I’m 80% hungrier after writing this review.
(Transcendental Shuffle, 2011)
I’m bombarded with homages to the 1980s. I see it everywhere, in fashion magazines and on television, and I can hear it in my music, as the Decade we Vowed to Forget (that’s what it was called, right?) continues to live on. And that’s cool – I’m as nostalgic as the next blogger, and the further I’m removed the more palatable the pop idiosyncrasies become. (And full disclosure – I was twelve years old when the decade ended.) You know, check that – when we were donning our grunge wear in the early 1990s and thumbing our noses at the rampant consumerism inherent in western culture, we had no idea we’d come full circle and embrace certain aspects we hated at the time. And look at us now – stupid grunge. Gave way to rap-rock and nu-metal. I rue the day when we’re nostalgic for that. (Although are you ready for likeminded weirdo James Ferraro’s version of pop nostalgia? Relive the turn of the century with his intriguing new record, Far Side Virtual.)
Robert Anton Pizza – which I’m assuming is a pseudonym, but if not, awesome! – tosses his hat into this throwback ring, crafting homages to shit TV, VHS players, Nintendo games, and the undeniably excellent crop of culture-defining films that released during the eighties, many of which featured shit TV, VHS players, and teenagers playing arcade games in pizza parlors. (Coincidence? Never!) See that bizarre wavy cover up there? Totally looks like the results of a busted video smearing over tape heads. Hear that sound on the record? Totally sounds like what those wavy color smears should sound like. You don’t get shortchanged on your synth jamz, that’s for sure.
Without falling too far toward any one group, Pizza’s concoctions resemble new wave, post punk, and OST work in style, but really embody the spirit of the junk he’s revering. Take the wobbly opener “Grand Prix,” which doesn’t zoom like the race itself, but instead conjures the morning of the race, albeit in pixelated 8-bit form. Kind of like credit screens on arcade games before you actually drop in your quarter. Makes sense, right? Mix up the signifiers “synth,” “wave,” and “soundtrack,” put them in any order you’d like, add or subtract other relatively meaningless buzz words, and you’re pretty much able to describe much of Pizza’s output.
The Final Lap seems to pick and choose its reference points with a specificity reflected in the song titles themselves, as “Gay Science” wraps itself in a pulsing bop you can sort of move to, while offering the opportunity to replace “Gay” with “Weird” and “She Blinded Me With” without any trace of irony or inappropriateness. It’s refreshing to have an album mapped out as easily as this, with the points clear and bold as you come across them. “Cave Runners,” similarly, would find itself at home in a variety of places, whether in the underground levels of Super Mario Bros. (or any subterranean level, really), or in a moment of calm problem-solving in The Goonies. It’s general sneakin’-around music at its childlike best.
Other stops along the way include one to the place of origin as well as the home of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as “Pow Wow in the Sewers” adds real guitar and hand percussion for a more tactile environment that’s missing in earlier tunes (although certainly not to their detriment). What are Splinter and the gang planning down there? Will Shredder, Bebop, and Rocksteady come bursting in to fight to the death? How much pizza (damn, look at that!) will Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo eat? Will Vanilla Ice show up to perform “Ninja Rap”? Will I have to look up any of this information to verify it? Casey Jones, April O’Neil, and I’m done namedropping TMNT. Goodnight, tangent.
It’s even tempting to compare Robert Anton Pizza to The Advantage a little, even though the latter outfit is a straight video-game-theme cover band, and plays mostly non-synth instruments. Pizza actually nestles into a space somewhere between Spencer Seim’s crew and a form of chiptune (albeit not one played with Gameboys), not veering too close to either, and even whipping up a nice little niche frenzy on peppier tracks like “Inertia Sweeps” and “Photo Finish.” So yeah, this is a pretty fun exercise, and you can give it a shot yourself as The Final Lap is freely downloadable from Pizza’s tumblr.
Sadly, this review of Robert Anton Pizza comes with some bad news, as he is no longer with us – he … ate himself to death in the back of his limo.
RIYL: Com Truise, Thomas Dolby, The Advantage, Weird Science, Mesu Kasumai