It’ll Take Your Mind Again And Again: “Exile Vilify” by The National

Copyright © 2011 by The National.

Video game music, much like video games themselves, is something that the mainstream media is slowly coming to terms with as a viable form of art and entertainment.  There’s a lot to be said about Sephiroth’s theme from Final Fantasy VII or the rich soundtrack to the Halo series because they enrich the overall gaming experience, but sometimes there’s music beyond gameplay.  Sometimes we get a song that video games inspire.

And so we get “Exile Vilify” by a Cincinnati-based band called The National.  This song was created as a single and released last year in conjunction with Portal 2, the sequel to Portal created by Valve.  It only appears in one small section of the game, a Ratman’s den in Test Chamber Three in Chapter Two.

The den will look something like this. Copyright © 2011 by Valve.

The song itself is a soft, haunting melody of piano, violin, and vocals by Matt Berninger.  The lyrics touch upon a never-ending struggle, the ache of being banished and despised, and the seeming futility of one’s plight.  It’s appropriate if you know anything about Doug Rattmann or the whole sad history of Aperture Science, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy it.

I think I enjoy this song both for what it is and what it’s inspired.  On one hand, it’s a great melancholic song, worthy of any soundtrack.  But on the other hand, Portal fans have done some very cool things with it.  Valve encouraged them, for example, with a contest to create music videos using “Exile Villify” to tell a story about Portal games or Doug Rattmann in particular.

For your viewing and listening pleasure, here’s my personal favorite (courtesy of YouTube user MikeMov89Portal2), which didn’t make first place in the contest, but “1.00000000001th Place” (though the winning video is still very good in its own way and has more sock puppets):

I highly recommend you give this song a listen, then go and play Portal 2, and then give The National and Valve some more love.

Bibliography: The National.  “Exile Vilify” (single).  Written by Matt Berninger.  Performed by Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner.  Used in the game Portal by Valve Corporation.  Release date: April 19, 2011.

A Dark, Romantic Steampunk Ballad: “The Ballad Of Mona Lisa” By Panic! At The Disco

Album cover for Vices & Virtues. Copyright © 2011 by Warner Music Group.

So I guess have Conan O’Brien to thank for introducing me to both this crazy awesome band called Panic! At the Disco, as they played their new hit “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” on his show back in March.  Just by the first few notes, I was hooked–and after you watch the music video below, maybe you’ll be, too.

The Song: Soulful Singing, Powerful Playing

“Mona Lisa” is the first track on Vices & Virtues and a pretty good opener at that.  The first few seconds are just tinkling piano keys, followed by a steady bass as lead singer Brendon Urie pulls us into the ballad about the mysterious–and dare I say treacherous–Mona Lisa.  Then it kicks us into hard-hitting guitar riffs and pounding drums (not unlike “Mother Earth” by Within Temptation, but less heavy metal and more alternative rock).  Then comes the change in melody at 2:12, dropping us back into piano keys and Urie’s soulful voice carrying us along a passionate plea to the titular lady… and then kicking it back into the chorus reprise and finale with the same passion.

The Music Video: Just Your Typical Haunted Steampunk Funeral

So that's what a Victorian era rock band would've looked like! Copyright © 2011 by Warner Music Group.

By itself, the song is great, but it was finding the music video the day after I watched its performance on Conan that sold me.  The entire three-and-a-half minute sequence is a loving tribute to all things steampunk.  And why not?  They even managed to get the League of STEAM to be extras in it.

The scene depicts a steampunk-style funeral in the Old West, as Brandon Urie (in between singing) plays the ghost of the deceased man being honored.  The video reveals that he’s invisible all the guests–except for one small girl–and trying to point out his onetime lover and current undertaker, Mary, is the one responsible for his untimely demise.  In between all that, we get some fantastic shots of Panic! At the Disco playing retro-style rock band instruments; my particular favorite is the banjo-turned-electric guitar.  Brandon Urie (when acting as the lead singer) also gets the most impressive steampunk outfit I’ve ever seen, a crazy menagerie of gears, goggles, and gold plating secured to a slick suit and top hat.

Final Verdict: It Rocks On So Many Levels

Both the song and the music video are a fascinating mixture of soulful melody and pure rocking fun.  Just the steampunk elements in the video alone was reason enough for me to want to review this song, although the music itself is worthwhile.  Most people probably know Panic! At the Disco by their older and more popular single “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” but this one deserves equal interest and affection.

Both “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” and the album Vices & Virtues are available for download on iTunes.

Bibliography: Panic At The Disco!  “The Ballad of Mona Lisa.”  Vices & Virtues.  CD.  New York: Warner Music Group, 2011.

Cowboys, Robots, And Rock: Muse’s Knights Of Cydonia

Black Holes and Revelations album cover. Copyright © 2006 by Muse.

When artists say that they have a muse to spark their creativity, I guess mine is a bit literal.  The UK rock band known as Muse is–in my humble opinion–one of the most awesome-sounding bands ever, producing some of the most wonderful melodies I’ve ever heard.

Some of my readers may remember one of my earliest reviews being about the three-part Muse song called “Exogenesis: Symphony,” which was released on the 2009 album The Resistance.  Today, I review yet another end-of-the-album track: “Knights of Cydonia,” as found on the 2006 album Black Holes and Revelations.

The Song Itself

The opening of the song is alone worth the price of admission.  The first few tones are reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mixed in with the counterpoint of a few horses neighing and some stock sci-fi sound effects.  The hum swells before launching into an epic guitar riff that recurs throughout the song, backed up by the dance beat bassline that calls to mind a horse in full gallop.  And when the songs reaches its end, it comes off like the end of riding an excellent wave on a surfboard–the end of a six-minute-long musical adventure that you’ll want to experience again and again.

Lyrically, the song’s message is standard for the rock genre: stand up for freedom, individual rights, and personal expression. Even so, Bellamy sings that message beautifully, sometimes soulfully and sometimes in a piercing howl.

As I said, the song itself is an amazing experience the first time you hear it.  But it becomes even more alluring when you watch the music video.

Selected stills from the music video for "Knights of Cydonia."

Filming “The Knights of Cydonia”

Since the original song opens with synthetic sounds of horses and laser guns, the music video visually runs with that premise as far as it can.  What we get is a spaghetti western-style story featuring a “Man With No Name” going up against the evil sheriff of the town of Cydonia (Population: 143) for the sake of the woman he loves.  Our hero comes across robots in the desert, laser gun duels at high noon, kung fu fight scenes, a strange woman riding a unicorn, and Muse itself in a quick cameo as a holographic band playing in a saloon.

It’s a fun little video, albeit some versions are censored due to a short but graphic sex scene in the middle.  You can find the uncensored version at the website for the video’s director, Joseph Khan.

Final Verdict

“Knights of Cydonia” remains one of my all-time favorite songs, right up there with “Holiday” by Green Day, which is only the most awesome song ever.  And the music video is one of my favorites as well, taking what is merely awesome and setting it over the classic badass scenario.

Bibliography: Muse.  “Knights of Cydonia.”  Black Holes and Revelations.  New York: Warner Music Group, 2006.