Next week will see the release of No Man’s Sky, a sci-fi game about exploring a huge, procedurally generated universe. It’s a moment that many have been clamoring for ever since the game was first announced in 2013, with a raucous trailer, set to the sound of "Debutante" from 65daysofstatic. Since those early days the British band’s distinct fusion of rock and electronic music has been part of No Man’s Sky’s mystique. For many, the trailer was their introduction to the band, and the song fit the vibe of the game perfectly, with a mixture of urgency and vastness. I'd heard the song before, but this new context made it feel like something else entirely.
Today sees the release of the soundtrack, a brand-new collection of 65daysofstatic music. For existing fans of the band, it’s yet another great album full of alien guitars, haunting pianos, and thunderous drums. For everyone else, it might just be the perfect way to prepare for your impending adventures in No Man’s Sky’s vast expanse.
Musically, the soundtrack — dubbed No Man's Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe — isn’t a drastic departure from 65’s previous work, most notably 2013’s Wild Light. Songs drift back and forth from near silence to almost overwhelming noise, with powerful, stirring arrangements holding it all together. A staple of 65 song is the sound of a beautiful, inspiring piano, which opens up the track and then holds it together as the rest of the sound unravels into a cacophony of guitars, drums, and synths. That said, Infinite Universe has a bit more of a sci-fi vibe to it compared to the band's other albums, though it's hard to put my finger on exactly why. The opening track, "Asimov," feels like an epic adventure in its own right, opening with pounding drums that make you feel like you’re taking flight into a Chris Foss painting.
Of course, there’s a chance I’m just being influenced by the names of the tracks. Infinite Universe features songs called things like "Heliosphere," "Supermoon," and "Escape Velocity," which sounds like a trio of unheralded arcade space shooters. The soundtrack also has an interesting structure. The first half of the album stands on its own as a solid, spacey outing for the band, with songs that last between three and six minutes. It's great for listening outside of the context of the game, something to put on in the background while you're working or reading.
The second half is much more freeform and feels like the best fit for the game itself. Dubbed Soundscapes, this section features lengthy tracks that bend and sway in strange ways, often going quiet for large periods of time before swelling into something more intense. "It just does what it wants to do," 65’s Joe Shrewsbury told me about the second half of the record earlier this year. "But I think we really see the whole thing as just one piece of work." The shortest track is just under nine minutes long, and the length really makes a difference. A song like "Supermoon" is great for backing a short trailer, but something like the epic "Outlier / EOTWS_Variation1" feels more like the sounds that would accompany you after you land your spacecraft on the surface of a new world. I can just imagine stumbling across an ancient ruin or running from a dangerous creature with the song playing in the background.
Infinite Universe also differs from most soundtracks in that what you’ll hear on the album isn’t exactly what you’ll be hearing when you play the game. The many worlds you’ll explore in No Man’s Sky are all procedurally generated, meaning that they’re created by an algorithm from bits and pieces handcrafted by artists and designers. The same goes for the soundtrack: the developers at Hello Games have created a system that chops up the recordings from Infinite Universe and stitches them back together in different ways, depending on the context. The music will be different each time you play, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. That makes listening to the soundtrack its own particular joy: it’s like a crash course on what to expect when you finally have that controller in your hands.
And if nothing else, it will definitely put you in the mood to pilot a slick spaceship to parts unknown.
No Man's Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe is available today, while No Man’s Sky hits the PS4 on August 9th, and PC on the 12th.