Anyone who’s ever listened to chipmusic has assuredly heard of the legendary Anamanaguchi. A four-piece group from New York City, their 2009 ‘Dawn Metropolis EP‘ was likely the first taste of chipmusic many of us received upon exploring the genre – myself included. 2013’s ‘Endless Fantasy’ saw a departure from this style and marked their first full-length foray into the world of electronic dance music, and spawned a semi-viral video in which the band launched a slice of cheese pizza into space. In October of 2019, they released ‘[USA]’, their second full-length album, and on the off-chance you missed it on release, I’m excited to share it with you all today!
First, we’ll listen to Air On Line; but before we do that, I’d like to point out that there’s a pretty incredible music video that you can watch right here; note that there are a lot of bright, flashing lights within it, so if you have photosensitive epilepsy, I would advise you not to click on the link!
‘Air On Line’ is the album’s sixth track. The title immediately calls to mind America Online, which many might remember as one of the first widely accessible internet browsers of the 21st century; keep the feeling of nostalgia this evokes in your mind as you listen to the piece. We’re introduced with what sounds like someone walking into the distance before synths fade in; the music video portrays the now iconic space pizza, and backs away from it to reveal an array of other objects. Indistinct vocals enter along with a bassline at the 0:20 mark, adding a new layer of intensity to a piece that was introduced on a slightly melancholic note. Slow, deliberate kicks ground the listener and help our senses flow into the melody. At the 1:01 mark, a familiar chip instrument enters with a new melody, and vocals cut out so it can be featured. Numerous iterations of the same phrase can be heard for a brief moment around 1:14, which demonstrates just how much a simple change in instrumentation can affect a melody. As the vocals are re-introduced, there’s a slightly greater depth in sound, and the astute listener can notice sparkles of arpeggiation in the aural background of ‘Air On Line’ at this point. The track crescendoes and decrescendoes through a number of melodic changes and emotions, and its ending is a distinct tribute to Malon’s singing from the classic Ocarina of Time.
‘B S X’, the album’s ninth track, calls to mind the phrase ‘back to basics’ – that is, the band returning to its roots. It sounds like it could have been ripped right off of one of their early EPs – Power Supply or Dawn Metropolis – but the production quality is significantly higher, and you can feel the years of experience and mastery the band has permeating the folds of ‘B S X’. A sugar-powered, hyperactive joyride of a track, our focus is continuously brought between three major elements – melodic chip voices, vocals performed by the one and only Hatsune Miku vocaloid, and the piece’s organic instrumentation. Some passages, such as the interlude of sorts beginning at the 1:35 mark, showcase guitar solos, while the track’s introduction focuses primarily on its 8-bit progression. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first song the band has composed with the use of a vocaloid; their track ‘Miku ft. Hatsune Miku’ was featured on the official Hatsune Miku YouTube channel and quickly became a massive hit!
If I had to pick a specific song on this album to deem my favorite, it would probably be ‘On My Own’ by a very close margin. The song features the vocals of the incredibly talented HANA, a brilliant musician in her own right and a frequent collaborator with synthpop legend Grimes. The song opens with a catchy, ethereal vocal melody, floating through our consciousness as gracefully as leaves in the wind. The lyrics focus on breaking free from toxic relationships, and by taking that step, one can come to enjoy themselves in ways they wouldn’t be able to were they still grounded by manipulative individuals. The reflective lyrical tone of the track is positively supported by head-bangingly awesome chords, drums, bass, and chip. While the piece is generally fast-paced and optimistic, one moment in particular breaks the status quo. At 1:41, HANA sings about how ‘we’re all looking for the one’, and the track becomes muted here, using minimal percussive and chip instrumentation alongside a slight distortion on her voice. Reverb is then applied to her voice after the phrase, and combined with airy chip effects, the sensation of echoes in a cave or a mysterious forest is created; atmospherically, this is nothing short of brilliance, and it all happens in a matter of seconds.
Currently the band is touring to further promote their album – a list of shows and a link to purchase tickets can be found right here! ‘[USA]’ is available on Bandcamp for $8 USD digitally, and it’s also available through their distributor, Polyvinyl Records, or their Bandcamp in a variety of other formats. ‘[USA]’ is a breathtaking piece of art, sure to be celebrated by chipmusic fans as a cornerstone of the genre for years to come, and expresses confronting reality in a way to which we can all relate in some shape or form.
Life is a journey. Treat it as such.