Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Arm Yourselves

In polite society, one always concludes old business before proceeding to the new. It should come as no surprise, however, that I am not a member of polite society.

To put it more bluntly, I still have two reviews left over from 2008 that have yet to make it to post. What sucks is that these are reviews for two of the most interesting VGM albums of the year.

I know, I know; that kind of stuff is more in Anthony’s sphere than mine, but sometimes you have to step up your game.

The first of these "lost" reviews is for Confidential 2.0 by eclectic electronic duo 8 Bit Weapon. While most chip musicians tend to exist well outside the mainstream, 8BW has managed to garner much recognition via a series of shows and projects attached to such recognizable names as Microsoft, E3, Nokia and Disney, and founder Seth Sternberger has recently announced that Sony will be releasing 8 Bit Weapon’s A Chiptune Odyssey loop library later this year.

With all this high profile attention, one may be tempted to dismiss the band. However, after thoroughly digesting the album in question, I can say with certainty that the artistic output truly surpasses the hype. 8 Bit Weapon is that rare example where the interest - the "buzz," if you will - is wholly deserved.

Don't believe me? Read on.
  1. "Times of Lore Intro (Remix)"
    Confidential 2.0 opens with a track from the original Confidential 1.0 release (circa 2003). This short, drum-heavy attention-grabber is hard to resist, and it makes the perfect jumping off point for the album to follow.
  2. "Neuromancer Ending (Warhol Edit)"
    "Neuromancer Ending (Warhol Edit)" is another carry-over from the original release. Through the expert use of stereo panning and a totally solid groove, this one makes for another accessible chiptune. It's cerebral without being exclusionary, and serves as further proof that SID-based music can be just as engaging as any club cut.
  3. "M.U.L.E. (Bitblaster Mix)"
    This third track also harkens back to Confidential 1.0, but it’s a sharp, danceable number that’s somehow simple without being simplistic. The melody is instantly engaging, and the overall dynamics of the track makes it an early high point.
  4. "Inspector Gadget (GOGO Mix)"
    This glitchy, frenetic meditation on what is certainly one of the most iconic television melodies forever engrained in the psyche’s of those in their 20s and 30s, "Inspector Gadget (GOGO Mix)" respects the source material without ever hesitating to bring in original elements. As the first of 6 previously unreleased remixes to grace Confidential 2.0, it should serve to elevate the album even to those familiar with the its former incarnation.
  5. "Crazy Comets (Orbital Decay Mix)"
    Alternately dark and chirpy, "Crazy Comets" may alienate those seeking lighter musical fare, but when it kicks in at the 47 second mark it is an undeniable disco juggernaut. At almost 5 minutes in length, this classic still manages an elegant wind-down that leads perfectly into "Chimera."
  6. "Chimera (Miles Mix)"
    With "Chimera (Miles Mix)" and its predecessor being the only songs from the original Confidential that still retain their relative placement, it is no surprise that the two work so well together. This song recalls the best of 80s electronica, with elements that smack of retro jazz-house and yet somehow possess a futuristic, almost otherworldly musicality. Smooth but sharply punctuated, even five years after its debut, this song is still a highlight.
  7. "Spy vs Spy II (Drunk n' Basement Mix)"
    Originally released on the back-end of Confidential 1.0, this track wraps up the first third of this album well. While minimalistic and slightly ambient, it also harnesses a sense of urgency. It tells the listener that the journey is far from over.
  8. "Bards Tale II - Sanctuary Score (Ybarras Mystic Mix)"
    Ably capturing the spirit of classic gaming, this mix is a loving tribute to the soundtracks of old. The heavy emphasis on deep drum sounds, however, lets us know that the song is no simple piece of background music.
  9. "Defender of the Crown (Royalty Remix)"
    An easy favorite of mine, "Defender of the Crown (Royalty Remix)" has a similar spirit. It is expertly rendered, but, sadly, a bit too short.
  10. "Movie Monsters Game (Disco Terror Mix)"
    This throwback to Confidential 1.0 marks a distinct change of pace. It sports a far more dissonant melody, but is not without its merits. It can be summed up as elegant yet challenging.
  11. "I.G.U.S.T.R.A."
    This new addition offsets what could have been a slightly too lengthy intro by expertly employing a drum track to create emphasis. Its warbling lead is undeniably rave-inspired and makes the song strong enough to stand proudly next to any piece of more traditional house music. Herein 8 Bit Weapon plays with voicings and genuinely crafts something epic while obviously relishing the task at hand.
  12. "Commodore C64 (Bit Blitz Mix)"
    The old school minimalism of its early measure give way to a crushing dance groove. Another easy high point, "Commodore C64" summarily squashes any criticism of chip music (and, for that matter, broader electronica) as un-relatable or distant. 8 Bit Weapon’s mastery of tempo shines through, and makes for a most enjoyable track.
  13. "Boulder Dash (Dubby Dirt Mix)"
    Another exclusive, "Boulder Dash" is cool and mellow, if not particularly dubby. It’s got a simple, delicate power, though.
  14. "Acidgroove (Orchestral Mix)"
    With a frenetic drum push and a fantastic build, this track combines very organic sounds with those that are undeniably artificial to great effect. It’s eerie and surreal - I described it in my review notes as "like a nightclub shark attack" - but also robust and compelling.
  15. "Arkanoid (Bonham Beat Mix)"
    This dirty, chippy masterpiece demands much of the listener, but the discriminating ear will find it well worth the effort. As tight, dense and drum-heavy as the title implies, don’t discount the ability of its lilting lead (which is, oddly enough, way in back of the mix) to add extra depth.
  16. "Mars Saga (MrJetlands Slow Jam Mix)"
    Very laid back and almost sinister, "Mars Saga (MrJetlands Slow Jam Mix)" is a relatively slow and steady head-bobber.
  17. "Defender of the Crown (On the Romance Tip)"
    Sharp and sorrowful, this mix features what could arguably be an annoying high end. Still, I find it well-balanced and infectious.
  18. "Times of Lore Title (Epic Hendrix Mix)"
    This song is, as the title implies, epic. A 7-minute opus that takes us from the wind-swept plains, to bustling city streets resplendent with movement, into the undeniable danger of a subterranean dungeon, and ultimately to the eye of a raging (yet somehow doleful) storm, it is an amazing piece that serves as one of the finest closing tracks I’ve ever experienced. Notice that I didn’t say heard; I truly mean experienced.
From start to finished, Confidential 2.0 is an inspired, thrilled-packed ride. Though not necessarily for non-chip-heads, it features enough undeniable gateways to this peculiar world of electronica to keep even the more hesitant properly placated. For true fans of VGM, however, there is truly nothing to dislike about the album.

It is alternately simple and complex, accessible and esoteric, but it is never disappointing.

Though this tardy review means that many have already purchased this release – and are, no doubt, anxiously awaiting its follow-up – Confidential 2.0 is an easy recommendation for even the most discriminating fan of SID-based electronic music. It is available via both iTunes and Amazon MP3, which puts it well within the grasp of all interested parties. And if I can impart one piece of wisdom to you as I close out this post it is that each of you should rightly be interested.


Jimi said...

I'll put it on my list of 'music to buy when I get some cash'

Z. said...

You do that, Jimi. It is a great addition to any collection.