Chip Music, Reviews

Danimal Cannon’s Chip Music Debut Begins at the ‘Roots,’ Ascends To The Stratosphere (Review)

December 1, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Danimal Cannon’s Chip Music Debut Begins at the ‘Roots,’ Ascends To The Stratosphere (Review)on Twitter

Around this time last year, I was sitting at my desk, jaw agape, listening to an early recording sent by the inimitable Dan Behrens, lead guitarist of VG cover bands Armcannon and Metroid Metal. It was maybe the 2nd song I’d seen him write under his Danimal Cannon moniker with LSDJ, the popular homebrew tracker for Game Boy that he had begun using in earnest just 2 months prior.

What I was hearing, however, sounded like the work of a hardened veteran, chock full of masterfully measured dynamics, thoughtfully programmed software instruments and complex, melodic arrangements that could have been played by a 4-piece prog metal band if they didn’t sound so damn good on a Game Boy.

Now, a year later, I’m similarly stunned by a full-length release that’s staggering in both length and variety, where guitar solos (born of both plucked strings and pulsewaves) soar over a bassline bedrock and into picturesque landscapes of micro-processed progressive, math rock and heavy metal anthem. Combine that with a smattering of live instrumentals and guest appearances from the likes of keyboard virtuoso Shnabubula and you’ve got one hell of a debut chip music album.

Whether or not you’re familiar with his past contributions to Armcannon and Metroid Metal, it’s easy to hear Danimal’s immense compositional talent shine through the gnarled 8-bit textures of Roots. In a remarkable variety of ways, the album approaches the Game Boy hardware in a way similar to early demoscene music, with composition as the first and foremost priority. The result is an extraordinary amount of complexity, showing a fearless determination to not let the limited hardware have any say in how each song is written. It’s almost as if everything were already composed for a full rock band that thought it would be best to let 4 channels of Game Boy audio do all the work.

Bouncy, fist-pumping jams like “Danimal Across America” and the album’s title track are straightforward and satisfying multi-part bangers while the previously-released “Polywrath” delivers deviously twisted polyrhythmic grooves. “The Big Crunch” takes the pacing into double-bass pedal speed metal overdrive in a way that Norrin Radd would probably appreciate. (It was in fact meant as a tribute to him, as I learned speaking with Danimal at a recent show in Rochester.) One of my personal favorites, “Synergy” brings in a loungy funk progression over live drums that has Danimal’s Game Boy taking turns soloing with friends Paul Wardingham on guitar, Tony Dickinson on bass and Shnabubula on keys — no doubt one of the finest instrumental chiptune collab tracks in recent memory.

All the different styles find cohesion not just in the familiar timbres of the Game Boy’s software instruments but in the no holds barred, all-or-nothing approach to composition that Danimal masterfully executes throughout the length of the album. Roots makes for not just an extraordinary debut release, but a refreshing perspective on chip music composition that will hopefully lead others by example as the medium continues to expand into new horizons.

Buy: Danimal Cannon – Roots (Ubiktune, MP3/FLAC)

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