Somewhere in the peculiar brainspace between John Hughes movies and beating your friends at Mario Kart (I suggest being Luigi, because who doesn’t like Luigi? Dirty Communists, that’s who), there exists a genre of music known as chiptune. Defined by the use of Game Boys and other old-school video game consoles as instruments, chiptune has found a niche at geeky conventions and through the internet, but has struggled to break into more mainstream outlets. You’re unlikely to find anything by Disasterpeace or Sabrepulse in a record store. Elements of chiptune have crept into pop and hip hop songs (Go listen to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” for evidence), but chiptune bands themselves haven’t made the same impact.
With luck, that’s about to change. Anamanaguchi, one of the most celebrated bands of the genre, released their new album, Endless Fantasy, earlier this week. Funded through Kickstarter (where it has earned over 175,000 dollars, far from the 50,000 dollar goal), the album will be released on CD and vinyl and is expected to hit record store shelves in the near future if all goes as planned. A music video for the first single, “Meow” was released in January and further videos are planned.
In many ways, Anamanaguchi are apt flag-bearers for the entire genre. Releasing music since 2006 (beginning with their EP Power Supply, followed by their 2009 full length debut Dawn Metropolis, and a handful of non-album singles in 2010), the band’s “big break” came in 2010 when they scored the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World video game for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The soundtrack hit number 3 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and was highly acclaimed. However, it epitomized the biggest hurdle for chiptune music as a whole; it sounds too much like a video game.
That in itself is not a bad thing. Even on old consoles like the NES, the music in video games was top-notch, and the music in some modern games is so thoughtfully composed, it could belong in a film. However, the type of chip-based, glitchy beep boops of Anamanguchi and their contemporaries made them a “sometimes” band. When jumping perilously over a puddle as if it were a set of spikes in Mega Man, or when day dreaming about beating up an endless horde of muscle dudes a la Final Fight or Double Dragon, listening to chiptune makes you feel like a serious badass. Other times, it felt out of place. Since their beginning, Anamanaguchi has leaned towards dance music. Early songs like “Helix Nebula” and “Flora/Fauna” had a kind of danceable groove, but other songs sounded abrasive, or too minimalist to really work as alternative pop music.
These problems disappear on Endless Fantasy, which sounds like Koji Kondo DJ-ing at a sick rave. It’s eminently danceable and nothing short of a dance pop rock chip masterpiece. Chiptune music with vocals usually sounds gimmicky and Anamanaguchi have traditionally stayed away from it unless remixing someone else’s music. On Endless Fantasy, guest vocals by Bianca Raquel and Meesh add a dimension to the album and make tracks like “Prom Night” and “Japan Air” stand out as some of the album’s gems. Although video game sounds are still at the forefront of the music, the guitars have been moved further and the songcraft perfected. These aren’t gimmicks; they’re legitimately great songs. Many of them tend towards up-tempo dance stompers with great beats, but the band also shows their softer side with a couple shorter songs, including a bizarre (though very good) chip cover of the classical piece Gymnopedie No. 1.
Endless Fantasy is a true modern masterpiece in its field. It’s chaotic and jumbled and straight-up weird, but it creates beautiful art inside the mess. If you’ve never listened to music made on a Nintendo, start with Endless Fantasy.
Watch the delightfully weird music video for “Meow” here!