One of the first albums I listened to during my transition from a hardcore VGM fan to a chiptune madman was Shnabubula’s classic ‘NES JAMS‘. The album combined many of the elements that I love in music – improvisation, soft piano tones, and a certain sense of nostalgia, even for games that I had never played. Shnabubula had already cemented himself in my mind as one of the most innovative artists I’d heard once I finished listening through the album for the first time. Fast forward to May of this year, five years from the release of this iconic album, and Shnabubula has unveiled his most extravagant work yet, ‘Cosmic Diaspora’, a progressive-fusion suite with heavy SNES-esque instrumentation. Let us witness this journey in all of its splendor together.
First, we’ll take a look at ‘Gliese Prime: Homecoming’, the second movement of this planetary suite. The song opens with a number of time signature changes, pauses, and unique instrumentation, and very early on in the track a main melody is established. However, ‘Gliese Prime’ is constantly in flux. Thematically, the song maintains this familiar melody, but each visit is a little different than the last. A tempo change, a different instrument playing the melodic variants, or a simple pause or counterpoint are just some of the permutations involved. A prime example of this variation can be heard at the 2:30 mark; all instrumentation is killed for a brief moment before the main melody is re-introduced in a string voicing, in addition to a time signature change to 3/4 for a few measures before quickly changing time signatures yet again. Yet, in spite of these changes and constant permutations to the song, each variation feels like a return to the familiar.
Next, we’ll listen to ‘To the Center of the Supervoid’, the fourth movement of ‘Cosmic Diaspora’. This song has a particularly eerie atmosphere to it, as a journey such as this is almost certain to be fraught with uncertainty. The main melody is, again, established early on at the 0:16 mark, although it may not be immediately apparent to the listener. Cemented by a counterpoint at 0:50, ‘To the Center of the Supervoid’ crescendos but pulls back before beginning to swell again. The listener is treated to Shnabubula’s incredible compositional style in this track; the first two minutes and thirty seconds alone are a series of crescendos, decrescendos, points and counterpoints. The ‘Supervoid’ reaches a climax of sorts at this point, changing in tone and increasing in tempo, strongly deviating from the previously established tone and maintaining a 7/8 time signature. Shortly after the 4:00 mark, the bridge ends and the song fades out, utilizing minimal instrumentation and a pizzicato tone in order to hurl the listener into the fray one final time at around 5:50. ‘To the Center of the Supervoid’ ends on a mysterious note on an unresolved phrase, which allows it to transition well to the subsequent movement.
Our final subject for today is ‘One Final Test’, the fifth movement of Shnabubula’s progressive epic. The track starts off with particularly catchy percussion before immediately increasing in intensity through the usage of aggressive snares, pulse kicks, and a brass voice. These elements combined give ‘One Final Test’ a nearly unmatched sense of urgency. While the track is filled to the brim with unique and advanced phrases, one moment that stands out in particular takes place from around 4:16 to 6:15. This section starts off by bringing the listener’s focus to a saxophone voice and changing to a 5/8 time signature for a moment before changing time signatures for several measures. The combination of brass, wind, and percussion in this particular segment give this section an insurmountable vibe, as if the challenge of ‘One Final Test’ has reached its climax. Suddenly, a calming keyboard and harp enter to briefly lighten the mood of the track and provide relief from the previous barrage. Instruments re-enter with a renewed optimism, and while still intense, the remainder of the song provides something of a contrast in mood to the first half of ‘One Final Test’.
‘Cosmic Diaspora’ is a must-have for any fan of progressive music and 16-bit style chipmusic. As most of Shnabubula’s releases are, this is available at a pay-what-you-want price on his Bandcamp. I can’t recommend ‘Diaspora’ or any of his other releases enough; I highly encourage you to listen through some of these, such as ‘Cybersoccer 4141 Perfect Best Selection‘ or ‘Starbound: Rite of Ascension‘ in addition to this album, especially if you haven’t already heard Shnabubula’s music.
Sending love from the stars and beyond.