Poking around Bandcamp new releases again (an exercise that could easily be a weekly feature) I stumbled upon the fantastic self-titled debut album from V-Jams. The six-member group out of Idaho aimed to rearrange some familiar video game tunes in styles that are completely different than the source material. As my initial listen to the album left me speechless I’d say it was an immense success.
Though the album’s tags wander across go-go, jazz fusion, neo-soul, R&B, bossa nova, hip hop and more it mostly feels like a unified style thanks to the amazing and consistent guitar and percussion performances. If I had to pick just one of those tags it’d be jazz fusion as the whole album has a smooth, cool, soulful feel despite the various influences.
Nothing encapsulates the group’s desire to get far, far away from the source material like this track. An arrangement of “I Sawed the Demons” from DOOM, the original track amped up the game’s insane movement speed and gory hellions with sawing guitars and spastic drum fills. V-Jams’ version is anything but hellacious but it’s still pretty intense. The drum work is incredible and though things are slowed down to fill nearly nine minutes the percussion is constantly juking, jabbing and driving as an ethereal guitar plucks out the familiar tune.
Around two minutes in a wailing funk guitar features and around the four-minute mark a heavily effected, almost synth sounding guitar joins for a bit. Things pick up again from here with more outstanding drum work, another funk guitar run and a soaring climax.
Remember when people would take pop songs and slow them down by 1000% to create mesmerizing soundscapes? Take the Killer Instinct theme and slow it down by only 300% and let V-Jams noodle on it and you get the slightest hint of how incredible this fifteen minute improvisational jazz track can be. The wailing electric guitar of the original is replaced here by a smooth, wandering saxophone that doesn’t even get to the most recognizable melody until two minutes in. It passes back and forth between a smoldering soul guitar and the two frequently duet. In the final minutes a grungy blues guitar and bass jump in and the sax keeps up on accompaniment.
There are other tracks that the group mentions were their favorites but I keep coming back to this epic and masterful piece. Man, this track doesn’t rock, it simmers. You soak in it and absorb it and now it’s part of you.
By far, the most unique track of the album. It’s essentially a smoky, bluesy arrangement of “Aquatic Ruin Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with electric guitar riffs and solos that remind me more than a little of “Hotel California”. But during each breakdown the members rap and vamp (musically and conversationally) about the differences between Sonic and Mario, Dragon Ball, how music is like making a game, reality simulations and more. I don’t know if it was intentional but they also rap about the Aquatic Ruin Zone in the same way Knuckles rapped about his stages in Sonic Adventure 2 which is fantastic.
The rest of the album features similarly awesome arrangements from Link’s Awakening (“Ballad of a Winded Fish”), Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask (“Stormy Day in Clock Town”), Pokemon Silver & Gold (“National Pork”) and Metal Slug (“Living on the Deck”). All of the songs besides “National Pork” and the bonus track are available for free on the group’s Bandcamp page.