How Stuart Hamm Rewired My Brain(or the odd case of Dr. Gradus ad Parnasum)

For a long time now I’ve wondered what happened in my brain to where I’ve veered from loving the singer/songwriter to being almost exclusively a fan of instrumental music. I mean, from 16 or 17 years old until about 5 years ago I was all about great songs. The Beatles to the Kinks to Brian Wilson to the Brill Building; then onto Wilco, Spoon, the Stones, Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Adrian Belew, Lindsey Buckingham, and so many more. I was so inspired by the process of songwriting and the emotions evoked from a great song that I blindly bought a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder at 19 and started writing songs myself. Those first couple years were tedious, but I finally found a voice and became a pretty damn good songwriter.

I wrote by myself, with others, and finally in the late 90s recorded a 4-song EP with two of my cousins. We ended up finding a drummer and toured dumps across Northeast Indiana throughout 1998. In 1999 that band dissolved like an Alka Seltzer tablet in water. A series of musical misadventures began between 1999 and 2011. First was a collaborative record with a cousin, then from 2006 to 2011 I wrote, recorded, engineered, performed, and self-released 5 albums under the name Goodbyewave(with the help of a drummer.) I then recorded two records of lo-fi, all 4-track cassette garage pop under the name sunnydaymassacre in 2011 and 2012, followed by an album of ambient guitar loops I recorded as Dream District. Then there was 3 solo albums under my own name of mainly singer/songwriter fare and one analog synth record.

Throughout all of this the songwriting process; melodies to chords to rhythms to words to laying them all down into a permanent stream of zeros and ones was everything I looked forward to. But in 2013 something changed in my brain. A vivid memory of watching Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery came back to me. In-particular, it was the Walter Rizzati score of that film. I remembered sitting on my parent’s couch one balmsy summer evening and watching that movie by myself. The movie left a mark, but the score was burnt into my brain. Nearly 30 years later I was recalling that music, and thanks to this little record label in the UK called Death Waltz Recording Company I could own that soundtrack on vinyl.

From that purchase everything changed for me. While I still loved a good song, my true music fulfillment lied with instrumental music. All kinds; scores, heavy synth records, modern classical, electronic, and 70s Krautrock. There was still the usual indie rock purchase, but I was seeking the instrumental stuff out. I wasn’t as excited about the new Wilco record as I was at the thought of a new Boards of Canada. That’s just how my head was working those days.

Why? Where did things change for me? It wasn’t that I didn’t want to love the idea of just an acoustic guitar and someone writing on it. You know, putting pen to paper, heart and mind to tape and laying it all out. But it seemed as if 30 years of loving music one way had taken its course and I had started a new one.

Then last week I had an urge to look up Stuart Hamm. Who? Stuart Hamm is a bass playing genius who in the 80s I learned about because I was a fan of guitarist Joe Satriani. As a struggling 14-year old guitar student Satriani was a breath of fresh air. No spandex or songs about T&A from this guy. He was writing instrumental guitar music inspired by science fiction, man. His Surfing With The Alien was a nod to Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer(with the SS even on the cover of his record.) “Ice 9”, one of my favorite songs on that record, was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle. Satriani was basically a comic book/sci fi nerd that could play guitar better than anyone I’d ever heard. He put out a mini-EP called Dreaming #11 not long after Surfing and I quickly bought it. Side one was a new track called “The Crush of Love”(Satriani at his best), and side two was three live tracks featuring drummer Jonathan Mover and bassist Stuart Hamm.

This is where Stu entered my world.

Stuart Hamm, like Satriani, came across like a sci fi guy that happened to be a virtuosic musician. He studied bass and piano at Berklee and played in all kinds of bands and styles until in 1987 he was hooked up with Satriani through Relativity Records. This led to touring and playing on Satriani’s 1990 record Flying In A Blue Dream. But before that, Hamm released his debut solo album with Relativity called Radio Free Albemuth. It was an odd and beautiful album. I never thought of bass as a lead instrument before. I admired great players in rock like Geddy Lee, Chris Squire, and Lemmy, but they were still in the context of playing as part of a single unit. The rock unit. Stuart Hamm was being backed by guitar, drum, and synth on his album. Backed because bass was the main course. He was finger tapping, playing chords, arpeggios, and pretty much anything you could think of. But it didn’t come off as showy. It was like the bass was being played like a new instrument. He played it a lot like how you’d play a piano. He could also play some seriously funky slap bass, too. Hamm was an all around amazing player/composer.

But Radio Free Albemuth was a whole new musical world. From fusion-powered prog to quietly contemplative solo pieces to goofy country-tinged showy pieces to classical covers, Hamm did it all. He also paid tribute to sci fi writing master Philip K. Dick by naming the album after one of Dick’s posthumous novels. Tracks like “Flow My Tears”, “Simple Dreams”, and his cover of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” soundtracked many late nights in my parents living room as I contemplated the mysteries of the opposite sex and how to get them to not see me as a complete dork. “Radio Free Albemuth” showed off Hamm’s bass-playing dexterity, as did his cover of “Dr. Gradus ad Parnasum”.

It was such a different musical world for me, and one that opened my relatively simple 15-year old brain to new ways of thinking. Like Satriani before him, and then countless instrumental records I’d buy afterwards thru Relativity Records, Shrapnel Records, and even a slew of Andres Segovia CDs a couple years later, the wordless world of instrumental music left a spot for me to fill in the emotional blanks myself. I wasn’t being told necessarily what to think or what that song was about, but I was given general directions through melody, movement, and mood. A song like “Simple Dreams” made my head and heart realign like nothing had before. And the baroque, melancholy approach Stuart Hamm took to reimagine Beethoven’s classic sadsack ode to loss would haunt me for years to come.

Revisiting this album got me on the interweb which led to me finding a pristine copy of Radio Free Albemuth on vinyl for $4. I’ve been listening to it nonstop for 4 days now and it’s still not getting old. Revisiting Stuart Hamm also answered the question I’ve been trying to answer since 2013 when an obscure soundtrack to a Lucio Fulci film seemed to rewire my brain to prefer instrumental music:

I’ve been wired for instrumental music since I was 15 years old. I’ve just finally found my way back to it.

I bet your 7″ lathe cut can’t do this….

I thought I’d seen everything. From UFOs landing in Midwest cornfields and their extraterrestrial pilots revealing to me the meaning of existence thru an old Lite Brite, to talking coyotes that revealed to me the meaning of existence thru an old Milton Bradley Simon game, to a monkey that could make Toaster Strudels for a man born without arms, legs, and a mouth to eat the Toaster Strudels with. It seemed that nothing in this universe could surprise me at this point in the game. How could it, with me already realizing that we’re all here as merely a collective sigh baking on this rock and waiting for the Planctorian Death Lords from Sigma Nigh-8 to come and turn us all into slave monkeys, our only purpose of existence to toast their damn Toaster Strudels because they have no arms or legs???

Turns out life just surprised me(a little, anyways.)

A very small record label called Polytechnic Youth came into my world. Polytechnic Youth is located somewhere in the far reaches of the universe where they make these magical 7″ lathe cuts. Super small batches of different artists each time. Side A and Side B, boom, they are gifted to the world and then they’re off to the next. Super limited, super rare, but super incredible art. Here’s the simple description on their website:

library sounds | electronic experiments in kosmische | primitive electronics as a soundtrack to physical education | a micro label for vinyl heads

The reason I came across this label is Timothy Fife. Timothy Fife of synth duo Victims and of his own solo work, in-particular this year’s excellent Black Carbon. Fife is the real deal when it comes to electronic composition. He’s deep into Giallo scores, Italian directors, and horror cinema in general. His work that I’m familiar with is of the heady and heavy synth variety. Fife is heavy into the Berlin-School Movement, Komische, Krautrock, and sites Klaus Schulze as a big influence. You can hear it in his work, for sure. But he adds elements of ambient music, darker incidental work, and this East Coast sensibility that can only come from staring out into the endless Atlantic and hearing those icy waves crash against the shore. It’s quite beautiful.

A few weeks ago Timothy Fife released a 7″ lathe cut with Polytechnic Youth. Side A is “Simulacra” with the B side being “All Tomorrow’s Remembered”. These are exquisite synth compositions. Bubbly, dream-like, and take you to another place when you’re in the middle of them.

“Simulacra” pulls you in with arpeggiated notes and whispers of new age ambient in the background. It’s Komische of the highest order. “All Tomorrows Remembered” puts me in mind of Edgar Froese, Rudiger Lorenz, and touches of JD Emmanuel, but all rebuilt and redefined by Fife’s style.

The unique thing about this release is that it plays from the inside out. You drop the needle right at the runout point of the 7″ and it rides those grooves backwards. I was skeptical at first. “How will this work?” I said. “Do I need to light candles and repeat dark incantations?” I said. “I think your grilled cheese is burning” my wife said. It was. Anyways, I followed the instructions included with the 45 and sure enough the needle grabbed the groove. And also, as stated in the instructions, I turned the volume UP!

Beautiful.

As I said, these releases are super limited and are gone before you know it. Timothy Fife’s sold out in record time. I think you can locate one or two on Discogs for like $1,000,000 or something. If you’ve got the cash I’d go for it. It’s worth it, man. Brilliant tracks, artwork, and it plays from the inside out.

Who needs the meaning of life when you’ve got records like this? If you listen hard enough, you can find that meaning you’re looking for in the grooves.

 

 

 

“What The Hell Did I Just Buy?” : Adventures In Vinyl

As a vinyl guy, it’s my duty to make things hard on myself. I am quite aware that there are these things called “digital downloads”, where you can receive music right through your computer and put those albums onto a digital listening device. This allows the listener to have hundreds or thousands of albums inside of a device you can fit into your pocket. From what I’ve gathered it’s “the future”. Of course I’m the type of guy that if you tell me to go left you can be goddamned sure I’m going to go right. Just because it’s the trendy thing to do sure as shit doesn’t mean that I’m going to do it. In fact, I’ll probably avoid it.

Yes, I’m aware that listening to vinyl is considered a trendy thing, but that’s not why I buy them. I buy vinyl for the same reason that I don’t read books on a Kindle: I want something I can hold. I like that tactile experience you get from opening a book, just like opening a gatefold sleeve LP and looking at the glorious artwork. I love slipping that disc from its sleeve and laying it carefully on the platter. I love the drop of the needle and those first little pops before the first track kicks in. If the world truly comes to an end and the power grid goes down and we’re all living underground traveling through tunnels dug by worker children and simple adults all those thousands of digital downloads and downloaded books aren’t going to amount to squat. At least if we can find an old crank Victrola I can still listen to my collection of horror soundtracks and Steely Dan. Plus, I’ll never get bored reading tattered Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut novels by candlelight.

Sorry, that’s a lot to take in.

The point I’m getting at is that sometimes I buy records and shortly afterwards I wonder why in the hell did I just spend that chunk of cash on this? The Variety Lights LP at the My Bloody Valentine show back in 2013 is one of those times(though in my defense I was caught up in all the hoopla…turns out I should’ve just bought a goddamn MBV t-shirt instead.) And did I really need all those King’s X reissues? Well of course I did, you idiot! And let’s not even start with my ever growing collection of horror soundtracks(you just try and tell me I’m wasting my money…I’ll take you out!)

Today was one of those days where after leaving my local record shop I had a quick moment of “WTF?!?”, but once I got home and put the vinyl on the platter I felt completely justified in spending that $70.

Ever since I first heard Disasterpeace’s It Follows soundtrack I was hooked on the guy. I really like the cut of his jib. He composes and creates in a very simplistic manner, yet his work is so full, dense, and engaging that you’d never know he’s a full-on PC composer. Musically he works within that 8-bit vibe. Chiptunes is what I believe they call it. His sound harkens back to the early days of home game systems. The music you’d hear on your Commodore 64 or NES systems. There’s something very light and nostalgic about a Disasterpeace soundtrack, yet he never comes across as too childish.

How ironic is it that I’m enthralled by his work, yet I’ve never played any of the games he’s scored? I’m not a video game player, but I totally connect to the sonic world he creates. His Fez score still blows me away every time I hear it. It’s both light-hearted and heavy-hearted. It’s like the musical equivalent of contentment in loneliness. Now, I’ve been stuffing my head with the 4-LP box set of his Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack. This thing is immensely dense, dystopian and vast in scope, and really just one of the major game-scoring achievements in years as far as I’m concerned.

The incidental work on this massive set has the same feeling of walking through a gallery and soaking up beautifully aged paintings that hang on the walls. “Vignette: Panacea” opens the album with a beautiful acoustic piano. It puts me in mind of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and one that seems beyond just a video game(though I know video games offer a whole other level of art I just haven’t been able to explore just yet.) “Wisdom’s Tragedy” almost has this neo-futuristic feel. It would fit nicely amongst the Blade Runner or Ex Machina scores, really. “Seeds of the Crown”, if you’re familiar with Disasterpeace’s work, will sound very familiar. It’s a piece that sonically goes from project to project for him. It carries traits that go easily from one project to the next. Like Jimmy Page’s guitar tone or Phil Collins’ drum sound, this song is the proto-sonic vibe of the Disasterpeace discography. It’s brilliant stuff.

Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, works from a very familiar place. Yet, his sound is also very alien. There’s a uniqueness in his work that’s totally just him, but he’s obviously influenced by the world around him. We can’t help but allow our environment to influence us, good or bad. Disasterpeace’s work, in-particular his work on Hyper Light Drifter, falls into its very own category. There’s dreamy incidental music, then there’s more electronic-based music. Stuff with rhythms and early electro vibes like “Gaol In The Deep”. Then you’re thrown into more Gothic pieces like “Stasis Awakening” and “The Last General”. Honestly, this soundtrack runs the gamut. It pretty much has everything I love. Not just in Disasterpeace’s world, but in scoring in general. It’s a dense, magical musical world that I’ve loved getting lost in.

So yeah, occasionally I’ll have a few moments of buyer’s remorse. I’ll look at the massive chunk of round plastic I just purchased and wonder what in the hell I was thinking. But once I put vinyl to platter and drop the needle things become much clearer as to why I spent my hard-earned cash. Sometimes I need that musical escape hatch in order to deal with the outside world. For a couple hours, escaping this reality for another is the best course of action when ones mental wires are frayed. Hyper Light Drifter is a much welcomed escape. It’s a lovely place to clear those mental cobwebs.

Now lets light that candle and read another chapter of Cat’s Cradle, shall we?

 

Diver Downer

In my life, Van Halen have gone from being hailed as Gods to being complete clowns back to being a source of great love and nostalgia. Growing up in the Midwest in the 80s you were limited on cultural growth and expanding ones tastes musically to Top 40 radio and physical print mags you found at local bookstores and grocery store magazine stands. If you had cable and MTV then you were ahead of the game slightly. For me, my parents wanted no part in the cable game. We had a 40ft attenna tower that got us 9 channels, plus some Chicago stations on clear, summer nights if we were lucky(The Twilight Zone on Channel 9 was a treat.) My parents saw cable as a scam(though were quick to buy a splitter for their bedroom when I paid for cable at their house when I was 20 years old. Pfft.)

What I’m getting at here is that I was limited to my musical adventures. By the time I hit 5th grade I’d already bought Ratt’s Out of the Cellar, Quite Riot’s Condition Critical, Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, and Van Halen’s 1984. These were my “holy grails” of music. The big four that would push me into all other directions. While Ratt would put out at least three more decent records(Invasion of Your Privacy, Dance, and Reach For The Sky), the rest kind of faltered. Van Halen turned into a different band altogether. With Roth hitting the road they brought in Sammy Hagar, and though they never hit the massive “cock rock” appeal that the Roth years brought they were equally successful(if not more with Hagar.)

For me, though, the David Lee Roth years were my favorite Van Halen years. I’m a completist when it comes to bands. At least I was back then. Once I got a taste for 1984 I knew I had to dig back for all the good stuff. I was familiar with Van Halen and Van Halen II as my parents had them both on 8-track, but the rest was waiting for me to explore. I think Fair Warning was and still is my favorite Van Halen album. It was cheeky and had all the Van Halen tropes I’ve grown to love, but there was also this darkness to it that none of the other albums ever achieved. The album that seems to be everyone’s least favorite is Diver Down. I think it was my least favorite when I bought it in 1985. 32 years later I’d have to say that’s not the case. It’s really quite a hell of a record.

I may not remember much in the ways of Algebra, or how to tie a tie(I was pretty fluent in the art of tie tying in high school because I had to wear one as a bag boy at Owens Supermarket…clip-ons were for losers, baby), but I remember where I was when I bought certain albums. Not all of them, but some. I bought Diver Down on a day I stayed home from school because of a doctor appt. After the appt my parents took me by Butterfly Records where I picked up the last piece of the Van Halen puzzle, Diver Down. The only song I was really familiar with on this album was their cover of “(Oh)Pretty Woman”. I remember seeing the video on ‘Friday Night Videos’ and liking their guitar-heavy version. We arrived home and I went straight to my room to dig into Diver Down.

What I heard was an album that didn’t have any one song that stood out. Each album previously seemed to have stand out after stand out. Diver Down seemed to just roll tape and give out this continuous hum of same ‘ol stuff. I dug “The Full Bug” right off the bat, and I really liked “Big Bad Bill”, if not only for the fact that it made me think of my dad(his name is Bill and in his younger days he was known to throw fisticuffs here and there), plus the clarinet made me think of old Woody Allen movies. “Little Guitars” was nice as well, but everything else just seemed to blend together. It was also the most covers on a Van Halen record, with “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”, “(Oh)Pretty Woman”, and “Dancing In The Streets”. At the time I thought that was kind of lazy of VH. I listened maybe one more time before putting it in the cassette case to sit quietly and complete my collection.

Many, many years later when I would grow up and come to terms with my hair metal past, I started looking back on some of those 80s albums that I loved and would occasionally even pick one up on vinyl when I’d see it on the cheap. Two or three years ago I started snagging up Van Halen albums. Fair Warning was the first. Still a classic to my ears. I found a record club exclusive version of 1984 that was in mint condition last year and grabbed that, too. Then a few months ago I found a $5 copy of Diver Down. I couldn’t resist. I have to say, the 11 year old me just didn’t hear the goodness I’m hearing now. It’s not their best by any means, but it’s still a hell of an album.

One of my biggest complaints 30 years ago was that there were too many covers on this album. My opinion has changed completely on this. I think the covers are probably the strongest thing going on this album, with “Dancing In The Streets” being the cream of the crop. The use of synths, the patented Van Halen groove, the soaring Eddie solo, and David Lee Roth never sounded as sincere in his delivery as he does on this song. Really, I start with side 2 every time I spin this because I love this song so much. “(Oh)Pretty Woman” is another stellar cover, with the song starting out with some weird, dark instrumental(“Intruder”) that goes right into Orbison’s titular riff. Roth turns Orbison’s sadsack guy trying to get the attention of the girl into a blowhard come-on which Roth does like no other. The last cover(I’m not counting “Happy Trails”, kids) is the cover of the Kinks somewhat obscure track “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”. I hadn’t heard The Kinks version before hearing Van Halen do it, so I didn’t really have a reference point. I always dug the guy lamenting about the good old days schtick, and after hearing the Kinks original I felt Van Halen stayed pretty true to it.

Elsewhere, the originals don’t disappoint. “Hang ’em High” is a nitrous-fueled rocker with a mix of punk and LA glam. “Cathedral” is a dreamy little instrumental that leads into the poppy “Secrets”. Roth would go on to put out songs like “Ladies Night In Buffalo” and “Skyscraper” that seem to have their origins in songs like this. For all his crotch writhing and Tae Kwon Do mid air splits, Roth was a goofy romantic at heart. “Little Guitars(Intro)” and “Little Guitars” is flamenco guitar that morphs into the sweetest and most earnest pop the VH dudes had made yet. A kid looking for serious guitar mind melting would be disappointed with this, but for a guy in his 40s looking back this is a perfect dollop of late summer confection. Eddie’s guitar and Michael Anthony’s backing vocals make this song soar. As I mentioned before, I dug “The Full Bug” back in the day and still do now. It’s the obligatory “boogie” track. Nearly every VH album through Roth’s tenure had them. “Ice Cream Man”, “Bottoms Up!”, “Fools”, “Sinner’s Swing!”, and “Hot For Teacher” were all boogies in some shape or form. “The Full Bug” fills the boogie quota for Diver Down quite well. A good portion of the “Sunset Strip” bands of the mid-to-late 80s owe their 15 minutes to the Van Halen boogie(I’m looking at you, Bullet Boys.)

I’m not sure what happened in 1982 when Diver Down came out. Maybe it was VH overkill. Maybe the DLR schtick was starting to wear on everyone. Whatever it was, this album is the least discussed. I’m here to say that after putting some years between me and old Diver Down I can look back at it and appreciate it for the pretty decent LP that it was. It led us to the monumental 1984 and then the eventual ego war between Eddie and David Lee Roth. Then Eddie and the world at large.

If you haven’t heard this one in a long time, give it a spin. See what happens.

Oh, the video is pretty gross. But it was the early 80s. 

 

That Dracula’s A Bad Mutha….

Of all the video games I was a fan of, none of them were as fun for me as Super Castlevania. I was never much of a hardcore video game guy. I liked simple stuff, mostly. Mario, racing, fighting, and shooting games were where it was at for me. Even The Legend of Zelda was just too involved for me. Maybe there was a small bit of ADD going on, I don’t know. Side scrolling platform games were where it was at for me, and the Castelvania series of games from Nintendo were the most fun I ever had playing video games.

While I obsessed over that first game on the NES, it was Super Castlevania that was released for the Super Nintendo system that I truly spent many hours obsessing over. I’d played it so much that by the time my wife and I got our first place together I’d already beaten the game, but still would play it obsessively. She worked 2nd shift and I worked days, so in the evenings when the place was picked up I’d sit in our papasan with a terrible Bud Dry on the end table next to me and I’d run through Super Castlevania. I’d play it till I beat it, and usually with the sound turned down and music playing through the stereo. This was summer/fall of 1995, so I was probably listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or Filter’s Short Bus(It was the 90s, so don’t judge me.)

If you were to have told me 22 years ago that I’d be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl I would’ve told you you had the wrong guy. “Why in the hell would I be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl? That’s ridiculous. First of all, vinyl’s dead. MiniDiscs are the future. And second of all, I don’t even listen to the video games. I listen to the Pumpkins and Filter when I play video games.” Well, here we are 22 years later and I’m buying video game soundtracks on vinyl. It’s nostalgia, yes. Maybe it’s living in the past a bit, sure. But you know what? Nobody’s getting hurt here. There’s something about those 8-bit scores to pixelated video games that bring a smile to my face.

After collecting the first three Mondo releases of Castlevania soundtracks I’ve recently acquired what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of Castlevania scores: Super Castleavania.

Of course I share my love of these scores with my son, so that makes it a lot easier to drop $35 on one of these(maybe it even justifies the purchase in my head.) Spinning this after work the other day I was actually blown away by just how good it sounded. It really reminded me of a film score. I was reminded of Disasterpeace’s great work on Fez and Hyper Light Drifter. The tiny, dated sound of that first Castlevania game is gone and in its place is some seriously well-constructed music pieces. I know that sounds ridiculous as I’m talking about a damn video game, but it’s seriously good. It’s a double LP with some amazing cover art and inner gatefold art by Jeno Lab. It puts you in mind of those classic Ralph Bakshi cartoons of the 70s and 80s(think Wizards and his LOTR movies.) The Konami Kukeiha Club really outdid themselves on this game. This was still 1991, so the composition and arranging here is extremely impressive for the times.

I’m sure I’ll probably pick up the Symphony of the Night soundtrack when Mondo drops that as well, but I think that’ll be it for me as far as the nostalgic video game scores go. I may enjoy delving back in time a bit and reminiscing about the old days, but I’ve plugged into as much video game nostalgia as I think I’m going to.

Unless Kid Icarus is a possibility.

Castles Made of Pixels

I don’t even remember Castlevania III : Dracula’s Curse. I don’t remember one single thing about the game, not even the music. Yet, I felt compelled to buy Mondo’s double LP release of the soundtrack a couple months ago. Compelled may not be the right word. Possessed to buy it, maybe? It’s like a sickness, folks. An addiction. Maybe it’s because I figured I bought the first two Castlevania releases, so I needed to complete the trilogy? That could be. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Castlevania as a teen. That was one of the few games in my sad game-playing career that I obsessed over, but only three versions of the game. The original Castlevania on NES, Super Castlevania on the Super Nintendo system, and then Castlevania : Symphony of the Night on the original Playstation. Those three versions I loved and played like an idiot into the wee hours of the night. I’d load up on caffeine and frozen pizzas and battle all the ghouls and ghosts hidden away in Dracula’s various castles.

But not Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

But I gotta say, the music in that game was on point. For being 8-bit(or was it 16-bit by then?), the music really grabs you and pulls you into that world of darkness and doomed baroque romanticism. What’s most interesting is that the music reminds me of the neo-classical guitar of Ritchie Blackmore and that Swedish guy Yngwie Malmsteen. When I heard the second release in this Castlevania series I dubbed it “8-bit Yngwie”. It was sort of an inside joke between me and, well, nobody. Just me. Listen to the guitar/organ solos in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” for the neo-classical reference. Imagine that done on 8-bit instruments and that’ll give you a good idea as to what I’m talking about.

The Konami Kukeiha Club is responsible for the music to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I’m not sure if they’re an actual club, like with member cards and funny hats. I think they’re just an in-house music department at Konami that were responsible for creating music for Konami’s games. The list of club members is exhaustive, so I won’t list them. I’ll just say that there was a lot of work that went into creating the musical world in not only Castlevania, but so many other classic games that Konami gave us in the 80s and early 90s. What games? Contra. And a bunch more…probably.

I suppose I’ll just continue to keep buying these soundtracks up until I’m broke and selling them on Ebay in order to pay for college tuition or a ham sandwich for lunch. That’s what people with vinyl problems do. We justify these purchases with words and phrases like “nostalgia” and “childhood memories” and “collecting” and “I earned it, dammit!” I’ll have excuses till the cows come home as to why I need to buy these lovely pieces of plastic that are adorned with eye-popping artwork. Why?

Because I earned it, dammit!

Martin and Uncle Cuda

I think one of the more bizarre films in the George Romero canon is 1978s Martin(and yes, I’ve seen Knightriders AND Bruiser.) It wasn’t bizarre in a “bad” bizarre way. It was Romero’s take on the vampire story, but done in a modern way. Watching it back in the 80s I came away from it feeling kind of icky and queasy. It disturbed me. It wasn’t the typical tragic romantic take on the vampire lore. There was no melancholy, handsome Dracula feeding on big-bosomed women lying in ornate king size beds wrapped in satin sheets. There was no fear of sunlight or garlic or crucifixes. Martin, the film’s namesake, was a skeazy young man with a 70s hairdo and turtleneck shirt drugging, raping, and slitting the wrists of women and feeding on their blood till they had been bled to death. There was nothing mythical about the guy, other than he was a solid stalker with a taste for blood and a tendency to mix sexual tendencies with violence and murder.

He was basically a barely adult version of Ted Bundy with a blood fixation.

Now you’d think that since there was no magic involved here that the fear level would’ve gone down. “Hey, he’s just some skinny asshole that could be taken down with proper Chuck Norris fist punch to the throat or a Don “The Dragon” Wilson roundhouse to Martin’s whiney face. I got this.” But the fact that the vampire in this movie was just some skinny asshole was exactly what made the movie so disturbing. I don’t think a movie disturbed me more than Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer. No powers or super human strength or demon possession there. Just some drifter that murdered people at will, and with no remorse. Martin got me to this familiar icks.

Martin isn’t a movie I revisit very often, or ever. Not like Dawn of the Dead which I watch at least twice a year in its entirety. It’s just something I don’t often think of sitting down and revisiting. Once or twice was enough, really. But recently on a vinyl-buying bender over at Light In The Attic I saw they had Donald Rubinstein’s original S/T for the film on sale for $9. Whether it’s a favorite or not I had to drop the cash for it. Just to say I have it, really. And you know what? It’s not too bad.

Donald Rubinstein is the brother of Richard P. Rubenstein, Romero’s producing partner on nearly all of his movies. While trying to find someone to score Martin, Rubinstein suggested they visit his brother in New York. After meeting and Donald nervously playing some music for the giant Romero, Romero was thrilled with what he heard. Rubinstein got back to work and finished scoring the new Romero vampire flick.

So how does it sound? Well it sounds like a ramshackle of 70s noises. Electric piano, eerie theremin-like sounds, and a touch of white guy jazz for kicks. Highlights include “The Calling/Main Theme”, which is all piano and mournful vocals. “Phased” is a quick punch of phaser-effected electric piano that sets some eerie mood. “Fly By Night” is some lounge-y jazz thrown in for good measure, while “Exorcism/Classical Funk” almost has an avante garde vibe with staccato-plucked strings and quirky piano lines.

Basically this is a minimalist score for a low budget 70s horror film. That’s what this is. It’s quirky, dark, melancholy, and at times kind of weird. But it’s endearing in its own way. I mean, you’re not going to be throwing this one on at parties or to impress your music nerd friends. But maybe on some quiet evening when OK Computer, London Calling, or Blood On The Tracks isn’t cutting it and the absynthe has run out, you might just feel like Donald Rubinstein’s Martin S/T could scratch that musical itch for you.

But more than likely not. For $9, I’m glad it’s available for just in case. And I’ll be ready with the Chuck Norris fist to the neck, in case any turtlenecks come knocking.