You may not know this, but in addition to writing pretentious opinion pieces and reviews for Midlife Gamer, I also write professionally for a very large live music website. This puts me in a position whereby I listen to a lot of new music on a regular basis and have a fairly wide and deep knowledge of modern music, as the position demands I know my Brand New from my Brand New Heavies. Each week I highlight great music from new bands, write descriptions for artists, interview performers and otherwise give a huge (and mostly lovely community) their daily dose of quality music.
But why all the pimping from myself? I do this as I don’t want you (the entirely lovely Midlife Gamer community) to feel that music is an area with which I have little expertise, as I begin to pick this album from internet darling Rebecca Mayes apart. I want you to know that everything I write here is based on a combination of the things I have learnt from music journalism, as well as video game criticism.
The Epic Win is Rebecca Mayes’ new album, a body of work that combines folky, guitar driven indie with commentary and criticism on video games. Having provided ‘reviews’ of the medium through song on The Escapist, a series which she calls ‘Muses’, this album is predominantly a collection of this work, the audio only route being a strange choice for material that started out containing video to accompany.
Immediately the album is resonant of the irreverent tracks of a Bree Sharp record, the vocal focus of a Sarah McLachlan LP, the song structure of one of Alanis Morissette’s finest. Acoustic chords form a defining body, twinkling arpregios weaved throughout. The percussion is delicate, the rhythm section is firm yet restrained, there are electronica elements to add a breeze of the synthetic to the proceedings and vocal FX are sparingly used to add layer to a voice that could melt Frostmourne with its disarming warmth. This heady combination goes to create a rich and delicate, web-like tapestry of grown-up pop for video game enthusiasts… or at least that’s the idea.
Where Rebecca’s work falls flat is in her lyricism, which is patchy at best. There’s nothing wrong with her words’ rhyming structure or delivery, but I couldn’t help but be distracted by the content on some of her tracks. Take for instance her song The Mirror;
“In every game I play the bodies are the same, conforming to the one acceptable template. What’s this game we play, with our plastic fantasies, so that reality can disappoint us”
I’m sorry?!? Every body in every game is the same and perpetuates a body image myth of well built males and buxom females? I don’t know about you, but I’ve played a lot of games where this simply isn’t true. Alyx Vance of Half Life 2, Faith from Mirror’s Edge, Brigid Tenenbaum of Bioshock, any character at the heart of a Lorne Lanning Oddworld game, hell even Uncharted’s Nathan Drake isn’t a total meat head. And who’s to say that I’m disappointed when looking at the Space Marines of Gears of War or the ladies of Dead or Alive? In the same way that I can distinguish between what is virtual and what is reality when it comes to violence in GTA, I can distinguish between a plastic fantasy and a well formed human body. She continues…
“Where are the real men, the ones who are smiley, the ones who are round, and a little bit geeky. The ones who are wild, the ones who are skinny, the ones who are short and a little bit cheeky. Where are the women big boned and proud with a mouth unafraid to tell you what it’s all about. Where are the small breasts like the tenderest, delicate, feather kiss”
Again, why are these the people that she’s aiming her content at? Some of the most successful franchises in video game history are Madden, We Sing and Wii Fit, games that appeal to vast swathes of people and not just the perpetuated stereotype of the ‘geeky teen’. Maybe I’m being a little too harsh on her writing here, perhaps it’s not that she’s helping to keep the myth of what a ‘gamer’ is alive, perhaps she’s just inaccurate with her words, but whatever the reason, it doesn’t help the album.
Actually I think it’s fair to say that the best tracks in the collection don’t directly reference the games that inspired them too heavily at all. Let’s look at a snippet from stand out track Shadows;
“Shadows don’t always conceal you, Shadows don’t always protect you, They can see you through the dark, They can see right to your enemy heart”
It’s a beautifully constructed opening verse that alludes to its source (in this case Velvet Assassin) though it can be interpreted by the listener in a myriad of far more interesting ways than just ‘there is a woman, she fights people in a stealth game’. For me it’s here that her work shines brightest, transposing the fantastical world of gaming into a metaphor for the emotional reactions we have in ‘RL’. In a recent tweet on her Twitter profile, the artist wrote;
‘I put a non-game-related song on the album as a bonus track. Let me know what you think of it :$’
Rebecca, if you’re reading this, I thought that track (Don’t Lose Your Head) was truly superb and I wish all of your work was ‘non-game-related’, I really do. Because sonically you’re an exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalist, composing music of astonishing beauty. But as a commentator of video games, your writing borders somewhere between the imprecise and slightly offensive.
It’s still definitely worth checking out her stuff on The Escapist and admittedly you aren’t going to see a lot of artists like this around the net, but her work is polarising to the extreme, making her the video game music equivalent of Marmite. Try, as they say, before you buy.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: MP3 Release Date: 28/05/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of The Epic Win for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of six days on an iPhone. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.