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Whenever people ask me what kind of music I listen to, I usually don’t have the energy to explain what Miracle of Sound is. On the off chance I’ve had a good day, I’ll either just say “an eclectic mix” or “video game music,” which is totally suitable! But rarely do I feel like going over how Miracle of Sound is actually (for the most part) one dude, Gavin Dunne, who puts together these whole songs on his own about video games and pop culture. And no, it’s not the kind of “parody” garbage you’ll find on YouTube; no Gangnam Style “remixes” about Family Guy to be found here. These are real, original, often spectacular pieces of music, with lyrics and melodies designed to either represent a story / score, or to evoke an overall feel.
His first couple albums were often shaky, but there was an obvious level of potential on display. At the risk of sounding like Patrick Bateman, he really came into his own with 2012’s Level 3. When listening back on that album, the most noticeable improvement is the lyrical work, but the instrumentation was also more complex and absorbing. To say I was looking forward to his future was an understatement
Now Level 4 has finally been released, containing remastered versions of all Dunne’s singles from 2013. It’s a great collection, even though it’s not quite the jump I was hoping for.
Level 4 opens strong with ‘The Crush’, a heavy rock song about Pacific Rim. The song wasn’t my all-time favorite Miracle of Sound track when it first came out, but this version does something for me that the original didn’t. And that’s pretty much the case all around; songs that didn’t quite gel with you the first time around may grow on you now, and songs you already liked have only gotten better.
Besides ‘The Crush’ (which rocks hard, you guys), my other favorite tracks include ‘Forever Blue’ (Breaking Bad); ‘Kickback’ (nothing, it’s one of two tracks on the album not inspired by a pop culture thing); ‘Digital Shadow’ (Watch_Dogs); ‘The Day the World Died’ (Metro: Last Light); ‘Hard Cash’ (GTA V); and ‘The Best of Us’ (The Last of Us). ‘Kickback’, ‘Digital Shadow’, and ‘Hard Cash’ are pretty excellent rock tracks (especially ‘Hard Cash’, which is probably my favorite Miracle of Sound song right now) with great bridges.
That’s something Dunne actually excels in, by the way. His songs usually follow the pop verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure, and the bridge/chorus section is where he really shines, nine times out of ten. That’s usually where the melodies get more interesting, and when he really belts. The man’s got a fantastic voice, and it’s always a delight when he really lets loose with it.
‘The Day the World Died’ is probably the most interesting track on the album, possibly because of how sad the lyrics and instrumentation are. Again, the bridge is spectacular, with a great buildup and Dunne singing in Russian. ‘Forever Blue’ and ‘The Best of Us’ have similarly interesting melodies, and I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to these three tracks the most, as was the case with the previous Miracle of Sound albums.
On the other hand, ‘Niko It’s Your Cousin’ (GTA IV) and ‘Hammers in My Head’ (the other 100% original track) didn’t quite light a fire under me. They’re not bad, per se, just kind of limp in both cases. Gavin’s impression of Niko Bellic is kind of incredible, but as a guy who had his fill of the fourth GTA game a while ago, the song doesn’t really do too much for me. That’s a big risk with this album; if you didn’t like The Last of Us, for example, ‘The Best of Us’ probably won’t do too much for you. Thankfully, Dunne has good taste in media, so that was never a problem for me. But if you don’t know which songs belong to which pieces of media going in, you should be able to skirt around that problem entirely.
The rest of the songs are also quite fun, but they’re not quite as good as the best tracks on this album — arguably the best Miracle of Sound tracks ever, to be honest. Music is perhaps the most subjective medium ever, so it’s a little hard for me to properly criticize it, I can only tell you that ‘Drive’ is a cool song with some great bass, but I didn’t like it quite as much as ‘The Call’ because strings.
Yeah, I could rank every track, but does that matter when the whole package is so very worth the asking price? Each track in here is great; it’s only that some tracks will speak to you better than some others. And you can listen to the whole thing for free on the Miracle of Sound Bandcamp, so you can at least have an idea of what’cha doin’, what’cha doin’, what’cha getting’ into.