Diggin’ in the Carts: Episodes 5 and 6

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode 5

It’s been a minute since Red Bull Music Academy closed out their Diggin’ in the Carts series, but I still wanted to post the two last episodes here in case you missed them. Episode 5, which you can stream above, is completely dedicated to the monumental works of Nobuo Uematsu. This legendary composer began his career with Square in 1985 and has garnered fame that has stretched well beyond the world of video games. His soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series are widely held to be among the greatest and most recognizable of any era or platform. These works— especially the masterpiece that is Final Fantasy VI— certainly helped define a crucial period of my musical education. Thanks, Nobuo.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode 6

The final installment of Diggin’ in the Carts examines our current epoch of video game soundtracks, which has moved from the innovative niche of chiptune music and FM synthesis into a mode that is much more aligned with mainstream music production and film scoring. It’s certainly interesting to hear the grandiose soundtracks of the present day and think about the fascinating evolution of the video game music industry and its soundtracks. While some folks are rushing to hammer you over the head with John Williams stock strings and overly epic orchestral compositions in today’s games, there are still plenty of more interesting works bubbling throughout the industry.

I don’t imagine the nostalgia for that early era of video game music will ever truly fade, but as the genre’s primary disciples rise to prominence in their creative fields, those familiar blips and bleeps continue to strongly influence electronic, hip-hop, and pop music of the here and now. As these sounds feed back into a new generation of listeners and gamers, I imagine some might be surprised at how much they recognize when Mom or Dad plugs in the ol’ NES now and then.

Jimmy Edgar: “Who’s Watchin”

Jimmy Edgar

I, for one, welcome our new feline overlords.

Jimmy Edgar, prolific Warp Records affiliate and Ultramajic label boss, just dropped his latest record earlier this week. The final in a trilogy of EPs centered around an exploration of the primal elements, Saline represents Edgar’s reflection on the element of Earth. For me, this record is less immovable weight or slowly eroding soil, but instead roils and simmers fiercely like the core of our planet. From the bubbling acid of the opener “Burn”, on through the skittering house of “Decalcify”, the ghetto house-tinged “Walk Show” (featuring the late, great DJ Rashad), and the hypnotic club gem “Who’s Watchin”, Saline is a solid offering from one of contemporary electronic music’s most consistent producers.

The music video for “Who’s Watchin”, released by Ultramajic last week, is a kind of fever dream of cat Tumblr inception laced with フレッド (Freddy) YOLO vaporwave aesthetics. I can only assume the tie-in to Saline is that as salt is a necessary building block of life on the planet Earth, so are cats a necessary building block of life on the internet.

Check out the video below and stream all of the Saline EP right here. Or just cut to the chase and snag a copy from Beatport.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode Four

Last Thursday, the Red Bull Music Academy released another installment of Diggin’ in the Carts, their miniseries exploring the history of video game music. This episode examines the influence of Sega, first in the arcade world and then with the release of their Mega Drive (aka Genesis) console and its FM-synth sound processor. This clearly separated the soundtracks of the Mega Drive from those on the NES or the PC Engine systems and channeled the kind of sounds more reminiscent of contemporary pop music. As such, the creators of video game music began to play an even more central role in the industry and composers like Yuzo Koshiro (The Revenge of ShinobiStreets of Rage) even found themselves being credited on the title screens of games. The composers of this era brought more sophistication to their soundtracks and put more emphasis on songwriting. Pulling from fusion, rock, latin jazz, J-pop, house, Detroit techno, and other influences, pioneers like Yuzo Koshiro, Masato Nakamura, and Hiro helped to redefine what a video game score could be.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode Three

If you missed it, be sure to check out episode three of Diggin’ in the Carts, the Red Bull Music Academy‘s ongoing exploration of the history of video game music and the pervasive impact of the composers of Japan. This installment covers the rise of 16-bit gaming systems and the monumental influence of the soundtrack from Street Fighter II. Input from resident gaming experts, Street Fighter II composer Yoko Shimomura, as well as contemporary artists Dizzee Rascal, Ikonika, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Groundislava, and others fill out this chapter of the story. Great stuff so far!

Tobias Jesso Jr: Take Away Show, 09.10.2014

Tobias Jesso, Jr. is surely the Internet’s indie wunderkind of the moment. This young Vancouver songsmith has entered the scene very cautiously since he was “discovered” after he sent his demo to Chet ‘JR’ White from the now-defunct San Francisco band Girls. A little anticipation goes a long way in this age of instant gratification, but Jesso’s output over the last year amounts to only two fragile and impressive demos uploaded to his YouTube account. That is until his live session for La Blogothèque‘s ongoing “Take Away Show” series, performed at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, cropped up last week.

Jesso’s sound has been likened to any number of piano man singer-songwriters and vulnerable indie darlings— Daniel Johnston, Harry Nilsson, Elton John, Cass McCombs, Jackson Browne, Sparklehorse, and the list goes on. Personally, I’m hearing flashes of Ben Folds, Elliot Smith, and John Lennon at their most tender shine through, as far as increasingly loaded comparisons go. Wait, Ben Folds covered Elliot Smith for The AV Club? Okay, maybe this is it. No… not quite. Maybe Jesso’s just internalized Lennon’s Dakota Demos and put his own spin on the sound. One thing’s clear: wherever he’s coming from, we should be glad he made it here and is crafting such quiet, emotive, and lyrically warm tunes. So far, they all feel pretty timeless.

His live session for La Blogothèque features a performance of his first demo, “Just a Dream”, as well as the previously unheard stunner “Without You”. “Why can’t you just love me? / Should I move on, or should I wait? / And how’d you get so high above me…? / I reach higher, every day”, Jesso aches over the heartfelt nostalgia of his piano melody. He’s not reinventing the wheel here, but he commands a real power nonetheless.

Look for Tobias Jesso, Jr. to release his debut LP on True Panther Sounds sometime in the spring of 2015.

Diggin’ in the Carts: Episode Two

Yesterday, Red Bull Music Academy released episode two of Diggin’ in the Carts— their new series exploring the history of video game music and the far-reaching influence of Japanese composers and game studios on contemporary electronic music, hip-hop, and Western pop culture. So far the series feels more like a pastiche of fascinating little stories from the intertwined development of game music composition and game hardware rather than a fully realized chronicle of the history with complete context. Regardless, there’s much to be gleaned from these first couple episodes.

This installment covers the monumental legacy of Konami and lesser-powerhouse Sunsoft, the raw power of Castlevania and Contra, Masashi Kageyama’s masterful soundtrack for Gimmick!, the convergence of Jpop composers like Akio Dobashi (of Rebecca) and video game music, and the use of additional sound chips within game cartridges to push the sound capabilities of the NES to their limits. Lagrange Point, a game that featured a soundtrack composed by Dobashi, actually had a six-channel FM synth chip embedded in the cartridge. Just amazing.

I’m also reminded that I need to give a shout out to comedian Brent Weinbach’s amazing video game music podcast, The Legacy Music Hour. These guys have definitely been diggin’ in the carts and have covered some of the best game music of all time, including some truly deep cuts even for those well-versed in the genre. Enjoy the new Diggin’ in the Carts episode above and be sure to go check out their podcast afterward.

Sophie: Boiler Room, 08.22.2014

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Sophie’s immaculate avatar twiddlin’ knobs like a pro

The Ray-Ban sponsored Boiler Room LA session celebrating the upcoming release of Hudson Mohawke‘s Chimes EP was an awkward spectacle to behold. The live stream went down the rabbit hole quickly after Oneohtrix Point Never‘s solid ambient opening set. Between the kabuki dancers, Eric Wareheim’s decidedly odd and disconnected performance as host (not in the good, Tim & Eric-absurdist way), the concept heavy unveil of QT‘s impossibly sweet debut single “Hey QT”, Busta Rhymes’ cringe-worthy, “I’m not gonna lie right now, I’m high-as-fuck” grade guest performance, Hudson Mohawke’s haphazard mixing, and the lengthy pauses due to continuous technical difficulties, this was certainly a head-scratcher for the ages. Also, is it just me or did HudMo play more songs from the new Rustie record than from the EP he was supposed to be hyping? Lunice eventually brought everyone back to Earth with one of his characteristically energetic trapped-out sets, but he also felt misplaced as the closer for the night.

In my opinion, the reps from PC Music easily stole the show as the only performers who, at least in part, actually set out to confound the audience. QT’s performance of this summer’s bubbliest, and decidedly divisive, dance-pop anthem was equal parts commentary, troll, and genuine statement. A consistent outpouring of internet adoration and rage has ensued. Sophie’s set was packed with swirling, fizzy, forward-thinking club sounds— much of it unreleased— and was laced with its own bit of performance art in that it was performed by an unnamed drag queen DJ stand-in. Some attendees reported that the actual Sophie was there, disguised as a security guard for the duration of the set. Some were so ecstatic they couldn’t contain themselves:

Either way the PC Music movement is only getting more impressive and I’m glad to see them infiltrating more and more spaces that need to be challenged. As great as their tunes are, half the fun is watching the ol’ stick-in-the-muds of electronic music and music criticism explode in a ball of rage and demand to know why everyone is pretending to like these tracks. Of course, the jokes on the detractors; the vehement hatred leveled at QT, Sophie, and their ilk only makes them stronger. I’m looking forward to the next great boundary push from PC Music. Until then, I’ll keep these unreleased Sophie jams on repeat.

Diggin’ in the Carts: The Unsung Heroes + My Favorite 8-Bit Jams

Episode one of Diggin’ in the Carts, the Red Bull Music Academy’s new miniseries that explores the history of video game music and the influential composers of Japan, came out yesterday. This first of six weekly installments gives a brief overview of the origins of sound and music in video games, from Pong to Pacman and beyond, before moving on to the importance of early soundtracks by Namco’s Junko Ozawa and Nintendo’s Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka. A composer and hardware designer, Tanaka had a hand in the creation of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) sound chip and also went on to design the sound hardware for the Gameboy.

As a child of the NES epoch, these 8-bit sounds are burrowed deep into my psyche and bring forth a flood of nostalgia and emotion, as they do for much of my generation. I’m excited for the rest of the series and will be sure to post the episodes here. After all, many of these composers haven’t received their due credit, considering the far-reaching influence of their works. It’s great to see them getting it here.

To commemorate the series’ kickoff, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite 8-bit compositions from the golden NES era (presented in no particular order). Peep the list after the jump and feel free to share some of your own favorites in the comments.

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Julio Bashmore: “Peppermint” (feat. Jessie Ware)

Julio Bashmore and Jessie Ware, who already have a number of impressive collaborative works under their belt, recently dropped a new addictive and dance floor-ready jam. “Peppermint” effortlessly fuses timeless house vibes with a decidedly contemporary UK-pop bend that recalls Brit counterparts Disclosure. That being said, this track is unmistakably Bashmore– the lush synths, pulsating sub bass, remarkable builds, those 909 claps and that groove. And, of course, Jessie Ware’s vocal work is as on-point as ever.

It’s also nice to see Bashmore recover from his previous single “Duccy”, which was one of the first tracks I ever saw roundly panned by the typically positive SoundCloud community. Perhaps “Duccy” was a failed attempt at minimalism, but “Peppermint” makes no such missteps. Expert production right here.

Watch the awesome stop-motion animated video for “Peppermint” above, which explores evolution, the cosmic (dis)order of nature, and creating infinitely from a small handful of building blocks as an allegory for house music.

Disclosure: “F For You” (Feat. Mary J Blige)

Not to be so ALL THINGS DISCLOSURE, but there’s no way I could avoid posting this excellent reboot of Settle pop-house gem “F For You”, now featuring Mary J Blige. It’s safe to say that this version blows the original out of the water. Who knew Mary J could play that anthemic club diva role so well? Here’s hoping this track marks a new path in her career, because she absolutely slays it… wow!