Game Music, Reviews

PPPPPPowerup! Makes Me PPPPPP Myself (Review)

March 16, 2011 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook PPPPPPowerup! Makes Me PPPPPP Myself (Review)on Twitter

Magnus Palsson, know better by his stage name SoulEye, teamed up with the great Terry Cavanagh early last year to create one of the most difficult and frustrating brilliant and challenging platformers, VVVVVV. Coupling old-school graphics with an old-school soundtrack, Cavanagh and SoulEye managed to create something entirely new. The critical success of VVVVVV owes much to its ambience chiefly-aided by SoulEye’s musical chiptune collection, PPPPPP. Now, just over a year later, we have the remix/arrangement album, PPPPPPowerup!. I was always a big fan of remix albums as they always provided a new way to enjoy an old favorite. To strike a balance between capitulating on the old themes and creating something wholly new is a tricky one which is why great remix albums are not as common as one might think.

PPPPPPowerup! is no longer a chiptune-only collection. Not only are there dance-like remixes, but also reflective piano arrangements of the classic themes. So, does it work? Do SoulEye and his friends negotiate VVVVVV‘s treacherous obstacles gracefully, or – like me – did they find themselves staring at the same checkpoint for hours? Click the jump for more!

The prize number of SoulEye’s original soundtrack, PPPPPP, is quite easily “Pushing Onwards.” This charming and heroic homage to Ryu’s and Guile’s themes is appropriate, tastefully done, and still filled with enough original material that SoulEye made the work his own. Brent Kennedy provides the opening track here on PPPPPPowerup! with a piano rendition of “Pushing Onwards.” Opening with reflective and open notes, the piece is well-paced and strays from its original in not – for lack of a better term – pushing onward to the main musical theme. Thankfully, it is well worth the wait as the variations on the themes are presented with a dramatic and emotional flair.

Chris Geehan provides the next couple of remixes with a more industrialized-chiptune feel. His second track, “Pressure Cooker,” is in the same key as its original counterpart but sounds incredibly different. In fact, I had to go back to the original just to make sure this was a remix of the piece I remembered. The final result is a much more percussive and guitar-filled entry with an interesting variation on SoulEye’s original piece. I only wish Geehan had retained a bit more of the original theme’s rhythmic and melodic integrity to make it more decipherable.

Cyanuric’s re-imagining and re-orchestrating of “Potential for Anything” is a great highlight. Still retaining a synthesizer feel, Cyanuric’s version sounds like it flew out of a 1980s collection with nostalgic goodness in hand. Later, Flint “Asterisk” Joffray provides the most modern arrangement with his retelling of “Predestined Fate.” Easily one of the more difficult and intense pieces to digest on the original soundtrack, this version changes the meter making it all the more maddening. Retaining all the thematic of the material of the original, Joffray’s piece is one of the album’s highest points.

Later, we experience more solo piano arrangements only they are provided by Verdegrand. “Passion for Exploring” is a fine variation but the recording of this particular track seems a bit raw, especially as compared to Kennedy’s entry, as well as the following Verdegrand piano variations (there are four in total). “Presenting VVVVVV”, the most reflective and emotional piece on PPPPPP, still holds the candle in this regard. Verdegrand does not reinvent the wheel on this piece and it is for the best. It is presented modestly and with the same intent as its original.

Whirligig provides two vastly different pieces: one a simple re-orchestrated chiptune version of “Pushing Onwards” (called “Fushing Onwards”, not sure if it’s a mistake). The following piece, “Presenting Potential,” does not appear on the original soundtrack and is a warm collection of some of the other themes mixed with variations, but all done in the style of the original. Orchestrated for piano and synthesized wind instruments, this makes for a winning remix. Rounding out the album is Whitaker Blackwell’s punchier version of “Potential For Anything” as well as Yijing Chen’s “Positive Force Piano.” Unfortunately, Chen’s performance is also poorly recorded and his variations seem to be a bit meandering.

SoulEye’s original soundtrack nearly snagged our honors for Best Chiptune Album and was on my personal list for Soundtrack of the Year. It is a fantastic achievement. This remix album is a must-buy for fans of the original and a new point of entry to those who – unbeknownst to them – may have foolishly allowed the original’s chiptune orchestration to dissuade them from fully appreciating or valuing its musical integrity. Some of these remixes are simply spectacular and well worth the experience. Perhaps an unintended consequence of a great remix album – in addition to making us fall in love with the same music in an all-new way – is how it gently reminds the listener just how timeless and effective the original themes truly are.

Both PPPPPPowerup! and PPPPPP are available digitally and are highly recommended.

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