A couple years back, I thought, like Malcolm McLaren, that the distribution of Gameboy-based music editing software like LSDJ and Nanoloop would start an above-ground revolution of sorts. To the Nintendo generation, chiptune music is heritage. Koji Kondo was the Beatles, even if most of us didn’t (or still don’t) know who he is. I remain convinced that part of the fascination we (meaning those under 30) have with electronic sounds stems from unconscious sources, namely 1) video games, which persisted in the background of our lives like traffic and construction does for urban dwellers, and 2) documentary soundtracks from classroom films, which harbored in the citational procurement of said sounds in forms as diverse as the hipster-hop of DJ Shadow and the spectral radiophonics of The Advisory Circle. Of course, the latter references carry with them a sense of academic mnemonic transcendence, whereas chiptune is seen as a crass, vulgar mockery of an once-commercial and hence valueless artform by the critical establishment. It’s bollocks, of course. Chiptune/video game memory is just as fascinating a nostalgic repression as the PBS analogue aesthetic.
Let us take Adventure, part of the mass Carpark Records/Wham City collective acquisition (Dan Deacon, Lexie Mountain Boys, Lesser Gonzales Alvarez, Ecstatic Sunshine), seriously then, even if the man behind the machinery, Benny Boeldt, doesn’t. As can be expected, Adventure features raging 8 bit arpeggios and bouncy staccato square waves. Each track seems to be titled like a level or theme from an imaginary video game (“Iron Stallion”, “Battle Cat”, “Ultra Zone”, “Civilization”… well, I guess that one’s a real game). The main problem with Adventure and his self titled debut, besides it being completely front-loaded, is that he focuses too much on one type of gaming experience. Namely, and perhaps appropriately, adventure games, which are singularly represented on this disc. There’s a great range in sonics betwixt the late bedtime perils of doom and the pixie stick sugar-rush of victory, but the pacing never relents from that of a high speed chase over crocodile pits and past fireball-spewing chimera. I’m sure it works fine for the dancefloor, but it tires a bit upon home listening with no handheld stimuli to accompany it. Still, it’s hard not to fall in love with the adolescent triumph dance of “Travel Kid” or the building Tron-like grid of tension that is “Poison Diamonds”. It’s only escapism in that it involves a daring getaway. And even if you can’t make it straight through to the final boss, it’s still a blast warping back and forth to some of the better levels.
// Notes from the Road
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