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Synth Album Review: "Anomaly" by Reid Reimer and Benjamin Emory Larson

Author:

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Initial Impressions

Reed Reimer and Benjamin Emory's soundtrack for the video game Anomaly is full of sensations of shadow, threat and danger interspersed with delicate warmth, melancholy and drift. Their combination of unique instrumental sounds like a kalimba and percussion with an ancient quality to it with ghostly female vocals, glitching distortions and a powerfully evocative atmosphere creates an engaging auditory world for the game.

One of my favourite aspects of Anomaly is the overwhelming feeling of rising darkness, full of hidden dangers that could attack one at any moment. The grating, growling and distorting soundscape that moves through many of the tracks effectively creates the sensation of an ominous, inchoate threat lurking just out of sight.

The feeling of something shadowed is well-balanced with moments of ethereal delicacy when a piano flickers through carrying a melancholy melody or the metallic lightness of a kalimba adds something sparkling and slightly brittle to the music. The inclusion of the lighter, more fragile elements is striking in contrast to the darkness rising. The string section that shows up in “Rememory” was also a nice touch.

There’s a textured and layered feeling to Anomaly that I also enjoy. Each track is full of a wide variety of different sonic signatures but rather than clashing, they end up creating a sensation of many threads being woven together to produce a complete auditory textile that is full of unique colours.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“A Lithe Creature”

“A Lithe Creature” comes into being as an ethereal female voice singing in an unknown language is joined by a steadily pulsing, shifting bassline and big drums that shudder into the track along with deep washes of bass. A higher breath of bright sound moves into the track over those shuddering, driving drums and the trembling shudder of chopped-up vocals.

I enjoy the contrast of the distant piano’s delicate notes with the thundering drive of drums. A bright line of synth moves over a stuttering beat that establishes itself in the music A twisting chip type lead winds and whirls over the skittering drum n’ bass beat. The synth begins to distort with a sharp-edged harshness that cuts into the music.

"Dream or Nightmare”

A kalimba creates a pattern of delicately moving notes that shimmer over deepness as “Dream or Nightmare” opens. A rather ghostly female voice sings an eerie wandering melody, over the darkness underneath it as a repeating pattern of high notes moves under the ancient-sounding vocals. There’s a waving throb to the track as the pattern of kalimba notes speeds up over the dark growls and grit under them.

The sound of the unique percussion that thuds and throbs under the ghostly vocals draws me in, as it creates a whirling, driving pattern of sound. The kalimba dances and trickles in the background power throbs out from heavy drums. Dark sweeps of air and a pipe organ move in and through before we fade to silence.

“Otherwise Engaged”

“Otherwise Engaged” starts off with a softly swelling flow of oscillating, slightly shadowed and computerized sounding notes that grow along with electrically buzzing synth that shifts in slicing, rough patterns through the music. A synth with a guitar-esque sound moves in shaking patterns over the broken, shuddering beat as high chimes call out a flowing melody.

There’s a pleasing contrast between the track’s melody and the jagged edges of sound underneath it. Gentle, melancholy keyboard notes slide out in minor key drifts as the threatening blare of a medium high-synth growls out the same melodic line as the chimes. There’s a slow grating pulse that comes in with a mechanized sounding background, clanking and slamming, as that medium-high, blaring synth cries into the music and fades away.

"The Agency"

A steady high drift of echoing notes, floating into open space, and a full, sharp-edged sound brings The Agency” to life along with a steady pulsation of bass. High tense sounds flicker through in the background while the drifting notes have coalesced into a whole. My favourite part of the track happens as a warm arpeggio rotates slowly and a distorted and vaguely vocal synth plays a melody that drifts and aches. There’s an upwelling series of full synth sounds and then silence.

“Preparation”

“Preparation” kicks off with a high floating wash of synth moving into open space that’s joined by deep bass and quick shivers of notes sliding in and out as a steady, throbbing drumbeat adds driving motion to the track. A pulse of distant sound is accompanied by a dancing, spinning lead that feels bright.

I am enamoured by the high call of drifting sound that slides easily through the music while a quick arpeggio spins nervously. Dark growls of sound rise underneath along with chip sounds playing a quick sonic pattern as an aggressive beat slams in under those sounds before everything floats out into quiet.

"Patterns"

A distant and threatening shadow of sound moves across the surface of “Patterns” as an equally distant high synth sound moves in and through the track. A dark swirl of sound and a steady wash of rotating arpeggios that vary and shiver floats into the track. There’s the rush of air flowing through and deeply resonant sounds move along with the higher flow above them.

The resonant synth sounds recede a little and then grow and crescendo again. There's an intriguing complexity as a slightly edgy, medium-high synth drifts in distorted flows over the stuttering beat. There are high patterns of sound that add to the nervousness of the track and descending bass notes that shift under a wandering glide of high, computerized sound.

“Rememory”

“Rememory” begins with open air and an extending flow of synth that swells and grows while sweeps of sound glow out above it with a feeling of something pained and lost. I find the gentle, caressing piano line that moves in to be quite compelling. I also like the emotive, expressive strings and the quick tremble of cutting sound that moves in.

The violins call out and a soft throb of percussion moves under the shimmering, aching piano line as the strings add some drama and power. There’s a steady dark bass oscillation as the keyboard moves alone. Harsh sounds smack into the music as a very high synth twirls far above the dark pulses that fade to quiet.

"Anomaly"

Dark bass and a distant piano are joined by a slow, minor-key arpeggio rotating underneath them as “Anomaly” comes into being. There’s shuddering static and a well of deep bass as a ghostly synth floats in. My ear was caught by the high, hollow sound moving above the thick bass before an echoing lead synth cascades out into the music. High buzzing and dark grit underpin a nervously rotating arpeggio as a softly tripping piano melody dances out under and through the harsher sounds that rattle and grate all around it.

Final Thoughts

Anomaly isn’t just background noise for a video game. It’s an evocative, darkly atmospheric and sometimes strikingly beautiful album that is fully realized and stands alone as an album. The fact that it must also make the gaming experience richer is an added bonus.

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