.hack//SIGN Original Sound and Song Track 1

Yushiro (Former Staff) — November 5th, 2002
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The .hack series, much like the pseudo-MMORPG world it portrays, continues to propagate itself across a variety of media, including games, TV series, an OVA, and the manga. Thankfully, my area of interest is not overlooked, as they all sport (well, except for the manga, of course) some exceptional music to accompany them, across several soundtracks. However, I should note that as of writing this, I myself have not seen the anime, which is not a habit I tend to have. I picked up this record based entirely upon the fact that Yuki Kajiura was the composer. Given her beautiful, if misused in the anime itself, work on Noir, I somehow knew that the music from .hack//SIGN could be nothing but consummate. Despite my relative inexperience with its accompanying anime, I was not disappointed in the least.

The record has a heavy Celtic sound to the album as a whole, and is yet another exceptional example of Kajiura's ability to apply European styles to her music. .hack's styles tends to head north to the isles off the continent of Europe, though, whereas Noir was rooted heavily in Italian and French moods. In keeping with this, the overall album is moderately light listening. For the greater part, there's nothing too heavy, in regards to negative emotions, though the listener will find some rather stirring substance in a few key songs, namely some of the vocals. But the purely instrumental compositions are not without their merits.

The best place to find the European influences is in the more lively tunes, Foreigners being a prime example. The song is comprised of a gentle flute dancing across a fairly standard tribal-like percussion set. It feels like a classic Irish ditty and it's just a fun song. Then there is something like Magic and Sword, which has a bazaar-like quality to it. If the title is any indication, it looks like it would be used as battle theme, which I would hope it isn't. It isn't nearly hard or gritty enough, but is more like a spirited stroll through the city - I can only hope the music was used properly in .hack, unlike Noir. Where the Sky is High, though, is more akin to a battle theme than the aforementioned song, though not by much. If anything, it has a militaristic quality, which I'm pleased to hear, as Kajiura's compositions tend to be lacking in this area, battle-oriented or otherwise. The song is not nearly as animated as the last two songs, as it takes the ever-somber strings to the background. It is good to see Kajiura attempting more battle-oriented songs, even if it isn't really that strong of a presence on the album.

The quieter pieces tend to be on the side of the soothing, rather than the dramatic - this is generally relegated to the vocals songs, which I'll get to later. The quiet songs range from the serene solo piano in Before Dawn to the utterly relaxing accordion and piano mix in A Bit of Happiness. B.T. is the closest thing to 'dramatic' in the orchestral stuff, using the solemn strings to set a deeper mood, which is brought up slightly by the piano. Then there are things like Sit Beside Me and Valley of Mist that do no one thing to stand out remarkably, but just wholly tranquil in their presentation. Without a doubt, this record contains some fantastic mood music to just sit and let take you into in a state of peace.

There are a few orchestral songs that stand out from the rest, as well. Most notable is Fear, which is a genuinely creepy piece, and may as well be something out of the horror genre. The instrumentation itself is already haunting, with a sweet melody wrapped around a daunting electronic-beat groove, but what puts it over the edge is a distant voice uttering "feeaarr!" in the background. Another unique piece is Silent Life, which a bit of a mix between the livelier and softer styles seen on the soundtrack. It isn't really all that noteworthy in any one area, but it takes this very gentle melody and wraps in around an exotic percussion beat. Another worth mentioning is Kiss, a song that entirely uses traditional symphony, though only using a few performers, which already sets it apart on the instrument diverse record. It tries harder to be on the dramatic side, but the piano doesn't allow it sink into depressing depths and produces a nice play off of each other.

The vocal songs, though, is where this album truly shines. Somewhat surprisingly, the vocals largely don't feel out of place with the relaxing tone to the album, and enhance the whole record extremely well. The instrumental pieces are great mood music, but nothing as outstanding and memorable as some of the vocals. All of the songs on the soundtrack are performed by two singers, the beautifully toned Emily Bindiger, who does most of the songs - and who I'll get to momentarily - while the opening and ending songs are credited to See-Saw, Yuki Kajiura's band-of-two along with Chiaki Ishikawa's vocals. (Though, Kajiura herself actually performs the chorus in the ending theme.) All lyrics, Japanese and English, were written by Kajiura.

The "TV Size" of the series' opening song, Yasashii Yoake (Gentle Dawn), gracefully opens the soundtrack. The song is wistful and masterfully blends the Japanese vocals with the Irish bouzouki (a stringed instrument), acoustic guitars, and gentle percussion. The closing, Obsession, is a much harder song, using a rock-like electric guitar and rapid electronic beat to take us out. The lyrics intrinsically fall far more easily, as Ishikawa's better matches the background beat for beat, rather than drawing it out over the strings as in Yasahii Yoake. Both songs are more than worthy as the opening and closing for the series, though Obsession is a bit out of place with the rest of the album, but as vocal songs, they fall second to Bindiger's pieces, in particular...

Key of the Twilight. Go listen to the sample below and come back. Now. Back? I - love - this - song. Lyrics alone have not moved me like this in far too long, on top of Emily's undeniably magnificent rendition of them. Somehow, my heart longs to ache at the song, but her voice just lilts up so high that you can't help but awe at it. The music is clearly the most Celtic-like piece on the record, and along with the electronic intonations, has this sweetly ethereal quality to it. This song alone, being the fourth one heard as one plays the album, was sufficient justification that my faith in blindly buying a Kajiura album was not misplaced.

Now that I've fan-boyed that out, there are a few more appearances by Ms. Bindiger on the album. The World and Aura both dip into that ethereal quality grazed in Key of the Twilight, Aura more so than former. The World is a bit more vigorous than most of the record, save perhaps See-Saw's pieces, and combines a rapid violin, energetic beat, and those gorgeous vocals. Aura has an almost depressingly dark background to it, which compliments the half-uplifting, half-ominous singing. Fake Wings and A Stray Child, though seem quite tame in comparison to The World and Aura, both relying heavily on Bindiger's lilting quality in her voice. Fake Wings is a far softer song, using a melodic mandolin to support the vocals. A slight echo is placed on the singing, to try to just lightly use the mystical-sounding quality seen in the above-mentioned songs. Her voice is echoed even more in A Stray Child, and stands out so much that the instrumentation may as well not even be there. Child doesn't quite succeed in the 'ominous' quality seen in The World and the Aura, though it certainly tries to, and it doesn't work as well to the quieter music. One semi-miss out of five isn't bad at all, though.

Outside of a few songs with powerfully strong personalities, the songs on the album don't have that distinct of an individuality as to cause you to latch onto and remember them. But the album makes up for this in droves through its wonderful ability to blend all of the moods on it together, making it a fantastic record to just listen to straight through. One of things I like most about Noir's music was its distinct strength and personality in almost each and every song, but that did lead each song to feel like a separate entity from the record as a whole. Each song for .hack, though, works quite well in unison with the rest of the album, and the record is better off for it in the end. It is much more casual listening than Noir as well, but I enjoyed it for that reason, in addition to the incredible vocal work, a great deal.