There are certain individuals and groups in the arrangement community that I feel up the standard every few years to keep the scene moving. It’s been done in many different forms: some reach out to larger audiences with clever promoting, some establish themselves as great live talents and opening acts and some push their talents and reputation to the edge each time we hear from them. Mustin and The OneUps are a rare breed in that they do all of these things, and continuously release and market new albums which each time blow fans out of the water.
The OneUps had their humble start some years ago as One Up Mushrooms and would, from time to time, release big band arrangements of videogame music under the OneUp Studios label, but over the last few years, they have grown to become one of the most famous performing acts in the game arrangement scene, with successful shows at PAX and even a following in Japan. Their latest album, Super Mario Kart, is out on May 4th, but you can read our advance review of the album here today!
Does it up the standards yet again? Find out after the jump!
This album is entirely based on the Super Mario Kart game on Super Nintendo, released in 1992. Personally, this was always my favorite of the Mario Kart titles, so my excitement level was quite high since I heard the announcement of this album. The first thing to note is the artwork, done by Will Collins. While it is very simplistic in design, it perfectly represents the game itself and is quite nostalgic, taking you back to days when you looked at the map through the split screen. This is a pretty good example that you don’t always need pseudo-anime artwork to make an impact.
The tracklist goes through most of the material in the SNES game, and follows the familiar OneUps style that as been set by The OneUps Volume 1 and Volume 2. It starts out with the “Title Screen” track in a wonderful acoustic arrangement. The harmonies here are great, and the solo perfectly melts in with the source. A short track, but very effective in setting the tone for the album. “Mario Circuit” is kinda reminiscent of an earlier track they did on Volume 1, “ToeJam Jammin.” That album also contained a Super Mario Kart track, “Koopa Troopa Beach,” so this CD is probably a long time labor of love for them. I love this song, which is a funky-fresh smooth jazz arrangement. In fact, I’m not sure if I can find anything to complain about on this CD. My method of listening was done in a car riding through spring weather, and all the tracks definitely add to the atmosphere. The upbeat bass lines of “Donut Plains,” the skillful saxophone performance on “Choco Island,” the soothing sexual tension in “Vanilla Lake” (which incidentally was my nickname in the orgy circle I frequented), it all adds to an amazing atmosphere of relaxation and comfort of the spring season.
As with the other OneUps releases, however, there are tracks that break away from the signature style to keep things fresh and exciting. “Ghost Valley” is completely built on synth, and has a darker tone than the other tracks, as one might expect seeing that the source itself pretty simple. They fleshed out the track well with synths, and the original elements worked in are quite awesome. The changes feels welcome when the track comes on. Another throwback to their first release is “Bowser Castle,” which shares similarities in arrangement style to “Koopa’s Theme” with a metal edge to it and raw guitar sections. Probably the most interesting though is the return of the aforementioned “Something About Koopa Beach,” but rearranged into something quite different. The track is based on “Something About Us” from Daft Punk’s Discovery album, and the inspiration is instantly recognizable. It’s funny how this album continues to impress me around every corner, as I’m a rather big fan of Daft Punk, and this is my favorite song from them.
The “Battle Mode” is heavy on percussion and of a more playful nature than the rest, with some awesome synth work across the song. All I can think about when I hear this song are the memories of me beating my big brother for the first time in the game as a kid. He blamed it on the controller every time. The CD closes out with a near 6-minute epic, “Rainbow Road.” It’s really a song which deserves more love than it gets, which can maybe be said for the whole soundtrack, but before this I can only remember Low-Tech Son having done this song justice. On this CD it does a wonderful job closing out with its motivating melody, solid performances across the board, awesome synth solos and implementation of the original melody; it sums up the talents and visions of The OneUps and leaves us on a good note.
As expected, this CD delivers a product that raises the bar again. The direction is constant, the inspirations are apparent and the sheer skill and production is of the highest standard. While some might feel that Volume 2 is The OneUps’s crowning achievement so far, I would rather refer to this as their best work. It’s a full rearrangement of a classic soundtrack where the arrangements actually showcase the quality of the source and ends up benefiting both sides, and when you concentrate on one game or one series, it gives the album an added feeling of flow as the tracks all compliment each other. If you’re only gonna pick up one CD to last you through the summer, this would be the one to get. It will be available for $10 on The OneUps’s website, as well as online via iTunes, AmazonMP3, and Bandcamp.Tags: Arrangements, Jazz, Live, Mustin, Nintendo, Remixes, Reviews, SNES, Soyo Oka, Super Mario Kart, The OneUps