01 - Hopes and Dreams (from "Undertale")
02 - Main Theme (from "Final Fantasy VII")
03 - Apotheosis (from "Journey")
04 - Ending Theme (from "Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire")
It's not been a great start to the autumn season in parts of North America. A trio of hurricanes — there's an expression I never want to use — left many injured or worse. Wouldn't it be great if a handful of musicians and Materia Collective's Multiplayer Charity put together a quick EP with a theme of hope and sold it to benefit those affected by Hurricane Harvey? Yes, that would be great.
SPIRIT is that album, and while I mentioned hope, the themes explored here are officially hope, perseverance, and community. Some of the musicians that put this EP together are from areas affected by Harvey, and 100% of proceeds go toward the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, a branch of the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Project organizer Emily McMillan described SPIRIT well enough that I won't paraphrase:
"We started working on SPIRIT almost immediately after Harvey, since many Materia Collective members are from Houston and wanted to contribute to the rebuilding process. There was a great outpouring of support in the immediate aftermath of this disaster; however, the need is ongoing, and we hope that our EP can contribute. In the time since we started this project, other hurricanes have affected other areas, including Florida, the Virgin Islands, and most recently, Puerto Rico. While all SPIRIT proceeds will go towards the Greater Houston Community Foundation, we also want to raise awareness for these other areas that badly need support. Donation links for charities in other areas can be found on Bandcamp and Materia Collective's official website."
Now then, with the noble intention behind this release explained, let's talk music. Despite these tracks mostly being credited to one musician each, it wouldn't be Materia Collective without a huge credits listing, would it? Indeed, even when MC puts out a 4-track EP, one look at the full album credits reveals that nearly 100 people contributed in some way, so yes, supreme talents like Braxton Burks (Pokémon Reorchestrated), Laura Intravia (Video Games Live), Kristin Naigus (Project Destati), Loudr co-founder Jesse Buddington, and Sean Schafianski (Video Game Music Reorchestrated) all get mentions too.
Even before reading the mission statement about hope and perseverance, I could tell that was the theme by listening to these tracks. The final track in particular — a light, a capella arrangement of Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire's ending theme — captures this theme well. It evokes the feeling of a new dawn, of waking up and facing a new day with a fresh start. Is that ironic for an ending theme? It's hard not to smile when listening, as the song has a great flow to it and closes the EP nicely.
Next up (we're covering these in reverse order, by the way) is an arrangement from Austin Wintory's stunning score to Journey. It's the one game on the album we don't cover, but that's not going to stop me from gushing about how gloriously inspiring this rendition is. At over 7 minutes long it's the longest track here, but it still isn't enough. Fantastic strings and evocative vocal performances deliver rousing results, which is really the only way one can properly cover a song from Journey, isn't it?
Side note: I didn't play Journey until 2016 because I didn't think it was really as important an experience as literally everyone told me. I was wrong, so don't be like me, and play it.
Next up, the black sheep of Square Enix's biggest franchise, Final Fantasy VII. I don't know if any of you played this one. But on SPIRIT, Ruby Toung and company offer a beautiful performance of Final Fantasy VII's main theme. For such a simple song, I couldn't tell you how much time I'd spend on the world map just listening to it back in 1997. Apparently I'm still not tired of it, especially not when this many strings are involved. It's the song on SPIRIT that most closely resembles its source material, but it turns out FFVII's main theme fits in nicely with the optimistic vibe.
And finally, how can there be just so many arrangements, remixes, and renditions of some of Undertale's music, and yet I can still be moved by them? I don't know how Toby Fox came up with such a bounty of memorable beats, but we are simply spoiled by the amount of Undertale music out there. SPIRIT's version of Hopes and Dreams is credited to over 50 people and is bursting at the seams with hopefulness, positivity, and whatever other useful words I can pull from my thesaurus. As the song rolls on, different collections of instruments play their own movements, and by the end, all I could do was hit Back and play it again. Hopes and Dreams is worth the purchase alone, but every song here is a great listen, and I'm proud to be part of a community that can put something like this together for a great cause. You might even say that it fills me with determination.
(Come on, you knew I had to.)
Reviewed by: Mike Salbato