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.

Existential Fez

So as I’ve stated recently, I was never much of a video game guy(or gal for that matter.) That’s not to say I don’t appreciate what goesIMG_1259 into a great video game. I appreciate the art and imagination that goes into creating a totally immersive alternate reality in a video game like I appreciate what goes into making an incredible album I can get lost in. Or a novel or graphic novel. Or a film. None of them trump the importance of another. One of my best friends loves video games. He puts all his money into upgrading his PC so it can keep up with the new games that come out. I come over for some beers and I know I’ll be sitting for at least 45 minutes watching him go into some other world.

I’m not a player, but I am a voyeur. I enjoy watching.

So one of the aspects of video games that I’ve really grown to appreciate is the music. A couple months ago one of my other good friends approached me about helping him create soundtrack music. His inspiration was video games. That got us talking about video game composers and I told him about Disasterpeace. Disasterpeace, aka Rich Vreeland, works with game makers to create the aural worlds you hear when you play video games. He creates these worlds under what folks call chiptune. It’s 8-bit music, like stuff you would hear on old Atari, Commodore 64, and NES games back in the heyday of home gaming systems. That may sound sort of primitive, but what Vreeland does as Disasterpeace is anything but primitive sounding. If you’re not familiar with it, you need to check out his S/T for It Follows. It’s pretty amazing.

IMG_1258I’m not totally familiar with Disasterpeace’s entire catalog, but besides It Follows the other S/T I’m totally obsessed with is his score for the video game Fez. I first heard about Fez a couple of years ago while my wife and watched the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. It documents a couple independent video game makers trying to get their games made and then out into the market. Of the games and game makers that were featured, the most interesting to me was Fez, which was designed by Phil Fish. There was something so incredibly simple about the game. It looked like NES Super Mario Bros mixed with some sort of existential magic. It’s a puzzle game, but one that feels almost psychedelic in how it unfolds. That’s why the music had to be just right for it. Disasterpeace was the perfect fit, and without Vreeland’s score the game would not have been the same.

So why am I talking about this video game and its music? Because Polytron, the company that released Fez, recently put the Fez S/T out on double vinyl and I had to buy it. Why? Because it’s damn near perfect, that’s why.

I’m not going to go into specifics regarding pieces of music on this record, I’ll just describe it this way; imagine what it would sound like if Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Cliff Martinez, and John Carpenter were animated into some strange technicolor world. It would sound like Fez. There’s an airiness to the pieces, but they’re never too light. They sound like walking through ancient ruins one minute, then dangling your feet over the edge of the universe the next. It’s playful and childish, while the next piece feels like tiptoeing through fields of poppies with the Great Oz in the distance. To me personally, it can even be just plain overwhelming at times. It’s so perfectly constructed and arranged, I wouldn’t even need the game. Hell, I don’t have the game. Just the soundtrack. The game involves geometry, some literal and some inferred. The music is very geometric. Very much from shapes. Synthesizer waves and distorted clipping that sounds like climbing the digital walls of some zeros and ones-created Jericho.

What does that even mean? F**k if I know, just go with it.

This is the kind of music you listen to on long drives through the darkness to keep your mind from wandering too far from the steering wheel. It gives both everything and nothing at the same time. It’s all in what you want to offer. I listen to this album and I’m amazed. I think I’m probably the only one who is in my house. At work I play it before anyone gets in so I can bask in it. So I can get some kind of inner peace prior to the work day beating me down like the dog they think I am. I feel pretty safe in saying that if you own and love Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene or Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon then you will not only appreciate this record, you may even fall in love with it. Or at least lust for awhile till you get tired of each other, at which time you can part ways and meet up at your favorite place once a year for old time’s sake.

Listen, I think I’ve said enough. “Adventure”, “Puzzle”, “Death”, “Love”, and the absolutely beautiful and perfect “Continuum” get me right down in my innards. The 9-minute “Reflection” is transcendent. It really is. Fez would be the perfect score to some lost animated Michael Mann adaptation of Catcher In The Rye, or Hal Ashby directing a film adaptation of Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.

Not a video game kind of guy or gal? That’s okay, just give Disasterpeace’s Fez S/T a listen. Close your eyes, and float away for a bit.