I’ve got a new “Press A to Listen” feature article over on gamentrain.com today! Press A to Start is a monthly series providing a quick course in the history, music, and influence of classic games. This month, read up on the history of NES classic Kirby’s Adventure while enjoying the music of Jun Ishikawa (composer for Kirby games) and talented multi-instrumentalist Xoc!
As jazz bands have standards, the types of songs many musicians rearrange and make their own, the video game inspired music world also has their standard video games which everyone covers. It seems one of the most often rearranged, remixed and recreated soundtrack is the NES classic Mega Man 2. That is surely not to say that the game is overdone. There is one band though, who has not only taken Mega Man and created something new, but just as much, have given something back to the game. Musically they have infused the game with a new background, depth, and mentality that should have never existed in the minimalist colors and dimensions of a humble platformer from 1989.
The Megas (themegas.com) are that band. A combination of rock aesthetics mixed with nerdery, storytelling, and a sometimes tongue in cheek attitude create a stand out band in and out of video game music circles. Forming in 200X (or 2004 for non robotic readers) things started slow as a side project, but things have heated up significantly since the release of their debut album Get Equipped.
The debut album focuses on the story of Mega Man II in both song and lyrics. The concept doesn’t stop there though. On closer inspection you learn that each robot master’s theme is accompanied by lyrics from that robot masters perspective. So each song has a distinct mindset and feeling, from the loneliness turned anger of Airman in his song The Annihilation of Monsteropolis (which is also available at OCReMix) to the earnest struggle within Bubbleman in Promise of Redemption.
There are also the requisite epic battle songs like the searing Man on Fire, which looks at Heatman’s perspective of his showdown with Megaman, and the western style duel between Megaman and Quickman in the song The Quick and the Blue, which sees Quickman’s final demise at Megaman’s hands (or hand and cannon, if you want to be literal about it). There are even some unexpected twists to the supposed villians in Megaman II like anti-hero Crashman in his song Programmed to Fight. In which we see his struggle between what he is programmed to do, and what he knows is right, even if it means his own death. We also get a glimpse into the disturbingly obsessed Flashman in the track Blue Like You.
Metal Dance is of course the track for Metalman (which was also used as a remix by Mega Man influenced rapper, Random). This song gives Metalman a pompous and fight obsessed nature. How the fight turns out though, the music never seems to let on. This leads right into the near opposite of Metalman. Megaman is up against the all natural Woodman. In Carved from Mighty Oak we learn about why Woodman will defeat Megaman and “avenge the death of his robot brothers.” These are all bookended with the songs from Megaman himself. The opening track I Want to be The One introduces us to who Megaman is, and why he is fighting. The final track, Lamentations of a War Machine, is a reprise. Megaman is now reflecting on the war he fought and the decisions he has made. After fighting first hand, it seems like Megaman’s determination has begun to waver.
Will this new side of Megaman be explored in the upcoming Mega Man 3 project which is supposedly in the works from The Megas? I am as in the dark about you as that one I am afraid. For MM2 completionists, The Megas also released another single from the game after the release of their debut album, and from an unheard perspective. This is The Message From Dr. Light and in it we hear from Megaman’s very creator in an epic preamble to everything before the robot war. The song appeared on the Game Music 4 All album Welcome to World 2.
After all this hubbub about the classic Megaman 2, The Megas started to hear shouts of “But what the heck about the first Megaman!?” Those shouting loudest were East coast VG rockers, Entertainment System (myspace.com/entertainmentsystem), whom The Megas had toured with briefly around 32 Bit Genocide. Unlike most shouting on the internet though, this actually helped something. Specifically the Megatainment EP. This was a four track EP wherein Entertainment System brings in their own brand of hard rocking to team up with The Megas vocal proficiency to create a prequel to the acclaimed Get Equipped. That album, which is just as amazing, and with it’s own rougher but just as catchy style will be the focus of another article though.
The debut album from The Megas also create a great introductory album to VG Rock, as well as Mega Man in general, with it’s catchy, genre fusing style and pop sensibilities. That isn’t to say that the songs do not rock though, as anyone who has been to a Megas show can attest to. Be sure to check out their music at themegas.com. Any fan of rock music will not be disappointed with the musical abilities they bring to the table. And with a brand new acoustic album on the horizon, as well as the previously mentioned Megaman 3 project, it is certainly a good time to be a Megas fan.
Quickman and Dr Light Artwork by Rocco D. Commisso
There is a game for the Super NES that holds a very special significance to certain gamers, including myself. The mere mentioning of it can reignite the very passionate love for this cult classic. Earthbound.
Earthbound, considered by many fans to be one of the most significant games ever developed for a multitude of reasons. One of the many reasons is the much revered soundtrack from Keichi Suzuki and Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka. Together they created some of the catchiest, and creepiest music for the SNES, or any other game system for that matter. Not to mention the fact that this game packed in so many tracks that they almost didn’t fit into the game itself.
We are not here to talk about the phenomenal original soundtrack though. I would like to present you with the 2006 Earthbound fan compilation Bound Together (wushuplaya.com/boundtogether/). This tribute brings together over 30 amazing video game remixers and musicians from every corner of the internet. This amounts to over 40 tracks that are as amazing as they are varied.
Trying to go through every single song on this compilation is a daunting task, but rest assured that each song does a great job standing out, grabbing your attention, and keeping you glued to your headphones. Every individual is likely to come away from the album with a different list of favorite songs so forgive me if my brevity makes me skip over some of your favorite tracks in this collection. Anyway, let’s blow some dust out of the slot, and fire up this tribute to a 15 year old masterpiece.
We are introduced to the album by ktriton and his opening track Soup to Nuts, which starts off like a dusty old record but quickly proceeds into a nostalgic jazz version of the title screen and opening themes. This upbeat groove would be right at home in the Runaway Five’s (Earthbound’s very own in house jazz group) set. Infused with the jazz vibes we get some well placed cuts and breaks to keep things lively until we end with the sounds of the night that started it all. From there we dive right into Shael Riley and his ridiculous ROM Schtick, his rendition of the info entry screen. With lots of random instruments, vocals, and noises, this song definitely stands out and evokes the colorful, charming style of Earthbound in musical form.
From that stellar introduction we skip ahead a few songs to Medical Insurance by Joshua Morse. The song starts off with an interesting store atmosphere that transitions into the song seamlessly, and injects more of that Earthbound charm into the album. Midway through the track we are presented with some fine piano and wind work as the store noise shifts softly into the background. At about two minutes in we finally purchase our belongings and head back out into Ness’ small town of Onnett with an upbeat piano/guitar fronted ending to the song. We find our way from those soft tunes to find out that Joe Cam Stole Our Bike! At least that is the name of the hard rocking bicycle theme rendition by Ailsean. With banging drums and wailing guitars it’s hard not to rock out to this amazing remix. Even original composer Keichi Suzuki considers the Bicycle Theme his favorite track from the games soundtrack.
For fans of Earthbound, it is easy to remember first entering the town of Threed, with it’s unnervingly dark vibe and music. Mazedude’s track Zombie Lounge takes the towns dark theme and creates a hauntingly dissonant track that adds just enough new elements to keep it catchy and approachable. This track is one I would consider high on the list of difficult to reproduce songs, but Mazedude really nails the tone of the original song while making it his own. Amazingly, one of my favorite musicians Shawn Phase of Temp Sound Solutions (whom I will write about on The Start Screen one day, I swear) has also covered one of my favorite songs from Earthbound. That song is Santa is Dead, better known as the Winters theme. In Shawn Phase’ signature style he combines chiptunes and rock to recreate the snow covered lands of Winter in a captivating lo-fi fashion. These two songs are a definite high point for me on this very creative album.
We leave the distant lands of Winters to lie on the beach front thanks to The OneUps and their amazing jazz rearrangement Summers. Starting off smooth and relaxing, and working it’s way through a few fine solos, the song suddenly bursts into a lively upbeat arrangement, bringing the track home. Next up is the stellar medley Sailing to Da Market by Cromkayer. We greet the ocean with a laid back acoustic rendition of the Boat Ride theme, which only appears once in the game, before you are attacked by that dastardly Kraken. These relaxing, mellow sounds fades out near the halfway mark. Now we touch land in Scaraba and the music shifts to some island style rocking complete with electric guitar, bongos, and trumpets. The song closes with some enthusiastic bongos in another of many moments that show off the diverse range of musical influences on both the remixers as well as the original composers.
Da Black Market by Crazy Crakaz. What can really be said about this one? It’s a rap song about Earthbound that just has to be heard. Cussing, violence, Nintendo Power, it’s all in there. After that irreverence, we take a sharp turn into disturbing territory with Kaijin and his track, Scars. A slowly winding desert theme shifts into a guitar driven industrial rock track that creates an ominous mood. Evoking a fear and uneasiness of an unknown land, up until we reach an uplifting break in the mood as we close out the song with gentle guitar work and high chiming bells.
An incredible fusion of styles create the slow paced, but evocative Inspired from Less Ashamed of Self.
This next one also has to be heard, Mustin’s Flying Man. The song is based on another track you only hear in one small part of the game. Mustin takes this cameo track and gives it the full treatment, including lyrics originally written by Shigesato itoi, the writer and creator of Earthbound, for the original Mother game for NES. The songs uplifting lyrics and playful melody, with backing vocals, distortion, kazoos, and scratches create a memorable and well crafted song, especially within the context of the game. I will include the music to this particular track at the end of the article in a youtube video for your enjoyment at the end of this article as well.
We are nearing the end of the album now, but there is no shortage of fine tracks. Well known chiptune artist, remixer, and video game composer virt lends his distinct musicianship to the album with the beloved Get On The Bus. This six minute epic includes some of the most well known themes in Earthbound, and comprises them into one enormous show stopping medley. With a jazzy big band atmosphere we go through a beautiful re-imagining of the Photograph Music, Bus Music, and of course, the very memorable Runaway Five bus theme. All these songs are combined in an incredible and unforgettable way that will just bring a vivid recap of the game flooding into your mind.
This is where we reach the final ending of our long winding journey and look back on everything we have seen and done to get where we are now. To help us with that we have Dhsu and his amazing title track Bound Together, which is his piano arrangement of the walking home theme from the end of the game. The soft track hits some strong high points as well and really helps punctuate the entire adventure. This leads to the true final track, the amazing Dale North remix of the Earthbound credits theme. More piano lead melodies combine with heartfelt vocals (once again written by Itoi) to create a haunting melody that is left lingering even after the track is over. The song starts off with soft piano but slowly swells into a more robust track with sweeps of winds here and there until we reach the vocals near the end of the track. This leaves us with an enduring melody dripping from the last refrains of the piano, bringing this soundscape to a close.
Looking back on all of it, I hope the music from this compilation filled your mind with many classic memories of your first foray into the world of Earthbound, as well as enticed you to learn more about some of these fantastic artists. If you have yet to play Earthbound, then what are you waiting for? The game stands tall as a brilliant piece of electronic entertainment that still resounds with many gamers to this day. You owe it to yourself to sit down and experience it from start to finish, although that is a talk for another day. For now, just head over to wushuplaya.com/boundtogether/ and download this incredible collection of pure nostalgia and aural talent.
Stores have begun their Halloween sales, kids are back in school, and the end of summer has truly passed. Chiptunes mourn the passing season with a nostalgia driven compilation known as Summertunes.
Chiptune netlabel ubiktune (ubiktune.org) celebrates both their tenth release as well as the end of summer with their new compilation Summertunes (download free at ubiktune.org/release/010/). The album is a collection of amazing chiptune artists paying tribute to lost summers with some incredible renditions of upbeat and nostalgia infused songs. We have the somber opening of Marine, which leads into a jazzy upbeat look back on summers past. The fast paced Malmen in Space by Xaimus, which creates a lot of child like fun and action. Shnabubala also brings a more intimidating feel with Pastorale Scenes, a track that straddles back and forth between simple nostalgia and uncomfortable memories. Quite possibly my favorite track on the album though, is Coda’s Beach in the Sky which is equal parts relaxing beach town and bright sidescrolling adventure. Of course this is just a small sample of the variety of music on here. There plenty of other amazing tracks all with their own tones, qualities, and summery feel to them.
For those who enjoyed spending summer vacations outside playing in the sun and water just as much as spending entire summer days inside trying to reach the end of Chrono Trigger or Sonic the Hedgehog, this album is definitely for you.
Full tracklisting is as follows.
01. C-jeff & Random – Marine (5:17)
02. Vincenzo – Summer Thing (2:43)
03. Xaimus – Malmen in Space (2:52)
04. Temp Sound Solutions – Ocean City Arcades (3:15)
05. Coda – Beach in The Sky (2:32)
06. Shnabubula – Pastorale Scenes (2:10)
07. Yerzmyey – AY is Not A Doorbell (2:48)
08. Blitz Lunar – Super Soaker (2:07)
09. Malmen – Unbelievable Lips (2:30)
10. MmcM – Summer is Always With Me (4:17)
11. Rico Zerone – Empty Beach (1:57)
Fine readers of The Start Screen might recall that I wrote about Pause a bit back. Well I bring them up once again because the Pause Netlabel (iimusic.net) has given me my first introduction to the amazing C-Jeff (c-jeff.untergrund.net), a chiptune artist from Russia. He has just released a three song EP that spans a globe trotting 30 minutes entitled Electric (which you can download free at iimusic.net/catalog/2009/08/c-jeff-electric). In only three songs this album seems to span an endlessly changing sea of genres, styles, emotions, and ideas. From soaring jazz compositions to cavernous crunching riffs, all the tunes have so much emphasis as if pain staking thought went into each note written in every track. This might be because of the inspiration of this album, which may just put the music into a little more perspective. This is C-jeff’s own small explanation about what the album is about.
The plot of Electric is the life of one man – from his naïve childhood, through happiness and darkness to the final light of heaven. This album is dedicated to memory of my father, Oleg Zhemkov, the great rock-musician whom I lost in spring of 2008. I miss you.
With that in mind, it’s very easy to see this album as a sort of biography for a lost loved one. Each piece of work can conjure up a specific mood, and even specific feelings and memories.
The EP is broken down into three parts by track. Electric Part 1 is a jazzy opening number. It kicks off with an ominous low key feel, but the pace picks up and spirals out into the atmosphere, finally landing with a lot of crunch This leads right into Part 2, which has a faster pace. The song wears itself down into an industrious and upbeat vibe until it gets caught in a wave of tense deep tones. The air is tense and quick in the final build up of the song. This leads to a dark siren like ending to the track.
Finally we end up at the final piece of this amazing album, the epic rock composition Part 3. The track starts off dark, as if in a dank sewer, but quickly shifts gear once the guitar work comes in. This sets up the track to create incredible mountains and valleys in the arrangement. The album closes with a simple fade out, which leaves the final riff repeating in your head even after the track ends.
Brilliant chiptunes meld with incredible guitar work to create an aural treat over these three tracks, and will definitely leave no one disappointed. The album creates upbeat catchy highs as well as depressing somber lows in the arrangements. This album, along with the recently released Kind of Bloop (which you should check out, but I will write about soon hopefully) continue to forge a path that shows that chiptunes are far from simple blips and chirps, but instead are diverse, emotional, and versatile. Be sure to download this album from Pause and experience the incredible compositions that this album has in store!