Lifestream Vinyl Review | Retro Game Remix (Erek Ladd) | Troggo Studio πŸ’Ώ⚔️ #VideoGameVinyl #VGMVinyl #Vinyl

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Album Title - Lifestream (Vinyl)

Composer - Retro Game Remix (Erek Ladd)

Record Label - Troggo Studio 

From the Troggo Studio website:

Pressed on 180-gram vinyl, with a "Holy Materia" colour configuration.

Jacket design by the incredibly talented Miguel Co.

"When I was a kid, I remember going into my local video rental store and seeing a copy of Final Fantasy 7 on the shelf and being really intrigued by the cover of the game, with Cloud staring at the Shinra building holding the buster sword. Since that moment I was hooked on the world, the story and the characters.

Lifestream is my attempt at re-telling this classic story through the music featured in the game. I hope that you can listen to this album and re-live the incredible adventure and story that is Final Fantasy 7.

--Erek Ladd (Retro Game Remix)

I have a troubled history when it comes to guitar-based reworkings of video game music, as all too often it boils down to gurning and wailing along to a bland blacking track -no, thanks. And so, when I was offered the opportunity to cover Lifestream, I did initially have reservations about what would be contained within those saucy vinyl grooves. Reservations, as it turns out, that need not have existed – because Lifestream turned out to be one of the most impressive releases that I’ve come across all year. Good.

A re-telling of the story of Final Fantasy 7 through the medium of -primarily – a Gibson Les Paul (again, good) – Lifestream is a purely instrumental album that re-works classic tracks from the FF7 soundtrack in a live rock band setup. Aside from some keyboard/synth flourishes, the main gear used – handily listed in the liner notes - consists of:

Gibson Les Paul Traditional 2017

Rickenbacker 4001 1975

Sigma DT-28 H Acoustic Guitar

DW Collectors Series Drums & SW Hardware

Dream Cymbals

Pro Mark 747W Shira Kashi Oak Neil Peart Signature Sticks

Also of important note, is that Erek Ladd not only plays all of the instrumentation (aside from two guitar solos, handled by Jarod Meadows on tracks 2 & 7) but also mixed and mastered the record – more on this later.

The cover – courtesy of Miguel Co - depicts the silhouette of antagonist Sephiroth wielding his sword against a stark, black backdrop. Also within this image is the FF7 protagonist – Cloud Strife, complete with a preposterous sword– on a motorcycle, gazing up at the Shinra building, an image that will surely strike a chord in the memories of FF7 fans worldwide. The reverse shows Aerith’s famous yellow flowers growing (and glowing) in the grass outside the church that Aerith tends to (Cloud will shortly owe them a new roof). It’s a serene image, evocative of some key events from the beloved game. Aside from the track listing and some brief notes on the recording, this also features a line that states ‘Dedicated to Final Fantasy VII fans across the globe’ – a nice touch.

Being a single record, the ‘holy materia’ coloured vinyl itself is held in a simple black sleeve. The inner circles of each side featuring the album title in an oh-so-familiar font – again on a black background – with the tracklist below.

Also included inside is a double-sided, glossy sheet of illustrated paper, designed by Ayan Chakraborty. On one side, there is an image of Cloud Strife’s sword, alone and ensconced in a beam of light. The other side features details about the album, cunningly set out in the style of the in-game menus - with a shade of blue that certainly brings back memories for me! Here, we can see a personal note from Erek Ladd, as well as the track list, the information on instruments used, and some other details.

Before I go into the track-by-track breakdown, I just wanted to state my feelings on Final Fantasy 7 itself, to give some background to my words below. Whilst I sometimes cover soundtracks for games that I’m not familiar with - in this instance, Final Fantasy 7 was a game that I played a lot at the time of release. It rightly holds a place as a defining game of the generation and, whilst I understand that it is adored by millions, it’s not a game I have ever returned to. So for context, I’m not writing about this re-imagining of the soundtrack whilst lost in a funk of nostalgia and memories, some of the songs are familiar to me through live orchestrations I’ve been lucky enough to witness, but I want to clarify that a lot of my adoration for Lifestream comes from the performance, passion and (astonishing) production from this specific take on the songs.


Side A:

Opening – Bombing Mission – A keening note opens the album, before searching keyboard lines delicately bleed through. Echoing, tribal drums roll around the kit, in a highly atmospheric setting, before a huge crash and milky guitar cuts through, and the full kit makes an appearance. As the sheer quality and scale of production is hitting you, tumbling drums, throaty bass and palm-muted guitar open up to a driving beat that showcases the skill on offer. The album is so, so warm and organic sounding. This track has a moment that shows the depth and thickness of the bass as well as areas where the guitar takes centre stage (as it will be doing throughout the record!), full of pitch-perfect emotive playing. This is a great opener, but more-so – the power of the production completely bowled me over, I was NOT expecting it to be so rich and warm. Good.

Let the Battles Begin – Big, chugging power chords over a kinetic beat leads to a climbing guitar scale, the same tonality and instrumentation as in the previous song, minus the atmospheric opening, this is straight out of the box and powering through your speakers. There’s also some real skill in the layering going on, as the multiple guitar lines and melodies weave around each other, never feeling like this is just noodling over a flat backing track, there’s always something interesting going on with whichever instrument your ear is currently settled on. A tasteful tap solo and some great breaks on the kit, still – I am genuinely struggling to get to grips with just how solid the production is, even after the twenty or so times I’ve heard the album though by now.

Hurry – That chunky bass is back, as snappy drums and hi-hat runs sit under guitar that moves from crunchy to milky. A cheeky keyboard section leads into a moment for the drums to shine – again, a track that is propulsive and carefully constructed.

Under the Rotting Pizza – Easily one of my favourites on the album, I would not have been surprised to flip over the record and discover that it was mixed by Steven Wilson, it really is that good. The first time that we as listeners can take a breath, the HUGE opening of this still hits me in the chest, there’s a real groove to this, the harmonics; chugging guitar riff; room-filling bass, and subtle ghost rolls on the snare – nothing is lost in the mix and every melody is perfectly played and captured. If this song was fifteen minutes long, I. WOULD. NOT. CARE.

Aerith’s Theme – Possible one of the most recognisable themes on an album replete with them. This is the first time that the acoustic guitar is featured in a prominent role, and it feels like it’s right there in the room with you. Every note hits home, accented by gentle, airy keyboard lines. It’s clearly a very masterfully crafted version, as each hammer-on and slide feels right. At the halfway mark, where the full instrumentation comes in, it’s certainly an ‘audience gets their lighters out’ moment. The keening guitar over that full kit, with the acoustic underpinning everything – the album feels complete and absolutely created from a place of love. Again, as I mentioned earlier, what sets this apart from other takes on the soundtrack is that this isn’t one dude wailing over a tedious 4/4 sample track, it’s approached from the angle of being a full-scale progressive rock album in terms of production value and musicianship. Good.

Motorcycle Chase – Back to a more intense approach for this one, keyboard ditties over a straight-rock guitar line are melded with subtle touches of melodic support. One of the more direct rock songs on the album, the clever use of double-kick pedal amplifies the intensity as the song progresses, again – well-used and not just overplayed or relied upon, the song also fades out with some great snare rolls.

JENOVA – Big, arena-style chords and drums open this up. Whilst it matches the gutsy mood and vibe of the preceding Motorcycle Chase, JENOVA mixes things up by having that milky, emotive guitar as a core - leading out over the choppy riff that drives the song. There’s a moment towards the end that is a masterclass in technical solo writing, comprising of dive-bombs, downscales, clashing chords/notes and harmonics that again – are all expressive without feeling showy, composed to fit the song and add colour, without splashing paint all over the aural canvas. The final track of this side, which is twenty minutes of music which feels like it’s over in a flash of golden light. As the music fades out, you won’t know whether to flip it over to see what’s next on the menu…or just enjoy what you’ve just heard all over again. Personally, I’ve replayed Under the Rotting Pizza five times on the trot, some days – I can’t get enough of it.

Side B:

Birth of a God – you would be forgiven for thinking that you’d accidentally put a Led Zeppelin record on for the first few seconds of this track – before that rock-solid guitar comes in with a song that calls to mind my beloved Surf Coasters in the classic-rock rhythms combined with the leadwork. A lovely drum break in the middle comes accompanied by some Hammond Organ, which was not expected, but is absolutely welcomed! A beautiful start to the second side of the record that ends with some nice rolls around the kit and more of that growling bass before a guitar sails off over the horizon to play the track out. There are some truly weighty moments scattered throughout Birth of a God that really hit home in terms of the size of the song.

Golden Saucer – A simple 4/4 drumbeat comes out of the silence before being joined by the jaunty, single-note guitar with a far more casual and tongue-in-cheek vibe. Don’t be tricked into thinking that this is a throwaway novelty song, as that high level of production is still there, and the emotion comes out through the guitar narrative in the second half, over more wandering organ lines, giving the song a happy, carnival feel.

Fiddle De Chocobo - The only vocals on the album come in here “a-1-2-3-4!” and train-rollin’ kick/snare act as the foundation for some snappy guitar work with its heart planted firmly in the deep south. A short track, but some tasty double-string bends, dual solos and the sheer sense of fun propel this forwards, continuing the brightness and joy of the preceding track, Golden Saucer.

Cosmo Canyon – Instantly, my trousers flew off for this one. Beautiful, tribal, moody drums and throaty bass are joined by chiming, ethereal guitar, and ambient soundscapes. This is right up there for me, alongside Under the Rotting Pizza. The guitar-playing here feels more exposed and raw, the perfect foil for such depth in the rest of the instrumentation. Another track that I could happily have extended to six times its actual length without batting an eyelid.

Those who Fight Further – There’s no time for finesse, as this one launches off like a racehorse, guitars and organ working off each other as the beat drives ever forwards. Quite Ray Manzarek-esque in the organ performance, the unwavering, muscular guitar leads the way into battle as the drums and bass act as banner wavers behind. Just as you think the song has reached its conclusion, BOOM, another sneaky guitar solo leads to some serious tap action and a hell of a musical climax. I’m starting to think that Erek Ladd has played guitar before, quite frankly.

One Winged Angel – The penultimate track of the album, One Winged Angel is a lumbering monster of a song, that mixes up chugging chords with swift lead lines on the guitar. Slower-paced than some of the other rockier songs, this instead focuses on a heavier groove – and again utilises double pedal work, tastefully. I reckon he’s played the drums before as well, y’know. One that will really appeal to those stoner-rock / doom fans for its more downtrodden and gloomy sensibilities, I adore how this one ends.

Main Theme – And all too soon, it’s the final track of the record. Harking back to Aerith’s Theme with expressive acoustic guitar lines accompanied by shimmering synth notes, Main Theme soon brings in the full instrumentation on this gorgeously written – and performed – piece of music. A slight tempo change at the midway point – which also brings in some tasty hi-hat work – makes the switch back to half-speed for the outro more powerful. It’s a well-chosen ending track as it allows you to reflect on what you’ve just witnessed, which is – as far as I’m concerned – the definitive version of this soundtrack. I honestly don’t know if I’ll come across anything as impressive as this, in terms of re-imaginings of FF7, and all by one man! And what a man he is.

Considering that this was the first release that I’d encountered from Troggo Studios – a label that is clearly run by - and composed of - people with an intense passion for their creations – I was gobsmacked by the musicianship, warming artwork and look of the record. The absolute hero of this tale though is the production. I can only assume that Erek Ladd works in that industry – if he lived any closer, I wouldn’t hesitate in working with him to mix my own band’s music, such is my faith in his skills. An album that shines on vinyl, and from a friendly label that it’s been a pleasure to discover and interact with over the last few weeks, I can’t wait to discuss more of their releases.

Right, I think I’ll stop messing about and listen to it again.

Purchase Link - https://www.troggostudio.com/product/lifestream

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