‘Splosion Man Soundtrack, Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley, 2009
You’ve just got to appreciate titles like ‘Splosion Man that take one particular, fun aspect of video games and build their entire gameplay around it. In this case, that common video game element is – of course – explosions. No matter if you’re trying to solve the game’s platforming puzzles, kill enemies, or simply jump – all it takes is an explosion from the game’s self-combusting protagonist.
In an unusual move, Twisted Pixel Games ended up dividing soundtrack duties along game mode lines. Joshua Mosley wrote the ‘Splosion Man soundtrack’s single-player cues, while John DeBorde wrote the multi-player tracks. The game’s audio lead Matt Chaney also contributed and performed ‘Splosion Man’s light-hearted ukulele theme song “Donuts, Go Nuts!” Both Mosley and DeBorde joined the project with a background in composing for various types of media (games, TV, movies).
At the time of its release, the majority of coverage around the ‘Splosion Man soundtrack focused on Mosley’s compositions. However, while Mosley’s 1960s-swinging-spy-brass-meets-metal-guitars melange is entertaining, his tracks are severely constricted by their format. Mosley’s sixteen cues all clock in between 40-50 seconds and have little room to really develop their invigorating sound. DeBorde’s job is more thankful – his multi-player cues are allowed to at least make it past the two-minute mark. That might not sound like much, but it’s all that DeBorde needs.
Keeping things consistent, DeBorde’s compositions don’t differ too much stylistically from Mosley’s tracks. With a game that’s all about explosions, the temptation must have been big to write a consistently intense, driven score. To his credit, DeBorde’s paces his contributions to the ‘Splosion Man soundtrack in smarter fashion than that. Of course, there are tracks that put the pedal to the metal straightaway to capture ‘Splosion Man’s single-minded focus and fiery character. These cues rely more heavily on the chugging metal guitars that DeBorde pushes further into the background on other compositions.
“Driven to Splode” is one such cue that straightaway announces the ‘Splosion Man soundtrack’s fierce intentions. While the heavy guitars deliver quality mid-tempo headbanging material, “Driven to Splode” also maintains a steady groove with its snappy lead guitar figures and syncopated rock drums. Capping things off in blistering style is a sizzling saxophone solo, while the lead guitars go wild in the background.
This is a strategy DeBorde applies on most tracks on the ‘Splosion Man soundtrack: throwing in rip-roaring saxophone or trumpet soli during the last third of a track to detonate the tension that the music has been building. What’s interesting is the relationship between the guitars and the brass solo instruments. This sort of instrument combination would suggest DeBorde goes for a funk metal approach, but that’s not quite the case. Instead of supporting the music’s rhythms (and each other), guitars and brass play somewhat independently of each other, creating an ever more forceful wall of sound.
Indeed, this is music that is not afraid to go for the jugular. Witness “Experimental Grinder”’s heavy guitar rhythms and the claustrophobia they emit, like a star contracting before it turns into a super nova – and then guitar and saxophone dive head first into a bruising, exhilarating stand off. If anything, album closer “The Scientist Slicer” somehow manages to end on an even more powerful note. White-hot soli from saxophone, trumpet and metal guitars collide in a gloriously ferocious finale that leaves listeners blissfully exhausted.
Between these outbursts of energy, DeBorde slows things down just a bit to give listeners some breathing room. These more relaxed segments also give DeBorde the opportunity to play with new genre combinations. “Scale the Shaft”’s pop-funk mix might be the soundtrack’s biggest stylistic surprise. The brass instruments deliver a catchy melody line that would be right at home on an 80s pop hit single. Meanwhile, drums and bass reliably keep things grooving – things might slow down, but the music certainly never drags. The guitar fittingly adds a confidently ascending melody, before guitar shredding meets brassy pop hooks – upbeat yet no less vigorous.
“The Lab Vac”’s opening brings the ‘Splosion Man soundtrack the closest this score comes to easy listening. Thankfully, the lively drumming keeps the music from ever relaxing too much. Even from such a relatively laid-back starting point, DeBorde manages to build the track to another showstopping close. This time, he even brings in surprisingly eerie synths and choir aahs to make the album’s sound bigger still.
If your soundtrack needs to race along at high velocity and you’ve got brass instruments at hand, it’s almost inevitable that ska sounds will feature at some stage. On “Ska-POW!”, trumpet and saxophone spring along a staccato line custom made to set the dance floor alight, before the saxophone gets to tear into the soundtrack’s most extended solo. The opening fanfare appears again, growing more and more urgent. Soon the customary metal guitars add a scolding melody of their own and it all ends in a raging bonfire of twirling sparks and embers. It’s emblematic for a soundtrack whose joyous ferocity has few peers.
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This playlist is a curated selection of music from the soundtrack album.
- 01 - Driven to Splode Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:20
- 02 - Party in Lab 5A Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:23
- 03 - Scale the Shaft Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:32
- 04 - Ska-POW! Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:13
- 05 - Experimental Grinder Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:07
- 06 - The Lab Vac Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:18
- 07 - The Scientist Slicer Matt Chaney / John DeBorde / Joshua Mosley 2:10