Welcome back to the blog, fellow ChipWINners! As I’m sure you’re largely aware of at this point, we here at Chiptunes = WIN have taken the time to release another EP to hopefully sate your undying gluttony for music that is, quite frankly, awesome yet monstrous.
While our next colossal compilation will be here before you know it, I’d like to take the time to talk to you about this little amuse-bouche we’ve put together. Because it needs to be understood just what an epic undertaking this was.
You see, we here at ChipWIN pride ourselves in putting out some high quality music. We also take great delight in being part of a community that–along with other net labels, internet communities and artist collectives–has helped foster growth in our little corner of the world and has brought us all a little bit closer together. It is with this spirit of collectivism in mind that we are proud to have reached out to some of the most well known and promising artists in the VGM community and asked them to interpret some of our work as their own.
The results of this ambitious undertaking are absolutely astounding. Don’t just take my word for it though: take the time to listen to the fruits of our labor as I reflect upon why these artists live up to their titles.
Track #1: Tommy Did The Walkin’ by The World is Square feat. Sam Mulligan & Ryn
The first song on our EP was originally done by The J. Arthur Keenes Band (feat. Crayona and the Colorettes) and has quickly become one of the most popular and beloved songs released by ChipWIN thus far. Between the catchy lyrics, funky blips, classic west coast guitar tone, and vocals that sound like a they’re coming from a car radio, the song invokes memories of 60’s surfer and jukebox rock that would make even fans of the Slime Girls giggle with glee. It’s really no wonder this song caught on like it did. It’s one of the biggest departures from traditional chiptune we have ever been presented, and it’s these qualities that prompted a few very special people to do a cover of this song for us when asked to step up and help out with this compo.
Enter The World is Square: a video game cover band that’s made a name for themselves by specializing in acoustic and folk instrumentation of classic video game soundtracks by SquareEnix. Nick, Josh, Lauren, Dave and Joe make up this motley quintet of multi-instrumentalists from Massachusetts who have taken their love of the games this incredible company has produced and turned it into a successful, well recognized act in the VGM community, and in a relatively short amount of time at that!
Since the release of their premiere album in 2012, No Phoenix Down Can Save You Now, the band has gone on to play numerous shows, including notable events like MAGFest 11 and PAX East 2013. It’s been during their shows that the band came to make friends with a couple special people who would lend their talents to this cover: namely Sam Mulligan and our very own Chip Mama, Erin “Ryn” McQuisten!
The combination of this amazing band’s instrumentals, Sam Mulligan’s pure awesomeness (the guy plays 6 instruments, sings, plays in multiple bands and DJs his own radio show: Nerd Rock Radio) and Ryn’s surprisingly smooth vocals (the result of years of competitive ensemble and church choir singing) culminates into an interpretation that not only embodies the catchiness of the original, but bottles the combined enthusiasm these people have for this song as well. The incredible energy everyone brings to the table helps turns this funky jukebox tune into classic TWIS goodness with vocals (a first for the Squares). The song comes across as a combination of drum circle hippydom and an almost bardic retelling of the epic tall tale of Tommy, whom you really shouldn’t mess with lest you end up a chalk outline at the scene of his crimes. It’s practically a tease to adventurers passing through his town who happen to hear this jaunty crew, warning them of the ultimate tough guy, and that they best just pass through if they know what’s good for them; but if they don’t, at least they can’t say no one warned them. Warned them about Tommy.
If this song tickles your fancy, you should definitely check out TWIS’ debut LP, as well as work by Sam Mulligan such as Big Hand Band Van Man, and NickelPunk’s All I Could Do: a heart breaking, powerful and deeply personal EP which features a track with Ryn called “The Longest Two Days”.
Track #2: The Lunar Whale by Tim Yarbrough
Speaking of tall tales, no one song strikes as a tall tale, or better yet, a myth, than The Lunar Whale. Originally composed by Danimal Cannon, a man who really needs no other introduction, because, c’mon, he’s Danimal Cannon! The Lunar Whale isn’t so much a song as it is an invocation of this intense being of myth that simultaneously strikes awe and fear into those who bare witness to its glory.
With it’s deep, punching bass line, pulsing tri-waves, and intense, syncopated melody that continually builds against some incredibly slick drum rolls, The Lunar Whale is like listening to a wizard summon forth an unbridled force of nature & attempt to control it, only to be dumbstruck by the majesty and sheer power of the creature he’s called forth in his failing struggle to become its master.
So what do you do with a piece of music like that? How does one take a song that’s essentially an invoking spell and turn into something of their own? Well, in Tim Yarbrough’s case, the answer was simple: take it, strip it down to its most basic components, and focus on the melody underneath the complexity that is The Lunar Whale. And what better way to do that than with Mr. Yarbrough’s weapon of choice: the acoustic guitar.
Having played the guitar since he was 14, Tim has since gone on to become one of the most recognized figures in the VGM scene. A member of multiple bands, including The Altered Beasts, Space Camp, Another Place in Time, and–most notably– The OneUps, Tim has made music his life, as he not only performs in several bands and at several venues, including MAGFest and PAX, but teaches guitar as well. This intense skill and passion shine through in his interpretation of Danimal Cannon’s song, as Tim’s playing goes back and forth between styles such as classical guitar, western, and even Spanish guitar, sounding at times like a flamenco guitarist’s homage to the great beast in the sky. The result is a song that produces the opposite effect of the original, in that it comes across as a song meant to lull the cosmic behemoth to sleep beneath the calm waves of a silent sapphire sea.
Tim’s work is nothing short of amazing, and while I highly recommend checking out all of his acts, if his acoustically driven sound is one you’re especially drawn to do not miss The Altered Beasts. Their recent LP, Transfiguration, features a delightful selection of jazz guitar duo VGM arrangements.
Track #3: The Hearts of Everyone by Jameson Sutton
The Hearts of Everyone is a dream like farewell of a synth lullaby composed and performed by Dmitry Zhemkov, the musician better known as C-jeff: founder of the Ubiktune record label. A keyboardist and composer by trade, C-jeff has helped turn his label from a site that specializes in micromusic to one that encompasses numerous genres within the VGM & chipscene. Furthermore… I just gotta gush a little bit. I don’t know what it is about Russians and their synths (seriously, Dmitry is among some good company with the likes of Alexander Zolotov and Mikhail Ivanov), but when you put the artificial ebony and ivory at their fingertips, magic just comes spewing forth like a water miracle from a Judeo-Christian Prophet.
So how does one take the musical equivalent of a water miracle and turn it into something even more special? Simple: take that water and–with the help of some classical piano and string orchestration–turn it into wine. In the case of this cover, our miracle man is Jameson Sutton: a deftly skilled pianist, composer and singer who goes by the name Shadix. A man who would turn the simple, clean melody C-jeff constructed and convert it to a fine, cool climate merlot. One with a deep, barely translucent plum color which is sipped slowly while lounging pensively in a throne, pondering what a man is.
In all seriousness, what’s perhaps most touching about this piece of music is how well it embodies what Mr. Sutton seeks to create as a musician. Jameson, having been inspired by the Xenogears soundtrack as a child (a gift his father sent him from overseas while on tour of duty in Korea), decided that he wanted to make music that moved people the way he was by the game’s score. Taking that into account, it becomes abundantly clear as to why he chose “The Hearts of Everyone”. Making a cover that’s an arranged version of an already beautiful song not only allows Jameson to pay tribute to C-jeff’s incredible musical ability, it also allows him to pay homage to composers such as Yasunori Mitsuda: the man who created the soundtrack that inspired him (and many others, including TWIS) to make music in the first place. In doing so, Shadix creates an experience that resonates as deeply as any piece of music that Yasunori has produced. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day you find Jameson’s name on the cover of an album featuring arrangements of the next big RPG.
If Mr. Sutton’s music has had the desired effect, I highly recommend you check out his Soundcloud for more of the same.
Track #4: Papercut You Into Little Pieces by VikingGuitar feat. Cory Johnson
That being said, even if you are a heartless, unloving, Lovecraftian monstrosity (bastard), or you’re just a badass who prefers his music have a little more ooomph to it, we do have something may be right up your alley. See, there’s this song called Papercut You Into Little Pieces. It was made by a chiptune duo named Marshall Art–which is comprised of Jeffrey Roberts aka jmr from Canada and Mikhail Ivanov aka Streifig from Russia.
Taking their name from an inside joke that refers to something having to do with a supposedly racist drawing of Eddy from Chromelodeon as a wild west sheriff, the duo’s combined 21+ years of musical experience has made slow progress putting out music together, due to both time and distance constraints on both their behalves. However, when the two do find the time to produce music together, the result is awesome. “Papercut You Into Little Pieces” resonates with the excitement of exploitation film tropes such as the classic Mexican Standoff, as well as Mikhail’s “intention of turning it [jmr’s original song that became Papercut] into a Pink Floyd jam from the very beginning”. The result is a song that sounds a lot like something you’d hear in a film by Quintin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez or Quintin Dupieux, such as Rubber: a movie that makes fun of and indulges in said tropes as a tire gains sentience and psychic powers, which it then uses to kill people.
In short: it’s an awesome song. So awesome, in fact, that when Erik Peabody chose to cover the song, he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he summoned the help of another awesome musician by the name of Cory Johnson to help him do this cover justice. Now you have to understand something, Erik Peabody isn’t just anybody. He’s the man known as VikingGuitar: a musician who’s made a name for himself doing incredible metal covers of some of video gaming’s greatest music, including Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, Megaman X2, and Cave Story. He’s also the founder of the Viking Guitar University, an entity which allows Erik to give back to the community that made him famous in the VGM scene by teaching people through video lessons how to play guitar and record from the comfort of their own home. So when Erik decides he can’t do it alone, he really can’t do it alone.
Enter Cory Johnson, a man who’s made only…one album? Yeah, that’s right: Cory’s only made one album, but that album is the result of years of music and a degree in audio engineering that came together to make one of the coolest interpretations of classic Zelda music to have ever been made. An album so cool, in fact, that not only is he going to another post rock album covering other Zelda songs, but he’s also working on an Earthbound postrock album, as well.
So what happens when you combine these two titans in a musical collaboration? The answer is a cover that sounds like an audio summer blockbuster to the original’s exploitation film origins. The difference is like comparing the first Terminator film to the second: the first may have established an awesome story, but the second took it over the top and just makes you go “Whoa!”, like watching a badass walk away from an explosion. I really don’t think I need to say anything more because seriously: WHOA.
Track #5: Bahamoot by Stemage feat. Travis Morgan
We all know walking away from explosions can’t be the only badass thing a hero in a summer block buster does. That hero’s gotta fight. They gotta grit their teeth, give a dirty look, and when someone or something comes along that actually can knock them on their ass, they gotta ball their hands into fists and beat the shit out of the monster that thought picking a fight with the hero was a good idea.
That’s exactly what happens when we’re talking about a song like Bahamoot by Stern Fucking Zeit: a chip metal duo out of Germany who kick as much ass as Blade does in a vampire nightclub. Having made a name for themselves in their home country and abroad by performing at over 70 live venues, these guys make music that combines the best aspects of multiple genres to craft a sound that’s as unique and refreshing as listening to Abducted By Shark’s Ronin. As such, it’s only fitting that some of the most amazing people in VGM get the opportunity to cover a song of this magnitude.
Grant Henry. Travis Morgan. Two of the most well renowned artists in the VGM scene and some of the most respected names in metal as well. Grant Henry is the artist most well known as Stemage, the multi-instrumentalist who founded the VGM beast that is Metroid Metal. The band features some of the best musicians in VGM/chiptune, including Danimal Cannon, and have become so legendary that they’ve become a regular feature of several gaming related festivals over the past 5 years, including PAX East, Nerdapalooza and and the last five MAGFests.
Not to be outdone, the partner in crime he chose to work with, Travis Morgan, is also a beast of a multi instrumentalist, as well as a singer, with 10+ years experience under his belt. If that’s not impressive enough to blow your skirt up (you jaded mothafu–), Travis has also had the profound distinction of having performed in over 14 countries world wide, and with multiple bands, including Atheist!
The by product of this collaboration is a song that manages to stay very faithful to the original but still kick ass in its own way. If the original Bahamoot by SFZ was about watching the tireless hero fight his one true nemesis, the metal cover Stemage and Travis whip out is the equivalent of watching said hero look out on the horizon after that battle, only to realize that his next fisticuffs session isn’t so much a battle as it is a one man war against a horde of the undead. A war he’s going to fight with his bear hands, at that.
Track #6: Midnight Snowflake by Cory Johnson
Regardless of how you chose to fight the zombies, whether it be with bear hands or bare hands, you’ll find that somehow you’ve survived, and it’s suddenly…Christmas? Yeah, that last battle lasted so long, it’s time to forgive and forget all the bad things that have happened to you and find peace within yourself as we approach what is both the end of this ambitious album as well as the year, apparently.
And what would Christmas be without our very own Vince Kaichan: a young man who’s become well known for being disproportionately talented for his age. Having been classically trained in piano and violin for 11 years, Kaichan took to composing his own music about 4 years ago, and has since gone from making ambient trance to chiptune and performing before a worldwide audience through Glenntai‘s monthly web concert series, Clipstream. So when a teen of this immaculate talent and skill makes a Christmas song so lovely that it transcends that holiday season, what is one to do to make it their own?
Well, sometimes when someone covers or remixes a song, they slow it down slightly, extend it, and turn what is a meditative moment into a journey. One that allows you to breathe, take everything in, and even enjoy the small, beautiful things all around you. Who better to do this than Cory Johnson.
Wait, wasn’t he on the list before? Didn’t he do that thing with that guy who does the badass covers of the Cave Story stuff? Yep. Cory made a comeback on this album and in a big way. Remember when I said that, despite having only released one album, that he was an amazing musician? You really couldn’t tell just how skilled he was while he was working with VikingGuitar, could you? No, it’s okay. I don’t blame you: that was primarily Erik Peabody’s song so it had his signature sound. But now it’s Cory’s time to shine, and let me tell you: if Kaichan’s original composition makes you stop by the woods on a snowy evening, Cory cranks up the existential factor and turns it into a fork in the road as you decide if you should walk the road not taken. Through this piece’s gradual build up, Cory proves that road is worth taking, because you’ll be amazed at where you end up. As amazed as reading Robert Frost while looking at photographs by Ansel Adams.
As you walk off on that seldom beaten path, this EP comes to an end, and you may be wondering whats next. Well, what does come next? Before you continue on your journey, I’d like to take to a step back and say something. The release of this EP marks a very special moment for us here at Chiptunes = WIN. Approximately one year ago, a young man named Brandon L Hood fell so deeply in love with chiptune that he too decided to walk the road not taken by starting not only what would become a netlabel, but one of the fastest growing and supportive communities in the chiptune & VGM scene.
Over the course of the past year, we’ve released four albums, with a total of 94 original songs having been released through our label. We’ve also been involved with several festivals, been featured on numerous internet radio shows, and have grown to amass 875+ members in our Facebook Group, 1150+ likes on our Facebook Community page, & 760+ followers on Twitter. We’ve been sponsors to numerous album releases, had some of the most in depth and also derpiest conversations in the chiptune community at large, and have become a respected name in entertainment.
All of it is thanks to you. You have made ChipWIN what it is today. You’re the reason we blog, promote, and travel as far and as often as we do to not only enrich chiptune and VGM as genres, but as communities and forms of artistic expression as well. To say thank you for reading our articles, listening to our albums, and generally supporting us Chiptunes = WIN is an understatement, but it is the only right thing to do. Brandon may have taken the first steps bravely on his own, but it’s because of you guys: the fans, illustrators, musicians, promoters, bloggers, gamers, visualists and DJs, that we even exist, let alone thrive, and have even become an extended family for one another.; a family I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of.
Since having joined this community, I’ve been witness to incredible acts of artistry, creativity, hilarity, thoughtfulness, charity, humanity and humility. I’ve seen people who have been on the verge of homelessness get help in the form of album purchases and donations through the page. I’ve seen younger fans get advice from their older chipbros and sistas on how to deal with bullies, liars, and the struggles that come with growing up. Most importantly, I’ve seen people come together and share their ideas, creativity and passion for what we do and what we love in ways others can only dream of.
In short: you put the “WIN” in Chiptunes = WIN. To that, we say thank you, and ask you to stay on this journey with us. There are great things in store for Chiptunes = WIN. We’d like to continue to be a part of your lives, as well as have you as a part of ours, as we make those great things a reality.
Thank again for reading and listening.
Kuma, Chiptunes = WIN