For Seattle composer Lena Raine, last January’s video game Celeste was exactly the right project, at exactly the right time. The heartfelt puzzle-platformer, which follows a young girl on a cathartic journey to overcome anxiety and depression by climbing a treacherous mountain, stands as one of the hottest indie games of the decade, with over half a million copies sold last year alone. It received near-universal praise from critics, many of whom singled out Raine’s evocative, catchy electronic soundtrack as a major highlight of an already stellar title.
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP, Cassette
Accordingly, when awards season rolled around, the accolades came rushing in—including four nominations at The Game Awards in Los Angeles. Continuing her victory lap, Raine performed in the ceremony’s grandiose opener alongside legendary Hans Zimmer, as well as film-scoring heavyweights Sarah Schachner and Harry Gregson-Williams. Mind you, this was Raine’s second live performance ever. “It was one of those surreal things,” Raine says. “The Game Awards is so distinctly L.A. It’s very otherworldly to me, because I don’t live there; physically I don’t live there, and also in my headspace I don’t live there. I don’t know how it ever happened, in a lot of ways. We’re not that kind of game. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome: Part of me thinks, ‘What a fluke.’ What a weird thing to get wrapped up into, that I don’t know could ever happen again. But maybe it’s a sign of things changing.”
After a breakout success like Celeste, and a brush with “the big L.A. hype thing,” as she calls it, one might expect the mainstream games industry to headhunt this fast-rising new talent. But the major studios have not yet come knocking. Raine suspects that the teams behind video game blockbusters might scratch their heads at how to take her music—which feels personal, intimate, and complex—and turn it into something epic. She wonders the same thing. “If this was Bohemian Rhapsody or something, you’d cut from [the Game Awards] to suddenly playing stadiums across the country,” she says. “That’s not the trajectory. People maybe have that expectation, like, I got my moment in the spotlight and now I’m going to explode everywhere. But I’ve mostly just kept doing the same stuff that I love doing, and I’m kind of OK with that also.”
Slow and steady is working out well for Raine. This March marked the release of her debut solo album the release of her absorbing debut album Oneknowing, which feels inspired by both games and turn-of-the-century downtempo trip-hop. She has released game soundtracks for the charming Chicory and her own interactive novel, ESCISM. And then there’s a lot of Celeste, which has spawned remix and outtake collections, as well as a Raine-approved piano-only adaptation by Trevor Alan Gomes.
But in an age where franchises never seem to die, the Celeste team insists that the end really is nigh. The game’s free, just-released expansion is called Farewell. It’s not just a name. “We wanted an elegant way to close the door on it,” Raine says. “We’re not making Celeste 2, we’re not doing any of these things that the fans would probably want us to do because they want to live in the world of Celeste forever. I love that people are so invested in those characters, because it means we succeeded. We made something that people genuinely care about. That’s awesome. It can live on in the ways that fans take it from there.”
Raine’s soundtrack for Celeste: Farewell is an ambitious undertaking that expands greatly on the sonic palette of the original—more strings, bigger percussion, more layers—while also borrowing melody lines and synth sounds from earlier Celeste recordings. It’s a reflection of the skills Raine’s honed post-Celeste, but mostly an outpouring of gratitude for fans, wrapped up in a heartfelt farewell.
“Some people are super into constantly having this drip-feed of things that they have emotional investment in, and that’s cool if they want to go there,” Raine says of the game’s impassioned fans, likening them to the communities who rally around Marvel movies or Star Wars. “But I want to have a fully formed thing. Like, this whole thing in its entirety is wonderful, and it exists as it is.”
For her Big Ups picks, Raine chose music that straddles worlds. Her picks stretch five countries and a handful of genres, most of which contain both electronic and analog instrumentation. “The common trend with a lot of the musicians that I tend to like is that they really incorporate many different styles into their music,” she says.
Chipzel is like me in that she never really sits still with a certain kind of sound. She’s always pushing herself. I think she does a really cool job of taking those chiptune sounds and making it the DNA of her music, but then not being afraid to push out and do really cool things: bringing in live instruments, bringing in analog synths, and really keeping her core aesthetic, but pushing out in unexpected ways. On Dicey Dungeons, there’s a brass section in there, and just really funky jams—really cool stuff.
Moment of Respite
For people that donate monthly on my Patreon site, I have a Discord server set up where they can discuss amongst themselves and talk about music. It has become this really neat community of like-minded folks that love to talk about music and artistic stuff together. Laurent Désautels-Séguin has been sharing his progress putting together this album there. He linked to it in [Discord] chat the other day. It is really cool, relaxing, ambient stuff—but it all has this sort of narrative to it. I was really taken with the album.
Henry Saiz & Band
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP, Other Vinyl
This album is amazing. He basically wrote all of these songs on the road in all these different locations, and with collaborators from those locations. I did a little top 10 albums of the year list last year, and this came out on top. I just thought it was such a cool thing. It’s so stylistically varied, but then it also has a very solid core to it. That’s the kind of stuff I love—finding new music on Bandcamp from people that I wouldn’t have necessarily heard of otherwise. I’m still really moved by it.
Jukio is legitimately one of the most pleasant and upbeat and genuine people that I know. He’s such a positive force in a lot of people’s lives, and I think that really comes across in the music that he makes, especially his solo music. He grew up in Japan and also Finland, so there are all of these multicultural aspects to his music. Both of us have talked about collaborating on something in the future, and I’d really love to do that.
Piety of Ashes
This is an album that my girlfriend Erica [known to most as the visual artist Aurahack] introduced me to a couple years ago, probably pretty close to when it came out. Flashbulb’s Benn Jordan is just one of those artists that really stands out to me. There’s always something interesting, something new about the tracks on this album that really keeps me listening to it closely every time.
Trevor Alan Gomes
Piano Collections: Chrono Trigger
This album is the reason why I got Trevor to do the Celeste piano collection, because Chrono Trigger is one of my favorite games of all time. It was basically the first game that I ever played that made me realize that games could stir me emotionally, that they could tell stories that I got personally invested in. So it has a really big significance to me. I’ve heard so many covers of Chrono Trigger songs over the years, because it’s one of those classics that everyone covers. I did my own cover way back when I was starting music—it’s kind of garbage. Trevor’s arrangements were the first time that I’d heard someone really, really get it to its core. I felt like these arrangements understand why the music was written, and how it was put together in a certain way—and they expand upon it. I took a mental note when I first heard it: If I ever had someone arrange my music for piano, I wanted Trevor to do it. So when Materia Collective reached out to me about a piano album, I was like ‘Yes, and I know exactly who I want to do it, too.’
Matthew S Burns
Eliza Original Soundtrack
Eliza is Matthew’s baby: a visual novel that he wrote and then worked on with the team that he’s done music for and writing for in the past, Zachtronics. It was a thing that took a lot of people by surprise, because Zachtronics is a team that mostly makes super, super intricate puzzle games. Matthew was working on this around the same time I was working on ESC. So I released ESC, and he was still working on his game. We had a chat about scoring your own writing and the challenges of that, so it was really cool to see the results of that conversation sort of manifest in the game and then also the soundtrack. I think it’s a really solid ambient album that you can put on any time. But it also scores the game really well.