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.