Do you feel lucky?

Over the past couple years at my job I’ve become fairly familiar with music for film and television – so when Paste Magazine posted an article about an exciting new Jose Gonzalez track being featured on the soundtrack for a video game, I knew I had my research cut out for me.

Many reviewers are praising Red Dead Redemption as the best Western video game since…well, ever.  In a word, it’s “epic.”  And the creation of the score is no exception.

I don’t want to take away from the great article in The Guardian about the score (which you all should read), but basically for composers Bill Elm and Woody Jackson it was one hell of an experience.

On paper they’re quite an unlikely duo to be scoring an epic Western video game – best known for being members of the band Friends of Dean Martinez, with only a small smattering of experience scoring films (Fast Food Nation, Youth In Revolt).  But in actuality it was a pretty clutch, innovative move.  Hailing from Tuscon, Arizona, the desert is in their blood and inextricably linked to the band’s music.  Says The Guardian:

“think Mogwai with slide guitars, or maybe Angelo Badalamenti in a Stetson and you’re heading in vaguely the right direction. The music is laidback but also simmering with dark emotion, and it has an absolutely unavoidable sense of place.”

Their way of keeping themselves rooted in the traditional sound and feel of the West while adding contemporary nuances here and there is what really makes the Red Dead Redemption score – just check out “Triggernometry” and “Horseplay” for a couple of great examples.

Throw in David Holmes (DJ, musician and composer behind films such as Ocean’s 11, 12, 13) and some perfectly fitting tracks from the likes of William Elliott Whitmore, Jamie Lidell, and the aforementioned Jose Gonzalez, and soundtrack supervisor Ivan Pavlovich has got to be a very happy man.  I can’t imagine figuring out what artists to pair with a Western score that isn’t trite country music, but Red Dead Redemption pulls it off with panache – all four evoke a melancholy, deserted desert feel – particularly fiitting is the soundtracks final track by William Elliott Whitmore.

You can stream the whole thing in order below, but I highly recommend going on iTunes or Amazon and buying the whole thing to take with you the next time you go hiking, camping or gunslinging.  My favorite tracks are in red.

  1. Born Unto Trouble – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  2. The Shootist – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  3. Dead End Alley – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  4. Horseplay – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  5. Luz y Sombra – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  6. El Club de los Cuerpos – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  7. Estancia – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  8. (Theme From) Red Dead Redemption – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  9. Triggernometry – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  10. Gunplay – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  11. Redemption In Dub – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  12. Muertos Rojos (The Gunslinger’s Lament) – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  13. The Outlaw’s Return – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  14. Exodus In America – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  15. Already Dead – Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
  16. Far Away – Jose Gonzalez
  17. Compass (Red Dead On Arrival) – Jamie Lidell
  18. Deadman’s Gun – Ashtar Command
  19. Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie – William Elliot Whitmore

Red Dead Redemption (Original Soundtrack) by swimming in soundtracks

And to leave you, an interesting quote from Bill Elm about the difference between scoring for film and video games – I’ll never look at Mario Galaxy the same way:

“The obvious difference is that film music is written to fit a finite scene, whereas with the video game, we’re working in five-minute loops. It’s really wide open, but also very hard, because there are all sorts of things happening with layers. If the player shoots someone, suddenly the music changes, so we have to think, ‘okay, does this work over the top of that?’. Also the big thing with a game is, you don’t know how long you’re going to be staying in that mood – you can’t state too much, it’s kind of like implying a mood. It’s a balance between having it interesting, but not so much that you get sick of it, because you could be riding that horse for 15 minutes…”