I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky
Written By: SlimeHand
Published On: June 12th, 2022
Album released October 11, 2016
How far can you break down a video game, into its bare essence? To the point that it can be reassembled and played inside your mind with nothing more than your own imagination? That’s the concept of Equip’s 2016 debut, I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky. As mystical as a phantasmagorical lucid dream, Equip delivers us a serene, yet at times deeply ominous concept album of an RPG played within one’s mind. A mix of the halcyon, early-polygonal games of the PlayStation, and the golden age of high-quality pixel art role-playing games of the Super Nintendo, along with a playful approach to mixing and harmonies that lead us intrepid explorers down fascinating, lichen-infested groves or dark, moldy dungeons. Druids and danger lurking behind every corner.
Debuting in 2016, Equip showed the world their unique RPG-midi fusion style through this album. In that year, modern-style vaporwave was relatively young, yet one of experimentation. Artists were taking chances with heavy hitters like the fascinating and iconic News At 11 or the swirling plunderphonic NEW GAIA by the artist of the same name. Equip was not an exception to the heavy releases that year and struck with one of vaporwave’s most recognisable albums since Palm Mall, by virtue of its exceptional atmosphere and fusions of plunderphonic sound effects and original melodies.
The album starts with a track composed entirely of Final Fantasy menu sound effects. Where on a lesser album this could seem gimmicky and rote of vaporwave’s ‘unique-for-the-sake-of-it’ trappings at the time, these effects are all used with meticulous certainty, especially in setting up the album. We aren’t just hearing these sounds, these are noises of the album’s menu itself, that we navigate through simply by listening. And, for instance, notice that the next track “I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky ~Opening Credits~” uses none of the sounds? You wouldn’t hear them in an example of the track’s name; they are absent. An example of the particular use of the samples.
These effects are a cornerstone of the album and truly enhance the experience. For the listener to truly believe this game is being played in their minds, that the titular palace truly has a hold, these effects bolster that aural landscape by showing us not as passive listeners, but as players of the album, through which every crispy footstep is our own in this lonely castle.
But these are flourishes. Low-poly icing on the polygonal cake. The album must stand on its own in terms of the composition for it to be worthwhile for future spins, something that it absolutely achieves. What feels so strong about the album is the mixed layering of longer ambient harmonies with the more melodic midi synths. This expands the album’s sound to allow for a deeper listening experience. You can focus anywhere on the music and still be transported away. These sounds, too, are uniquely mixed to create a specific soundscape that shows the skill of Equip in how he understands the world he’s made.
Just the right amount of reverb on footsteps. The ever-so-slight crust on a druid’s dark laughter. These call back to memories of old midnight play sessions of our favourite RPGs. The entire concept of the album is realised in both these mixes and that of the midi instruments. Drums are just so squishy and textured as to allow for a feeling of momentum. They switch to airy synths, giving a wandering or morose sound. As seen on tracks like “Druids (Encounter)”, the lengths to which Equip has gone to master these sounds in a way that are satisfying and additive to the track’s atmosphere is impressive. It pays off wonderfully.
That said, perhaps some tracks outstay their welcome, for instance, “Cloud Generator” doesn’t need to be seven minutes long, and some tracks like “Reunited” could be cut in half. Overall, however, it’s an iconic album. Fitting for either ambient or close listening with its focus on both long harmonies and unique sampling of game sound effects. This album gets a recommended 4 out of 5 for any aspiring adventurer, daring enough to seek out that palace in the sky!