by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I love concept albums and other story-driven music pieces. Sure, most music has a story behind it, but entire albums devoted to one concept are, generally speaking, awesome and impressive undertakings. So today I have one that’s a little late because it’s been a frighteningly busy past month or so. But it’s one I didn’t want to leave behind, and ultimately I had to pick albums. There’s one I kind of want to come back to next week. We’ll see what kind of time I have available, but it’s in theory on the docket. Today we have the combined efforts of Materia Collective and Shinesparkers, in the orchestral narrative of Harmony of a Champion, celebrating 20 years of Pokemon Red/Blue. The album tells the story of a young, naive champion who sets out to become the champion of the Kanto Pokemon League. Combining chiptune, rock, electronic, and orchestral sounds, they blend together seamlessly to create a story that any Pokemon fan can find common ground with. Not so deep down, we all wanted to be a Pokemon Master. In addition, all of the profit going to Child’s Play, and it’s a marvelous charity.
“I hold the original generation of games in high regard for all of the wonderful memories and friendships that were born from playing them,” notes Shinesparkers creator Darren Kerwin. “Harmony of a Champion is an opportunity to experience the story of Red and his journey from a ten-year-old boy who grew up in Pallet Town to becoming a Pokémon Champion, through the inclusion of sound design across the album to add narrative and express the story more effectively.”
This one is definitely a hard one to pick favorites on, but that’s always the case. This album uses a series of music pieces broken into parts, which really threw me for a loop. Some of them as long as four or five parts. But I can see them instead of parts, but movements, such as you’d see in a classical piece of music. And in that, I appreciate what’s going on, and that each movement/part feels different as if it is moving that song’s individual story along. I also really love the track titles, but that’s not relevant to the actual music. But Shorts Come Highly Recommended is probably the best song title on the whole album. But let’s get started anyway!
Harmony of a Champion (Track 39): Let’s start with the title track! Coming in at 8:35, it’s really the single-longest track of the album, if you don’t factor in songs that have parts. Harmony of a Champion is a real audial treat. It starts with soft brass and woodwinds, and really gives you a sense of actual harmony. The battle is over, the champion was defeated, and now this young person has accomplished their goals. The song moves forward, swells and grows louder, as this young trainer realizes the magnitude of what they have done. The music sounds a lot more familiar, as it grows in volume. It almost feels like a triumphant march, but slows down, calms down. Hearing the Champion theme of Pokemon in a smooth jazz style is really something I did not expect. The movement from orchestral march to smooth jazz is seamless, and the woodwinds piping in again is a nice touch. We’ll leave the jazzy feelings behind again for something bombastic, a terrific way to end the piece. You’re gonna go far, kid.
Shorts Come Highly Recommended (Track 14): I couldn’t avoid talking about this track a second time. It’s worth it. This one as far as transitioning goes, is my favorite. Shorts Come Highly Recommended is the theme of Route 4, where the Younster says, “I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!” and that’s his reason for the Pokemon Battle. This track is pure orchestral goodness in all its glory. It’s fascinating to hear Route 4 with stringed instruments, and it’s very soothing. You’re walking down Route 4, admiring the flora and fauna because this is a very green trail. Literally, it’s packed with young, green Pokemon Trainers. But then you into the Youngster. He likes shorts, you see. The pizzacatto here that moves into the Pokemon Battle theme is delightful. The violin, leading into the viola and cello packs quite the punch. Sure it starts off peaceful, but it quickly descends into that battle theme, because this kid isn’t going to let you go without a fight. But you have a powerful starter, and he has Ratatta. He’s no match for you
Grand Marche Sur La Pont Papite (Track 17): Something more peaceful. This is one of the major Pokemon Red/Blue themes, and it’s done in an appropriate march. Trumpets, drums, everything about it is suitably heroic and bombastic. The addition of what I believe to be fifes are a nice touch, I have to say. It starts off strong, slows down and relaxes as the trainer walks out into the world. It won’t take long for it to pick back up though. This is a march, after all. This trainer has things to see, other trainers to battle, and friends to make. It’s a nice contrast to some of the more aggressive, battle themes you find in Pokemon. This is just a march with some tasteful violin/viola added to set the tone of the adventure.
R (Part 3) (Track 30): I love R (Part 2) too for its sheer sinister sound, the real crescendo of these three tracks (assuming these are Team Rocket related, I get that vibe), but the electronic sound of R (Part 3) is really a nice way to round it all out. With the haunting singing in the background, it gave me chills, and I won’t lie about it. It reminded me of Key of Twilight from Yuki Kaijura somehow. The melody in the background stays the course until about halfway through, and it resumes that cybernetic chiptune sound that I’ve grown to love about this song. There’s a bit of chatter in the background, but it’s hard for me to pick up, only having one good ear. But I do like it as a touch to the song.
Like No One Ever Was (Part 3) (Track 36): This is part 3 of a 5 part/movement song, Like No One Ever Was. This is it, it’s time to prove your worth. All the walking, all the training, all the new friendships and battles have come to this. That kid you met at the start of your journey, always a step ahead, he’s here, waiting. Your rival. The music is suitably dramatic, combining electronic sounds with an orchestra really compounds that sense of urgency. The horns blaring, the chiptune sounds really tie it all back to Pokemon. There’s a point about halfway through where most of the music stops, except for a few horns and a quiet chant, and this feels to me like the point where the battle has swung out of your favor. Your rival smirks, asking if that’s all you have. The theme kicks back in though, the familiar music once again heard, and that’s when your rival knows that he’s gone too far and that there’s no stopping your dream. I really love this album. The music stops, your opponent defeated. Quiet steps are heard, leaving him behind to claim your victory. Then all that is heard is a few trailing off piano keys, and soft singing. The battle isn’t over. There are still two more parts to the song, so I guess this battle isn’t quite done yet. There are Pokemon that still have not fainted.
I cannot recommend this highly enough, and it’s for charity. SO GO BUY IT: