A lot of people have been calling 2009 chipmusic’s biggest year ever. With the growing success of Blip Festival, the sudden blossoming of scenes in cities across the United States and a small but noticeable infiltration into mainstream and indie music, 2010 could be the year that truly takes chipmusic to the next level, both in terms of implementation and mainstream appeal. Whether or not this will be entirely a good thing, we can’t rightly say. But what we can do is give you a rundown of our favorite chipmusic releases from 2009.
Hit the jump and join us as we list some of the year’s most notable chiptune albums.
Josh’s Top 5:
5. Error Repeat – Little-Scale
While it’s by no means the only noteworthy 2009 release from Australian chiptune godfather Little-Scale (aka Sebastian Tomczak), Error Repeat is definitely one of the year’s most memorable listening experiences. Adelaide’s prolific wire-pulling guru crafts a deeply moving and incredibly cohesive odyssey, told by an unholy union of heavily-modified NES and Sega Master System consoles. Echoing pulsewaves, fleeting arpeggios and steady, thumping beats smoothly switch between forlorn, alienating and adventurous, all the while remaining cool and confident of the road ahead. If you’ve yet to hear any of Little-Scale’s material, this is as good a place to start as any.
Available at: CalmDownKidder Records
4. Left – minusbaby
Being one of the original members of the New York chipmusic scene, Rich Alexander Caraballo (aka minusbaby) has had plenty of time to refine his craft. With his latest 8bitpeoples release, Left, it’s fairly obvious that all those years of staring at computer monitors and chewing gum have paid off. Minusbaby’s sound is massive — a hip-shaking, trance-inducing audible monolith that blends dancehall reggaeton with transcendent ambience. Wandering somewhere between inebriated night on the town and osmotic transmission into another plane of existence, Left stands out as one of the most arresting and hypnotic works of chipmusic in recent memory. If there’s truly a way to dance yourself into spiritual enlightenment, Caraballo most definitely has the patent.
Available at: 8bitpeoples
3. Popular Music – Bud Melvin
In a scene that’s seemingly dominated by unrelenting, floor-stomping dance music, what’s an old-fashioned banjo-playing fellow with a handsome mustache and a Game Boy to do? New Mexico native Bud Melvin seems to have found the answer, and delivers it with plenty of style in his self-released LP, Popular Music. Folksy pop vocals and bluegrass-style banjo diddies blend effortlessly with Game Boy accompaniment, creating playful and lighthearted tunes about adolescence, love, sea voyages and persistent felines. You don’t need to be a fan of folk or even chipmusic to be smitten by Bud Melvin’s undeniable charm, but make sure to prepare yourself for some incredibly catchy tunes that you’ll be humming later.
2. Kind of Bloop – Various Artists
You may have noticed that the ‘8-bit tribute album’ became a bit of a trend last year, and honestly, I wasn’t a fan of most of them. But as much as I’m tempted to omit cover compilations from this list entirely in lieu of original music, this re-imagining of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is simply too good to ignore. Organized by Waxy.org’s Andy Baio, the project unites some of the most talented names in chipmusic in a heavily stylized salute to the legendary jazz master. Featuring A-list chip artists like Jake “Virt” Kaufman, Shnabubula and Disasterpeace, each track offers a unique and deeply personal permutation of Davis’ seminal jazz classic, all while remaining faithful to the spirit of the original music. Not only does this album help fill the perennial void of chiptune jazz, it serves as a testament to the dynamic and expressive potential of chip instruments when put into the correct hands.
Available at: KindofBloop.com
1. Pamplemousse – J. Arthur Keenes Band
Until a few months before Blip Festival, I was under the impression that J. Arthur Keenes was a real person, and that he, as his stage name suggested, had a band. As it turns out, I was wrong on both accounts. But in my error, it was far more impressive to realize that the insanely catchy ska/punk/reggae tunes of The J. Arthur Keenes Band’s debut EP, Pamplemousse were all composed, performed and sung by a 17-year-old chap named Dan. Using intricately programmed Game Boy composition as a base, Dan supplements 8-bit sounds with layer upon juicy layer of instrumentation — from energetic electric guitars to keyboards and melodicas, the album overflows with texture, topped off by tastefully jaded vocals that contrast the exuberant instrumentals. In the end, it all adds up to one of the most surprising and eclectic chipmusic releases of the year, guaranteed to strike a chord with anyone that has a beating heart in their chest and memories of youth in their head.
Available at: Pause Music
Honorable mentions: ‘Blip Festival 2008’ – V/A • ‘Future, And It Doesn’t Work’ – Starscream • ‘Dawn Metropolis’ – Anamanaguchi •
Audun’s Top 5:
5. BlipFest 2008 – Various Artists
Blipfest for those of you who don’t know yet is an annual chipmusic event held in New York and Europe once a year, bringing together the best artists in the entire scene. Before this CD was released there were a few DVD releases with footage of the different events, and even a documentary under the name Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet . This 2 Disc set contains the set from the 2008 concert held in New York, and is an absolute beast, with a total of 33 different artists showcasing their stuff. Favorites like Bit Shifter, Nullsleep and USK all appear, so if you want a taste of all the best talents, pick it up.
Available at: 2PlayerProductions
4. Game Boy Rock!! – WizWars
We did a review of this CD back in November and gave it high praise for it’s easy listening dance tunes, and that’s the beauty of this album. It’s by no means the most complex chiptune album of all time or the pastrami of Game Boy music (though I think has mistaken his Game Boy for a sandwich before), it’s just a perfect introduction to great chip music. Every song is catchy, the track layout is well thought out and never loses momentum, and the package is very complete compared to it being just downloadable. If you are looking for a way to introduce friends or yourself into the scene, this is an excellent choice.
Available at: Handheld Heroes
3. The Drifting Classroom – Molidox
This is a very interesting concept album. Based on the 1970’s manga The Drifting Classroom (Hyouryou Kyoushitsu), this album pretends to be the soundtrack of a fictional Famicom game soundtrack based on the manga, complete with a fictional backstory and everything. While the history might be fake, the album is totally legit, 2 legit 2 quit infact. The album sounds authentic and has a eerie feeling to it, without losing track of game music side to things, keeping things cleverly paced and timed like as if you would be playing it. Kazuo Umezu, the writer of the manga, received the CD and was very pleased by the result, so you can’t go wrong when the man himself approves, can you?
Available at: Beep City
2. 256 e.p. – JulieHally
Hally of EGG Music and Blipfest fame teamed up with Julie, a Japanese idol who gained some notable fame with her photo collection Samurai Girl, which hit number 1 on Amazon’s book charts at one point. Combining Hally’s masterful chipmusic skills with vocals, it’s somewhat of a radical change from what Hally has released before. Japanese female vocals can be a dangerous territory, but Julie pulls it off great having actual depth to her voice and not ending up squeaking along like many tend to do. Hally himself sings like a goose in mating season, but it’s super charming, and his melodies makes up for what he might not have vocally.
Available at: HearJapan
I picked this baby up at Blipfest Europe, and boy did it floor me completely. The mastermind behind Cheap Dinosaurs, Dino Lionetti, pulls out some of the most melodically twisted tunes you’ll ever hear, and he’s been featured at various Blipfests throughout the years. Cheap Dinosaurs is probably a band you want to see live, as he is often accompanied by one of the coolest guys around, Patrick Todd, on drums. Todd was the drummer for the arrangement band Parasprinter some years back, and has been a die-hard member of the NES community along with NoCarrier, modding the NES to its limits. Cheap Dinosaurs also transforms into Auto-Scroll, a game music arrangement chiptune band with the same lineup. If you have a chance, check out Cheap Dinosaurs at 8-Static if you are in the Philly area, and take in the amazing music you’ll only get from these guys.
Available at: Only available at show, previews at Cheap Dinosaurs Myspace2009, Blipfest, Chipmusic, Chiptuned Rockman, Chiptunes, Features, Top 5