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.
On April 8, 1990, popular culture changed forever. A psychological thriller by the name of Twin Peaks premiered on ABC, capturing its audience’s imagination with a blend of surreal mystery and quaint rural quirk. It looked unlike anything on television at the time, more closely resembling cinema, and it reveled in countercultures that had been practically banned from primetime television at the time. Countless artists have cited the cult drama as an inspiration, but the show’s influence is so pervasive that some creators don’t even recognize it.
Take Hidetaka “Swery65” Suehiro’s cult-hit horror game, Deadly Premonition. The game borrows many of Twin Peaks’ concepts, from the setting, an unusual rural town, to the star, a mystically trained FBI agent who narrates his adventures to a friend who may not exist. Premonition and Peaks are both fascinated by a creepy, ornate dream room and by coffee. To anyone familiar with both works, the comparison is hard to deny, yet Swery does just that: He insists that the American drama was not a direct influence on his game.
More than the murder mystery or the town’s other oddities, the greatest curiosity in Twin Peaks is the sudden resurgence of hepcat culture. Teenagers swing their hips slowly to free jazz and surf guitar while rebelling against their parents just for the sake of rebelling against their parents. Deadly Premonition forgoes the jazz influence, so for this Alternate Soundtrack video, I’ll continue Swery’s trend of taking ideas a few steps too far by infusing the game with some modern bossa nova—the samba-jazz hybrid popularized by 1964’s “Girl from Ipanema.” Specifically, it’s the smooth and culturally naïve tunes of Nouvelle Vague and its self-titled debut LP.
Nouvelle Vague strictly performs bossa nova covers of pop hits from the ’80s and ’90s. As an additional self-enforced rule, the singers are unfamiliar with the original songs when presented with a lyric sheet for the first time. The results are hypnotic and seductive tunes that are as reminiscent of the original songs as Deadly Premonition is of Twin Peaks—and also able to claim the same lack of familiarity.
In the reinterpretation of Public Image Ltd.’s “This Is Not A Love Song,” the blistering anti-pop ballad sheds its weight to become a lurid and languid shoulder-lean of sensuality. Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk To Fuck” spins on its own head with self-parody, and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” trades self-seriousness for bittersweet admissions of defeat. Across the board, the dark and severe is replaced with confident aloofness, the same way that Premonition’s hero, Agent Francis York Morgan, shifts from blasting paranormal monstrosities to fixating on a proper shave.
Driving a car through the streets of Deadly Premonition’s Greenvale almost imparts a sense of social responsibility. Cars move at a realistic pace that, given how other games have conditioned us for speed, feels agonizing. This pace, however, allows time to relax with a fresh doughnut and maybe tap your fingers on the dashboard along with the gentle woodblock of Nouvelle Vague’s version of The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.” The sweet assurances of XTC’s “Making Plans For Nigel” become more sincere with Camille Dalmais’s breathy coo. The faux-selfless decree “We only want what’s best for him” mirrors Agent Morgan’s confident and remorseless elimination of the threatening shadow-people, who whimper “I don’t want to die” and “What did I do?” after being shot in the face.
Deadly Premonition and Nouvelle Vague don’t repeat history so much as they revisit it, tweaking and restructuring their inspirations into something new. It’s clear that they’re not as ignorant as they claim to be, so they’re not fooling anybody, but it’s pretty likely they’re not trying to, either.