Or: How I learned to stop listening and love the brand new Brand New.
If you are immersed or involved in the video game community at all, you probably know that early summer is the time for E3. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is an event for video game developers, publishers, and hardware manufacturers to announce and advertise upcoming games and accessories to the public and press.
This year, EA (pause for boo and hiss) announced, much to my surprise, that one of the best games of 2016 was getting a sequel, and that it was available, NOW!
Unravel was a sleeper hit for me. My main draw to the game was the protagonist, Yarny; a lovable little being, made of yarn. A Yarny. I thought that, if anything, I’ll play it with my kids and we’ll all laugh together at Yarny’s adventures. It turned out to be something totally different.
I initially played the first two short chapters when it released in 2016 and then…I don’t know…lost interest? Even though the game itself was beautiful with an intriguing, although sparse, “story” of Yarny finding memories, I couldn’t get invested enough to spend more time on a game I wasn’t really enjoying. My kids, though they loved Yarny, couldn’t quite grasp the control scheme, and couldn’t really figure out the puzzle mechanics involved. So…Unravel, unfortunately, was lost to the dreaded ever-growing “Ready to Install” backlog list.
“Wait just a hot minute there Dave. I thought you said Unravel was a hit? What gives?”
Excellent observation, oh, reader mine! I’ll tell you what changed to give Unravel a brand new blip on my gaming radar. It was Brand New.
“Yeah, you just said it was brand new.”
No, it was brand new Brand New. Before we start off on a “Who’s on First?” of Unravel and Brand New. Allow me to explain.
I’ve already written a little about my love of music and how having kids has kind of changed some of my musical tastes; or rather, it has allowed me to enjoy music from other genres that I otherwise would not have allowed myself to enjoy. (Confusing enough?) Not only that though, it’s taken music, for the most part, off of my radar. It was a full two weeks after the initial release that I first realized there was a new album from one of my favorite bands, Brand New.
I know, I know, you’re saying “Dave, if they’re one of your favorite artists, why didn’t you know there was going to be a new release?”
Quit interrupting, this is my story. Sit, quiet, read.
Before you interrupt again with the thought, “Oh, it’s so sad that you used to love music so much and you knew every release date for every upcoming album and could go to every show you wanted and you could blah blah blah blah.” Let me stop you right there; my priorities have changed.
I had very different priorities before my wife and kids. I had myself. I had to make sure that I was happy, physically and spiritually healthy, and that I didn’t flunk out of grad school. Part of what kept me happy and healthy, was an indulgence in music. I could immerse myself in every release and album from whomever I wanted to listen to, for however long I wanted to listen to it, at whatever amplitude I wanted to listen at (within OSHA/NIOSH safety standards, of course.)
I can’t do that, to the same extent, anymore. Nor do I really want to honestly. Some might say it was a blessing in disguise when my external hard drive (the one with all my 30 gigs of music on it) crashed. Gone were all of the indie darlings that grabbed me for one song. Gone were the play counts and playlists. I was left at the mercy of Spotify and Amazon.
Which is where this yarn continues… (get the yarn pun?)
I forget just how it came to my attention that there was new music from Brand New, and I had honestly given up on expecting a new album anyways. It had been almost 8 years since their last release (Daisy, 2009), and they had only played a handful of live shows in that time as well, with none anywhere near me. It was like the music equivalent of waiting for Half-Life 3. Don’t hold your breath.
Then, there it was! No waiting. No radio singles that I had heard. No upcoming release date. Just, there, for my enjoyment. One hour of auditory enjoyment.
Things had changed since their most recent albums. The Devil & God are Raging Inside Me (2006) was a bit sadder, Daisy was easily much angrier, but the newest album Science Fiction is more… melancholy? More…mature? That might just be another way of saying slower and quieter; both in music and in life. Slow and quiet isn’t bad though. I’m definitely a bit of both. But at the same time, it’s also saying that some of the most memorable experiences (in gaming, music, or life) aren’t the loudest, prettiest, or most innovative; but they excel at doing what they do. I’m not going to try and offer a full album review here. Just like video game reviews; a music critic I am not.
To give the album the attention it deserved, I needed to have some time dedicated to sit and listen with no distractions. That doesn’t happen all that often with a house full of kids. So later that night I fired up the Spotify app on the Xbox, and proceeded to look for a single player game, that wasn’t too thought intensive. Cue, Unravel. The perfect little game to play, but you don’t really need to listen to. Even though the game music itself is very well done, you’re not altering the gameplay much by turning the music completely down, while still allowing any game audio through.
The lyrics and melodies of Science Fiction, and the memories and gameplay in Unravel share similar themes of emotionally and physically unraveling the further away we get from those that we love. Although Unravel starts out bright and sunny, with lovable Yarny collecting it’s maker’s memories, it quickly takes a turn for the more melancholy. Yarny is also incredibly emotive; shivering and wrapping his arms around himself to keep warm, shifting his eyes about nervously in strange and dark environments, and even casting glances behind himself when running away from danger. The happiness of youth, dealing with family and emotional rifts, alienation, industrialization and the burdens of work; even nuclear waste and death, are all topics explored in both mediums.
I must have listened to that album 4-5 times, start to finish, as I completed the short tale of Unravel, and many more since. I will forever associate Unravel with Science Fiction, and believe me, there are worse things that games can be associated with.
Now, I didn’t write this to try and convince you to go out and buy Science Fiction, or Unravel (although I would highly recommend both.) Both Unravel and Science Fiction, very predictably, outperform my ramblings about games, music, and life. I don’t really know why I wrote this; other than to recognize that, given a new backdrop, what was once bland and boring, became meaningful and enjoyable. In track 451‘s own words, “one more time with feeling!”
All of this to say, I’m looking forward to playing Unravel 2, maybe even co-op (let’s see if my wife reads all the way to the end…)
What are some of your unlikely pairs? Do you constantly tune out of the games you play and tune in to something else?