Today’s article is going to focus on a quite dark and foreboding theme, “Villains of a Sort”. This track appeared originally in Kingdom Hearts I, but also makes an appearance a few times in Kingdom Hearts Union Cross as well. We’re going to talk about a type of music that has gained a lot of popularity in recent times—at least to my knowledge—ambience.

First, let’s listen to “Villains of a Sort”:

This is such an interesting track, in a few ways, mostly because of how different it is compared to the rest of Yoko Shimomura’s work. Most of the music in the Kingdom Hearts series in general is very upbeat, bouncy, whimsical, and light. This is not at all to say that Shimomura-san is not good at writing music that is sad, sedentary, serious, and dark, but it is just very interesting and striking when she does.

The term “ambient” can be used to refer to any piece of music that focuses on setting an overall tone or atmosphere rather than rhythm or structure. In the case of “Villains of a Sort”, it is one of the only pieces in Kingdom Hearts that I would consider truly ambient: yes, so many musical pieces in this game do an exceedingly brilliant job of setting a tone for the scene, but rarely if ever do those pieces not include any sort of beat.

If you listen to this track, we do have definite pitches, played by a strong, sustained string section, low piano notes accompanied by timpani accents, and flute flurries. But, what is missing is an overall time signature and beat.

This track usually plays when there is a bit of mystery to the action: that is, there may be a character who has not been introduced yet, there may be a topic of conversation that is not completely clear, or there may even be a character present whom we can see others talking to, but is not in the camera view for players to see.

“Villains of a Sort” does an absolutely excellent job in creating a very dark, mysterious, and downright unsettling tone. Adding on to what I explained in a previous article about rhythm and syncopation, it is very unnerving when a piece of music does not have a beat. Even though I’ve listened to this track many times already—in-game and just through the OST—my mind is still subconsciously scrambling to find a beat (a futile effort). And after a few listens to solidify the instrumentation, I stopped listening to the piece because it’s just creepy…!

I don’t listen to much ambient music, so what is your favorite ambient piece or song? Although the piece highlighted in this article is a dark one, ambience certainly can refer to bright and happy pieces as well! Let me know in the comments what tracks come to mind when you think of “ambient” music. ♪

Stay tuned for more Single-Track Analysis Articles of tracks from Kingdom Hearts Unchained X / Kingdom Hearts Union Cross! One article every day in the month of April 2017!

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