There are many reasons for which I love Disco Elysium. It’s one of my all time favorite games for its writing, its mechanics, and its flawless, mournful, gut-wrenching atmosphere. This atmosphere is created by a fearless dedication to the world in which the game is set, to its politics, to its realities, and to the people which inhabit it. But it is also generated by the incredible soundtrack, created (in most part) by British Sea Power. This soundtrack does a phenomenal job of amplifying and fleshing out the messages and themes of the game, touching upon its inherent melancholy but also the hope and joy that are scattered, in contrast through it.
To get a sense of this contrast, all you need to do is listen to the first two tracks of the soundtrack, “Instrument of Surrender” and “Whirling-In-Rags, 8 AM”. The first opens with one of the most achingly beautiful and sad horn sounds I’ve heard. That sound recurs throughout the game, mostly when you’re wandering around the city it is set in, echoing the dejected and lost beauty of the place. The track builds on this sound as its core element, creating melodies on top of it, modifying it in hauntingly beautiful ways. It seems as if the entire track unfurls from that sound and slowly builds towards the horn climax near the four minute mark, betraying the first tell-tale sound of that contrast we mentioned above, the beauty of the lost hope of Revachol.
“Whirling-In-Rags, 8 AM”, drawing its name from the bar/inn/discotech in which much of the game is set, contains even more of that lost hope. It is an inherently happier tune, its main line much more upbeat and rhythm oriented. The guitars and the playful vocals which interject every now and again do a great job of setting that playful tone, giving the track its uplifting sheen. But if you contrast it with “Instrument of Surrender”, a contrast almost forced on you by the return of the horns, then you start to feel that sadness which undercuts all of Disco Elysium.
Even when you’re “whirling in rags”, even in a place dedicated to merriment and celebration, there is the sense of the fallen. First, the fallen world, the fallen social experiment but then, second, the character’s fall, the loss of a man’s potential. And then, finally, your own fall, your own lost potential, your own dreams which you cling to with a hope that’s all the more powerful for being, essentially, hopeless. As the soundtrack continues it alights on these concepts and then takes off again, approaching this contrast from many angles. There’s ambience, more guitar oriented tracks, beautiful samples, and more but it’s all about that pastel colored, dogged, resistance to and acceptance of defeat which makes Disco Elysium so, so, so great.