Disasterpeace – Hyper Light Drifter OST

Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, is something of an anomaly. Composer isn’t quite the right word for him, because (to me) it suggests classical instrumentation, and he uses an almost exclusively digital sound palette. Electronic musician doesn’t work either, because that’s a term primarily held for people who make dance music, and in any case Disasterpeace’s stuff doesn’t fit any of the standard electronic genres. He makes music for video games and film, and while these original soundtracks (OSTs) perform their job admirably, they have a much longer, more independent shelf life than most OSTs.

If you recognize Disasterpeace’s music, it’s probably because he scored the horror movie It Follows, or perhaps because of his soundtrack for the video game Fez. Both movie and game are interesting works of art, but I’ve watched/played each of these once, and listened to the OSTs a thousand times. This is music that transcends its role as accompaniment.

A few weeks back I reviewed Hyper Light Drifter, which I thought was superb. But I’ll be honest: the main reason I was interested in the game was because Vreeland was doing the music. And while I loved the game, I think that once again I’ll be spending more time with the soundtrack.

Vreeland is often called a “chiptune” musician, i.e. making music that sounds as though it were for early video game consoles—think of Mario or Zelda on the 8-bit Nintendo. But that’s not quite right. Instead, I’d say that he focuses on modifying old-fashioned analogue synthesizer sounds in a contemporary way. Electronic music can often be cold and crystalline and unrelenting, but due to his choice of sound palette, Vreeland’s work has a warm, almost organic feel. It also helps that he actually plays much of the music, i.e. he performs it rather than drawing it in with a mouse and keyboard. This looser feel, sometimes even without a steady tempo or meter, makes the music even more human.

What you’re left with, as a listener, sounds natural. On that basis alone, Disasterpeace has accomplished something that I’ve never really heard from any other electronic composer. But just as important are the compositions with which Vreeland takes advantage of this sound palette. The Hyper Light Drifter OST is primarily a collection of ambient pieces, heavy in beautiful chord progressions but light in rhythm, with occasional rhythmic songs that amp up the mood and intensity. Most of the tracks don’t have any sort of drums, and so this probably isn’t music to which you’ll exclusively pay attention. Instead, putting the soundtrack on while doing something else, whether it’s writing or reading or even doing the dishes, lends an incredible colour to those events. These songs balance feelings of wonder, isolation, hope, struggle, and the search for meaningfulness in life, all without ever uttering a word.

Whereas the It Follows OST felt like it started with existing cues from Fez and developed them into something scarier, the Hyper Light Drifter OST feels like its own beast.

Only one vaguely real instrument appears on the album, a saturated and tape-degraded piano, used to good effect on the “Panacea” songs that bookend the soundtrack. These pieces are easily the standouts of the album, incredibly expressive in every regard, and they leave me yearning for Disasterpeace to explore this relationship between piano and warm synthesizers more in his future work.

The Hyper Light Drifter OST is over two hours of beautiful music and only $5 on Bandcamp. If you need music to put on while you’re thinking or doing things, this is the soundtrack for you.