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Album Review

Worldbuilder by Dream Commander

Author: Cocaine for Toothaches

Final Mario Sonic Zelda Fantasy XXII

I’m listening to Worldbuilder by Dream Commander, the project up for discussion today.  And the all-encompassing thought I have is “this is absolutely a soundtrack for an early 90’s 16-bit video game.”  And maybe it has that intention, I don’t know.  Even if not, I’m saying it does.  I get no sense that this album is supposed to be full of pop hits played at the club, making the charts or anything like that.  It’s nostalgic video game music, and I will treat it as that.

*One issue.  

I’m not a gamer, so how am I going to frame this piece in those terms?  All the Epic of Zelda, Wonderful Mario Brothers, Sonic the Aardvark, Last Fantasy and Sandhill et al passed my teenage years right on by.  (I played Mario Kart and F Zero a couple times, but that was about it.)  I was aware of these games, and kind of remember what their music sounded like, however, and this new album triggered those repressed memories.  So I’m going to try to set this review up in terms of memories of games gone by, but they will be of imaginary games, since I have no actual reference for playing the adventure games of thirty years ago.  Here we go, getting nostalgic for things that may or may not have ever existed.  It’s like a review of liminal space and vaporwave put together, but I assure you this album is neither.  I don’t think.  I don’t remember.


“King commander”— title sequence/credits

Right away this album makes use of what will be a recurring theme—primitive waveform sounds.  Much like sounds I was experimenting with as a teenager programming a Commodore 64, these sounds take me straight back there.  Very dirty, chaotic, rudimentary noise and sawtooth waveforms being stuttered and pitch-bent into some semblance of shape.  I keep instinctively reaching for the F keys on the right of the keyboard to experiment with different waveforms, that’s how strong the memory is, after all this time.  I can see the title + credits flash by on the screen in my head, accompanied by a very badly pixelated representation of a flame and/or dragon or something.  


“End Game”— getting ready for the quest, ironically

This is a cleaner piece, with discernible structure and melody, and more musical synth sounds.  With trap hi-hats.  This is the screen that loops when choosing characters/provisions/weapons/whatever is actually done at this phase, right before the gameplay actually starts.  Although I didn’t play these games, my friends did, and this brings back memories of the screen that would hold, music looping, while they went to grab something to eat.  Which would take twenty-five minutes for some reason.


“5000 Year Old Pyramids”— the adventure begins

We’re off!  We’re ready, we have our character, our provisions, our weapons, and in real life we have our 6-pack of jolt cola and Stouffer’s french bread pizza on hand.  The synth staccato minor-key ostinato perfectly matches our character marching from left to right on the way into a new, unexplored realm, and the violin-like synth melody on top with borrowed chromatics starts us feeling a sense of impending terror and doom, yet we press on regardless.  It is what we must do.


“Dark Mode”— just what the name implies

We are exploring our way into the tunnel system now, or tomb, or forest at night.  This track starts with a polyphonic minor-key electric piano part vamp, which keeps a lonely kind of company as we trek on, meeting shady characters and dubious enemies in our quest to save someone from something.  The song progresses along at a sullen pace, urging us forward but not too expectantly, for we know not what lies behind the next wall/tree, let alone just off-screen.  Mom, I can’t feed the cat right now I’m in the middle of something important!  Get Jamie to do it, it’s her cat anyway jeeeez gawww.  Hell yeah I want some lemonade.


“Pythian Games”— level in the clouds

Is this “I’ll Wait” by Van Halen?  No, no it isn’t.  The keyboard intro had me wondering though:  some Sega Genesis version of a cover song?  No.  This piece never actually leaves the synth intro.  No other instruments, no percussion, just this.  I’d have to equate it with the backdrop of some game level in the sky, for lack of a better reference—although this is in a minor key so I feel a bit off even recommending that.  If this really were a celestial scene I’d want something more light and airy-sounding.  This seems a bit to solemn for that.  It’s actually it’s almost funeral in its feel.  In fact, now that I think about it, it’s also reminiscent of Elton John’ s synth intro to “Funeral for a Friend,” although that song features a bit more Bach-inspired contrapuntal movement, whereas “Pythian Games” is a bit more drawn out in its performance.  

But where to really put it in the context of a video game?  I’m a bit stumped at that.  Maybe after trudging through the forest casting spells and whatnot our intrepid hero comes across a graveyard?  Time to do a little black magic to conjure some supernatural help against the level boss?  I suppose that’s possible, and that scene should fit this music quite well.  


“Climax Beach”—last part of the perilous journey

Here we find our hero making his way through the last part of the dangerous quest before the final confrontation.  8-bit percussion with more sophisticated synthwave synth patches accompany us at a much more insistent rate.   The heartrate increases, and it’s not just because we’re on the last can of jolt.  The pace has quickened, the twisty drum rhythm has messed with our sense of time, so it seems like everything is happening now.  The tempo isn’t insane, but the confounded drum cadence contrasted with the serenity of “Pythian Games” has us in a rush.  We’re almost there, we’ve got to hurry!


“Life Flex Ultra”— victor’s theme

We won!  We did it!  We did that thing the game said we should do while simultaneously trying to prevent the thing from happening!  We’ve saved Princess Mayonnaise from the clutches of the Burger Boss and all that.  And here we have a theme perfectly fitting of serenading our victory march to the winner’s podium, and accompanying the end title sequence.  It’s actually difficult for me to explain why this is the perfect winner’s motif, but it just is.  When you hear it, you’ll immediately recognize the perfection.  I truly wish I could explain it in musical terminology that would be convincing to anyone else.  

It just is perfect, because it is.


Play Again Y/N ?


So now what?  Do we hit ‘reset’ and play again?  Do we write ‘BOB SUX’ on the leader board to memorialize our accomplishments forever?  Do we empty out the pee bottle (6 cans of jolt had to go *somewhere)?  Do we finally get up and feed the cat?  What I will say is this:  if you are a game developer, and you’re looking for a retro game soundtrack to take the player back to the golden age of video games, look no farther then Dream Commander.  Hire him to do your game score.  I wasn’t sure at all what I was getting into with this album, I had never heard it (or this artist) before and was not clued into anything beforehand.  But as it turns out, I learned that this is actually retro gaming soundtrack mastery, combining sounds of the old with sounds of the slightly newer, perfectly evoking the nostalgia of yesteryear, which is big business these days.  Listen to this album, hear what Dream Commander can do for you, then hire him.  Pay him whatever he wants, and if that includes escorts and blow so be it.  That’s just the cost of doing business, and in this world you get what you pay for.  

Worldbuilder released on August 12, 2022, and can be purchased HERE
You can find Dream Commander at the links below:







About the author: Coke has been around music a long, long time. As a child in a family of musicians and in-and-around a family-owned studio in the 1980’s, he has seen the ups and downs of the music scene and lifestyle. He plays/has played several instruments including piano/keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, and even dabbled on low brass and drums for a bit, as well as being a bang-average vocalist. Coke studied (and won departmental awards in) composition, theory, and classical guitar performance during undergraduate work, as well as taught private guitar lessons for children and adults. He spent ten years (up until the pandemic) as a superstar guitarist/bassist/musical director in the CCM world, before crashing down to earth, humbly surrendering all that non-existent fame and fortune for the quiet life. He now endeavors on synthwave-adjacent music, working as a shipping boss, and living with his wife and (some of) his six grown children in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, USA.



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