scene. Takeharu Ishimoto thankfully attempts to offer something different with "The Razzle-Dazzle". As with The World Ends With You, he chooses to blend vocal parts with electronic and jazz instrumentals, but focuses more on gospel and R'n'B influences this time. It's too unrefined and incohesive to really inspire one's imagination, but is a step in the right direction.

There are also some more classically-oriented contributions to the album. Masashi Hamauzu's "Pen" hearkens back to his Vielen Dank album with its solo piano focus and impressionistic feel. As ever with Hamauzu, even the most modest of compositions are coloured by some eccentric development and lush chord choices. It's an elegant and characteristic work that convincingly depicts scholarly pursuits. Masayoshi Soken's "Translucent Louise" blends piano wanderings with electronic and percussion elements. The resultant composition mixes a considerable French influence with more abstract elements suitable for depicting surreal imagery. Far less artistic piano writing is featured on Kumi Tanioka's "Take a Breeze". This is more like a series of unrelated ascending and descending phrases than a coherent overall composition. With a playtime of just 55 seconds, it only really serves as an interlude during the experience. Pretty enough, but not 'music for art'.

The contributions by The Black Mages' remaining in-house members are unsurprisingly rock-oriented. Tsuyoshi Sekito recounts his electric guitar-driven sound once more in two collaborative contributions with Yasuhiro Yamanaka. "Red Lights" nevertheless creates the desired imagery with its radiant choral climax and passionate piano wanderings. It's certainly an inspired fusion. "Essential Singularity" is layered in a way more characteristic of Yamanaka, but still features many of Sekito's trademarks with the guitar, brass, and soprano use. It's perhaps their most accomplished collaboration to date. Finally, Keiji Kawamori's "2099" recounts the aggressive bass-driven sound featured in Advent Children's "Chase on the Highway". Though not as individualistic as many contributions, the overall composition provides quite a vivid and detailed depiction of a futuristic urban environment and, in fact, wouldn't sound out-of-place on Shinji Hosoe's concept album 2197.

Summary

Music for Art unites all of Square Enix's musicians together to present an interesting concept. Many compositions on this album will inspire imaginations and complement imagery, though a few are likely to leave listeners feeling alienated. At the moment, Square Enix contains both hard-working craftsmen and individualistic artists, and this album features contributions from both. The result is a fascinating and revealing production, but not necessarily one that effectively comes together to create a unifying concept. Nevertheless, there are a number of major highlights here and many will wish to sample iTunes to find their favourites. Whether Ryo Yamazaki's electronica, Masashi Hamauzu's classicisms, Tsuyoshi Sekito's fusions, or even Takeharu Ishimoto's voices, there is bound to be something for every Square Enix music fan here.

Overall Score: 8/10