I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
Here are the facts: This is a band named after a Nintendo game controller. Their entire oeuvre consists of recreations of the 8-bit music featured in Nintendo Entertainment System games. They’ve eschewed the blips and bloops that the original games’ sound cards were built upon in favor of full rock band recreations of these tunes: guitar, bass, and drums – no synthesizers. They attack each track with intense precision – there is no room for expansion or interpretation, and every beat and note of the original compositions are accounted for. The band also features mastermind Spencer Seim, guitarist for Hella.
An interesting conceit, to be sure – but does it actually, you know, work? Well, to be honest, your enjoyment of this album will more than likely be in direct relationship to the Nintendo games you played when you were young. Not that it doesn’t stand as an enjoyable listen on its own – on the contrary, it really sounds like a math rock supergroup with a rigid agenda. But at twenty-six tracks over the full length of the album (and granted, sixteen of those tracks clock in at less than two minutes, and four are less than one minute), the insistent cotton-candy-and-bubblegum manic childishness can wear a little on your nerves. It’s simply a genre that works best in small doses.
Regardless, what I found most appealing were the sonic representations of games that I played when I was young (and as an adult, but who’s to judge, really). The familiar level themes are recreated here for the sole purpose of allowing me to shut my eyes and imagine I was back in Hyrule (“Zelda – Fortress”), or Marioworld (“Mario 3 – Underworld”), or even Astoria, Oregon (“Goonies 2,” which incorporates the tune from Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” from the film). I was particularly excited at the inclusion, back to back on the tracklist, of “Super Mario Bros. 2 – Underworld” (guitar distortion at the halfway mark – awesome!) and “Super Mario Bros. 2 – Overworld,” the dark mood of the former switching to the manic energy of the latter as Mario (or Toad, Luigi, or the Princess – you could play them all!) emerged from his pipe or urn or whatever to the tune of his signature triple bleeping noise. Sheer joy. (That one was both such a strange transition from the original Super Mario Bros. and a huge leap forward – you had to pick up and throw enemies with the B button instead of squishing them? Bizarre!) And of course who could forget the Capcom code for 99 lives in Contra while listening to “Contra – Snowfields” or “Contra – Boss Music,” or conjure the insane 3D rolling worlds of the inscrutable Marble Madness while trying to rid their brains of its earworm theme? Nobody, that’s who.
But Double Dragon 2 and the Megaman franchise are represented here twice (“Stage 2” and “Story and Boss Music” of the former, “2 – Flashman” and “3 – Dr. Wiley Stage” of the latter), and Castlevania three times (“3 – Epitaph,” “Stage 3,” and “3 – Evergreen”), as well as “Bomberman 2,” “Bionic Commando – P.O.W. Camp,” and “Metal Gear – Jungle,” among others, that I just never got around to playing for one reason or another. (Although perhaps it was that fantasy games appealed to me more than those based on war.) These tend to pass by unrecognized in the background, not because they aren’t decent compositions, I reiterate, but rather because I don’t have the visual memories to tack on to the musical experience. And that’s OK. I don’t think The Advantage is assuming that everyone’s played these games, but they obviously have a love for the music, and you can tell that in their flawless execution. Even if you come to the conclusion that tracks such as “Batman 2” or “Ninja Gaidan – Mine Shaft” sound like they belong in a 1980s VHS aerobics program, or at least in a training montage for a film like Flashdance. Or that “Castlevania 3 – Evergreen” sounds like a lost Harrier landing sequence for Top Gun. Or that “Contra – Boss Music” definitely should be playing over military training operations in First Blood or something. And there are a bunch of songs that could have made the cut in Fletch. Yeah, this is a fun game to play – go ahead and try it.
RIYL: 80s movie montages, Don Caballero, Trans Am, Truckasaurus