Floex: Samorost 3 Soundtrack
Minority Records

Electronic artist Tomáš Dvorák (aka Floex) has multiple irons in the fire. On the one hand, the Prague-based producer issues pure artist album and EP statements (2011's Zorya, 2013's Gone) on labels such as Minority Records, Quazi Delict, and Denovali Records; on the other, the clarinetist, composer, and multimedia artist creates soundtracks for games by Amanita Design. As the title of this latest release indicates, the material he produced for the third installment in the point-and-click game Samorost was designed as the follow-up to soundtracks he created for the Samorost 2 (2006) and Machinarium (2009) games.

If you're inclined to position games-related music projects at a lower level than unadulterated artist products, Samorost 3 might end up changing your mind. Regardless of the circumstances of its creation, it's a remarkably sophisticated collection of music that encompasses a plethora of styles and speaks very highly in favour of Dvorák's talents as a composer, arranger, and instrumentalist. At twenty-three tracks and seventy-eight minutes, it is long and a lot to digest, but the superior quality of the material generally keeps one engaged throughout (on that point, one is tempted to accept his claim that he spent at least two-and-a-half years on the project). And though Dvorák is responsible for most of what's presented, he's also assisted by a small number of guests, among them Tomáš Jamník (cello, viola da gamba, ehru). The story for the game naturally involves multiple characters and apparently seven different planets, but anyone coming to the music sans supplemental material won't suffer dramatically from its absence: Samorost 3 holds up perfectly well as a pure listening experience.

Interestingly, the set's longest piece, as well as one its most ambitious, comes first, almost as if Dvorák wished to make a strong as possible an argument for the project at its beginning. Symphonic in scope, “Samorost 3 Main Theme” smoothly segues between different moods and styles over the course of its eight minutes, with dramatic percussion-and-strings episodes alternating with others featuring his favourite instrument, the clarinet, at the forefront. The tracks that follow all differ markedly from one another, yet nevertheless manage by album's end to sound like connecting parts of a larger whole. There are flirtations with electronica (“Constructing the Toadstool Rocket”), Balinese gamelan (“Monk Planet Main Theme”), wobbly dubstep (“Robotic Knight Fight”), and even Balearic-styled chill-out (“Lianas”); many are playful in tone, and in some cases, a strong equivalence can be drawn between the title and the musical content. “Mushroom Picker Dance” and “Little Devils' Tune,” to cite two examples, very much mirror the titles Dvorák's given them, and something similar could be said of others.

As one might expect, certain tracks make stronger impressions than others. Unusual synthesizer treatments and clarinet playing in, respectively, “Volcanic Vent Planet Main Theme” and “The Celebration” catch one's ear, and “Taste of Tea (Cosmic Version)” is elevated not so much by the grand orchestral scope of the arrangement and its slow, lurching pulse but by the affecting cry of Jamník's cello and viola da gamba contributions; his playing on “Mandragora” also helps that Eastern-tinged excursion stand out from the crowd. Whatever the differences between them, all testify to the remarkable levels of imagination and invention Dvorák brought to their creation.

November 2016