Note: This is the third post in a series. You’d think that’d be obvious with the “Part 3” in the title, dunkass. It’s like, do you even read the things shoved in front of your vacant, listless sight orbs? Clearly not, or I wouldn’t have to spend so much time chastising you for making me provide theoretical answers to questions I assume you made. Moron.
Part 2 (the part before this one) is here.
Part 1 (the part that is not before this, by process of elimination) is here.
And we’re back for the final installment! Thought you could avoid my typical music rant because this wasn’t a video game? Think again! (Actually you could easily avoid it by simply not reading, especially now that this is its own article. Just bear with me).Though Homestuck isn’t a computerized electronic television game of any sort, it does draw a lot of inspiration from video games. From this imitation has blossomed forth animations, interactive portions, and a ton of music. The music community around Homestuck has produced over 25 albums for a total of more than 500 songs. That’s an impressive amount of audio devoted purely to one webcomic. It’s also surprisingly good. There are some uninspired, dull and generally average songs, especially on larger albums. All the same, there’s a ton of music I like here, and some I absolutely love. The songs take a lot of inspiration from video game music, not just in use of chiptunes or electronic sounds but in the sense that they feature instrumental music with strong, recognizable melodies.
They rarely feature lyrics, but there is an exception for Nic Cage parody songs. In case you haven’t figured, let me be clear: Homestuck is friggin WEIRD.
Of course, this massive body of work puts me in a difficult position. If I enjoyed even 1/50th of the music here, it would be too much to cover, especially with how long this article has gone already. So I’m first going to cover songs that appear in Homestuck itself, the real essential stuff. I’ll be linking the updates in question, but going in sequential order of appearance and shying from specific spoilers here, for the benefit of those who haven’t read. Those who care can decide how much of a peek to sample, while those who couldn’t give a weasel’s whiskers can assuage their curiosity by diving into the later updates. Take note, the animations get progressively better over time, but also way more confusing to outsiders. Are your eardrums prepared? Then start the symphony and stick these songs straight down your sound shafts.
Explore – Animation
Of all the songs mentioned, Explore is probably my least favorite, but that speaks more to the extreme quality of the rest. It’s a simple, fairly repetitive song, but it the melody is solid and there’s a good atmosphere to it, appropriate for the mystery and build-up the animation provides. And that’s the real reason it deserves mention. There were plenty of songs before this, but this cap to Act 2 was the first time I was really impressed with an animation. Of course, the animation is fairly rudimentary compared to later portions, with a lot of slow pans and use of the standard copy-pasted art style. But it was the first animation that really hinted at the scale of things, of a multi-protagonist tale spawning countless years and (red) miles.
Beatdown Round 2 – Animation
Whereas many entries on this list are appropriately climactic, reoccurring themes of the comic, this is more of a personal favorite. Back in High School I came back to this page over and over just to listen to the song. It’s a rocking retro rhythm for a raucous rooftop rumble, and it just rubs me the right...uh, ray. This is the second version of the song, but while the first still sounds great, this one has a fuller, punchier sound without remixing or messing with the main melody much. The lead has this cool distorted effect that fades in and out and it’s got a sweet intro. It’s also the most spoiler-free animation on this list for new viewers, unless you count “someone falls down some stairs” as a spoiler. But to be fair, you were warned about the stairs.
I told you dog.
^ This is what the refrance
Sburban Jungle – Animation
This was the first End of Act animation I saw the day it came out, and I thought it was pretty gosh darn swell at the time. “Land sakes alive, we are cooking with petrol now!” Past Me thought. In retrospect, very little actually happens in it. It’s mostly sitting around or doing fairly normal things with dramatic camera pans. That being said, this music remains completely excellent. This central melody is one of the most frequently reoccurring in Homestuck. Though it was technically first shown in the End of Act 1 animation, that version is pretty bare. This version has a great backing track throughout that combines with super dramatic piano in a way that I really like. It’s fairly repetitive and I don’t have much else to say about it, but it’s a rock-solid melody with some excellent presentation.
Doctor – Interactive
Of all the many reoccurring themes in Homestuck, Doctor is the most prolific I can think of. There are plenty of iconic, reappearing melodies before and after. Yet this one continually shows up everywhere you could care to look, whether in brief snippets, full remixes, remixes or remixes and so on. There’s a reason for this: Doctor is fantastic. It brings a simple (and therefore easy to reference and remix) yet instantly memorable melody to the field then supports it with a very unique, echoing array of chiptunes, bass and bells. I wish I had a musical vocabulary better equipped to describe why the melody and harmonies intermingle so well here. Alas I do not, so you’ll just have to settle for me saying: The melody and harmonies intermingle so well here.
This first version of the song is more laid-back and ethereal than later renditions, which makes sense as it takes place during an interactive segment rather than an animation. It would fit right in with a video game soundtrack, and a very good one at that. The full non-looping version ends by transitioning into a lovely lingering ending where the bells and chimes ring alone. Is there a difference between bells and chimes? I’m afraid my belliteracy is shockingly poor. The point is it sounds amazing, the composer really knows how to work that bell-shaft. Bells have shafts, right? I mean, I guess they’d have to. Where else would you run the bow across?
Any bellbadier worth his salt knows to keep his bell’s clapper well-rosined.
Black – Animation
There is a lot of superb music to choose from here, but after all these years this still might be my favorite of all. The animation has some neat bits, but it’s the music that cements it in my mind forever. This song is so god damn sick, you guys. It’s so ill the music sheet was notated in its own vomit. They had to quarantine melodies living within a twenty mile radius. This song drank a glass comprised of the urine of a plague rat, the blood of an AIDs victim, and the mud behind a 7/11 where someone was viciously romanced and cannibalized. The concoction was garnished with the finger of a T-virus zombie, and filled with ice cubes frozen from 17th century sewer water. The little umbrella on top looks normal, but was probably made from wood of a cursed tree or something. I dunno about that one, I probably should’ve asked the bartender but was too distracted by this song being ridiculously, conspicuously, impossibly, preposterously, nauseatingly, deliriously, and god-damned UNBELIEVABLY SICKNASTY AS HELL!
So yeah, it’s pretty cool or whatever.
In all seriousness, it’s hard to even know where to start. The chiptunes employ a warbling sound heavy on vibrato and slide up and down like an orchestra at an ice rink. In other songs this might sound incongruous, but here even in spite of the otherwise menacing tone they fit perfectly. Their rate of oscillation, pitch and volume are all perfectly measured. Near the end hints of instability leak into the chiptune lead, which trills like crazy as the piece reaches its climax.
The piano is handled just as deftly. Those lonely high notes that kick off the melody at the start send a chill down my spine. The constantly echoing low chords keep a sense of menace to balance what otherwise might sound silly. To be fair, the animation it scores is menacing and ridiculous in equal measure. The wild scales that the piano runs up and down for much of the piece sound simply fantastic. I love how they’re one of the only channels left in the penultimate portion of the song, keeping heart-pounding pace before the low piano and drums thrum back on and the crazed lead gains an octave higher accompaniment for the final crescendo.
The bass solo that kicks in to transition from the intro to the main body sounds radical to the max and really gets things moving. I like how the drums slowly build up speed before that solo, and I love how crazy they go on and off in the middle of the piece. The more subdued and scratchy chiptune percussion during the portion at about 1:20 isn’t as in-your-face, but gets a respectable head-bob all the same. The muted heartbeats at the beginning and the eerie background noises throughout (can’t quite put my finger on what instrument that would fall under, chanting maybe?) both lend a great atmosphere to the song.
If you can maintain any sort of atmosphere while images like this are passing by, your music is doing a damn fine job.
Alright, in interest of keeping my head from exploding we should try and be fair about this. Is there anything I don’t like about Black? I can think of three things that aren’t nigh perfectly executed. So let’s get down to brass sax: The horn is a bit fake-sounding. I’ve always held that horns don’t work as well in low-fidelity or MIDI sound as strings do, and it’s particularly noticeable when they speed quickly through a bunch of notes. Perhaps I’m just picky with my brass. It still sounds decent, just not as excellent as the rest. Second among issues are the brief vocal bits. Again, they’re integrated fairly well all things considered. They wisely steer away from actual words and lend more of a subtle accent to the sound. But I’m just not as crazy about them as the rest of the parts being played. They’re okay. Last complaint may be the most petty of all: The sample at the very start. It’s muted and mixed with heartbeats to fit the mood, but its inclusion still strikes me as odd. I don’t like or dislike it much, it doesn’t really affect the rest of the piece. It’s just kinda...there. Then again, a later remixer found the sample source and did an awesome acapalla remix of it, so we’ll call it a wash.
Seems my list of cons snuck in more praise than pessimism. Yeah folks, I really like this one. As always it’s entirely possible you won’t feel the same. I mean did you read the last four paragraphs? If everyone was as enthusiastic about this as I was I’d be worried about our modern day management of mental health. All the same, Toby Fox (creator of Undertale and its similarly scintillating soundtrack) knocked this one out of the park. It may not be the pinnacle in terms of animation or length, but Black is a seriously fantastic musical achievement.
Descend – Animation
Another End of Act animation, because these tend to be when excrement hits the whirling device. At well over four minutes, this was the longest animation yet, and some significant events are spread across that running time. The acts get progressively longer as they go, and for reasons I won’t spoil things definitely change significantly after this. It was an important moment for the comic, and the music attempts to represent this with one massive remix of just about every major theme thus far.
What’s cool about this song is that despite being a remix of like a half dozen different previous songs, it’s all put together in a single package with its own sound. The later End of Acts can get even more elaborate than this, and they certainly get longer. However, they’re medleys more than cohesive wholes, with distinct pauses and changes in musical stylings. This isn’t to say those medleys can’t sound amazing, but it gives them less of their own identity.
But oh don’t you worry. There’s a marvelous medley we’re definitely gonna get to later.
For all that it’s quite pleasant to listen to, I don’t love anything here as much as I do Black. As far as highlights go, both segments post-static cuts are pretty cool. The first is an abrupt cut in sharp contrast to the serene preceding section, which gives it a nice punch. The second is the highlight of the song for me, with a light tinkling that slowly and dramatically builds to a massive conclusion. Throughout the whole piece I appreciate the mood maintained by constant echoing piano keys and high chimes. Descend certainly isn’t the top of my list, but it’s a good song worth your time.
Black Rose / Green Sun – Interactive
Here we have another personal favorite of mine. The intro to this is gosh darn gorgeous, but so is the main body of the piece. I have trouble figuring out which gosh darn gorgeous section is the gorgiest and goshiest. The intro brings a tremendous atmosphere to the table by supporting its echoing music box melody with some superb strings and a distant thunderstorm. The part where the cello and chanting come in sends chills down my spine every time. (Is that cello or bass? I mean how should I know, it’s not like I was in Orchestra for almost a decade. (Note: I was totally in Orchestra for almost a decade)). The steadily climbing notes of the intro build to this magnificent crescendo where the tension holds for a moment, then cuts to what sounds like record scratch having trouble swallowing. In a good way.
Then the main section bursts onto the scene. The chanting, drums and chimes here feature a lot of reverb and space for a towering, majestic sound. The ascending and descending chiptunes flit from one ear to another and provide an intriguing yet oddly fitting contrast. Distant sliding strings grant a deranged, melancholy tint to the proceedings. When this fuller melody rises to its climax it’s a feast for the ears. I quite simply adore how this song sounds.
My one complaint is the last third. This wasn’t in the looping version of the song from its place in the comic. It’s essentially the same but for a warbling electronic lead. Remember back when I was proposing to be married to Black and I said the vibrato-filled chiptunes were integrated really well? That’s not really the case here. They sort of fit, and clear effort has been expended to bring these almost drunken sounding electronic noises into pace with the rest of this grand, imposing sound. I don’t think it quite succeeds, and the melody it brings forth isn’t near as intensely memorable as earlier segments. Slight fumble in the last third aside, this is a hauntingly, brilliantly beautiful song.
I wonder if ANYTHING could possibly sound more beautiful? I wonder this aloud and at great volume.
Cascade – Animation
Here we are.
...man, where do I start with this one?
I’ve skipped a number of good songs, and this is the last I’ll cover in detail because the article is already a decent length and I sure as hell know this isn’t going to help. After this, I’ll toss some rapid-fire honorable mentions straight into your eardrums like the auditory shuriken of a Fresh Beatz Ninja, but that’s then. Now?
Homestuck consists of 7 acts. They get progressively longer as they go, barring the last which consists of a single animation. Act 5 upped the ante by splitting itself into two sub-acts, both of which were quite involved. The act was a vast, rambling, interconnected narrative of dozens of characters rife with time travel, dimension bending and countless wacky shenanigans. Its climax was Cascade. This 13 minute animation was the largest by far, and it justified its running time by having a ridiculous number of important events coincide. Coincide doesn’t seem the right word. Combine? No, still not right. Comingle? Even further off. Collide? No, that’s just silly, what kind of weirdo would describe a major event like that? Hm. Clearly, this is one of those mysteries of the universe we were never meant to solve, like Bigfoot or how many tongue-fondlings necessary to penetrate delicious name-brand candy.
But Cascade. That was a thing I was discussing. Homestuck captures such a wide range of emotions and experiences it would be difficult or reductionist to call something my favorite part. But if someone forced me to act out of character and commit to an opinion, I think I’d say Cascade was my favorite part of Homestuck. I’m still me though, so caveats: Cascade isn’t particularly funny. Cascade isn’t the longest or best animated, awards that go to the final updates. Cascade isn’t representative of the whole comic, and it’s filled with little flaws. That being said? Cascade is fantastic. Cascade took over 4000 pages of updates from over 20 character perspectives, constant stable time loops and all sorts of that nonsense, and made almost every piece connect to a single animation.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t plot developments, interesting animations or music after Cascade. There are plenty. But without specific spoilers (because that’s still a thing I’m avoiding), things after Cascade take a change in direction. It’s sort of like the second season of a show. Events are technically connected to the first, but it’s a new beginning of sorts that keeps old events at arm’s length for a while. I can understand why this happened, as the amount of mysteries the first half of this comic attempted to juggle is ri-gosh-darn-diculous. It’s like some kind of possessed octopus troubadour, tossing metaphorical plot chainsaws this way and that through not just the air but portals in time and space. It handled it fairly well given its complexity, but eventually gravity must take its course. Our weird octopus metaphor must go home to his squid jester wife, because you can’t hold off reveals forever with no payoff.
I’m sure things would’ve been worse off if Hussie kept jerking us around, but the fact remains that there’s less and less mystery and world-building as Homestuck goes on. This is unavoidable. More avoidable are vast breaks between updates and long divergences unimportant to the overall plot, but I said I wouldn’t get into spoilers. Besides, this isn’t an article about animations or plot analyses (analysii?). I wanted to give some context for why this was such an interesting and exciting time in the comic, but enough. Let’s talk about music.
Oh right, that’s a thing we’re here to talk about.
Though Black takes the medal for best individual song, Cascade is a prime contender, disqualified mainly because it isn’t an individual song. Cascade is divided into four songs, all of which I love. Those songs draw inspiration/are remixed from other songs, and the animation has more segments than a country-wide centipede convention. But for ease of digesting this unconscionably massive horrorterror of a meal we’ll be sticking to those clear musical divisions. First off, we have the only completely original song in the mix, fittingly (and confusingly) named Cascade.
The central beat is held by a pinging synth and steady guitar riff, a catchy combination. This opening quarter covers quite the range of emotions, but I have my favorite parts. The top of the list is probably the distorted guitar focusing in just after 1:30, with the slowly climbing wave of sound behind it. I really dig that guitar. That guitar is like a precious vein of radmantium ore, and I’m some kind of hyperactive mole-person one chunk away from crafting a mighty +4 Sword of Torturous Metaphors. It’s just a combination of sounds that really does it for me. The last portion of part 1 makes for some wonderfully tense accompaniment for the actual animation, but on its own isn’t anything amazing. So let’s move on to part 2 of Cascade: Flare.
Flare is a remix, one with the same name as its initial incarnation<http://homestuck.bandcamp.com/track/flare>. I wasn’t aware of this at first, because the original was never featured in any animations, and its debut album released the same day as Cascade. The original features the same core elements that make Cascade’s version great. It has measured waves of calm piano tempered by isolated low notes and contrasted by heavy, industrial percussion. The combination is surprisingly fitting. But my favorite part is exclusive to Cascade, kicking in around 5:20. The beat slowly picks up the pace and a catchy piano riff strolls on scene. Backup instruments are added one by one as the sound opens up, the tension rises, and the beat grows more frantic. At 5:52 a slick sounding higher piano accompanies the lead. They combine with a little trill of high notes at about 5:55 that makes a certain segment of my brain squeal like a prepubescent fangirl spotting her favorite boy band at a pig convention. It’s much more satisfying than my stupid metaphors can convey.
More than my stupid images can convey either.
Part 3 is a remix of Savior of the Dreaming Dead, which is a remix of Savior of the Waking World, which is a remix of Doctor. Told ya it cropped up a lot. This majestic remix with its grinding guitar, drubbing drums and sweeping sounds is pretty great in general. But my favorite parts come in when the bigger parts ease off and give way to the softer piano around 8:45. I love the sound of it, and the additional percussion that comes in shortly thereafter adds an admirable extra oomph. Then at about 9:45, we start to get an undercurrent of clanging bells that give a great sense of grandeur and urgency as this portion of the piece comes to an end. I think I’m starting to run out of steam for ridiculous metaphor, but don’t take it as a strike against the song. Just because the coal in my metaphorical brain boiler runs low and my train of thought grinds to a halt doesn’t mean the tracks it runs on aren’t paved in gold. Gold and, uh, good music. Because I’m trying to compliment this music. Yeah I don’t know how you pave something with music either. And train tracks aren’t really paved, are they? Okay let’s just move on.
The final part of the song is a remix of Black Rose/Green Sun. Though it must skip the beautiful intro of the original, I find as a whole it holds up even better than that song I already loved. The guitar is fun, but it’s around 12:00 that my appreciation really skyrockets. Whereas the latter sections of the original are home to warbling synths that I wasn’t particularly fond of, here we get this absolutely stunning arrangement of strings. Not only do they sound fantastic, they fit perfectly into the existing sound. It feels like they were meant to be there all along, and the original just misplaced them like a pair of musical car keys. And the car keys in this metaphor are...y’know I said I would stop this, didn’t I? Alright sorry, no more awkward metaphors.
It’s simply superb music, and the end is no exception. Amazing what a gradually slowing tempo and a sustained last note can do. The point is: I really like Cascade. All parts of Cascade. But my rambling praise for it can only go on so long. Well okay, technically that’s a lie. I could probably gush about music for far longer than any of you would care to read. But in spite of the fact that my average audience is a stray cat and the whisper of the wind, I try to keep them engaged. So it’s time we wrapped things up.
In the past week, I’ve posted over 10,000 words on Homestuck. I could definitely stand to write more, buuut...it’s time to pack this one in, folks. I’ve only touched the surface of the awesome songs in this community. So as a consolation prize, here’s a list of some other cool tunes with a single sentence description each.
In vaguely approximate order of release/appearance:
Three in the Morning (RJ’s I Can Barely Sleep In This Casino Remix) – Distant background noises, soft bass and a steady beat makes this a long, relaxing late night jam.
Sunslammer – A collection of rad synths carve a path for a simple electric guitar lead that’s downright...slammin.
Homestuck – An odd case of being named after the work but having little significance in it, this echoing soundscape of synths, strings and music box chimes is relaxing and thoughtful.
The Beginning of Something Really Excellent – This old favorite of mine is like surfing through the internet, but rather than an intense 90s rush it’s more of a chill, soothing drift through cyberspace.
Umbral Ultimatum – This cool, dramatic song is featured in a fittingly dramatic animation, but I didn’t have enough to say about it so it ends up here instead.
Elevatorstuck – A fun, goofy version of the above song Homestuck, frequently used in comedic scenes.
Karkat’s Theme – Fittingly grumpy yet ridiculous melody to accompany a loveable asshat of a character.
Warhammer of Zillyhoo – Almost definitely the finest musical achievement of our age.
From this day on, the quality of music shall be judged solely on how much it reminds you of Warhammer of Zillyhoo.
I’m a Member of the Midnight Crew – A surprisingly smooth and pleasant acapella remix of a hundred year old song thrown in the first two seconds of Black. I retroactively linked this earlier, but I'm going to pretend I didn't. I'm also going to pretend this is one sentence.
Love You (Feferi’s Theme) – In a sea of character themes, this one makes a splash with upbeat, laidback waves of guitar and chiptunes that wash a smile onto my face, especially at 1:10.
Fuchsia Ruler – This groovy tune has a really unique sound to it, like an echoing rave of electronic synths and dubstep, but well-integrated and without being as overpowering or repetitive as that usually means.
Davesprite – The most radtastic of character themes, filled to the brim with Sega Genesis-era jams of most heinous baditude.
Killed by BR8K Spider!!!!!!!! - A simple base melody doesn’t stop this on-and-off madcap dash of a song from getting your 8lood pumping.
Unite Synchronization – Head-bobbing beats undercut another catchy melody put through its paces in increasingly grand fashion, with a sweet bass solo thrown in for good measure.
Even in Death – Another case where I feel late-game synths don’t match the tone, but that opening soundscape with the eastern strings is bloody fantastic.
Moonsetter – A simple melody, some simple strings and simple piano played simply well, it’s all simply pleasant.
Collide – A great collection of component songs that deserves its own section, but will have to settle for a couple extra sentences. I don’t feel I’ve spent long enough digesting/distancing myself from it, but currently my favorite segments are Oppa Toby Style and Heir of Grief. The former is just a lot of fun and covers tons of ground with previous themes. I was originally disappointed that the latter ended the animation without bringing up previous melodies, but it’s definitely an intense and admirable song in its own right.
Looks like the real Heir of Grief is whoever ignores this awesome song!
...it is past one in the morning and I may be SLIGHTLY off my game.
Act 7 – A similar sentiment to Collide, but basically: Really neat mixture of previous themes but didn’t blow me away, possibly due to high expectations.
What else can be said about Homestuck? It was a long, rambling mix of sincerity and comedy, admirably written but losing some steam over time. Sounds a lot like this article.
...It’s okay, you can laugh.
...I’m a very funny person.
...The kind that you laugh at.
...ha. Ha ha.
8000 words is a lot of ground to cover. There are plenty of specifics I could discuss, details I could examine more thoroughly. But not only would that be less entertaining, I don’t think I have it in me. 10,000+ words is already far more than I expected to transcribe. But I wouldn’t have spewed so many sentences if the topic wasn’t so engrossing. Homestuck affected a significant portion of my life. I read it, discussed it, pondered it, bonded over it, listened to it, laughed at it, was exasperated by it, was captivated by what it inspired, and was inspired by it myself.
If you haven’t read the comic and it sounds interesting to you, give it a try. It morphs over time, particularly after the first act or two, so if you have the time or inclination I’d recommend going that far to see how you feel. It definitely has its ups and downs, but if nothing else, it’s unique. To those of you who have already read this hulking thing, all I can say is it’s been one wild ride. Hopefully both groups enjoyed the little portal I’ve opened into my life by discussing this silly, sprawling and friggin strange piece of media. In the end, there’s really only one thing I can say for certain:
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