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Music Monday: January indie releases February 6, 2017

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This January seemed to be a good month for indie VGM album releases, even with my limited exposure to news on that front. So for this week’s post, I thought I’d highlight a few of the new releases I came across.

Chaos Theatre by The Runaway Four

This Vancouver group touts itself as a medley band, which is more accurate than to say they’re arrangers. After the first track on this first studio recorded album of theirs, there isn’t a lot of original interpretation or expansion of the source tracks, and focuses on straight performances weaving together many songs into five mega-mixes. However, the combination of great instrumentation, solid performance, and smooth transitions between the source material makes for great, engrossing ear candy that both grabs and holds your attention and pays a very satisfying homage to the original tracks.

 

The Travelers (self-titled album)

When you have a collaboration of musicians from VGM cover bands such as Materia Collective, the Triforce Quartet, and Tetrimino, you can expect high quality results. The Travelers’ namesake album delivers on that promise with lush European folk arrangements of songs from various (mainly older) games, in many cases really showing the potential of these classic soundtracks. There are very occasional moments when songs become a little dull or repetitive, but overall, this album is very lovely. It’s also the only album in this list that isn’t free to download, but with professional-grade production quality and I don’t think a single synthesized instrument, the $7 price tag is a bargain.

 

Super Mario RPG: Window to the Stars

This latest album from VGM community and repository extraordinaire OverClocked ReMix will probably be a treat to fans of EDM and drum’n’bass (as well as Super Mario RPG), as those styles make up the bulk of the three-disc album. There’s a bit more distortion and chippy sounds, even from familiar names in the VGM community, than I tend to prefer, but some of it works for me, and there’s still a bit of variety. Joseph “XPRTNovice” Zieja, as always, does not fail to surprise with his contributions, including an arrangement that turns the bizarre, almost carnival-esque “And My Name’s Bukki (Booster)” into a haunting orchestral expansion worthy of any mindwarp movie trailer.

Music Monday: ‘Tis the season November 28, 2016

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Now that (American) Thanksgiving is done and gone, I thought I would share some holiday-themed music for this week’s post.

 

The OneUps – Super Mario’s Sleigh Ride

This song is a classic, and for years, it was pretty much the Christmas video game arrangement, at least in my collection. It’s a masterfully performed and seemingly effortlessly blended arrangement of songs from Super Mario World together with “Sleigh Ride”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and “Jingle Bells”. Sometimes the tunes trade off having the spotlight, sometimes the Mario music makes a pleasant backdrop to the classic carol, and sometimes both songs are played at the same time on different instruments. The effect is flawless and catchy and delightful.

ROCKtendo – Vanilla Lake

There were a number of great tracks on 2014’s Super VG Christmas Party, but this one was an absolute gem. The source material is from the original Super Mario Kart from 1992. The artist here took the original 30-second bossa nova tune and turned it into a fantastic 3:21 crooner ballad with lyrics about Mario Kart. And also Christmas.

I’ll be chasing that checkered flag
No more gifts to bag
For me
You can keep all your jingle bells
I’ll take turtle shells
Of red and green

Jay Epperhart – Carol of the Final Fantasy Belles

A lovely piano medley arrangement of several themes from various Final Fantasy games and Parasite Eve woven together with the classic “Carol of the Bells”.

Dale North – Christmas in the Village (Silver Bells)

Dale North, also of OneUps fame, has made a few Christmas-themed video game arrangements over the years, though I think this one, mixing a theme from Lufia II with “Silver Bells”, is my favourite.

Goomin Nam – Fisherman’s Horizon (Christmas ver.)

A lot of Christmas VGM is more like this – it doesn’t have any actual Christmas music and is just an arrangement of the original track from Final Fantasy VIII, but the instrumentation and tone have a Christmas-y feel to them, and it’s just a lovely song.

Happy holidays! I hope you enjoyed these songs. Do you know of any other holiday video game music/arrangements? Feel free to tell me in the comments, I always love discovering new music!

Music Monday: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses March 21, 2016

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What was that about a weekly feature? My excuse is that I’ve been spending the past weeks sorting through new music. Let’s just say I’ve been putting the task off for a while.

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I have a problem.

But enough about what I’ve not been doing. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Toronto performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.

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It’s a touring symphony concert playing music from the Legend of Zelda video games. I went in perhaps a bit more experienced than much of the audience – most of the other attendees I spoke with had never been to an event of the sort, whereas I’ve been to Video Games Live four or five times and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy twice, and I had seen at least one preview of Symphony of the Goddesses on YouTube, when they appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last fall.

The setup is much the same as the other concerts. The focus is on the music, with game footage showing the source material shown on a screen above the orchestra. The screen also occasionally showed closeups of the soloists or prominent sections of the orchestra at times, which I felt was a nice touch. It was a quieter affair than the other video game concerts I have been to, with a very brief introduction to the show by the producer, Jason Michael Paul, and a few prerecorded introductions by series producer Shigeru Miyamoto, series composer Koji Kondo, and one other prominent person (who I regret to say I can’t remember offhand). We didn’t hear a word from the conductor or any of the orchestra and mainly they just played the music.

The Legend of Zelda series aren’t necessarily my favourite soundtracks. There are some that I absolutely adore, primarily A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, but overall, I don’t find the music as gripping and certainly not as emotional as Final Fantasy or some other franchises. So, I will admit that while I was very much looking forward to it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting jaw-dropping orchestrations.

Several of the songs performed came straight off the Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary album that came bundled with Skyward Sword when it released – which was full of excellent and very dynamic/bombastic medleys and arrangements of various games in the series and whose main flaw was that the songs were recorded too quiet. However, only half of the songs in the show, at best, were the same renditions, so there was plenty of material new to me. Even the Twilight Princess medley was a little different from the 25th Anniversary album.

The show focused on the main console games, playing little or nothing from most of the portable games – Link’s Awakening, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, etc. – and nothing from Hyrule Warriors (which I don’t particularly lament, seeing as I haven’t played it nor even own a Wii U). There was a very nice mix of source material from the games the show focused on, playing numerous tunes from Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask, and a couple others. Having a smaller library of music to draw from meant I got to hear more of the situational music that often gets overlooked in place of the main themes.

But ultimately, what that really meant was that a lot of what I heard was straight orchestra performances of music from the games, which was so very satisfying. I hear the music in the game and it has a character of its own and I can tell what the instruments are – and maybe they even sound pretty close – but I am always imagining it performed with real instruments. The battle theme medley, which opened with the regular battle music from Ocarina of Time, illustrated this best for me – it was so accurate to the game and so natural that it took me almost an entire iteration of the song before I appreciated that this is what it was supposed to sound like, not what it did in the game. There was both a great mix of source material and expert arrangements, and the Kitchener Symphony did an excellent job performing them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. Fans of the Legend of Zelda games should certainly check it out and I really, really hope that they release more recordings of the orchestrations, especially the battle theme medley and the Link to the Past medley.

 

Music Monday: Chronicles of Time March 7, 2016

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In 2013, a group of indie musicians got together to create Spectrum of Mana, a 3-disc album of arrangements from the Super Nintendo game Secret of Mana. I enjoyed that album; some of it was not to my taste, but largely I really liked the songs.

misc_clogocover_natehorsfallWhen I heard that the same group was putting together a new album called Chronicles of Time based on the SNES game Chrono Trigger, I figured it would be much the same. Well, it ended up being rather bigger, to the tune of 5 discs, almost 6 hours of music, and over 200 contributors (!). The album launched a few weeks ago, so it seemed fitting that it would make a good topic for one of my Music Monday posts, and I’ve spent the past several days listening intently to give, well, I suppose as proper a review as I can manage.

The album was set up in much the same way as Spectrum of Mana, with almost all instrumental arrangements covering a wide range of the source material, organised per disc by genre, with a lot of accompanying artwork. There’s a lot of live instruments, a lot of collaboration, and the production quality is very high.

The first disc largely consists of the type of standard rock arrangements you often hear from indie arrangers, particularly live ones. There’s a track or two in acoustic, a little bit of funk and jazz/fusion mixed in (as well as one R&B track that wasn’t to my taste), but generally, there’s a strong focus on electric guitars, bass, and drums, not too heavy – runs on a scale roughly from AC/DC to 90s alternative rock – and generally fairly upbeat. There’s a good variety in the sounds for as consistent as it is overall and I love the directions some tracks took the source material, particularly “Runnin’ in Circles” by Ivan Hakštok & streifig and “Critical Heat” by Grospixels.

The second disc has a lot of the same musical theme as the first, though it adds in a bit more variety to the typical rock model with some electronica and a touch more of the jazz/fusion and funk from the first disc. There’s also a three-part chiptune medley from Derris-Kharlan, who had a similar medley in one part on Spectrum of Mana. While I’m starting to get tired of chiptunes, Derris-Kharlan gives it a lot of depth and movement and after giving both a chance, I’ve ended up thoroughly enjoying both. Overall there’s a lot of depth of sound in both this disc and the entire album, and the arrangements here are solid. I’m always impressed when a musician can take a less than 10-second source and expand it into a full song, so one of my favourites was “Norstein Bekkler’s Song of Horrors” by, once again, Ivan Hakštok, as well as “Epoch ~ Wings of Time” by Kirby’s Dream Band and “First Tentacle of Mars” (a play on the original title “First Festival of Stars”) by the group of musicians known as DROIDEKKA.

The third disc moves away from the electric guitars and heads more into new age, with a bit of jazz, orchestral, and Latin mixed in, and even a wonderful string quartet arrangement that utilises the instruments to their fullest potential. I thoroughly loved this disc, and every track is staying in my collection. Once again, there’s both great variety and great arrangements, and it’s hard to pick just a couple favourites.

The fourth disc is the jazz section. Where there’s been hints of it in the previous discs, it jumps to the fore in these tracks, ranging from lounge to swing to blues to salsa and beyond. This ended up being my favourite disc, which came as a bit of a surprise, since I’m all about the new age. There’s just so much movement, excellent arrangement of the source material into sometimes entirely different styles, great horn/sax solos, and such big sound that a lot of these tracks make me smile just to hear them. I absolutely loved “Primevil” by Eight Bit Disaster and “Cantina Automatica” by XPRTNovice (which I discovered last year from a different website, but I loved it so much I have no qualms at all with paying to have it again, and also contains some great humour for fans of the game).

The fifth disc got a bit heavier with more punk rock/heavy metal type arrangements. Several of these tracks were a bit too heavy for my taste, and I ended up not enjoying more of this disc than the others. I still liked more of this disc than not, particularly “Arena Rex” by Midee (featuring Ailsean, finbeard, norg, prozax & Snappleman).

Overall, it turned out to be a very strong album with a lot to like. I ended up keeping almost 80% of the tracks in my collection, and for almost five and a half hours of quality music? I’d say that’s worth $20. Fans of Chrono Trigger will most likely get a lot of enjoyment out of this album, and if you’re a fan of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack and jazz music, you should definitely check it out.

If you’d like more of an idea of what to expect, the group released a name-your-own-price preview disc over at Bandcamp. The full album is available via Loudr and iTunes, and you can get full information on the songs at the project website.