9 soundtracks to boost your creative mood

dark treesEver sat down to write, draw, or paint and struggled to restart the movie in your mind?

Ever curled up to read a good book, only to find it hard to withdraw from the rest of your day?

Shutting the real world out and rediscovering the dark corner of your imagination can be challenging.

And yet…

Weapons are available beyond a quiet room, an empty house, or a glass of red wine. I believe music, and more specifically soundtracks, can help artists soar back into the atmospheres of their minds.

Before ever setting pen to paper (or more typically fingers to keyboard) I like to close my eyes, focus on the scene I’m about to write or the tone of the book I’m about to read, and select a song or album from my collection to match the mood. While it’s true I prefer the atmospheres of rain, shadows, clouds, and dark caverns filled with cacaphonies of ringing swords, every book and every chapter therein has its own music.

You need but find your own.

Here are nine of my favorite selections. Whenever I need the rain to fall, the swords to sing, or the bones to rattle in my mind, I call to music. Try these out, and leave the rest of the world behind… (Click the track titles to listen to each song.)



The Shadows Betray You – Hans Zimmer – Dark Knight Rises – For building up to an intense scene. The Shadows Betray You thumps and thuds its way to a terrifying crescendo. Use it to build the foundation of something powerful on the page.


C.L.U. – Daft Punk – Tron Legacy – For the big reveal. The thrumming beat here is its own journey. Imagine walking down a long road, a dark city on all sides, and arriving at a tower too vast to see the top of. That’s C.L.U.


The Prestige (Entire Album) – David Julyan – I can’t say enough about this album. Just put it on repeat and leave it on in the background while you write or read 100,000 words. It’s powerful. It’s atmospheric. You’ll sit up in your bed and feel the rain falling on your shoulders.


General Zod – Hans Zimmer – Man of Steel – Dreaming up a fierce battle? Reading that chapter? (you’ll know the one) Zod is the battle and the aftermath, the war and the battlefield, the soldiers and the cities burning behind them. Try it.


The Princess Pleads for Wallace’s Life – Braveheart – James Horner & The London Symphony Orchestra – Need sweet? Need soulful? Need your heart to thump a little bit slower behind your ribs? The only thing better would be to have Sophie Marceau show up at your house and weep on your shirt sleeve.


Like a Dog Chasing Cars – Hans Zimmer & James Howard – The Dark Knight – This one is for the fleet of alien spacecraft descending on the world, the evil army beating their drums as they march against a hopelessly overmatched castle full of good guys, and for the car racing down the highway at night with the shadows crawling up behind it. The Hans Zimmer theme continues…


This is Madness! – Man of Steel – Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL – So you say you’ve got two warriors standing off, eh? They’re the last men standing, and the fate of the world hangs on the outcome of their duel. You need drums, lots of drums. You need ten thuds for every crash of their blades. You need This is Madness!


Am I not Merciful? – Gladiator – Hans Zimmer – By far my favorite on the list. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how it ends. This is tragedy refined into one of the finest tracks ever written. It’s for death. It’s for shattered hearts. It”s beautiful.


Time – Inception – Hans Zimmer – Time is the triumphant, bittersweet, epic end of everything. Time is the last survivor standing atop the world’s last tower, the wind streaming through her hair as she looks down upon the world she has saved. If you stumble across any track on here, let this be the one.


Enjoy these. They’re all great on their own or coupled with the albums they appear on. And yes, I do love Hans Zimmer. When Down the Dark Path becomes a movie, he’s the only soul on the earth who’ll touch the soundtrack.

Here’s something I wrote while listening to these over and over again…

Until next time,

J Edward Neill



My Top Six Video Games of All Time



This week’s skull…the most abused creeper of all time.

I’m in my man-cave at 11-something PM. It’s raining outside. Save for the streetlamp’s flicker beyond my window and the low-key illumination of my laptop, the world is dark. I’m happy to be alone. Ecstatic, actually. If I can squeeze in about 700% more of this kind of time, I’ll die a happy man.

So then. Like video games? Me too. They’re a passion of mine, and although I seldom play them anymore, I’ll always reserve a special place in my chest cavity for them. Anyone who’s ever been in love with video games knows there are two types available for consumption. Foremost, you’ve got games that are just that: games. You blast or hack your way through this or that horde, sort colored baubles to win imaginary prizes, collect coins and 1-ups, or just generally bust the laws of physics for fun. While these kinds of games provide an excellent way of murdering several days/weeks/months of your life, they’re not the type of game I’m talking about today.

What am I talking about? The second type. The games that aren’t just games, but mood-setters, sensory-devourers, mind-benders, and experiences. A long, long time ago, I blogged a related piece  – http://tesseraguild.com/was-only-a-matter-of-time/  but this time, I’m goin’ balls deep. I’m throwing my top six games out there. These are the pixels most palatable to my grim, grey state of mind. Subconciously, I’ve no doubt that playing these six remapped entire swaths of my brain.

So let’s get started:





#6 – Diablo (The original)

Playing Diablo for me isn’t the same as it is for other folks. Sure, I get a mild kick out of the treasure hoarding, demon slaying, and level upping, but for me Diablo is all about the mood and the music. Before I ever knew I liked to write, I’d sit in the dark at my paleolithic IBM 486 and play it until my eyes hurt. I’d wander ancient ruins with the game’s masterful 12-string guitar soundtrack thrumming in the background, the pixellated rain clattering atop dead men’s roofs. Hell, in recent weeks I’ve hunted down some of the music from the original game. If I ever move into a video game city, I’ll probably pick Tristram. It’s always cloudy there, and the mood suitable for my state of mind.

Metroid Prime



#5 – Metroid Prime

To be fair, I feel any of the Metroid games (sans the one that really sucked) fit this niche. I’ll go with Prime because if I go too far back I’ll confound the ‘what the hell is a NES?‘ crowd. Metroid for me was always more than a simple space opera. I never cared that the protagonist was a girl, nor that the villains were bland and underdeveloped. What I liked (and love) about the game is its atmosphere. One hero. Alone. Creepy music. Creepier monsters. There’s something elegant about the game’s fusion of far-out science with primeval alien mythology. I’ve always thought the game might’ve made a great movie, maybe even a killer novel. Hmmmm…

Deus Ex



 #4 – Deus Ex – Human Revolution

When I first picked up Deus Ex, I figured it’d fall in line with most other games. There’d be some cool moments, some blah, blah shooting, and a few dramatic cut scenes. I was wrong. In many instances, Deus Ex walks the line between game and art. Forget how tense and fun the action is. It’s like Blade-Runner blended  with Seven. It’s the not-too-distant future, rain-riddled and fraught with ‘What would I do if this happened to me?‘ moments. It’s fun + gorgeous to look at + elegantly dark. I. Love. It.




#3 – The Witcher – Assassins of Kings

As far as games in the genre I prefer to muddle in, Witcher might be the best of them. The story (pariah accused of regicide) is pulled off better than in most movies. The love affairs, the rivalries, and the this-could-actually-happen feel as powerful as any fantasy novel. Heroes should be likeable and hateable. Love interests should be worthy of our affection and able to beat our asses. Villains should have believable reasons for hating the world. The Witcher has it all. If I didn’t have a three-year old kid, I’d buy the new Xbox and play the sequel.





 #2 – Shadow of the Colossus

Never played it? Unacceptable. Set aside three rainy days and get ‘er done. If you’re not interested in video games, buy it for your girl/guyfriend and watch them play it. Yes, really. Shadow of the Colossus is not the game you think it is.  On the surface, it looks like a dude fighting huge monsters to save the world, his woman, his dog…whatever. It’s not that game. In playing Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll find out what it means to be misguided. You’re the bad guy, and you don’t even know it. You’re a murderer, a destroyer of beautiful art, a sociopath, a monster. What’s the matter with you anyway?





#1 – Zelda – Twilight Princess

As if you didn’t see this coming. Those who know me will roll their eyes and say, ‘Well that was obvious.’ Now, as far as atmosphere, I’ll admit most of the Zelda series doesn’t measure up to the Witchers and Metroids of the world. The music is good, but not soul-stunning. The graphics are neat, but not particularly immersive. Why then have I put Twilight Princess at #1? It’s easy. You’ve got a beautiful world worthy of saving (Hyrule), a familiar, likeable, and best of all silent hero to save it, and a dread-inspiring evil to overcome. Twilight Princess beats the other Zelda games by virtue of its edge, its willingness to embrace adult themes, and most of all, the presence of a villain you knew was coming, but likely spent the whole game asking, ‘Where is my arch-rival? I need that guy, else life is incomplete.’

Honorable mentions:

Doom – Grim atmosphere. Pinky demons. What else do you need?

Portal – Was pissed about not getting cake…

Skyrim – Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll indulge my inner geek. I found my old Gamecube in a closet last weekend. Time to visit an old, old friend.

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And if you think you know video games, take this 114 question quiz. If you score 60 or higher, you’ve got skills.

J Edward Neill