“Wildspace…where things go wild…in space!”
It’s an actual line from the intro of Reggie Watts’ song “Space Is a Place,” setting the tone for “Spelljams,” the new Dungeons & Dragons soundtrack album. This is an add-on version of the new “Spelljammer: Adventures in Space“Three-volume set, bringing to life the Dungeons & Dragons Spelljammer setting, originally released in 1989.
If none of this makes sense to you, you’re not alone. Let’s go back a bit.
About Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons (or “D&D”) is the original tabletop role-playing game, having existed in one form or another since 1974. In the game, players each control a character, and another player acts as Dungeon Master , or DM. The goal is to create a story both through game mechanics and something resembling a group improvisation game.
D&D is currently more popular than it has ever been in its nearly 50-year history, due to a variety of factors. He is featured prominently in the Netflix show “Stranger Things” and several famous celebrities went public with their love for the game. And then there’s critical rolethe actual game podcast and web series featuring voice actors playing D&D, which has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right.
On top of that, the current edition of D&D is widely considered to be the easiest version of the game, which makes it very user-friendly for new players. And thanks to the internet, it’s easy to get together in groups and play online, whether it’s via Zoom or Discord, or platforms dedicated to online RPGs, like Roll20. These online options for D&D have been especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing groups to continue playing while staying at home.
In 1989, TSR, the company that published D&D at the time, released the original Spelljammer boxed set, allowing groups to play out adventures set in outer space. Spelljammer’s style and tone were heavily influenced by “Flash Gordon” and similar “space pulp” stories. While many D&D players (myself included) liked and enjoyed the setting, the majority seemed to prefer a simpler, “Lord of the Rings” fantasy. Spelljammer was eventually dropped in later editions of the game, but remained a cult favorite.
D&D is now published by gaming giants Wizards of the Coast, and they’ve released a new Spelljammer set, designed to be compatible with the current edition of the game. In an interesting move, there’s also an official soundtrack album, curated by The Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk. Funk is a D&D fan himself, playing with members of the Portland, OR music scene.
In a press release accompanying “Spelljams”, Funk explained that each artist on the album was “given a character or plot from the script and then challenged to write an original composition based on ‘Light of Xaryxis'”, an adventure included in the new set.
“Helping to bring this world to life through the amazing music and visions of the artists who have been selected has been a lifetime honor,” Funk said. “I believe that when people think of Dungeons & Dragons, there is a preconceived idea of what these worlds might look like. With this bold return to Spelljammer, we were excited to push the boundaries of Wildspace deeply, by working with artists from diverse musical backgrounds who could challenge what music might sound like in the world’s greatest role-playing multiverse.
OF COURSE music matters
Having played many D&D sessions myself, I can confirm that the choice of music is important. Movie and video game scores are obvious choices, and you usually can’t go wrong. But Spelljammer demands something a little different, and “Spelljams” delivers. On top of that, it’s just a great listen, start to finish.
Many artists here will be familiar to Studio One listeners, including Lucius, Devon Gilfillian and Y La Bamba. Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Flock Of Dimes also makes an appearance, although in her Instagram post announcing the project she made a vague reference to contractual issues that prevented her from using one of her musical aliases. usual. Wasner is credited on the album as Wizard Of Waz.
There truly is a little something for everyone on “Spelljams,” with a variety of musical styles represented, and every song here fits. The vibe is very similar to listening to the soundtracks of Marvel’s “Guardians Of The Galaxy” movies, where space adventures are accompanied by classic rock, mostly from the 60s and 70s. Close your eyes listening to some of these songs and imagine yourself floating in space, or check out some of the beautiful artwork that comes with the new Spelljammer set. It makes sense.
There are also a few heavy metal songs that kick ass, courtesy of Osees and Red Fang, among others, which is fitting. When your party of adventurers is fighting a group of plasmoid warriors or a moon dragon, that’s what you want to listen for. And then there’s Mononeon’s delightfully literal contribution, “Spacefighters,” which has to be heard to be believed.
Only a few songs directly reference the Spelljammer setting, including Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s “Light of Xaryxis” and Penny & Sparrow’s “Xedalli,” one of my favorites on the album. It’s unclear how many artists are D&D gamers themselves, other than Funk: Osees’ John Dwyer describes himself as a “rabid gamer”, and Wasner said in his (again deliberately vague) Instagram post that she is a “fan of the franchise.”
Of course, it doesn’t really matter, and it shouldn’t concern you either. You don’t have to be a D&D player or understand what Spelljammer is to enjoy “Spelljams”. But if you feel inspired to wind up a hex-bladed astral elf paladin and set out to explore the astral plane with your closest friends, even better.
“Spelljams” is out now on the Kill Rock Stars label. It streams on all major platforms and can be downloaded from band camp or the iTunes store. A deluxe set of two LPs is available for pre-order, featuring a foil-stamped triple LP sleeve that doubles as a Dungeon Master display.