Chiptune music has been around since the 70s. During the golden age of arcade games, sampling video game sounds was all the rage. Think “Pac-Man Fever.” That sort of thing thankfully died off along with leg warmers and parachute pants, but 80s nostalgia has brought it back. These days, the bleeps and bloops dominate the sound rather than embellishing it, and you have bands like the Minibosses, who arrange songs like the Mario theme for guitar/bass/drums, and the Protomen, who spin off insane rock operas from the bare-bones story of the Megaman games.
Then you have Anamanaguchi. Their last album, Dawn Metropolis, consisted of original compositions that sounded like video game music (which is, after all, intended to be looped as long as need be without the player noticing). They actually did a video game soundtrack, for the adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. But their new album, Endless Fantasy, is more than just slavish imitation. You can tell that they’re using NES and Game Boy soundboards, as well as guitars and drums, if you know to listen for it, but otherwise we’re firmly in the realm of sparkly electropop.
On Dawn Metropolis, songs tended to stick to a central melody, which could get a little boring, especially without lyrics, but Endless Fantasy ranges further abroad while staying within the same thematic neighborhood and always coming home to that first progression.
The album is very long and there generally aren’t words, so it can be hard for individual tracks to distinguish themselves. Still, there are a few standouts.
“Japan Air” is the first use of vocals on an Anamanaguchi album, but meesh’s voice serves as another instrument, weaving its line in with all the others.
“Prom Night” also has vocals and is probably not coincidentally another favorite. Bianca Raquel gets to perform more of a traditional set of lyrics, but the chorus is still the backbone of the song.
“Canal Paradise” has this mellow, expansive part that’s so nice. It should play over movie credits or while you’re leaving town on a motorcycle.
I said at the beginning that this chiptune revival is at least partially founded on 80s nostalgia. There’s more to Anamanaguchi than that, but it definitely helps if you’re the right age and inclination to appreciate this video.
What draws me to the album is how the limitations of the NES palette force these guys to be creative. Some of the catchiest, lushest music ever written for video games came out of the NES era (think Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy) and Anamanaguchi is well aware of the potential there.
In the end, it’s all a little self-indulgent, but when you’re cracking open Game Boys to get at the music inside, you might as well be.