Howdy folks. I’ve got no preamble this time, no big to-do. I just want to talk to you about some of my favorite… Philadelphians? Philadelphans? Philly-cians?
Jawns. They’re just jawns.
The ‘✩✩ All Stars EP ✩✩’ is the second release by p0cky br0s, the duo project of Steve Lakawicz (ap0c) and Kev Ragone (Close To Good). All of these tracks are original ap0c compositions (most of them entered in Battle of the Bits, one of them on one of our very own collaborative compilations, and the last is actually the intro to Steve’s podcast) which have been enhanced with live instrumentation alongside the ＰＨＡＴ ＦＭ ＳＯＵＮＤＳ of the Sega Genesis (and in one case, a VRC6). Playing alongside Steve’s tuba and Kev’s drumming is a dream team (or, as you might call it, an all star cast) of Philly’s best chiptune and VGM folks shredding it up.
You’ll wanna bust out your good headphones – the bass groove is strong with this one. I would have expected that to be the work of Solarbear, who when he’s not
sucking making chiptunes rocks the bass in The Mountain Chiefs, but he’s actually responsible for the gnarly guitar solo near the end which is not to be missed. This track is a great “get hype” track – between the thick and driving bass and simple melody, it’s easy to just trance out to this while running or driving. This track was originally entered in the Summer Chip VI competition at BotB.
Not content to leave the other bassist of The Mountain Chiefs out to dry, Robby Vocke throws down on track 2. I like ‘Justified Vindication’ purely for the fact that this song somehow manages to balance being extremely chill and upbeat with its extremely aggressive bass and drums for most of the track. It’s a cool juxtaposition, honestly – this track is basically just an exploration of that balance. This track appeared in its original form on the ‘Forest = ВИН!‘ compilation.
As a former tuba player, I do so love when I get to hear Steve throw down on his tuba alongside some chiptunes. As someone who basically just got stuck playing boring basslines in highschool, I feel personally vindicated when tubists like Steve play the lead part on tuba since it gives you a chance to hear an instrument perform outside of its assigned role. The song itself is unobtrusive and performs its job both as a calm interlude between heavier tracks on this album as well as its original purpose of introducing the Retro Game Audio podcast admirably. (Also go follow that everywhere podcasts are distributed! My favorite is Podbean, personally.)
This song is, I think, as close as the music of ap0c has ever come to prog rock. It’s still got that sort of goofy and lighthearted feel which is iconic of so many of his tracks, but aside from a sole hard driving section that gets introduced and then recapitulated at the end, most of the rest of song (including nmlstyl’s guitar solo) is just this crazy atonal run over and over. I find it kind of funny that so much of chiptune is focused around loops and reusing portions of the track over and over, and this song is basically an exercise in that except with live instrumentation. This track originally appeared on the Summer Chip V competition over at BotB.
Okay look technically the guest artist here isn’t from Philly, but would YOU turn down a collab with Stemage? This is probably my favorite track on the album – it’s got the perfect mix of that twangy Genesis bass with otherwise stellar instrumental sound design, Stemage absolutely nailing the lead, and as always an interesting bassline from Steve. This track originally released in the Winter Chip XIII competition at BotB.
“Hey Adam,” I hear you ask, “why didn’t you talk about Kev on the drums at all? Don’t you explicitly go out of your way to talk about good percussion?” Yes, hypothetical person, yes I do. I wanted to talk about the percussion separately from the tracks because I’d just be saying the same thing over and over – Kev Ragone is a monster. There were times I literally couldn’t tell if the drums were being automated because of how clean and tight they were. I included the links to all the original tracks because I wanted you to be able to go back and compare to see what live instrumentation adds to each track, and I think what you’ll find the most is that while Steve’s great at writing percussion parts for the YM2612, Kev’s interpretation of them plus his own spin is just phenomenal.
If you’d like to what these legends look like live, may I direct you to their live performance at Bit Gen XIII, which I have included below, as well as links to their respective music.