Thanks, Tyler! I'll admit, I haven't actually played Pillars of Eternity before, but listening to the OST now I'm flattered to be compared to it
And yeah wow, this month's entries were super solid across the board! Here're my votes:
1. Tyler Cunningham - There has been many a great track in these competitions since I started participating, but truth be told, this is the first one where I audibly said to myself, "holy shit, what samples are those?" That steel drum sounds so goddamn good (and is there a hand drum mixed in with that somewhere?), and you use it to start off such a nice texture. It evolves at a super organic pace; keeps enough things consistent to establish a consistent groove/feel, but always adds in just enough to maintain interest. The one thing I'd say is that I kinda wanna hear a bit more of the lower flute at its entrance around 0:32, but that's cherrypicking as hell. Really well done.
2. Danilo Ciaffi - Really awesome, crystalline and enveloping sounds. I like the way that you use alternating panning on the delay/echos to create a sense of space (whether done manually or not). Also evolves very naturally, introduces some really interesting textures without feeling jarring when they come in; and while there's not a whole lot of blatant melody to speak of, this is fine because it's a feature that remains consistent, so the piece as a whole just gets to focus on developing its wonderful atmosphere.
3. Avaruussaha - Really fun piece, with a super solid guitar track at its core (I'm always very impressed with your recorded parts)! I'm glad you stuck it out with the two-string tremolo, because it sounds fucking awesome. The other voices/strings that come in add a nice variety to it, though I did finding myself wishing I could hear them a bit more!
4. MetatronLives - I love the sound palette you use, and the general atmosphere you create with it. It's mixed well, and it gives off a great Chrono Trigger sort of vibe (especially with those MIDI choir voices, goddamn that brings back some memories). Would have probably appreciated a more melodic voice coming in somewhat sooner, though; doesn't necessarily have to be as in your face as the flute part, but I think it'd help with making the whole piece feel a bit more cohesive!
5. Balkizr - Great piece! There are a lot of really fun ideas in there, and you string them together well in each section. As far as representing the sea, though, while I don't think it can't work, I do think there are some settings a bit more heavily implied by the styles; there's a lot of pentatonic emphasis in the faster section, which tends to codify some sort of east Asian setting (not that they don't have oceans!). And the more Baroque counterpoint in the end, while great, tends to imply some sort of regal setting (probably not helped by the fact that the Musescore guitar kind of just sounds like a harpsichord). Again, not that neither of these codes have any place near the ocean, it's just that those associations would probably come first! (Maybe a water race in an Okami-esque game, and some story interaction between royalty on a boat level in a Fire Emblem title?)
And re4der, I guess I won't rank you out of fairness, but just wanted to mention that I really enjoyed your piece! I can see the ways in which it might have, er, drifted haha, but I do think it could still work! There are definitely some elements that work for an underwater theme regardless, and I think the more tribal elements would just need to be justified by the rest of the setting (doesn't sound too far off from something like a war tribe of naga in Vashj'ir in WoW, for example).