Dontnod’s 2015 game featured some great music—but how does changing those songs affect its most memorable scenes?
Warning: video links may contain story spoilers for Life Is Strange, given the various outcomes your decisions can have.
Humor me, The Internet, for just a while.
Something I've long wanted to do, since way before Waypoint was Waypoint, was take a video game renowned for its memorable soundtrack and switch it. The thinking being: the impact of that game's most memorable scenes is so intrinsically tied to the music that plays at the same time, that changing it could completely alter the connotations of the composition, the collage of sound and vision. It'd change the atmosphere, but doing that right could be really productive.
It's hardly an original idea—British readers may recall the BBC rescoring the movie Drive, featuring material from the likes of CHVRCHES, Jon Hopkins and Bring Me the Horizon. You can see that playlist here, but the reaction to it wasn't exactly amazing. "A valiant idea that ultimately falls flat," wrote the NME. Viewers called it a "car crash," and labeled the results "redundant."
A few days ago, my own itch returned—and this time, finally, I've scratched, hopefully respectfully. (If this is as bad as the BBC thing to you, though, sorry.)
Now, I'm not saying I have the most amazing taste in music in the world, or that the selections I've made here are solid-gold substitutions. You can play this game, too, and could easily come up with your own awesome new combinations.
But with well over a decade of music journalism behind me, I've heard a lot of great records, and have the physical collection to show for it. That background means I'm fairly well positioned to dive into what I have to hand, still bowing the shelves, and line it up beside video game scenes, seeing what fits and what doesn't, and ultimately arriving somewhere that works, just differently to what you already know.
I don't know if this will be a recurring feature. It could be, if you like it, and you can tweet us your own blends of game scenes with all-new accompaniments, as we'll enjoy checking them out. You could even suggest future games to feature. I just don't know yet. But I do know that this was a lot of fun, and a challenge, too—because Life Is Strange is a game that is so carried by its music at some points, that to even think about changing the record will be sacrilegious for some fans.
Well, I've done it now. Below, listed, are five key scenes from across the five episodes of 2015's Life Is Strange, Dontnod's time-bending graphic adventure game. Linked, you'll find alternative music for each of them—simply click through, mute the game but not the song, and pop the gameplay full screen. A little gets lost in translation when there's also dialogue (although subtitles are an option), but this system isn't perfect, not by a long shot. But it works well enough, for now.
SCENE 1: MAX WANDERS THE SCHOOL HALLS
Okay, so let's start with the most, I suppose, controversial choice in terms of a stylistic shift. In the game's opening episode, protagonist Max pops her earbuds in and we all get to hear Syd Matters' "To All of You", a pleasantly melancholic indie-folk offering from the album Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles (I reviewed the band's album before it, A Whisper and a Sigh). It's got a real gentle lilt to it, and works as an introduction to her equally gentle demeanor. But would a teenager in 2013's Oregon really be listening to a relatively obscure French band, and a record that came out eight years before the game's setting?
With that in mind—and it's a thought that'll inform another pick, later—I looked to what was more contemporary, still within the indie sphere, at the time of the game's events. Released in the week of Life Is Strange's surreal happenings was Bitter Rivals, the third LP from New York duo Sleigh Bells. Spikier than Syd Matters it might be, dramatically altering the tone of Max's pre-bathroom stroll, making her out to be a tougher hero in waiting. But said album's title-track had come out as a single a month earlier, making it something that'd certainly be atop many a high-school student's personal playlist, and its lyrics certainly present convenient hints as to what's going to play out over the course of the game.
Think about the relationship between Max and fellow student Victoria Chase, and then look to the words of the song: "You are my bitter rival / But I need you for survival." And then there's "Another way to make the picture clearer / Point a gun at the mirror." This is almost too perfect.
Click here to see the scene with Sleigh Bells' "Bitter Rivals" at YouTube Doubler (remember to mute the gameplay straight away, and then go large).
SCENE 2: THE ECLIPSE
As Max and Warren huddle, the Moon passes in front of the Sun and Arcadia Bay stares up at an unscheduled eclipse, marking the climax of episode two. The player is treated to snapshots of what's happening to various characters across town, as LA quintet Local Natives' "Mt Washington" plays. It's a perfectly pleasant, totally inoffensive piece of music that fits well enough—but for me, it's one of the few times where I really wanted more from the game, from its licensed tracks. The repeated line of "I don't have to see you right now" lends itself to a few interpretations of what's unfolded so far—and fits both outcomes of the Kate-on-the-roof situation.
But, for me, something wordless could be more powerful. So, that's what I've gone for here, calling on an old favorite, Tokyo-formed instrumental foursome Mono. They've long held a reputation for destructive crescendos, built up from stirring intros; but their "Follow the Map," from 2009's Steve Albini-recorded Hymn to the Immortal Wind, is a calmer, sweeter arrangement that, for me, feels at home as Max and company are bathed in an orange glow. It gets loud, sure—but stakes are rising here, and everything Max thought she knew is about to change forever.
Maybe it's a bit more classic, or clichéd, "end credits," too. IDK. I like Mono, whatcha gonna do?
Click here to see the scene with Mono's "Follow the Map" at YouTube Doubler (remember to mute the gameplay straight away, and then go large).
SCENE 3: MAX AND CHLOE HANG OUT THE MORNING AFTER THEIR BLACKWELL RAID
The morning after the night before, and a scene that's a favorite of many—Chloe and Max just relaxing, drinking in the morning light, saying not a word, as "Lua" by Bright Eyes plays on the former's stereo.
Lyrically, it works: "What is simple in the moonlight / By the morning never is." But here's another song that works, too, and I feel better highlights the growing, or returning, bond between the two girls, which at this stage is feeling more than platonic: Sonic Youth's version of Delaney and Bonnie's "Superstar," previously a hit for (the) Carpenters.
Bear with me.
Read it, and (don't actually, please) weep: "Long ago, and oh so far away / I fell in love with you… Don't you remember that you told me you love me baby / You said you'd be coming back this way again baby… Loneliness is such a sad affair / And I can hardly wait to be with you again."
The cover's been used in films before, most notably Juno, which kind of dulls its impact. That Richard Carpenter apparently hates the version, though, rather raises its stock. And come on: Sonic Youth is way cooler than Bright Eyes, and looking at Chloe's getup, she's more grunge than emo. See for yourself, I guess.
Click here to see the scene with Sonic Youth's "Superstar" at YouTube Doubler (remember to mute the gameplay straight away, and then go large).
SCENE 4: THE VORTEX CLUB PARTY
Max is on the hunt—but an in-full-swing party, organized by Victoria's Vortex cronies, is pumping away at the school swimming pool, making reconnaissance not so simple. Lights are flashing, fists are pumping, and people are bombing off the diving board. But to Breton's "Got Well Soon," really?
Now, I like Breton—I've interviewed the south Londoners a few times in the past, and dig their brand of glitch-shaken electronica filtered through recognizably indie-dance breakdowns. They did a remix for a band I used to manage, so y'know, I have a lot of time for them. We go back.
But here's the pickle: "Got Well Soon" is no teenage-party banger whichever way you slice it. Also, the game's events happen in October 2013—and the album this track's on, War Room Stories, came out in February 2014. So, what, the DJ can time-travel too, now? (OK, so looking around a little more reveals the song was available, at least as a France-only promo, the week before Max's adventure. So it might have been downloadable. All the same, it's a very unlikely selection for a glorified school disco.)
A massive hit at the time of the game, though, was Pusha T's album My Name Is My Name—and, having DJed a bit in my time, I'm fairly sure its "Sweet Serenade" is the kind of cut that'd get a room full of tipsy teens jiggling, over a comparatively underground British crew. So, that's what I've set this to—Max opens the curtain, and in comes the former Clipse man, Chris Brown on his coattails.
The BPM doesn't fit, but come on—Life Is Strange's cast could barely get their own words to fit their lips, so give me a break, yeah?
Click here to see the scene with Pusha T's "Sweet Serenade" at YouTube Doubler (remember to mute the gameplay straight away, and then go large).
SCENE 5: MY ENDING
Yours might have differed. The game's been out for a while, so I'm not too worried about people getting pissy over this. Not for selecting it, anyway, and for the spoiler potential—but for cutting Foals' "Spanish Sahara" from the equation, possibly.
I'm a big supporter of the Oxford band, and have been since day one (I remember them coming into my then office on the day they were meeting with labels, in pursuit of a deal, and I saw their pre-Foals act, The Edmund Fitzgerald, around London a fair few times). But while the song's "Leave the horror here" line is a neat, albeit on-the-nose touch given all that's happened to Max, as she picks herself up to move on, the composition just felt too sharp, too clean, for me, to really fit the scene in question. It lacks a certain broken feeling in its delivery.
So I've gone totally indulgent here and picked Six. By Seven's "England and a Broken Radio" to see out my adventure with. Works great, I reckon: racked with emotion, crackled by experience. But then, of course I'd say that—the album the song is taken from, The Closer You Get, is one of my personal GOATs. There's a key couple of lines here, too: "Everybody got nothing to say / Everybody needs to start again." A new playthrough, a different outcome, perhaps. And the final fade, on Max's face, set to that gorgeous, screeching feedback: mwah.
Click here to see the scene with Six. By Seven's "England and a Broken Radio" at YouTube Doubler (remember to mute the gameplay straight away, and then go large).
TBH, I could have filled this whole article just with music for this final scene. But I'll leave further alternatives to you, if you feel like making a suggestion. You know where to find us. Also, let us know if you like this idea! As if so, we'll do more.