*SPOILERS* FOR MASS EFFECT 2
LISTEN NOW: 8tracks
Shepard’s been brought back to life, but at what cost?
Based on Mass Effect 2, this mix was designed to be deliberately indulgent, reimagining the game as a decadent 1980s neo-noir flick. Generally I pay a lot of attention to lyrics, but for this particular mix it was all about the music. I originally shared this on my Tumblr a long time ago and it has a few plays on 8tracks, so maybe you’ve come across it before! But I wanted to explain my choices in more detail here.
1. Perturbator – Grim Heart (The Night Driving Avenger, 2012 – buy here)
You remember the beginning of Mass Effect 2, right? No, not the heart wrenching destruction of the ship – we’d all like to forget that. The next part, when a chunk of us went to Omega. The seedy underbelly of the galaxy. It’s a refuge for all things that don’t quite fit into the galactic order: the criminals, the outlaws, the plain ol’ bad guys.
There are no rules on Omega and nobody wants any. Visiting there is a dangerous and treacherous move, unless you’re in the mood to say goodbye to some credits or body parts. The game brings us to Omega for a recruitment mission of sorts. The fights get bloody and secrets are uncovered, and we learn that nothing on Omega is quite what it seems.
In many ways, Grim Heart is the perfect introduction. The sky rumbles and breaks and the rain falls, and let’s face it, nothing good has ever come from a rainy sky. The synth hangs back coyly in the background, letting the weather set the scene before it takes the stage. It builds to a sense of urgency, emulating Shepard’s shaky touchdown on Omega and the subsequent carnage. All the while, it maintains an effortless sense of cool – rather fitting considering Garrus joins the team at this stage. The listener is thrown into the fire while the music waits for no-one, much the visit to Omega.
2. Gesaffelstein – Pursuit (Aleph, 2013 – buy here)
This song is grating, arresting and relentless. It’s the musical equivalent of listening to a catastrophe. Sirens wail as the synth growls to a laborious climax accompanied by a doom-laden piano. For me, this song mirrors the frantic thrill of the fight in ME2. The careful balancing of more traditional combat tools and Powers meant the player had to think, act, and detect fast. Yet it never seemed unmanageable or too easy. Combat was fast-paced and didn’t stop until Shepard and their crew were the only ones standing – something I think this song captures perfectly.
3. Danger – 3h11 (09/17 EP, 2010 – buy here)
Beginning with majestic strings, we hear the shaking of an aerosol can and its subsequent spraying. It then launches into what can only be described as a loving tribute to the soundtracks of fighting sidescrollers of days of yore. Sucker punch sounds et al, this song shuffles along with an infectious synth and once again captures the dark ambience of the city slums.
For me, a huge part of ME2 is pushing the boundary of the ‘hero’ mentality. The choices the player had to make became much broader than before, with bigger consequences, and the moral map is expanded significantly. We are almost invited to entertain our desire to be a little renegade (or at least give it a go), so I chose many of these songs with that theory in mind.
4. Stephen Falken – Shadow of the Wind (Visions, 2009 – buy here)
That said, ME2 also had some defining serene moments. Exploring the galaxy was one of them. It was such a peaceful affair compared to the chaos of the missions. Accompanied by a quiet theme (this one, I’m sure you recall) we had the freedom to travel and mine for resources, bouncing softly from cluster to cluster.
Shadow of the Wind has no big climax and no striking synth. It’s an exercise in the futuristic movie soundtrack, successfully capturing the marvel of discovery, and the wonder of what potential the universe holds.
5. Feadz – Far from Home (feat. Claude Violante) (Let the Children Techno (Various Artists), 2011 – buy here)
There’s a whole dictionary of words we could use to describe Commander Shepard, a character uniquely dear to us all: trailblazing, badass, awe-inspiring, seductive. Wait, what? The romancing system really took off in ME2. A quick Google search turns up thousands results on how to secure that perfect romance partner, as well as more ambitious souls asking, ’How can I possibly sleep with everybody?’.
A successful romance with a character even unlocks the ‘Paramour’ achievement, so it’s clear that love is just as much on the agenda as saving the galaxy. Far From Home features the vocals of the mysteriously offhand Claude Violante. Sung from a woman’s perspective, she practically murmurs “Looking very straight on the outside / Staring at the cute chicks, I turn to the left”. The song tells the story of a woman looking for love, getting up to all sorts in the backseat, with the best kinds of 80s touches. The androgyne nature of the song has the capacity to make anyone feel desirable and to me it represents the fun, playful undercurrent of the Mass Effect series.
6. Kavinsky – 1986 (Unreleased) (Blazer EP, 2008 – can’t seem to find a place to purchase as it was really limited, but you can listen here)
You may be familiar with Kavinsky with his electronic anthem Nightcall, but previously he was an artist who lived and died by his expensive-and-potentially-supernatural-car-chase concept. 1986 capitalises heavily on this, with a solid melody interspersed with sirens (evidently a running theme with this fanmix) and other assorted car noises.
This is another textbook example of the atmosphere I wanted to create with the mix – agitated and frenetic scenes of action, all building up to that final mission. Although there are no spaceship chases (unless you count the wonderfully executed scene in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC), we can instead imagine Shepard and their crew taking down some Geth or Husks to the pulsing beat.
7. College – Fighting for Life (Secret Diary, 2008 – buy here)
This is an interlude before the end run. That painstaking wait for the final push. The calm before the storm, and other fitting idioms. A short, killer hook that offers a nice break between the chaos that came before the future unknown.
I deliberately left out any kind of track depicting the Suicide Mission. What happens there is completely up to each individual player. But I did want to include a bridge of sorts – regardless of the end result, everyone had to endure the same tension before the mission took place.
8. Tesla Boy – Spirit of the Night (The Tesla Boy EP, 2009 – buy here)
I chose to end on a high. Sure, the ending may not have worked out that way for some people, but for me, Mass Effect is nothing without its characters. This song is sheer retrowave rapture, taking cues from the free-spirited depictions of 80s night cruising. Try listening to this without smiling or tapping your foot.
It’s an airy, carefree song reserved for happier times. Everyone has distinct memories of Mass Effect, but from the collective experience I regularly see more love than hate. I wanted to preserve the positive memories associated with the game, and what better way to end than with a song like this?
It had to finish this way.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions/queries about the music feel free to leave a comment or get in touch here. I hope you enjoyed the music, and have a great day!