Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re hacking our way through the music of Grindstone, which was good enough to make a mockery out of my best intentions.
Let me start with a question: Have you ever enjoyed a game’s music so much it actually inspired you to betray your convictions? I now have, thanks to Capybara Games’ Grindstone (Bandcamp Vol. 1 / Bandcamp Vol. 2 / longplay / VGMdb). It’s a comically gruesome take on the color-matching puzzle genre, in which you defeat levels and rack up points by hacking apart waves of goofy-looking monsters. The game is currently available on Apple Arcade (and a few platforms I don’t have).
Okay, full disclosure: I’m kind of old. Not quite a boomer, but old enough to be called one when I complain to anyone within earshot about how much better it is to own physical copies of stuff. I mean, I still buy CDs occasionally, for crying out loud. For this reason, I’ve shunned game subscription models like Apple Arcade. I don’t like paying for stuff I don’t own, and I don’t like not owning stuff I’m paying for, dammit. Although Apple Arcade has some awesome-looking games from respected devs, nothing has come close to making me consider coming over to the dark side.
Well, not until I heard this, anyway:
This is a freaking puzzle game? The opening track, “Backpack,” immediately grabbed me right in the rhythm section and did not let go. Its muted electric guitar loop sounds plucked from the Knight Rider theme, or more to the point, the 1998 Busta Rhymes single “Turn It Up (Remix) / Fire It Up,” which sampled the aforementioned TV opener liberally. The drums, with their stuttering snare repetitions, seem to have gotten lost on their way to a hip-hop cypher. Backpack, indeed.
I don’t know what possessed composer Sam Webster and Capybara Games to go for a hip-hop/glitch electronica hybrid soundtrack, but I’m not complaining. After a chill dip into the Silk Road Caravan-meets-808 bass sounds of “Big Chains,” Webster jumps right back into the fray with the disquieted energy of “Grindstone Mountain.” The subsequent tracks weave back and forth between relaxing (“Mystic”) and ominous (“Bone Dust”). If you’ve been listening along, you’re now familiar with one of the most compelling aspects of this soundtrack, which is the composer’s heavy use of sampled choral drones and other lo-fi loops. He uses them like an old Mellotron synth, which adds a lovely layer of grime and grit to the whole affair:
I made a beeline for Sam Webster’s Bandcamp page to purchase the two-volume score as soon as I could. Since then, tunes like the relaxed “Temple Tip” and the foreboding “Way Slayer” have been in constant rotation, serving as the soundtrack to my day job, commute, and just about any time I’m not directly interacting with other humans.
Like I mentioned, the idea of games subscription services are anathema to me. But as this soundtrack worked its way into my being, I felt like I had to play the game to which it belonged. I don’t have a Switch (I must be a failure as a parent and as an old-school gaming dad), but I’m well enmeshed into the iOS ecosystem. So after weeks of wondering how in the hell emotionally sophisticated tracks like the wistfully dreamy “Mud Flats” or unsettlingly determined “Slash House” fit into a puzzle game, I broke down and signed up for Apple Arcade...for a free month.
In the end, I didn’t keep the subscription. The game was fun, but what would you expect from a cantankerous almost-boomer like myself? After all, I own the soundtrack. For those who’ve not yet formed an opinion on Apple Arcade or Grindstone, I recommend reading this piece from Kotaku’s own Ian Walker while chilling out to “Potions.”
Well, that’s about it for today’s Morning Music! I’ll leave you with “Clock Out” from Volume 2. Enjoy some tunes, say hello in the comments section and let us know how you’re doing!
Nathan Daniels is a VGM addict who lives in the mighty PNW. When he’s not pretending to write, he’s playing Gang Beasts with his kids and wondering where the years went.