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 plentyofmoreinterestingworks 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.
Earlier this week, Brooklyn’s stellar rave-agitator Aquarian released his latest EP: a self-titled plunge into his familiar niche of cold, cascading techno. These new tunes stand out as more polished than previous works without sacrificing the producer’s dark and gritty edge, propelled by unstoppable acid blips and a more prominent integration of classic breaks like Lyn Collins’ indelible jungle and Bmore club “Think (About It)” loop and the Godfather of all breakbeats, the Amen break. A welcome further exploration of the intersection of techno, jungle, acid, and bass music, the four originals on Aquarian occasionally recall the strengths of some of the finer Modern Love works— most notably on the massive “Event Horizon”, which swells and crashes under spastic Amen flips and heavy industrial drum stutters. Supported by a couple noteworthy remixes from Throwing Snow and Nautiluss, this is not an EP to sleep on.
Check out the video for opening track “SOMA” below, which features sounds and visuals alike that build upon disquieting beauty before opening up into a frantic, blistering assault of pulsing, propulsive arcs and cuts.
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.
With the March release of Millie & Andrea‘s Drop the Vowels — the debut collaborative LP of Modern Love labelmates Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker (of Demdike Stare) — I didn’t expect we’d get to hear too much else from Stott in 2014. I’m glad to know that I was completely wrong about that, as Andy recently dropped the first single from Faith in Strangers, his forthcoming follow-up to 2012’s masterful Luxury Problems.
“Violence”, which welcomely features the vocal work of Luxury Problems collaborator Alison Skidmore, takes the unsettling calm and crushing ominousness indicative of Stott’s recent works and pushes them into an even more extreme diametric balance. The track begins with an interplay of whispering synth drones and Skidmore’s breathy vocals, a nearly serene soundscape blackened by a permeating sense of dread and sporadic flourishes of piercing, harsh tones. The relative tranquillity eventually succumbs to a growing crescendo as Skidmore’s vocals rise from faint murmurs to more forceful ethereal intonations and Stott begins to layer drum tracks and menacing, rattling low-end. Ultimately, any semblance of serenity is utterly torn asunder by the cacophony. This track is heavy, even by Andy Stott’s standards.
Look for Faith in Strangers to drop on November 18th via Modern Love. If this jam is any indication, it should be one of the most notable records of the year. Stream “Violence” below and pre-order Faith in Strangers over at Bleep.
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 Shinobi, Streets 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.