Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex OST
Yoko Kanno is a force to be reckoned with in the anime music industry. With musical credits on a number of the Macross projects and the unforgettable Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, she also brought to life the score for the original Ghost in the Shell theatrical film. This month, her fans in the states have a few new opportunities to bask in her aural mastery, with domestic CDs of Wolf's Rain, Arjuna, and of course, the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex OST.
As can be expected from Yoko Kanno, there's some astonishing variety on this disc. Listeners unfamiliar with her style may be a bit surprised to discover that it is so diverse. For example, the opening track, "Run Rabbit Junk", reminds me a bit of Rage Against the Machine, but then there's a tune that seems to be more disco influenced (track 10, "Home Stay") as well. Using instruments and languages from around the world to express herself in music, Yoko Kanno creates a sound that is instantly recognizable, and yet always different from what she's done before.
Before we get into the details of this release, there's a technical note that unfortunately affects a great number of the people who already own this CD. To the many readers out there who obtained this soundtrack as part of the special edition release, "Velveteen" is an eight and a half minute long song that seems to have a split personality - two different vocalists perform on the track, presenting two alternate sides of the same song.
This, sadly, is a technical glitch on the disc. Really, that track is indeed two separate songs, "Velveteen" (the first half) and "Lithium Flower". Tracks 11 and 12 represent another glitch on this pressing of the album, for they're actually one single song that's been split up over two tracks. On my player, the problem isn't really noticeable, though various software-based players may stutter a little at the transition. In fact, when I dubbed the CD onto minidisc, my recorder split up the two songs on track 8 on its own.
At least it knew what was going on.
However, even wonky presentation of Yoko Kanno's music is a presentation of her music, and thus I can easily overlook this problem to enjoy the album. For the record, I'm not factoring in the technical woes of this release in my review. I'm merely going to base the score on Yoko Kanno's music and the presentation of the disc as it's meant to be, in the assumption that these problems will be corrected by Bandai.
As I mentioned earlier, "Run Rabbit Junk" is a great start for the release, with a jumbled sound that quickly coalesces into a great song to drive to.
The second song on the album, "Yakitori", is more traditional, presenting basically a 7 minute long guitar duel. I enjoy hearing good rock, and again, this is a great track to have going when you're driving. It might not be ideal study music, however.
"Stamina Rose" offers something a little different, with female chanting and a driving tribal beat coming together for an exciting techno song. It's an enthralling song and ends rather swiftly.
Track 4, "Surf", is a slow-starting track that seems appropriate for exploratory scenes. Strong baselines and drums once again dominate the composition, though subtle use of strings and a leading flute help soften the song. They also allow it to avoid falling into monotony, as many techno tracks tend to. A constant, steady beat is great if you're dancing, but if you're just listening to a song and it never changes, it gets old. Fast.
The next recording on the disc is the charming vocal track, "Where Does This Ocean Go?" sung in English by Ilaria Graziano. Her voice is soothing and alluring, matching the sound of the accompanying instruments for this particular song.
"Train Search" breaks up the feeling of serenity brought upon listeners by the previous track, with a driving guitar and furious drumming setting up what would make an excellent theme for a boss fight in a video game.
You can tell I play too many video games.
Track 7, "Siberian Doll House", brings the tempo back down to something more introspective for a few minutes. It's a quiet, thoughtful piece that won't necessarily keep you awake, but works well as background music for sewer exploration. Not that any of us are into that, but it is the impression I get from the song.
We've worked our way up to "Velveteen", another track performed well by Ilaria Graziano. It's a determined-sounding tune that does a good job of mixing Graziano's lovely voice with a driving techno beat.
After about 5 minutes, for some of us the track turns into "Lithium Flower", performed by Scott Matthew. The words, like many of the English language songs on the album, were penned by Cowboy Bebop alum, Tim Jensen. This is a great song that reminds me (in a good way) of rock from the 80's and 90's.
"Inner Universe" is a haunting, chant-filled techno piece beautifully representing the oh-so-obvious theme of the juxtaposition of humanity against technology. It offers a serene alternative to the harder songs on the album, rounding it out nicely.
Songs that have a steady build-up in intensity are great for studying, jogging, or cleaning, though "Fish - Silent Cruise" is good in a whole host of other situations. Its mood of uplifting teeth-gritting determination is inspiring, and few things are as impressive as music that can bring on emotion.
So long as the emotion isn't extreme dislike for said music. Yoko Kanno usually doesn't run that risk, however.
Track 13, "Some Other Time", seems to take the theme from "Velveteen" and turn it into a pretty song, this time performed in Japanese. Just like the other track on the disc with lyrics by Gabriela Robin, there is no translation of the lyrics in the liner notes. They aren't presented literally, either, which is a little disappointing, but then I'm happy enough to get a domestic version of a Yoko Kanno soundtrack.
"Beauty is Within Us" is performed by Scott Matthew, the same vocalist for "Lithium Flower". It's a much slower song than "Lithium Flower", building slowly to an emotional finish over a 6 minute period. It doesn't hit me as hard as "Call Me" from Cowboy Bebop, but it's nevertheless a graceful song.
As we approach the end of the album, we're treated to something a little different. Acoustic guitar-work is always appreciated, especially on a tech-heavy album such as this, and "We're the Great" provides a nice little break from the electronic beats. It's another track that settles the pace of the disc, but with "GET9" on the way, it's okay to take a breather.
If I have a complaint about any song on the disc, it would have to be the ear-piercing beeps on "Monochrome". It's an otherwise delicate song, but on a good stereo with the sound turned up, the little beeps can drill straight through a person's brain. They don't occur too often, and I'm sure I can edit the song to mute the beeps, but they disrupt the balance of a solid song. I'm just worried that I'll freak out if I'm not expecting them, and if I'm driving, I wouldn't want to wreck my car over a few silly beeps.
You never know, though.
The last two tracks on the album are the TV Edits of the opening and ending themes. I love the funky music in the all-too-short opening theme, "GET9", even if my girlfriend tells me it sounds like George Michael.
Why must he ruin everything I love?
In truth, I wouldn't know a George Michael song if he came over and sang it to me personally, so I can't let the similarities bother me that much. I liked "GET9", and no former pop star will take that away from me.
The end theme, "Rise", mixes Origa and Tim Jensen's lyrics for an otherworldly cap for an interesting series.
Overall, this is yet another excellent collection showcasing Yoko Kanno's mastery of a diverse range of styles. It stands on its own as a great album even if one is not familiar with the television series. In fact, I still haven't watched every episode on the first DVD, but the CD has found a happy home in my car's stereo for the past two weeks. We'll just see if the similarly superlative Wolf's Rain soundtrack can supplant the Stand Alone Complex OST's place in my vehicle.
Both will coexist in harmony when I finally transport my Minidisc player over to my new car...until then, I have to take things one CD at a time.
The disc includes translated track titles and transcribed lyrics for most of the songs on the album, though incidental information would've been appreciated as well. Again, just having these songs on a real CD makes me happy enough, but there remains room for improvement.
I just hope that eventually we'll see a proper treatment of the Cowboy Bebop soundtracks. All of them.