Rain World by James Primate
Rain world by James Primate pressed on “Marine Translucent and Violet” & glow in the dark vinyl by Black Screen Records
“...I actually had a nightmare one night...”
Enter the dark and dilapidated soundscapes of a world soaked in misery this week with Rain World by James Primate. Pressed on “Marine Translucent and Violet” as well as glow in the dark vinyl by Black Screen Records, the soundtrack to Videocult’s instant indie classic has a unique story that I am here to help tell. From nightmares to turntable, let’s uncover how Rain World came to be the soundtrack of a universe drenched in despair.
Pictures of the Past
James Therrien is the co-member of Bright Primate, and is better known as James Primate in the video game music scene. He is a musician and video game developer based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Known for his work on games such as Gnomoria and Junk Jack, James has become a synonymous member of the indie game scene for being the mastermind behind the moody and atmospheric soundtrack to Rain World. Initially discovering the game from its original TIGSource devlog, James had this to say about his musical inspiration and inevitable involvement in the project:
“I initially saw the game early in its famous TIGSource devlog, and had a strong visceral reaction to its look, its mood and its characters and had a very clear picture in my head of how it should sound. I became somewhat obsessed, to the degree that I actually had a nightmare one night, in which the game came out and the music was terrible and unfitting and ruined everything. So I wound up writing I think 12 tracks on spec in the span of a week and wrote to Joar (the lead designer and programmer for Rain World) saying ‘Hey! I need to do the soundtrack for this game. Here’s what it needs to sound like.’ Wild right? But hey it worked!”
Extremely wild, indeed -- born from a nightmare and brought to life is a quite fitting tale for a soundtrack like Rain World’s. With James’ weeklong musical foray behind him, he was able to completely win over his soon-to-be partner. The new duo founded Videocult, the platform that made this brutal indie platformer a reality. With the game’s original creator Joar Jakobsson at the helm, while James doing what James does best, the team started their quest to create what is now the esoteric and elegantly brutish Rain World.
Getting in on the ground floor of this game's creation was a unique and creatively liberating experience for James. Crafting the game world became natural for him, and helping to direct where the game was headed created unique instances for Mr. Primate to use his musical ideas to dictate the game’s core ones. In reference, James had this to say about his musical freedom:
“In addition to the music and sound effects, I also did the level design and much of the narrative design and world-building as well. So for me it was very cool to be able to have these many aspects influence each other and really dive deep into a specific atmosphere.
Building off of Joar’s established mood and aesthetic, I could either conceive of a visual scene or set-piece in level design, such as climbing a huge structure through the clouds, and write music which captured that mood. Or I could write a piece of music conveying some specific feeling, and then write a scenario to accompany that atmosphere.”
Threat - Garbage Wastes
James truly felt that the freedom to compose alongside the ongoing level design “allowed [him] to be extremely self-indulgent, proposing entire regions and plot elements simply because [he] wanted to write music for it.” In a very real and tangible way, Rain World’s soundtrack and game became a marriage early on. This synthesis is what I think makes not only the game, but its music, a truly and unequivocally unique experience.
Threat - Shoreline
James’ musical style is unique, to say the least. From field recordings, to what is known as “junk audio,” the use of everyday objects to create a musical landscape, James’ musical language is definitely a rare breed. Alongside an array of MIDI keyboards including his trusty go-to Novation Launchkey 49, iPads, and an ASUS laptop, James began crafting his nightmare-fueled vision into a reality.
“For the Rain World soundtrack, I was interested in low bit synthesis, wavetable synthesis and realtime audio sample manipulation, so anything I could get my hands on that did those things were used and experimented with.”
The freedom James was allowed brought opportunities for him to be truly experimental with how he planned his auditorial vision. This liberation from standard compositional boundaries lead to truly memorable moments during the writing sessions for Rain World:
“It was a period of complete artistic freedom to explore new sounds, so I relished the creative process of discovering new things; using a recording of a metal scrape and oscillating it into the almost vocal -like lead lines; twisting and distorting the white noise of a certain track until it broke our illustrator Del’s headphones...”
This type of experimentation is what I think makes Rain World into the surreal album that it is. The hard work and dedication James and his friends poured into this project is apparent. Citing his “good friend Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace)” as being “the one that suggested I try game music in the first place,” the comradery between others was the key to unlocking this masterpiece of an album. All it takes is one drop of the needle, and you are literally in the heart of James’ electric and ambient jungle of experimental reign. Although breaking Del’s headphones was quite an intriguing highlight in James’ writing session, there was one moment he believes stood above all, and is something that I think truly captures the spirit of why this soundtrack is so special!
“...my favorite memories were ones with friends: collaborating with Lydia (the other half to Bright Primate) on the later tracks (Deep Energy) when I was too busy with level design stuff, or astonishing Joar by taking a recording of him talking and turning it into a strange subterranean synth track (Grumblebum).”
See, this album isn’t just about the music: it’s about the memories, the friendships, and the journey that came along with it. From utterly nothing into something spectacular, James and his friends have conjured this album from the ether and shared a part of themselves with the world. With no lack of sheer determination and love from a small group of people, Rain World has undoubtedly become a miraculous success for this small indie development studio. So I’d keep an eye on James and his companions moving forward. I know I can’t wait to see what they create next!
What started as a nightmare has now become a dream: welcome to Rain World…
Threat - Farm Arrays
A distant thunderstorm rumbles off the turntable as the needle treads through this record's first swathe of grooves. A soft rain trickles through the foreground as an electric tone pierces through the storm cloud, calling the listener deeper into this dark and dreary world. James’ eclectic collection of sounds slowly envelops the room, drowning out all the empty space with a wall of ambiance that is so relaxing, all while having this slight twinge of danger as your needle chaotically swirls towards the center. The music cuts as if to take a breath before showering the room in this cicada-style humming that gradually evolves into a buzzing and oscillating radio signal, bouncing from channel to channel, while a thrumming bass pushes through the background before James’ MIDI key tones start to dance back and forth. The shear barrage of resonance and sounds that this album produces is something that just has to be experienced. Each song ingeniously builds on the previous, creating this symphonic atmosphere of notes which seem to have no origin, yet seem so completely familiar. This eerie and otherworldly sound that James crafted came to him with some wonderful inspiration that he reminisced with me about:
“... I had recently been very moved by the deep otherworldly strangeness of the first Dark Souls soundtrack, by Motoi Sakuraba, so [I’ll] happily admit to some strong inspiration from there. Ash Lake especially completely changed my perspective of what game music could be, and that poured into the music for Rain World.”
That dark and mysterious sound from Mr. Sakuraba’s soundtrack definitely bled into James’ brooding synth-scape, creating another unique and potent character to the arrangements shown. The way in which he experiments with sound is exquisite to hear him talk about, but is a totally different animal when you actually hear the final product. How he modulates simplistic, everyday objects into tones that bend to his whim is why Rain World is so good, and one of the things that will continue to bring me back again and again. The contagious and playful way he makes these sounds creates an atmosphere and experience that is so unique -- to put it simply, it’s so James.
This soundtrack is absolutely superb, and one that I completely recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in it. It is a must-own in my book and one that I think anyone who takes the plunge to buy it will enjoy.
Black Screen Records have completely outdone themselves on this release. The collaboration here with Videocult is absolutely stunning and makes for a true piece of art for any collector’s library. Spanning both the inner and outer gatefold of this release is artwork from Rain World’s own illustrator, Allegra "Del" Northern, and is absolutely breathtaking. Embellishing the art on display here is a gorgeous glow-in-the-dark spot varnish carried out by design extraordinaire, Dane “KungfuQuickness” Baudoin, that completely pushes the already impeccable design from Allegra over the top! I can’t say enough how gorgeous this design work is; from the gatefold to the Slugcat print, all the way down to the gorgeous labels on the records, a lot of love went into this release. It’s a fitting tribute to such a wonderful game.
Mastering on this album is impeccable. Carried out by Christian Bethge of RAMA Tonstudio, based out of Mannheim, Germany, this is one of the cleanest sounding records I think I have ever heard. This goes not only for the “Marine Translucent and Violet,” but more importantly, the glow-in-the-dark version of this album as well. Glow-in-the-dark albums have had a pretty notorious reputation as being sub par in the past, but this record completely blew away all the reservations I had. I can say with complete confidence that this is the best glow-in-the-dark record I have ever heard. While comparing it to the colored version of the release, I couldn’t hear any discernible difference between either’s sound quality. They both sounded very much equal, and that is something I think we can all rejoice in! I am looking forward to future glow-in-the-dark vinyl releases if this is how they are going to sound.
Also, there is an added bonus track present here on the vinyl version called “Albino” that, while present in game, is not available anywhere else except this vinyl for now. It is a rocking track, and is just a bonus to owning this release!
I want to give a huge thanks to James for taking the time to talk with me about his work on Rain World, as well as for providing Bandcamp codes of this album for me to share with all of you. Keep an eye out on the site here as well as on my social media pages for a chance at snagging one of these codes.
I also have to give an extremely huge shout to Kevin Schulz, the co-founder of Black Screen Records, for providing a review copy of their variant of Rain World for me to take a look at and take pictures of for all of you.
Where to Buy?
The “Marine Translucent and Violet” version of this album is still readily available directly from Black Screen Records for €32,00, and comes with a Slugcat print as well as a digital download card for “Songs and Rhythms” & “Ambients and Instrumentals” from James’ Bandcamp. Unfortunately, the glow-in-the-dark version of this album was available in a short pressing run from Limited Run Games and is completely sold out. However, every version of the soundtrack is housed in a glow-in-the-dark spot varnish gatefold sleeve, so Slugcat can keep you company in the dark no matter which version you have!