Review - Phantasmagoria

Music composed by Nobuo Uematsu

It was inevitable, one might think. A solo album by the Maestro himself, 
Nobuo Uematsu, direct from the heart and free from the restraints of 
video-game scoring. After all, if the man can craft such amazing 
compositions for games, a solo album from him ought to be simply phenomenal.

Phantasmagoria is that solo effort, and it's a fresh listening experience. 
With that said, the album actually forgoes any element of 'phenomenality'; 
this is a bit more subtle than your average Final Fantasy score, and you 
certainly won't find any throbbing battle tracks here. Instead, the music 
is calm and richly evocative: there's an emotional undercurrent flowing 
in most every track, and to listen is to be swept away by it.

A lot of the music is imbued with a strong evocation of images, places, 
and moments: the opening 'Ame no Hi' (On Rainy Days), for instance, is 
reflective and moody. Its instrumentation is simplistic to say the least 
- a bass line, synth, and acoustic guitar snippets - but it works in that 
trademark Uematsu way. [1]

Most of the pieces bring a more acoustic palette to the table. 
'People of Maya' is textured with melodic guitar and flute, and it's 
a carefree tune that conjures up breezy images of ancient Mayan life. 
'Angel Hands' has a soothing touch with its warm violin phrases. 
'Revival of a Tender Experience' is sentimental and, well, tender. 
It's also quite beautiful. Wonderful insrumentation, with just the 
right touch of emotion. 

The title track, 'Phantasmagoria', is a masterpiece. It opens with 
delicate synth harmonies and a wordless choir floating in the background; 
as the track flows on, cascading piano melodies roll in, to be replaced 
near the end by equally beautiful flutework. The overall effect is that 
of an ethereal, dreamy soundscape - it unfurls a world before your eyes, 
whisks you away into it, and makes you wish you never had to leave.

'Mirrors' is a piano solo that simply puts all those FF Piano Collections 
in the shade. Listen to it for yourself, words can't do it justice. 
'Lots of Little' is a mood piece with a slightly morose timbre, and 
is all the better for it. 

'Dogs on the Beach' is neither subtle nor deep. But by golly, I can't 
help making it my second favourite track: it's such a happy little 
ditty. This is so catchy, you'll probably find yourself humming along 
to it. 'Deep Sea Blue' makes great use of brass in its opening, and 
warbles on with a nicely mellow flute/horn motif.

The last track is the Final Fantasy theme, beginning here with a vocal 
alto solo. Harpsichord and slightly exotic percussion flesh out the 
tune in a very different mode, which makes for a nice listen. It's not 
orchestral, but we've had enough of that already, haven't we?

So, to close - terribly good stuff, this. It's by Uematsu, and you 
know that's reason enough to give it a listen. So go listen.

Overall rating: 9 out of 10.


[1] Overlaid on top of the music for this track is a woman speaking in 
Japanese - about rainy days, I suppose. (Real tough guess, eh?) Some 
people don't like the effect much - spoken words can drown out the music 
- while some just hate it. I personally think it's not all that bad. 
There are three tracks with overlaid voices (Deep Sea Blue and Lots of 
Little, apart from the first), and all of them are musically impeccable.