Howdy again, chiptune buckaroos!
Buckaroo Bran here to jaw ‘atcha one last time about our Wild West themed compilation, ‘A Fistful of Chiptunes‘! Got not one, two, but three wily writers in cahoots today to serve up the full review of this badass buncha tunes! On the horse first, it’s Pixel Guy! Yeehaw!
Here we are: a fistful of chiptune on one side, a review to be written on the other, and us right in the middle. So let’s get started! Needless to say, this will be a wild ride, so hold onto your hats and let’s take a look over these fantastic tunes!
1. ‘Every gun has its own tune’ by Hello World
A charging cinematic soundscape welcomes the listener to this compilation. As we delve into the track, the slight, but rising tension is built brick by brick, reaching the point of no return at 1:54. The slightly distorted square wave and synth merge with the strings and ‘abanico’ guitar strumming strain the intro, establishing the main suspense filled atmosphere. That tension is finally released, and the main theme transforms into a more violent version of itself, exploding the previous chip elements and spicing them with drums, a little reinforcement of chorus, and electric guitars in the background – drawing it to a pretty satisfying conclusion. And this is only the beginning….
2. ‘The Adventures of Montana Jack and The Lasso Lad’ by King Bubu
Marking an opposite state from the previous track, King Bubu brings in a mild mood. The deep tones of the timpani open the path for the warm strings, enhancing the feel that is later complemented by the snare drum, the tambourine, and the occasional tubular bells. The rustic touch of the acoustic guitar highlights the intention, adding a bucolic impression, and making impossible not to think of a rural landscape at the sunrise. ‘The Adventures of Montana Jack and The Lasso Lad’ features an interesting mixture between the marching rhythm of the percussion and the melodic nature of the track itself – giving, as a result, a delightful piece of music that gently moves to the horizon.
3. ‘The Inexplicable death of Walter Weirdley’ by Fade Runner
Simple is not the same as simplistic, and Fade Runner makes the difference more than obvious. A single whistling part introduces a straight, solid melodic line that hits in just the right spot. The transition between the whistling and the square wave is so smooth that is almost unnoticeable. That’s made possible thanks to the brief, and unexpected, appearance of white noise and the percussion line, which acts as the glue that puts together the whole piece. ‘The Inexplicable death of Walter Weirdley’ is a minimalist approach that is more than pleasant to listen to. This track feels alive, so much so that you can almost hear it breathe.
4. ‘The Last Ride (dawn, robbery, showdown)’ by Starving GOGO
I have to admit I’m not an expert when it comes down to movies and their music, but goddamnit, Starving GOGO went big with the theme – this time making a powerful and very descriptive work worthy of any western movie. The main motif gives that irresistible western flavor. As the track moves forward and the little theme develops, growing in form and variety, the ingenious usage of the WAV and Noise channels complete the picture – energizing the track and giving dimension and contrast. The classic three-act division fits perfectly into the theme of the compilation, but it also emphasizes the creative capacity of the author. Every decision made on this track leads to the perfect resolution; from the use and distribution of the samples to the absorbing sound design, everything is disposed to catch the listener’s attention and don’t let it go until the song ends.
An old Mexican proverb says that, when a single man with a Gameboy meets a whole band with instruments, the man with the Gameboy will be a dead man… but not this time… not this time.
5. ‘Man With A Gameboy Cartridge’ by Pouale
‘Man With A Gameboy Cartridge’ demonstrates Pouale’s level of expertise. The progressive character of the song is the perfect excuse to show us how to use those four channels – the sound design is fantastic. Probably one of the most fascinating aspects of these tracks is the rhythm; it’s simple, but powerful enough to provide the pure and basic essence of this kind of music – and that’s exactly what gives to this tune extra points. Pouale explores different rhythmical approaches, changing tempo and making little adjustments to the overall sensation. In this way they are able to weave a rhythmically complex unit that moves cohesively, consonantly, and in a very appealing way.
Well, that’s all on my side! Now it’s time for the amazingly talented Pixel Syndrome to take over. I’ll see you next time!
6. ‘Without a Plan’ by Professor Shyguy
Outlaws, watch your step! As Professor Shyguy details in the lyrics, there is not much room to breathe in this rollercoaster of a track. With the use of colorful beats that evoke flamenco, this song makes an excellent use of guitar, blending it seamlessly and smoothly with its LSDJ infused sounds. Haunting us with strong vocals, there is a crafted sense of pursuit and urgency in this track: as the dissonant guitar howls and the haunting words speak to us from the perspective of the outlaw, we can get the feeling of being chased, both from inside and out. And, even though the song’s protagonist is concerned about losing control, this jam makes you want to forget about their evil deeds and sing along.
7. ‘Derelict’ by D&D Sluggers
The harmonica in major tones is a bold move that stands out through the track, going well with the use of traditional sound effects that is pretty common in spaghetti western music, like the “Haw!”s and the hooves-like percussive elements. What is wonderful is that D&D Sluggers were able to capture the guitar style of continuous vibrato that comes with the Surf Rock vibes that Ennio Morricone incorporated into the genre, and it feels legit in its warm, resonant tones. The Sunset Riders sampled line “Bury me with my money!” (as a throwback to the famous run and gun side-scroller) is a lovely touch that you just can’t miss!
8. ‘Saloon Showdown Survivor’ by jmr
jmr’s track crafts the perfect tale of the feeling before a virtual Saloon Showdown, and the joyful celebration of the victors that follows. How does it achieve its goal? At first, there’s some dissonant notes resembling a saloon piano playing a daunting melody, that, combined with a masterful use of silences and simulated high-pitched whistling, keeps you on edge and creates a threatening feeling of eeriness. Then, there is a refreshing change of pace that follows its atmospheric development, and the payoff comes in the form of playful whispers, which, along some cheerful major key notes, assures us that we are now in the clear to relax and have a couple of sarsaparillas at the bar. And who wouldn’t, after what seems to be a legendary duel?
9. ‘Sheriff & The Kid’ by Pumodi
“It’s life or death now!” This track reminds us of the suspense and tension that comes with measuring a deadly opponent in the western lore. The bells marking the hour and the snake rattles are just a tiny part of the layering of instruments that goes into crescendo, creating a thick, sampled and polished atmosphere that can be clearly felt as the track progresses and the two sides of the law get ready for their duel. The bell that tolls for both of them at the end of the track doesn’t give us any indication of their fate, but it’s a satisfactory release nonetheless.
10. ‘March of the Guardians’ by Aethernaut
Aethernaut’s track carries some classic western feels and makes you want to take up an epic quest of the outdoor kind, like guarding the herd in the style of “City Slickers”. Sophisticated, this song brings up a flowing tempo that is spiced with guitars, whips, synths, bells and whistles, but only in just measures that don’t distract from the task at hand. Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana soundfonts were used on this composition, which helps bring out the sense of fullness and familiarity in the sounds. The calvary is coming, and the upbeat, continuous percussion has some melodic touches intertwined so that it’s easy on the listener’s ears.
Closing out this hootenanny of a review, it’s Techno Mage Dan!
11. ‘Le Munizioni E La Spada’ by Nishioka Diddley
‘Le Munizioni E La Spada’ opens to the tune of a lonely, whistling anthem. Its ambient soundscape shambles into a steady rhythm of mellow Commodore arps before a bright, reverb-drenched guitar track creeps into the mix. After a brief, heroic interlude, the song culminates in a soul-filled solo followed by a wistful outro. A true desperado’s theme, ‘Le Munizioni E La Spada’ is a beautiful homage to the cowpoke era.
12. ’01 OVERTURE, A NEW FRONTIER’ by dachampster
The immersive, heroic narrative of ’01 OVERTURE, A NEW FRONTIER’ ignites with a cleverly fashioned soundtrack of plodding hooves and chirping birds. A meaty sawtooth dances around the song’s playful melody until the track explodes into an upbeat gunfight across the sprawling frontier. The song follows the firefight through tension, hope, and certain danger, peaking with a victorious crescendo. For an exciting piece of Western-influenced, story-driven chip music, look no further!
13. ‘The Drifter’ by Jakk & Dya
In the year 188X, ‘The Drifter’ was created. The epic ballad of the Drifter opens with a melancholy pulse lead bolstered by a lush two-channel echo. Jakk (as the narrator) chimes in with their staple vocalizations, chronicling the tale of the song’s titular character. Dya shows off his amazing guitar chops by roaring into the second act with a harmonizing pair of screaming guitars. The song’s gratifying conclusion is marked by a resounding proclamation, the hero’s vengeance complete.
14. ‘The Gauntlet’ by Tobikomi
A master of many chips, Tobikomi sets the stage for ‘The Gauntlet’ with a series of warm, ascending notes tinged with an Atari-brand detuned timbre. Delicate, chirpy arps slowly build to a brief, dramatic pause and then resurface to pad a mournful lead. This melody is creatively dusted with all manner of variations throughout the song—including a surprising key change. Unsurprising, though, is the quality of Tobikomi’s sound design and songwriting.
15. ‘Moonlit Vagabond’ by Jentu
‘Moonlit Vagabond’ is a rich story filled with violence, sorrow, and redemption. Its beautiful, hybrid arrangement evokes a scene in which the protagonist has reached the end of their journey. The villain has been slain and order is restored, but it comes with a heavy price. Jentu’s use of orchestration and the ever-faithful 2A03 in tandem is as refreshing as it is skillfully implemented.
16. ‘horse slinger’ by cactus.
A foreboding bell tolls and the sun sets over a wonderful collection of chiptunes. cactus. delivers an expressive guitar performance which is augmented throughout the song by a carefully-constructed composite of chiptune archetypes and classic Western must-haves. As a result, ‘horse slinger’ perfectly straddles the oddly satisfying Venn diagram of chiptune and the music of Italo-Western films.