πŸ›£️ Road 96 Original Soundtrack Vinyl Review G4F Records πŸ›£️ @G4F_Records #VideoGameVinyl #Vinyl

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Purchase Link - https://www.g4f-records.com/en/soundtrack/road-96-soundtrack/

My esteemed and roguish colleague Pixel Hunted recently covered Road 96, a narrative adventure from French developer Digixart – and had this to say:

“Road 96 has its heart in the right place, looks striking, is crammed full of good ideas, and has an exceptional soundtrack (it’s telling that the collectables are cassettes and that the game is full of tape players to listen to them on).”

Naturally, this information stayed rooted in my brain like an arrow of pleasure fired from a bow of joy, and so when I had the opportunity to cover the soundtrack on vinyl - I leapt upon it ferociously.

The first release that I’ve covered from French label G4F Records (interview coming soon*), the Road 96 soundtrack absolutely lives up to Pixel Hunted’s words and really does capture the sense of a mixtape as you embark on an expansive, emotionally-fuelled road trip.

The cover of the album is the same as the video game artwork, a beat-up camper van rolling along a dusty, desert road. Dry, yellowed grass, cacti and a rusting wreck dot the passing roadside on a blazing summer’s day. The game logo is embossed at the top of the image and is fashioned as an American road sign, with the overall shades and style of fading giving a vintage tint to the whole image. The rear of the album continues the theme and features a graffitied gas station with a hand-painted sign next to rusted barrels and discarded tyres. The yellow colouring and style of the font reminded me of the credits in ‘90s Quentin Tarantino movies, good. The tracklisting for this double-gatefold vinyl is then in the sky above the gas station, four sides over two records to make up this road trip experience.

Each side of the cardboard inner sleeves shows illustrations of two characters encountered in the game. A female cop leaning back and talking to the player (POV fashion) from the driver’s seat as the car passes a copse of trees - this image is split with a young, doe-eyed and be-pierced girl ensconced in shadow, staring directly at the player, seemingly in a moment of vulnerability. The reverse side of the sleeve shows a sultry woman lounging on a white leather sofa, whilst wearing a cocktail dress. With a bottle of champagne at her side, she exudes an air of elegance as the image is lit by neon strip lights, with a distant city looming in the background. This image is again split, this time with a smoking, shadowy man with hooded eyes and ominously gloved hands beckoning the player to the passenger seat of his car, which is parked near a rocky outcrop at night. The first record is a bright yellow whilst the second disc is black, reflecting the yellow road markings on the black tarmac as well as evoking the colours of the Road 96 logo. It’s also quite cool how the inner label of each record has hand-written artist names and logos drawn on it, with the background appearing to be a cassette inlay, adding to that homemade mixtape feel. 

The second inner sleeve again features characters from the game, this time a burly trucker scowling at the player from the cab of his vehicle, with the right-hand side of the image showing a bespectacled child eagerly playing a game in a smoky arcade. The flip of these shows a robbery in progress by two people who – judging by their clothing - have clearly spent too much time playing Borderlands, with the bottom half of the image taken up by a rear-window shot of a police car chasing the robbers, money fluttering across the baking hot highway as clouds of dust are kicked up – kinetic stuff!

As previously mentioned, the style of approach here is one of a person’s mixtape, which means that several artists have multiple tracks on the album, those artists being the Toxic Avenger, Cocoon, Robert Parker, Daniel Gadd, Volkor X, Kalax, S U R V I V E, and Alexis Laugier. A real range of styles that feel oddly cohesive and come together with the ebb and flow of a thematic concept album.

Side A

Home Call – The Toxic Avenger

To describe this as a ‘strong opener’ would be akin to saying that Danny Trejo has been ‘in a few films’, in that it would be an understatement. This track perfectly captures the swirl of emotions when taking off on an uncertain journey. Beginning with a warped, plucked guitar intro, it is in turns swaggering, aching, melodic and fragile. Home Call features a looped, heavily treated vocal line (“it still comes back, now?”) in various forms over a thick electronic beat as samples wrap themselves around the central driving rhythm. I admit to restarting the album a few times whenever I put it on just to get several listens of this one in, it’s now on multiple playlists of mine, and a track that really dug its hooks into me.

The Road – Cocoon

A much more gentle and delicate song now, with Cocoon’s more Paulo Nutini, inflected vocals telling a rolling narrative across some plucked acoustic guitar with a simple beat and finger clicks acting as a percussive canvas. The lyrics are simple and catchy, seemingly designed to be whistled along to. The song borders on twee as it delivers lyrics such as ‘chasing butterflies / and floating on the breeze’ but absolutely fits in with the dynamic of this being a mixtape and there is a real innocence and charm to the breeziness of the track. The celebration of having no ties and always moving on strikes me as being a song Jack Reacher could relate to in his mellower moments…before returning to being the focus of average Tom Cruise films. This one really turned out to be quite the earworm and I found myself humming it quite often.

On the Road – Robert Parker 

We are back in synth territory for this, as a solid 4/4 electronic beat pulses out from the speakers and casual, mellow samples surround it. There’s a driving, compulsive rhythm to this that leads on well from The Road, bringing the focus back to electronica without there being a tectonic shift in tone… we are saving THAT move for later.

Far From Home – Daniel Gadd

Back to airy acoustic action, this is a very thoughtful track that features breathy female vocals (courtesy of Sal) and covers searching and travelling in the lyrical themes - adding a dreaminess to the romanticisation of being on the road that was set down by the second track. A very pretty song.

Chase – Volkor X

This one kicks the doors off your car and devours the engine in a single bite. Chase is very much the ‘boss theme’ of the album so far, and hurtles in, grabbing you and shaking you until your teeth fly out of your mouth. Biting electronica and fierce synth work remind me of some of the heavier moments from the Borderlands 3 soundtrack. I just hope you aren’t listening to this album to drift off to sleep!

The Mountain Peak – Kalax

A different style again - still electronic, but much more ‘Deus Ex’ in the mood of the looping melodies, expansive synth and more atmospheric approach. Continuing the road trip theme, I’d say this would be the song playing as a character has a dawning realisation about someone close to them.

Side B

Alex the Hacker – Robert Parker

A gutsier track from Robert Parker kicks off the second side of the first record. featuring some wonderfully rich, sweeping, buzzing synth that ramps things up a gear and then shifts things around at the midpoint, mellowing for a moment, like digital clouds parting - before returning to the opening riff, bringing the song full circle. 

Raindrops on a Car Window – Daniel Gadd

The most low-key track thus far, this is very lightly plucked acoustic guitar, rich with reverb and initially accompanied only by slowly rising breathy synth notes. A purely instrumental piece that makes its mark in how it builds to a tiny, melancholic crescendo. A sparse and fragile track.

The Brothers – Volkor X

Dragging us from the dreaminess of the preceding track, Volkor X once again brings the noise. Chunky riffs and snappy sampled snare leap out of your speakers to get the cyborgs dancing. There’s a heavier groove to this than the previous Volkor X track. As opposed to a boss theme, it strikes me as more of a Cyberpunk dance club tune, very cool.

Hit the Road – The Toxic Avenger

One of the longest tracks on the album at almost six minutes, this is pure ‘90s dance. Single beat kick and snare, trebly and tight guitar jabs and a looped female vocal accentuated with an open hi-hat, this is a looping, hypnotic track that takes you right back to the mid-90s club scene! I almost went on eBay and bought a VHS tape of Human Traffic …almost.

Redline – S U R V I V E

A single, piercing, high note and ominous bass drumbeats combine with an eerie synth to give this a horror vibe as it creeps up on you. Teasing the listener for a while, it moves through several passages, always threatening to completely kick off into full terror - but the sense of release actually moves into a sort of ‘epic groove’ as opposed to anything overtly dark. There’s a fantastic sense of ‘2000’s PC game’ when the drums finally lock-in and the merest hint of a more doom-laden ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk that surfaces briefly via the climbing synth notes at the denouement.

Side C

Keep Moving Forward – The Toxic Avenger

A single, synth note leads us into this number. A wooden cowbell and three rising bass notes accompanied with fuzzy synth and a treated vocal make this a funky and compulsive track. I was hooked on the stabs of synth that litter the song, as well as the tail-end of the main melody. One of the heftier tracks at over five minutes, its character and groovy mood really grabbed me. The huge bass and swagger make it a stand out track for me and the Daft Punk-esque robot vocals keep that futuristic disco sound pumping.

Election Day – Alexis Laugier

Restrained electronic beats and violins soon reach a pretty gnarly crescendo, a track that rises and rises, giving the sense of someone either about to face certain danger or running from it in a panic. There’s a delicacy in the melody; the heavy percussion, rising strings and descending riffs over the top all fall into place, giving a real kinetic, stumbling energy that is rich with detail.

Isthmus – Daniel Gadd

A far more melancholic track, this features touches of plucked instrumentation, layers of piano, shimmering strings and roomy synth that feels like notes slowly dancing gracefully through empty space. Simple, evocative and effective.

Night Home – Kalax

Continuing the relaxing, soothing theme set by Isthmus, Kalax’s Night Home almost feels like a sequel as it starts with the same airy synth and sense of ambience.  Almost even more soothing in tone, as the layers join in and decay away, echoing into the ether. Whilst the album has a few switches in mood and tone to shake things up, these two songs very much feel like companion pieces in the narrative and sit together wonderfully.

Petrias Road – The Toxic Avenger

Muted, plucked strings soon warp into a hypnotic synth melody with thick, descending bass lines and a snappy snare. There’s a slow drive to this track that only gets deeper as more lines are added. Listening to this, I felt like I was staring out over a cityscape at night.

A Dark Place – Volkor X

Hefty slabs of fuzzy synth and a sense of growing unease are the order of the day here. Staccato, stuttered and rough percussive samples make this an edgy track that never loses a dark melodic heart. I was getting a sense of John Carpenter here, a shadowy aural story being told.

Side D

Sonya’s Limo – Robert Parker

The mood of this track leans more towards ‘80s disco, with a funky wooden block rhythm and glassy synth sitting atop a solid beat, melding with smooth sax solos - calling to mind some of Epoch’s work with the Paradise Killer soundtrack. Positivity abounds throughout this number and those slick grooves can wash over you as you sip at that cocktail in the back of the limo.

Her Name Was Conny – Daniel Gadd

A change is in the air here, starting with a low male vocal performance that is soon joined by a higher female line. These wordless vocal lines, sparse acoustic guitar and low, low strings all work together to create a fantastical atmosphere, heavy with unspoken meaning.

Ultimatum – The Toxic Avenger

Thick electronic bass notes, a pounding, rhythmic kick drum, echoing snare hits and rising violins bring us back to a more panicked sound, coming across as a sort of mental chase sequence taking place in an unravelling mind. The unmoving, thick bass line growls through – keeping up the tension until it slams the brakes to a sudden stop.

Revolution ‘96 – Alexis Laugier

Single bass notes ring out over slow strings and scattered percussion, initially seeming as if the music will rise to a dark crescendo….but it actually morphs into something that again calls to mind Deus Ex, with the epic cyberpunk reminding me of Jonathan Geer’s Neon Chrome – which is good. A shorter track, I would happily listen to this for a good ten minutes quite frankly, as it’s right up my Strasse.

Long Road to the Border – Daniel Gadd

Plucked acoustic guitar at the fore, Long Road to the Border is a dusty instrumental ballad that wouldn’t feel out of place in Weird West, the distant heavy percussion and harmonica very much evoking a long-gone time in the American West. Whilst guitar kicked off this album with Home Call, this eschews beats and synth to reveal itself as a quite intimate and evocative moment as a stripped-back, penultimate track.

A New Life – The Toxic Avenger

A simple, two-note, breathy melody supported by high piano trills, this really wasn’t what I was expecting from The Toxic Avenger! A beautiful surprise that follows on perfectly from Long Road to the Border, the keening, reaching synth that comes in after a minute or so is quietly heartbreaking in how it flows. At 6:12, this is the longest song on the album and a mellow end to our aural journey. A gorgeous way to close the album.

Approaching Road 96 as a filmic mixtape, you can close your eyes and imagine how each song acts as the soundtrack to chapters in the ongoing narrative journey of the game. Having not played the game itself, the soundtrack clearly stands alone as a solid album. I’ve listened to Road 96 probably around 20+ times for this article and found myself putting it on for its summery vibes casually over the past couple of weeks. My fiancee has also requested that we put this on in the evenings as we wind down, so it has a pretty wide appeal, and the variety of styles and artists offers a lot of variety. If you have played the game, I can only imagine that the impact is that much more involved, and will also be blended with nostalgia from your time with Road 96, a heady mix!

*Kudos to G4F for their generosity and overall vibe 

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