Alternate Soundtrack

Colonize This: Jamestown & A Flock Of Seagulls’ A Flock Of Seagulls

Amid an alien invasion, America’s lost colony ran (so far away).

By Derrick Sanskrit • November 26, 2012

Video game music can be great, but sometimes it’s fun to pair your wine with some different cheese. In Alternate Soundtrack, Derrick Sanskrit matches a video game with an album that enhances the experience.

Final Form Games’ Jamestown: Legend Of The Lost Colony was a pleasant surprise when it was released in 2010. A thoroughly convincing throwback to PlayStation-era vertical shoot-’em-ups, Jamestown put players in the cockpit of John Smith’s ship during the colonization of the Americas—only the colonies weren’t in the Western Hemisphere; they were on the surface of Mars. It was just the right blend of sincerity, high concept, and steampunk to be deliciously awesome, and it was a darn good time to boot. There was only one problem: Francisco Cerda’s soundtrack, while fantastic—like a deeply compressed digital take on a Steven Spielberg Revolutionary War film—was far too historically accurate. We’re talking about Martians here! Spaceships! Laser beams and giant alien monsters! This is not a time for marching drums. This is a time for sci-fi bombastics!

Enter A Flock Of Seagulls, those ’80s icons remembered more for their outlandish hairstyles than their forward-thinking approach to pop. When their self-titled debut LP was released in 1982, it changed the way musicians thought about the layering of sounds and instruments in production. Synths interacted with guitars and vocals in new ways, sounding both more organic and more alien. Phil Spector asked to work on their second album, but schedules just didn’t work out. The album holds up remarkably well to this day, though it may not have quite the same initial impact on modern listeners thanks to the band’s influence on Duran Duran, U2, Radiohead, The Postal Service and so many others.

Moreover—and here’s the part the most people really gloss over—that influential self-titled LP that won A Flock Of Seagulls the Grammy award for Best New Artist? It was a concept album about an alien invasion on Earth. So of course, A Flock Of Seagulls makes perfect sense coupled with Jamestown. Just as John Smith is attempting to rescue Virginia Dare, first child of the American Colonies and first-born American citizen, so too does the hero of A Flock Of Seagulls fall in love with a girl and attempt to run away with her as the entire world is plunging into the chaos of interstellar war. “I never thought I’d meet a girl like you…” he starts in “I Ran (So Far Away)” before continuing “I saw your eyes and it touched my heart,” in “Space Age Love Song.”

The human sense of wonder and hope is surrounded by otherworldly dread, from the opening guitar squeals of “I Ran,” which emulate UFOs tearing through the still night sky, on to the morbid certainty of album closer “Man Made” and its declaration that “machines control while the man obeys…while machines prepare for the holocaust.” The tinny, percussive squawks of “Telecommunication” are like the tinkering of a man unfamiliar with the alien technology before him, determined to work it out for the good of all mankind. There’s a sense of anxiety across the whole album that is both artificial and intimate.

It feels so right to combine this definitive album of New Wave and the 1980s with a game that celebrates the 1980s arcade experience. This is the music you might have actually heard if you were lined up in the back room of a bowling alley, waiting to drop your quarters into Zaxxon. The combination allows players to get lost in a time and space separate from their own reality, to become lost in the mystery and discover their own way out. New Wave disappeared just as suddenly and mysteriously as the lost colony at Roanoke, and while many a conspiracy theory has been written about both, we can at least be certain that A Flock Of Seagulls had better hair.

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  • Sleverin

    Jeez your editing overlords crack the whip, huh?  12Am Monday is still Monday but…hey why am I complaining, new article!  Hilarious to find out that Flock of Seagulls won a Grammy, never heard about that.  Plus, now you’ve got me interested in getting Jamestown, what with the Steam sale still in effect, I think that games on sale I might just pick it up, along with the other games I’ve gotten on the cheap.

    • Eric Kahn

      FOS transcends Grammyage. RIGHT?

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I know, the diligence for midnight posting bothers me, as by the time I get in to work at 8, most conversations have already taken off.

      • Sleverin

         Yeah, or if I don’t keep some sort of constant watch on the articles, then I’ll come home from work only to find 4 articles posted, a series of conversations gone, and then everyone moves on.  It’s almost like everyone here but me lives on the east coast or something…

        • The_Misanthrope

           Fly-over country represent!

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    This is a feature I can get behind, as finding alternative soundtracks to video games is one of my own personal past-times.  My favorite is constantly pairing different electro-inspired groups with Zelda 2.  Playing that game to Wumpscut vs. to ATB makes for very different experiences.

    • Basement Boy

      I’ve got 62 hours worth of assorted dark ambient/electronic/ethereal stuff for my ritual forays into The Binding Of Isaac. The game’s own music is fine stuff, but after a couple hundred hours, I needed to branch out… and have a monstrous collection of such stuff (much of which still needs to be tossed from CDs into iTunes)

      • The_Misanthrope

         Wow…that’s a lot.  Any suggestions you might have out of that voluminous mix?

        Personally, I just usually put in some Radiohead, Pink Floyd, or Godspeed You Black Emperor and call it a day.

        • Basement Boy

          Off the top of my head: Lustmord, Raison d’Etre, Sephiroth, VidnaObmana, Steve Roach, some Dead can Dance, some of Muslimgauze’s stuff… prefer the dark, floaty atmospheres for dungeon-crawling. I’ve got a dark ambient Pandora station pulling in some new things too. P.S. Sorry for the late reply ‘Thrope, always happy to share tho.

    • PaganPoet

      I was playing a lot of Persona 3: FES this last summer when it was released on PSN. Since I don’t like the music playing in Tartarus, the battle music, or Fuuka’s battle commentary, I kept it on mute and play my own music. Which happened to be Garbage’s newest release Not Your Kind of People and Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart. Those albums will forever remind me of an RPG grind-fest.

    • Citric

      The strangest pairing I did was REM’s Out of Time with Carmageddon. To this day I associate Near Wild Heaven with vehicular homicide.

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4

         I once had a dream in which “Northern Exposure” had a spin-off called “Near Wild Heaven.”  It starred Michael Stipe as a horse rancher.   He lived in a boarding house in an otherwise abandoned Cicely with an old lady and a wild grizzly bear who had also somehow become the mayor.  That doesn’t have anything to do with video games, but it certainly changed what I think of when I hear that song.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    I love Jamestown so much, but the game is freaking hard!

    On the topic of alternate soundtracks, when I was a kid I would play the space levels of Star Fox on the SNES and listen to “Top Jimmy” off of Van Halen’s album 1984. The opening to that song is very dreamy and ethereal, and then in comes the hard pounding drums that just made me want to fly through space at top speed, blasting away at all those alien spaceships. Play an outer space level of Star Fox with “Top Jimmy” blaring in a set of headphones and try not to get excited.

  • HilariousNPC

    Space Age Love Song! WOOOOOOO!

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

      I really love this cover by the band No Motiv, it was on the Before They Were Punk 2 compilation: http://youtu.be/lJ4oG3Ez2Co

  • Xyvir

    Does it count to take one games soundtrack and pair it with another? Awhile back when I was playing more Minecraft I would play it with Earthbound music in the background. Earthbound music has this great otherworldy, ambient, eclectic, and foreboding feel to it, it just seemed to fit great with Minecraft.

  • huge_jacked_man

    “A thoroughly convincing throwback to PlayStation-era vertical shoot-’em-ups”

    Sorry to be That Guy but it’s actually a “danmaku” or “bullet hell” shoot’em up in the mold of classic arcade games such as Cave’s DoDonPachi – ported to PSX, sure, but primarily an arcade staple where completing the game is secondary to mastering the scoring system and “continues” are a big no-no. 

    Jamestown is  a good modern introduction to the genre as it is very beginner-friendly, has Steam leaderboards and doesn’t have an arcane scoring system like some of its Japanese forebears.

    And the Cerda OST is brilliant.

  • Geo X

    I have nothing to say except that AFoSG’s first album is better than you might expect.  It’s inexplicable that “Modern Love Is Automatic” wasn’t released as a single; there’s no particular reason it couldn’t have been as big a hit as “I Ran.”

    • Geo X

      Correction: maybe it WAS a single?  Or at least showcased on an EP?  Although wikipedia doesn’t seem to acknowledge this.  So who knows.  I should hurl myself from an embankment.

  • Patsy Badvideo

    I always play games with alternate soundtracks of my own choosing. For Red Dead Redemption a mixture of Morricone as well as the Proposition and Jesse James soundtracks as well as some Mariachi El Bronx (for Mexico). For Deus Ex HR It was Blade Runner, Ghost in the shell and Akira. Currently Hitman with the Oldboy soundtrack and some surf & Jazz.

  • Patsy Badvideo

    And oh yeah, can’t forget Gogol Bordello for GTA4