Mirby’s Mishmash: Taylor Brown and the 1001 Spikes

Video games and their soundtracks have a very symbiotic relationship. The game has to portray a setting while the music breathes life into it. The music has to set a mood while the game has to have characters and settings that match it. Some games and soundtracks don’t quite get that right, but RushJet1′s soundtrack to 1001 Spikes is not one of those instances. The game itself is an update of an Xbox Live Indie Game titled Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, so the original compositions for the first 7 worlds were by Misoka; RushJet1 just updated them for this release. The rest are all his, including the Key versions that play when you collect the Key for the stage (which is required to unlock the exit to each stage), and there’s quite a few musical allusions present in the guest character themes.

Oh Mr. Video Game, you're totally not referencing anything whatsoever...

Oh Mr. Video Game, you’re totally not referencing anything whatsoever…

The thing about character themes in this game, though, is that you don’t hear them all the time. No matter who you choose, the first world always plays that character’s theme as the stage theme. Aban’s Theme, in particular, comes in several different flavors based on the outfits he wears. One such example is Ninja Aban, where he dons an outfit similar to Ryu Hayabusa’s from Ninja Gaiden. While in that outfit, his theme takes instrumentation cues from that game. Mr. Video Game (exclusive to Nintendo systems) takes his theme and turns it into something from a familiar land of fungi. There are more than just alternate outfits, however, as several characters from other indie games appear. Commander Video from the Bit.Trip games shows up, and in the first world you can hear his theme, complete with the soundscape heard in his games of origin revealing itself once you collect the Key for that stage. Curly Brace from Cave Story also shows up, along with a tune from that game accompanying her.

I'll take on all the darts, flamethrowers, and bottomless lakes if I can keep hearing this great music

I’ll take on all the darts, flamethrowers, and bottomless lakes if I can keep hearing this great music…

Beyond that each world has its own theme, in terms of both music and appearance. For instance, the third world is full of water, and the matching theme, Mysterious Water, does indeed have an aqueous quality to it. The following world is quite the opposite: full of fire and heat, and its theme, Lava Stream, burns with a similar passion. Its Key version burns even fiercer. But no matter the setting of the area, each song captures a driving rhythm, fitting Aban’s determination to get through these deadly ruins alive. Even Frozen Wasteland, the theme of the 8th world and the first main world theme composed solely by RushJet1, has that sense of courage, of conviction, present in its rather deliberate pace. 1001 Icicles, world 9′s theme, prominently features the title theme for the first time in gameplay. This reference back to the first song you hear when you boot the game up is masterfully done, especially considering the song’s title.

Oh dear everything appears to be completely on fire. Including me.

Oh dear everything appears to be completely on fire. Including me.

There are also a couple of bonus adventures in the game. The first, Tower of Nannar, plays over 8 stages with 2 boss fights, and each stage has its own unique theme. While the ridiculous difficulty of the main game may not be fully present in these stages, their music is just as amazing. The Dungeon, theme of the first stage within Tower of Nannar, is a rather dark track that picks up about half a minute in, but fits the mood of the stage and the story of Tower of Nannar (wherein a girl is kidnapped from a nearby town and Aban must save her from the cultists who did it) quite nicely. Echo Chamber, the theme for the following stage, is rather atmospheric and sets the tone wondrously. Once you get to the second world the tone picks up; The Quest brings back that driving rhythm that can be heard in the main game, and that rhythm continues through the rest of the stages. The other two short adventures, The Golden Vase and The Lost Levels, have unique title themes but the stage themes are taken from the main game.

Taken from The Lost Levels.

LET’S A NEW PARAGLAPH!

All in all, The Music of 1001 Spikes showcases great songs from a great game, each capturing the steadfast tenacity required to navigate each stage the songs play in. If I had to use one word to describe this soundtrack, I’d use “resolute.” One needs to be resolute to navigate each stage, to not give up. Similarly, each song has a resolute core. Though they may have different vibes or energies, the songs all share that resolute feeling at their heart. And being resolute is a very good thing to be, to never back down (unless necessary); something I’m sure many of us can relate to. Until next time, game on! 

RushJet1
Homepage | Bandcamp Facebook Twitter YouTube

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Chip Treatment with Professor Oakes: ‘superchroma’ by crashfaster

crashfaster. You know them as that rockin’ Bay Area quartet with unforgettable stage presence, and you know that pseudonym through association of high quality releases that do anything but disappoint. Every. Single. Time.

If you recall my last crashfaster album review, which you can read HERE, ‘further’ was an album that emerged from ‘the ashes of discarded technology’ in a thoughtfully composed narrative arc. As a whole, ‘further’ is a metaphor for the never-fleeting feelings of isolation, numbness, and emptiness that one may encounter throughout their life, and is largely an autobiographical commentary by Morgan Tucker, crashfaster, 8bitSF and monobomb records’ frontman. Envisioning an explorer, Tucker remarks that the entirety of ‘further’ is a metaphor of the contemplation of his life and eventual journey to find the truth by ‘casting aside his former life and shedding each layer of his humanity.’

Transpiring from the personal anecdote alluded to throughout the course of ‘further’ is ‘superchroma’, an EP whose energetic presence and masterful evolution from the album prior is one that can’t go far from unnoticed. Released fresh on Bandcamp on July 22, 2014, ‘superchroma’ pays homage to what crashfaster had been, but also sets the stage to what the band WILL become. Despite what such a busy man he is, Morgan was very gracious to answer a couple of questions that I had about the evolution of the band, the transition from ‘further’ to ‘superchroma’, influences, and the future of crashfaster—because I love all of you, read on for the interview with the man himself!
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Professor Oakes: Hey Morgan! Thanks again for being able to do this!

Morgan Tucker: No, thank YOU! I really appreciate you interviewing me!

PO: Psh, I do all the easy lifting ;) But seriously, thanks again for taking the time. I know how busy you are with being a father, frontman of crashfaster, 8bitSF and co-founder of monobomb records! You certainly sound like you never take a breather.

Can you tell me a little bit about crashfaster and the significance in the pseudonym?

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llustrations courtesy of Phylissa Li, 2014

MT: crashfaster is meant to infer to both technology (ephemerality) and physicality. I’m fascinated by how much we rely upon technology to feed our souls. I believe we must strip away distractions and excess in both the physical and spiritual realms in order to discover our true nature. crashfaster is a call to action – destroy both your digital and physical selves to reveal the truth that lurks beneath the surface.

PO: I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and I was very excited to see you evolve from a single-person band into a quartet. Can you tell me how the transition from a single act to a full-man band means to you? Are you happy with the sound now that you have extra hands (and friends) on the team? How did you meet one another, anyways?

MT: There are two aspects of working with a band that have had a significant impact on crashfaster. In the studio, songwriting possibilities multiply exponentially. Each one of us has distinct and disparate musical tastes and influences. This has made our sound more rich and varied. In a live setting, there’s a lot more energy on stage to play with and off of. It’s hard to be one guy behind a Gameboy and keep the crowd’s attention. There’s a lot more for people to connect with when there’s four of us thrashing away. crashfaster was always intended to be on the dancey side of things, but something interesting happened when we began writing as a band.

On “further” we each naturally fell into a rock mentality, and the music became more aggressive and a little less beat-oriented. On “superchroma” we’ve pulled the sound back towards something that will make you move. I think we’ve found the right balance in our new material.

As for how crashfaster formed into a four-person band, it happened by chance, mostly. A few years ago I wanted to start stepping up the impact of my live performance, and I thought the single best way to do that was to introduce live percussion. I met Devin through a mutual friend of ours (The Glowing Stars’ Lizzie Cuevas), and we had an instant bond. We both saw eye to eye on where the project could go and shared the determination and work ethic that could make it a reality. A little while later, we got a shot to open for Anamanaguchi, and I wanted the band to sound even bigger.

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The man, the myth… the Ryan Case. Photo by Lester Barrows

I asked Ryan (who was a coworker at the time) if he thought he could learn our songs in a week. He said yes, and he did! We met Keiko at the farewell show for our old singer. The rest is history.

PO: Wow! What a history and inspiring happenstance. While I certainly love the sound of old crashfaster, I love the direction you all have been going in now that there’s four of you. However, I especially LOVE the direction you went in this EP, and it has to be one of my favorite crashfaster releases. With that said, can you tell me a little about the transition from ‘further’ to ‘superchroma’ as a whole?

MT: “Superchroma” was meant to be more of an evolution than a departure. We wanted to both pay homage to what crashfaster had been, but at the same time set the stage for everything that we could become. Our musical influences are deep and varied, and I want the band to reflect that moving forward.

Working at Different Fur with Patrick Brown and Sean Paulson opened our eyes to new workflows and songwriting possibilities. As soon as we finished up “further”, I was ready to get back in there and do it all over again, but this time we’d be armed with new ideas that the studio experience had spurred. “Further” was very much a protracted labor of love…from concept to completion, the project was in development for more than two years. While this allowed us time to refine lyrics, hidden meanings and aesthetic synchronicity, it didn’t let us experiment much while recording. The album was more or less what we came into the studio with. It was only afterward that we realized how much this held us back.

On “superchroma”, we decided to come in sans preconceived notions. We had about 20 rough sketches of songs that Patrick immediately whittled down to 10. From there, we started messing around with each of them until we found the voice the track. We knew we had 10 days from start to finish, and the goal was to get as much done as possible, while reserving the right to chuck things out that just weren’t working. This process was incredibly freeing, and allowed for many happy accidents, serendipitous guest appearances and just more…fun. I think that really comes through in the recording.

PO: Now that we’re talking about production and the gift of group collaboration, what hardware and software do you use?

MT: crashfaster uses a Gameboy loaded with LSDJ, a Gameboy mGB (midi), a NES with midiNES, a SIDstation, sammichSID, a Commodore64 with MSSIAH, Plogue Chipsounds 707, 808, 909, VP330, a Juno 106 & Ableton Live.

PO: Such sweet, sweet tunes for my ears. This hard and software you use—do you have any formal training as a musician? The rest of the band?

MT: I don’t have any formal training as a musician. However, I went to art school for Audio Production. I worked on Foley/SFX/Sound design for several indie films before I started crashfaster. Devin is classically trained and the most experienced musician in the group. The rest of us are pretty much self-taught.

PO: If you could categorize crashfaster’s genre and place a finger on what the band sounds like, what would it be?

MT: Electronic/Industrial/Synth/Rock. Or something.

PO: I’d say that’s pretty accurate! No reason to have to straddle one genre! What would you say influences you all? Music? Movies?

MT: I’d say the biggest influences on our sound are probably Kraftwerk, Nine Inch Nails, Prince, ELO, Afghan Whigs and Neil Young (specifically the “Trans” album). We are big fans of horror movies and anime, and I think you can definitely feel that in our music.

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crashfaster performing ‘GO!’ live at the DNA Lounge, 6/22/14. Photo courtesy of Lester Barrows

PO: Oh, definitely! I feel like “GO!” is straight out of an actual anime—IT’S PERFECT and incredibly energizing! Would you say you have a favorite track on ‘superchroma’?

MT: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a single favorite, because I’m really happy with how the entire thing came out. But if I had to pick, it’d probably be “lost”, because I think we were able to pull off the emotional intent of the lyrics in a way that hits me every time.

PO: I’m curious of the conception of the album name. Does it signify anything in particular?

MT: We were playing with these visual concepts that were heavily inspired by early 90’s rave/cyberpunk culture and anime, and we wanted the music to *feel* colorful. When we were coming up with names for the album, we tried to find something that felt as hyper-kinetic as what was in our heads. Thusly…superchroma!

PO: This colorful and kinetic mood… it’s totally off the spectrum than that of its precursor ‘further’. Would you say the birth of your child had any affect on this newest album and your artistic vision as a whole?

MT: Yes! The idea for “further” was something that preceded my child, and I had been suffering from a loss of purpose and feeling in my every day life, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to find happiness. The construct allowed me to explore the concepts of duty, destiny, assimilation, isolation and self-destruction both lyrically and sonically. Once my daughter was born, I was overcome by a new feeling…not one of numbness, but a crushing awareness of time. I feel, now more than ever, that time escapes me at a pace that I find…unsettling. After all, my biggest fear in life is that I will have regrets (would’ve, should’ve, could’ve), and now I am extremely conscious of the fact that I don’t have forever to do all of the things I want to do while I’m here.

PO: Would you say there’s an overall theme of ‘superchroma’?

MT: Looseness. Ultimately, I wanted this album to act as a “mix cd that you’d have on in your car as you drove around at night in San Francisco.” This lighter construct allowed me to explore more varied types of music…things that I’ve been a fan of but never really found a way to make work within the context of crashfaster.

On this EP, we’ve got everything from a funky synth-pop tune to a faux anime theme song to an industrial club banger. Though the styles are seemingly unrelated, with the help of Patrick Brown, we were able to tie them together aurally in a way that works surprisingly well.

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‘superchroma’ by crashfaster. Album artwork by Phylissa Li, 2014.

PO: Now that your album is wrapped and now live, what does the future hold for crashfaster? Tour? What does it mean to you since you were the founding vision?

MT: More music, and more shows! Through crashfaster and 8bitSF, we’ve built up the community in the Bay Area to the point that I believe it’s one of the most vibrant and diverse scenes in the US. We recently joined forces with LA artists who formed 8bitLA, and we’re working together as sister organizations to bridge the physical divide in California chipmusic.

As far as crashfaster, we’re going on tour with Everything Goes Cold in late August, which will take us from San Francisco to Chicago. After that, we’re hitting the East Coast to play 8static Festival in Philly in October.

PO: I’m looking forward to your Los Angeles stop. You never disappoint! Just thinking about touring the country and doing what you love sounds so incredible. With that said, before we depart, do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

MT: Oh, absolutely! Be humble. Be persistent. If you’re in it for the music, you’ve got to be prepared for the long haul. Destroy all excuses. Stop talking about why you can’t do things…make do with what you have.

PO: Excellent! Thank you so much for providing those nuggets of advice—I’m sure our readers can relate. Anyways, that just about wraps it up for our interview. Again, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon!

MT: Absolutely! Take care.
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That’s all for this (special) edition of Chip Treatment with Professor Oakes! Don’t forget to check out crashfaster’s music, and follow 8bitSF on ALL THE THINGS SOCIAL MEDIA for future events. Also, if you have some time, check out lyric music videos for ‘GO!’, ‘goodbye‘ and ‘photograph’ created by Gabriel Roland, 8bitSF’s resident visualist and mastermind behind Noukon Films.

Until next time! Professor Oakes signing off!

crashfaster
Website Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter

8bitSF
Website | Facebook | Twitter 

Monobomb Records
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Shop 

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Aydan Appreciates: ‘Hot Banana’ by D&D Sluggers

Hey, ChipWINners! You might recognize D&D Sluggers from their track on Chiptunes = #SrsBsns, ‘Slam Jam of the Year’, and if you live on the East Coast, you may have seen a live show on the Odds ‘n Ends Tour that featured SkyBlew, Mega Ran, and D&D Sluggers. I’m definitely one of the latest D&D Sluggers converts due to this tour; unbelievably, the Odds ‘n Ends Tour made a stop in little old Ithaca, and getting to see Tim White play live was definitely an amazing experience. This month, we’re going to run through his latest release, ‘Hot Banana’, a perfect blend of chip, pop, and rock.

The album opens with ‘Robot Girl’, telling a tale of impossible love between himself and a robot girl incapable of feeling emotion. Organic vocals and guitar strumming play over a drum machine and a chip-emulating program – both run on the Nintendo DS, might I add – to create the defining sound of D&D Sluggers. The melody is well written, and the lyrics that adorn this melody definitely fit the title and tone of the song; a few of the things that the robotic subject of the song states are “She says she can’t go against her programming” and “She says she ain’t got no time to waste with you on cute sentimental things”.

‘Villain of the Week’ is another downtempo song; while ‘Robot Girl’ takes on a slightly darker tone, the tone of ‘Villain of the Week’ could be interpreted as comedic. The song opens with two chip voices leading into vocals, bass, and percussion with each passing phrase. The lyrics and the title of the song might – just MIGHT – be allusions to spoilers of a television series, book, or other type of entertainment in progress. The first lyrics of the song are “Please don’t tell me how it ends/I will learn at my own pace”, with a later complaint in a verse being “You don’t know how far I need to go before I’m there”. D&D Sluggers creates another memorable melody with comical and entertaining lyrics to boot, and this song is sure to be a favorite for many listeners.

Having played shows with Math The Band in the past, I expected at least a few hyperactive chip-rock-pop fusion ballads on ‘Hot Banana’, and a number of songs on the album satisfied my hopes. ‘Fight’ is an autotuned, danceable track that tells the listener to stand up and fight in order to get the girl. No, really. Listen to the lyrics. Heavy kicks and claps, a major key, and a vast amount of autotuned goodness help make this one of chiptune’s HOTTEST SUMMER JAMS THIS YEAR. ‘Rock Wild R’, the fifth track on ‘Hot Banana’, might be my favorite track just due to its energetic vibe. So much is happening within the song that you’d almost expect it to burst at the seams. ‘Rock Wild R’ is fast with regards to tempo, has punchy percussion, awesome vocal work, and throws a Mega Man riff at the listener during its guitar solo, should they be familiar with the series.

‘Hot Banana’ is definitely not an album to be missed. While more organic instruments are used than are present in most chipmusic, the blend of instruments in addition to D&D Sluggers’ vocal style are both phenomenal. Try something new. You’ll love it. I promise.

Rather than write about my personal experience at the Ithaca stop of the Odds ‘n Ends Tour, I’ll leave you winners with a link to the playlist showcasing many of the shows that the Ithaca Underground has hosted, starting at D&D Sluggers’ set. Check the links! <3

D&D Sluggers
Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud | Twitter | Ithaca Underground Set

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