How Music Tells a Story

How Music Tells a Story

Music often tells a story better than images can. It’s unsurprising when video games have a good soundtrack because oftentimes that’s what they’re known for. Many gamers have their favorite soundtracks, composers that they follow and rave about their music. This is why Life Is Strange is so unique in this regard, because it doesn’t just have a single composer, it has multiple indie/alternative artists contributing their songs to the game’s soundtrack.

From the opening song “To All of You” by Syd Matters being played over the game’s opening sequence to “Mountain” by Message to Bears being played over the heartbreaking moment where Chloe rushes to find Rachel Amber’s body. Life is Strange’s soundtrack tells the story almost better than the game does. Which is why dissecting each of the songs’ lyrics in direct parallel to the episodes they’re played in provides another insight into how Dontnod crafted the story and what they wanted to convey to the players. I will do this with three songs that manage to perfectly convey the story itself.

To All of You

Let’s start at the beginning. In the song “To All Of You,” we are treated to the opening credits, allowing us to walk through the hallways of Blackwell Academy, watching the small interactions between other characters as well as getting a feel for Max herself. There’s been criticism of Max’s character, stating that she is yet another blank slate for us to project onto due to the choice heavy nature of the narrative. However, I find, “To All of You” Illustrates an interesting point about Max herself because she’s listening to this song on her mp3 player.

To all of you, American girls, it’s sad to

Imagine a world without you

American girls I’d like to

Be part of the world around you

Driving a car by the seaside

Watching the world from the bright side, yeah

Within the first verse, the singer is longing for his song to reach all these American girls and stating how sad the world would be without them. Using this in the intro sequence, shows Max’s desire to be like all of the American Girls, popular or talented, she wants to special. Her work in the first part of the game shows that she uses an old polaroid camera that develops things instantly rather than a digital one. The song itself has a clear bent towards the more nostalgically driven idea of women as a whole.

To all of you, American girls in the movies

No one can tell where your heart is

American girls like dollies

With shiny smiles and plastic bodies

With these things in mind, the song as a whole can be interpreted as both the singer and Max having warm feelings about the concept of the American Woman and how they’d like to make something to everyone. Putting their real feelings into it. That’s more than likely the real meaning of the song in regards to the story. However, if you put it in context to the Life is Strange as a whole, it almost becomes a rather sinister song if you put in the mindset of another character: Mark Jefferson. Due to Max wanting to stand out, she gets onto Jefferson’s radar and it puts a whole new spin upon the lyrics. Him imagining a world without these American Girls he’s been putting in his red binders and how he views them as just like “dollies”. The last verse ends up tied more to the game as a whole and doesn’t have quite as much relevance to the events that occur if you think about it from Jefferson’s point of view. However, if you look at it from Nathan’s, it’s quite a different story.

I cry sometimes walking around my own place

Wondering why she cries sometimes

Talking about her own place

Somewhere around the mountains

No one could dry her fountain

Till she got tired to complain

That’s when I fly to the wildland, to your land

Nathan never wanted to hurt Rachel. He also is the most emotional of the more villainous characters in the story. It’s implied he may have had a relationship with Rachel in the sense that they hung with the same groups and he more than likely knew about Rachel Amber’s desire to go explore elsewhere. This would make him wonder if she was maybe like him or perhaps her being too tired to complain signifies her death.

This could also be thought of in Max’s point of view, if she is wondering about Chloe who was a friend she left behind in Arcadia Bay, her guilt plaguing her for all these years despite the fact she never contacted Chloe again.

Mind you, this is just from the opening song and, while other songs throughout the game have more thematic weight to them, “To All Of You” manages to deftly sum up the big players in Life is Strange’s story’s motivations and emotions. (1)


“Crosses” by José González is more straightforward in its meaning and has less points of views to consider. It’s played in the first episode acoustically by Max herself and ends up being played in the second episode’s opening while Max is on the bus. This is after her encounter with Kate who is a focal point for the episode.

Don’t you know that I’ll be around to guide you

Through your weakest moments to leave them behind you?

Returning nightmares, only shadows

We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright

We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright, for now  

Crosses all over, heavy on your shoulders

The sirens inside you waiting to step forward

Disturbing silence darkens your sight

We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright

We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright, for now

Max is Kate’s guide for this episode. Her actions or inactions are what Kate sees and hears the most. If you take on a supportive role towards Kate during her difficult time, this song is meant for her, showing that Max is going to try to be there for her as much as the story allows. It has Christianic symbols throughout the song itself, including the title, combined with religion being a major theme in Kate’s character. This episodes opener is trying to tell the player that this is going to be a Kate episode and they should pay attention to her. Or at least that’s what the song conveys within the confines of the narrative.

However, if you interpret this in an alternative way, it could also be said that this could represent Max’s desire to be that light for everyone, not just Kate. Throughout the story you have many opportunities for Max to help all sorts of people around Arcadia Bay. So it could also be meant to convey how the metaphorical cross itself is on Max’s shoulders, representing her desire to save everyone. It depends on how you look at the scene itself but it gives way to many interpretations. (2)

Santa Monica Dream

Life is Strange sometimes uses a song throughout an episode or a segment, like “Santa Monica Dream” by Angus & Julia Stone which  is used in episode 3. You could call this Chloe and Rachel’s song, considering Max finds the CD itself is next to a picture of the two. Since Chaos Theory focuses on Rachel and Chloe’s relationship and the revelation that Rachel was seeing Frank on the side gives the song a whole new meaning.

Goodbye to my Santa Monica dream

Fifteen kids in the backyard drinking wine

You tell me stories of the sea

And the ones you left behind

It’s Chloe coming to terms with the fact that she isn’t going to California with Rachel anytime soon. Rachel’s betrayal stings Chloe in a way that directly parallels how she feels when Max doesn’t pay attention to her and how max abandoned her when she left Arcadia Bay. Chloe herself is a very emotional character and this song perfectly reflects her feelings of abandonment at the hands of the women that she has loved. This song is played during a rather pensive scene where Chloe is mulling over her decisions with Max, wanting Max to stay with her and talking about Rachel. Her staring at the ceiling and wanting things to go back to the way they were, even though they won’t. The scene uses a quieter moment in order to express to us a very raw and emotional moment for Chloe without her outwardly showing her normal outburst of feelings.

I’m somewhere, you’re somewhere

I’m nowhere, you’re nowhere

You’re somewhere, you’re somewhere

I could go there but I don’t

Rob’s in the kitchen making pizza

Somewhere down in Battery Park

I’m singing songs about the future

Wondering where you are

The rest of the song is similar to this, but these verses in particular stand out because it shows that Chloe has experiences with being left behind. First by her father, then by Max, and then by Rachel. The song speaks of a narrative of one person being in one place, asking where the other person is. Which is what we see Chloe doing in this very scene. It’s a touching moment where we see this character who is very much wrapped up in her own feelings let them out in a healthier way that doesn’t have her hurting anyone in the process. (3)

There are countless other moments with the other tracks that are just as strong, but these are the ones that stood out the most in regards to how strongly they correlate with the episodes that they’re in. I’d recommend listening to Life is Strange’s soundtrack if only for how much it resonates with the game and how it connects to it in a way that I doubt we’ll ever see again.

(1) “To All of You.” Track 04 on Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles. Third Side Records, 2008, compact disc. Syd Matters.

(2) “Crosses.” Track 05 on Veneer. Imperial Recordings under exclusive license to Mute for North America, 2006, compact disc. José González.

(3) “Santa Monica Dream.” Track 05 on Down the Way. Angus and Julia Stone under license to Nettwerk Productions, 2009, compact disc. Angus & Julia Stone.