Welcome to the inaugural edition of ‘What’s on Tap?’, a monthly article combining chip music and an exquisite craft beer pairing. Contrasting with President Hoodie’s Beer & Chip Manifesto series, we will talk about a general beer style to pair with the album, along with several recommendations for specific brews. The musical main course this month is a new release by Prof. Sakamoto, a Japanese VGM composer whose wonderful work has not yet been reviewed here on The ChipWIN Blog. In addition to composing soundtracks for (real) video games, Prof. Sakamoto is working on chipmusic inspired by imaginary retro video games. The most recent entry in the series is ‘INSERT vol. 3 – NINJA or DIE’, featuring a ninja protagonist in contrast with previous themes of action/adventure and a space shooter.
A lovely, elegiac opening is the perfect backdrop for a retro montage that features still pictures and a bit of storyline before loading the menu. I really enjoy the way Prof. Sakamoto writes accompaniment that sounds like it could be performed on live instruments; here the Famicom almost sounds like a harpsichord underneath the melody. A bit of dramatic music closes out the first track, which is a little sip of what to expect on the rest of the soundtrack.
Driving drums and bass propel the energy of ‘Hanzomon’ throughout, with a catchy harmonized melody cutting through the texture. Sparkling accompaniment figures take advantage of a wide stereo field, which also helps keep the texture very clear for all of the active musical lines. I love the sampled ‘Ninja or die!’ used in several transitions – very retro, and fits well in the overall mood of the track.
‘Kanda Myojin’ takes the musical texture from the last track and turns it inside out: the melody uses faster note values while the accompaniment is slightly slower. Both lines are still very active, with some large register shifts in the accompaniment, but this rhythmic reversal keeps the energy high and the music fresh for the listener. Another recurring feature in this soundtrack are brief interludes that are very heavy, using perfect fourths/fifths in harmony and guitar-like riffs.
‘Shinobazu Pond’ is one of the most rhythmically and texturally unique tracks on the album, and these qualities stand out for me among a draught of catchy, energetic melodies. I love the quirky, dissonant nature of the opening, and the disjointed accents and register shifts in the bass/drums add a unique feel for the duration of the track. My favorite transition on the album occurs at 1:13, with downward-sweeping lines and a bit of chaos before the melody regains its composure.
Pulsing triangle bass and guitar-like crunch provide the energy for ‘Kaminarimon’. In an interesting bit of music theory trickery, Prof. Sakimoto uses perfect fourth intervals not just in the harmony, but the melody cycles through most of the chromatic scale by fourths in many of the transitions. The looping nature of the tracks on this album always flows seamlessly, but for ‘Kaminarimon’ I would love to hear extended transitions and breakdowns in the same high-energy style. This is the heaviest track on the album, and could convincingly be separate music beyond the retro video game concept presented here.
‘Neo Edo Castle’ has my favorite introduction on the album, with a dissonant melody screaming over an ominous bassline. In the classic vein of ‘powerful boss fight’ music – specifically contemporary takes on Ganondorf or Bowser themes – this track delivers intensity and a sense of danger in its chromatic, slinking lines. The last third of the track cleverly pays homage to mixing old and modern art in ‘Neo Edo’ style with a pentatonic melody inspired by traditional Japanese music. This is a neat effect and, to me, fits well as a transition between statements of the opening material.
Although the previous track has features of boss fight music, this spot on the album represents the true boss fight in the imaginary video game. Beginning with a recall of the opening music of the title screen, ‘Fuma Bottousai’ combines both slow and fast music in a fresh-yet-familiar take on boss music. Parallel fourths abound in the melody and harmony, with some fantastic noise/glitch work in some of the transitions – the sounds at 0:55 are fantastic! I enjoy the different bass patches that Prof. Sakamoto uses here, alternating triangle bass with harsher sawtooth and a few square wave patches. Unlike the looping nature of some previous tracks, the final section here is soaring and grandiose, with a sense of victory for the hero.
‘The Shinobi Chronicles’ serves as the epilogue to the album and the end credits of our retro video game. A mix of accompaniment textures and melodic recalls from previous tracks combine all of the elements heard on the album into an exciting overture of themes. I enjoy the extended focus on the heavy transition material as the track comes to an exciting close, and those sweeping lines really ramp up the excitement leading up to the final moment of the album.
History: As we will see in future articles, terminology in craft beer can be complicated, frustrating, and sometimes conflicting. Dating back to England in the WWI era, a ‘session’ beer was originally meant to be consumed during the workday which necessitated low alcohol content. Today, professional style guides such as the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) categorize session beers as having less than 4% ABV, and most craft brewers will stretch that to be any beer less than 5% ABV.
Like our ninja protagonist in ‘INSERT vol. 3 – NINJA or DIE’, the best session IPAs will strike your palate with surgical precision while leaving little evidence behind. Due to their lower alcohol content, the session IPA tends to have a thinner body and lack the malt profile of a stronger India Pale Ale. To make up for this perceived shortcoming, brewers tend to focus on the bitterness and flavor/aroma imparted by the hops while not overwhelming the palate – remember, this is specifically designed to be a multiple-beer drinking evening!
Recommendations: Many breweries feature session IPAs as small batch or summer seasonal offerings, but others like Founders and Stone will brew them year-round.
Founders ‘All Day IPA’
New Belgium ‘Slow Ride’
Oskar Blues ‘Pinner’
Stone ‘Go To IPA’
Boulevard ‘Pop-Up Session IPA’
Fat Head’s ‘Sunshine Daydream’
Green Flash ‘Citra Session IPA’
Viking Braggot ‘Gypsy Tears’
Lawson’s ‘Super Session IPA #2 (Amarillo)’
Tree House ‘Eureka W/ Citra’
Thank you for joining me in this first edition of ‘What’s On Tap?’ and I hope you enjoy both the music and the beer! Please remember two very important things – support musical artists and always drink responsibly. Cheers!