Title: World 1-2
Label: Brave Wave
Keywords: Electronic, Experimental, Videogame Music, Japan, Shibuya
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
Oh, hey. It’s you again, huh, reader? Well… I guess you can stay, but while you’re here, you’re going to have to promise me something… that you’ll sit still while I write this music review… no, seriously, I’m working on a review right now, so I don’t have time for you to be reading all over the place while I write this. If you can do that, then maybe I’ll consider giving you a link once I’m finished with the review.
I see the glint of mischief in those eyes, reader, as if you think you can bend the terms of this promise somehow and get away with reading the review anyway, before I’ve had time to complete it. I don’t have time to both write a review and make sure you’re not reading it well ahead of the tiem I’m… ah, now see what you did, reader, I’ve already gone and made a typo. This is all your fault!
No, we don’t have time to backspace, this review has taken too long already. That goof is just gonna have to do.
Well, ok. I’m supposed to be talking about an album right now… what album? Well, I’m glad you asked, reader… shh, pipe down, reader, I’m talking to the other reader… the fictitious, hollow one that eventually you’re gonna become once I’m done and this hits the print, if I ever finish it with you reading over me like that.
Don’t be scared, reader, we’ve been through that before and it’s going to feel totally natural once it occurs.
Anyway, the album… (see, you’re already causing me to forget what I’m doing!)… is called World 1-2. Now, you may be asking yourself, what’s World 1-2, why does that sound so familiar to me? Well, most likely, World 1-2 is a world you’ve visited plenty of times, in various guises or personae. Yes… yes, that is correct! Much like those children who discovered Narnia in their closet, you’ve probably countless numbers of times discovered and visited many fictional worlds in your television box, when it was connected to a certain handful of magical machines called “consoles”, “entertainment systems”, or, more technically, “video game thingies that you put the things into”. If any of this sounds familiar to you… you then may have also been unwittingly impregnated with a terrifying creature called “nostalgia” which has taken over your mind and limbs on many occasions, filling you with false needs and desires and causing you uncontrollably to sate them, despite physical discomfort… to eat stale cereals, watch children’s cartoons well into adulthood, wear ill-fitted clothing with bizarre creatures and characters on them, spend copious amounts of money to acquire useless garbage nearly as old as yourself.
Despite this affliction, many so accursed have developed peculiar, abnormal levels of creativity, abusing their collective nostalgia to produce arts of a kind that glorify, invert, subvert and even often hipsterize certain aspects of the disease of nostalgia, carefully and artfully re-creating new interpretations of its byproducts.
This work is of that kind, and… reader, you’re not peeking are you? Ok, good. I’m not finished writing yet.
Anyway, moving onward, video games of historicity had very little in the way of gripping soundtracks, but all that changed… at one point… I’m no expert, but I’d say it seems as though much of our nostalgia for video game music, as distinguished from the fanfare of laser blasts we’d recognize as eminating from, say, a Robotron: 2084 machine, find their origins in a peculiar home device called a NES, or the Nintendo Entertainment System, or Ness, or Famicom, or whatever. Something like that. What follows, in this collected work, are mostly, though not primarily, sounds from that era in gaming. Chiptune, of a kind.
Where this work diverges, something I see on occasion with works from the overground, is that some degree of funding has been put into glossing this up, making it really pop. It’s produced, in other words. The result is that, going back and actually listening to the raw, gritty waveforms that originally inspired this nostalgia in the first place, you would notice they sound quite like a kind of dreadful racket in comparison to this. That could either be a boon or a hindrance to the legitimacy of your nostalgic re-immersion in sound, depending on your outlook or favourite fruit flavor or the color that best represents your aura according to buzzfeed.
This work, regardless of such subjective nonsense, is still worth regarding highly, even for the most cynical nostalgicist, as presented here, reader (no, not you!), are the works of many original artists’ in the realm of chip compositions alongside their next-gen emulators!
Ha, yes, I am clever, and also, you are about to partake in a journey that shall traverse Worlds 1-2… but no further, without going into debug mode. Let’s take a listen!
Track one, titled ‘Waldfest’, is by Andi Bissig. I hear a little cowbell that kind of reminds me of the introduction to Shout, by TFF. I kept expecting to have to “shout, shout” and “let it all out”, but instead, something very different happened: I fell backward into a lovely and serene state, surrounded by flutes, tribal rhythmic arrangements and a slight nostalgia came over me. That’s how you know it’s working!
Track two is something for the game sharks to sink their teeth into! ‘One Shot, One Kill’ is the title, and it’s by Manami Matsumae, and really gets my gears going like one of Dr. Wiley’s r-r-robutts. Very chippy, with reverb, compressed bit-crunchy grooves, soaring arpeggios, the whole shebang. It’s definitely one of the premier pieces of music on this album.
Well, with that, we’re moving on to ‘The Cold Ruins Of A Once Great City (Metroid Prime)’, by ABSRDST. It’s kind of like The Terminator theme, only not at all. Dense, deep synth rumbles pad out the low end, while vast, alien worldscapes spread before our very eyes, like Kraig’s billion stomach folds. A nice techno groove emerges, and some siren-hoover samples are cutting in. It’s a red alert mission. The whistle leads are very nice! In fact, as this piece develops, it seems to get better, before ultimately arriving at another red alert section, though with very pretty melodic layers.
Chipzel is next, with ‘Tokyo Skies’. It feels like the Battletoads are dropping out of a chopper above us, as chip arps sonically attack. There’s a frantic energy here, a Hadouken or something is shot off in the darkness. It’s up-tempo, for sure, and lots of fun.
‘Resurgence Of Hope’, by Agent Whiskers, is an epic, composed as though painstakingly re-creating the mood of having just suffered a loss or departure, fought an ultimate boss, gotten shaken up pretty bad, but hey, we just got an airship or maybe found something that really turns the tide of fate or at least lifted our spirits a bit. At other times, the track feels a little like uplifting trance and dubstep having exhibitionist sex against the window of a skyrise condominium.
Next up is a little thing I call ‘Driving Upwards’ (their title, not mine), and it’s by Benjamin Briggs. It feels like some electrohouse with chip elements evolving as it goes. There’s a twisted breakbeat sample screwed and chopped used for dramatic effect to signal emergence into new measures, and it sticks around for a little bit through one, but then breaks away to a very nice section, lighter, with pleasant sounds and melodic leads. It’s divergent enough from the vibe of the album that you could almost imagine it onto almost any other kind of electronic mix! Versatile, kind of a techno thing.
Then, it’s ‘Maybe A Time Of Miracles (Sworcery)’, by Marius Masalar. True to its title, it feels quite a bit like a magical score. Equal parts sword & sorcery, Fantasia, John Williams-esque even, with real, honest movements taking place, transitioning somewhat seamlessly and composed in a way in which completely different moods are exposed. The effect immediately causes me to recall introductions to big-budget films, in which maybe we might be treated to a montage, wordlessly showing us various characters, digitally enhanced scenery porn, things of that nature. Unlike itself thus far, there’s an intriguing electronic / electro section… but, then we’re back. The music becomes a dark overture, with glimmers of epic fight sequences, soft pastures, crags and lava, witches and demons soaring through air, armies advancing… really, everything and the kitchen sink. Could really be a film unto itself.
We come straight away to another pure chiptune masterpiece by Eirik Suhrke, titled ‘Corrosion Jam (Spelunky)’. I feel like I’m wading through broken shards of bits and goo in a dark cavern under World 1-2 right now. It’s jazzy, in a funky, gooey, slimy sort of way. It says Ghostbusters to me, rendered on an 8-bit cartridge.
Keiji Yamagishi’s ‘Memories Of T’ surprise me, too, for what possibly could these memories signify??? Probably wild times, if the sound is any indication. Frantic leads fly around, backed by equally erratic drums. Tightly arranged, but evoking a sense of staggering drunkenly through bars and walking home at sunset.
Lots of energy on ‘Legacy’, which goes full-on with the beautiful chip melodic/harmonic arrangements, deep funky crunch-drums that seem to flutter with intensity throughout. It’s by Danimal Cannon and Zef. It’s one of the most fantastically manic tracks on the compilation. It really charges my mega buster.
The following track is called… you’d better not be trying to read this again, reader, I know I just saw you trying to take a peek and now you’ve interrupted my train of thought again. How many times do I have to tell you? Geez, reader… you’re so eager to read! I suppose I should be flattered, but… it’s just too hard to work that way. Turn around, avert your eyes!
Ok, so what I was saying was that the following track is called ‘Blooper Reeling (Super Mario World)’, by halc. It’s got pizzicato strings, and is a tune instantly recognizable to me. I played Super Mario World so many times, everything in that game is etched permanently into my memory. Even now, I can sit down in front of it and remember every secret unlockable thing, it’s kind of scary. This is pretty enjoyable, and silly.
Coming afterward is a piece by beloved Akira Yamaoka titled ‘Rose Cat’. It’s pretty, with provocative guitar layers. The drums feel a bit heavy and then I realize, oh, it’s going into a kind of metal thing.
Nextly, there is the somber ‘Twenty One (Dear Esther)’, by Jessica Curry. It features melancholy piano.
Austin Wintory brings us ‘Circles (Feat. Tina Guo)’, a dark string piece that feels like it breathes and exudes a cold mist. It abruptly changes for a time, beginning to feel brighter, more convivial.
Stemage is up next, with their rockin’ track ‘Mosaic (Tetris) [Feat. Cory Johnson]’. I sat and listened to it scratching my head thinking, damn, I played a lot of Tetris in my life, but this doesn’t feel familiar to me. I can usually… well, always, recognize a genre re-work of a piece of music, even when a little modified from the original, but I have some trouble with this one. My mom played so much Tetris that she started having Tetris dreams. I’ve been told that’s a common occurrence with people who binge-play certain video games. It happened to me after trying to play a friend’s copy of Lumines a few years back, and weirdly, I’d had trouble making the right moves in the game until I’d had the dream and then it suddenly clicked and I got pretty decent at it. That friend told me that had happened to them, too. Surreal, for sure.
Oh, but before I digress any further, let me tell you of the next track, the bouncy, springy, spritely ‘Trolls! (Trolls)’, by Benjamin Briggs. I feel like I can nearly see the trolls coming for me, their pixel-arms wielding pixel clubs that they’re swinging as they angrily storm the barracks. It’s a good thing this is all in my imagination, or else there would be cause for panic, and maybe some good-old medieval armaments. The vibe here is more Commodore than Famicom.
halc is back, this time with ‘Dubsection (Final Fantasy Tactics)’. Speaking of another title I played probably a bit too much… but, I won’t allow myself another digression, reader… not even to tell you to let me finish writing before you go reading and cause me to SHOUT! Hah. Anyway, this has a lot of dubstep wubs going on in places, kind of strange. Chip-wobbles. I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s kind of a souring of pleasant nostalgic feels. I also don’t really recognize the piece as well as I feel I ought to.
‘The Night Fighter (Street Fighter 2)’ is from Module. I like the beginning, with the gated drums. There’s a vocoder running the familiar top-line melody! Then some dense guitar distortion… this is fun, and kind of odd. Some really nice arp flourishes in the choppy section.
Next is Eiko Ishiwata Nichols with the very pretty ‘Miasma Rising’, feeling mysterious and classic, with flute and brass arrangements. It’s very well put together and feels worldly, like something I would relax to in a sauna and want to still hear afterward, just playing, while I maybe had a personal, contemplative moment among nature. Then it picks up a bit more, and breaks the mood. In response, I imagine throwing my towel to the wind and running naked and free through the woods, to the cliffside overlooking a small city, lit up, and screaming. Birds would fly out from the trees and then, as the music dwindles once more to the mood previous, I would stand there, naked, and wondering why I just did all of those things. Again, it is good that I have merely imagined it all and am not currently having to grapple with this in reality.
The album ends with the guitar-infused epic power-pop ‘Victory (Captain Tsubasa 2)’, by Video Game Orchestra. It feels victorious, virile, like flying up into the air with my fist raised. Yes, it is essentially the audio equivalent to that feeling. Roll the credits, it’s game over and you won. Half-way through, the feelings coalesce into something more profound… a piano plays, speaking to our hearts once more of all the courage and loss it took to get this far. Then, our friends return once more during the bright section with more guitar sounds happening. The guitar section leads to more piano, then back again, and it’s like a town parade feeling. It’s just like endless elation from then on, until those last few moments of piano at the very end, feeling like, “but, what now that the adventure is over?” It speaks of fond memories.
I didn’t recognize all the names on this comp. Of course, there were many illustrious ones, but… I sometimes wonder about the politics of the music industry that so often I’ll come across lovely chiptune / vgm things like this, getting the right treatment, a due respect, yet the torch-carrying underground purveyors of chiptune, who truly held onto their deep-set love for this genre through decades during which the mainstream world still refused to regard it as the unusual, quirky, often even brilliant music it was, seem never to be included on things like this. It’s almost an injustice, really… but, then my ignorance of the larger portion of the chiptune world could go some way to explaining why I might feel that way, and chiptune music was so often a communitarian type of thing, anyway, with so many minds working in the demo scene, with trackers, etc.
I’ll give you a link, reader, but be careful: you might catch VGM. Nothing some antibiotics won’t help, but you might want to rest and get plenty of fluids.