Piano Collections – NieR Gestalt and Replicant

May 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm (Soundtracks) (, , , , , )

1. Song of the Ancients
2. Kaine
3. Hills of Radiant Wind
4. Snow in Summer
5. Emil
6. Grandma
7. Repose
8. Gods Bound By Rules
9. Shadowlord
10. The Wretched Automatons
11. Ashes of Dreams

In the last few years Square-Enix broadened their Piano Collections series to include the Kingdom Hearts series, a welcome move that produced decent results, which were damped perhaps a bit by the choice of arrangers. This year they opened the door to include NieR, which had a universally acclaimed soundtrack, even spawning two arranged/tribute albums. With a new set of arrangers and performers on this Piano Collections, did the album live up to the great expectations following it?

The album starts with a fan-favourite track, “Song of the Ancients”. The arrangement takes after the “Devola” OST counterpart, which is also the base of the piano arrangement found on the “15 Nightmares and Arrange Tracks” CD. This version however is considerably more more simple than the “15 Nightmares” counterpart, and more faithful to the original. There is still a moving improvisation section, but it can’t help but feel a little watered down after the amazing arrangement from “15 Nightmares”. Interesting, since Keigo Hoashi arranged and performed both versions of the song.

Hoashi gives “Kaine” has a very similar structure, following almost identical to its “Salvation” version on the OST before moving into an improvised bridge, then returning to its roots to finish off. Again it’s a little too simplistic, but still emotional and resonant. Kumi Tanioka’s arrangement of “Hills of Radiant Wind” is more of the same, although a little more dramatic with a strong climax by the end. It retains much of the character of the original, with a quick flow, but somehow feels a little sadder.

“Snow in Summer” and “Emil”, again by Hoashi, don’t do anything to break the mould set by the previous songs, keeping the relatively easy arrangements with some improvisation. Boring as this may sound on paper, I will say that I don’t tire of it when listening to the album. Perhaps it simply speaks to the strength of the source melodies, which are emphasized in all of these arrangements. It’s also fun to note that this version of “Emil” almost fits perfectly his climactic scene in terms of timing. I wonder if they had the clip playing when they recorded the track to have the song fit in so snuggly.

The second half of the album now picks things up to what I like. Masato Koda arranges “Grandma” (played by Tanioka), and wow is it a powerhouse arrangement. Gone is the underlying piano accompaniment that was in the OST track. The song gets a complete revision focusing more on the vocal melody, and many many jazzy flourishes and scales with many classical influences. The melody can occasionally get lost in all of the decoration (I couldn’t recognize the song from the sample), but it never loses its identity. Tanioka does a stellar job, keeping the passion on the same level with the power throughout the song.

“Repose” almost sounds like note-for-note a transcription of the OST version of the song, which is a bit of a let down. Hoashi’s arrangement doesn’t really go anywhere on its own, and doesn’t bring anything new. On the other hand, the piano backing somehow gives it a bit of a different feel from the original counterpart, so not all is wasted. Tanioka comes back for “Gods Bound By Rules”, by favourite OST song. I was a little bit disappointed when I first heard the arrangement; it’s a little bit sparse and quite simplified, but the performance really helps elevate it above the other tracks. The banging chords at the end are incredibly powerful, and Tanioka gives the song sections so many nuances that it really makes up for simple patterns in the arrangement.

Ending the traditionally recorded pieces is Hoashi’s “Shadowlord”, which like many other songs has a soft build-up to an aggressive battle section that soon winds down to close the song. I wish they had spent a bit more on the battle section, and again Hoashi is a little simple in his arrangement, but it’s not bad.

“The Wretched Automatons” takes things in a completely different direction, employing sound filters and electronic effects on top of a very sparse arrangement. The result is a very interesting, ambient piece that somehow defies its simple arrangement. Although it has a completely different mood from the OST version, it feels like the spiritual successor in that it differs from everything else on its respective album completely. Some may feel cheated out of a proper arrangement, but I personally thought it was genius move on Ryuichi Takada’s part.

“Ashes of Dreams” is the appropriate album closer, and we get again something completely different from what we expected. Yuri Misumi turns the song into a more upbeat jazzy arrangement (although it somehow manages to still sound sorrowful). It sounds incredibly old-school, a sentiment reinforced by the sound filter placed on the song, making it seem as if you were listening to the song through a record player or something else obscenely outdated. It’s probably the most complex of all the arrangements, and although it doesn’t fit in thematically with the rest of the album well, it somehow feels like the perfect album closer. And really did we want another depressing rendition of the theme? The OST gave us enough of that.

So all in all, Hoashi’s arrangements were definitely the weakest to me. While they are crisp and clear, they also feel overly simple, which is a shame since Piano Collections often targets intermediate and advanced piano players. Tanioka’s arrangements nearly suffer the same fate, but the power and passion in her performances raise the pieces above that. The other three arrangers really bring something fresh to not only the pieces, but also to the Piano Collections series as a whole by implying outside influences and techniques to the pieces. A bit experimental, but the result is enthralling. Even with its weaknesses and shortcomings, the album still sounds fairly cohesive, and the simple arrangements are still enjoyable. They’re just simple. With its all-star tracklist, there’s enough to enjoy here to merit a purchase.

8.0/10

Did you know about the Nier piano concert? Check out my report of it here.

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