Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Album Review: Anamanaguchi - Endless Fantasy

Album Rating: A-
Sugar can do wondrous things. The bane of young parents, kindergarten teachers and dietitians everywhere, the magical carbohydrate has inspired countless displays of insane artistic brilliance. Case in point: chip-rockers Anamanaguchi and their video for "Meow," the first single off their debut full-length Endless Fantasy. The video is an experience anyone looking for an introduction into the wilder side of the genre based around video game bleeps and bloops should watch, and even for non-chiptune fans it's quite entertaining. The basic premise (if their is one) is this: the band walks into an arcade-turned-stereotypical-Japanese-anything, does crazy stuff, gets killed off in various ways, and is reborn by a magical cat-like creature just in time to appear on stage for a show, complete with totally off-the-wall visual effects and the occasional string of Japanese (I'm assuming) characters. Needless to say, the visually and conceptually batty video piqued the interest of many, and when the band released a Kickstarter campaign to fund the album and its subsequent tour, fans poured thousands upon thousands of dollars into the band's page as the band reached its $50,000 goal within 12 hours of opening the page. (At the time of writing, the fund has surpassed $150,000.)

The important point about this brief history lesson: Anamanaguchi's mad genius has made quite a few people salivate over the promise of a debut full-length. Now that the band has delivered on that promise, though, it's great to see that the music shouldn't let fans down. The album is all over the place in the best way possible, with the standard formula of chip-sounding lead instrument over a rock background taking on many different forms over the course of the album's 22 songs. Speaking of those 22 songs, though, the album is really long. It's not unheard of to have an album over 70 minutes, of course, as many releases last well beyond two hours. However, to continue the sugar idea, a sugar high just can't last that long, and most listeners will probably "crash" midway through and have to stop. The length is pretty much the only negative about the whole thing, though, and once one gets past the formidable run-time it's clear that Endless Fantasy is one of the best chiptune releases in recent memory. That's not hyperbole, either - it's truly an incredible album in terms of what it accomplishes given the somewhat limited scope of chiptune. There's a ton of variety here, and it's apparent that Anamanaguchi's creative genius reaches far beyond an insane music video.

Most pieces here are rather upbeat, whether it be the sugar-rushing "EVERYTHING EXPLODES" or the anthemic "Pastel Flags," and the band does a great job at varying exactly what "upbeat" means every time. There's also a fair amount of pop-electronic viewed through the lens of chiptune, like the alternate-dimension-top-40-hit "Prom Night" and the euphoric "Japan Air," the latter of which basically sums the album as a whole up. Tempo changes, guitar-with-crazy-chip-distortion noodling, and the occasional vaguely auto-tuned vocals demonstrate the ridiculous amount of energy present throughout the release. As a whole, though, it's hard to tell if there's some sort of master plan behind this behemoth. The members of Anamanaguchi probably have some ideas about what their aim is, as evidenced by the interludes and widely varied song lengths, but it's kind of difficult to tell what the whole aim of this thing is. That might not be such a bad thing, though, as it's also entirely possible there is no point except for the listener to sit back and enjoy for a while.

I guess what makes me rate this album so highly is that I always come back for more. I really enjoy the instantly recognizable first five seconds or so of every song, I really enjoy the kick-ass distortion behind every synth and lead guitar line, and I really enjoy the sugar rush I get through every track, be it uptempo or more chilled-out. Boiled down to its essence, Endless Fantasy is a "rad" experience. It's fun, it's fast, it's full of energy and life, and it's what chiptune should really be. So, fans expecting a lot from all the hype this album's been getting won't be disappointed - it's truly excellent.


01 – Endless Fantasy
02 – Japan Air
03 – Echobo
04 – Planet
05 – Viridian Genesis
06 – John Hughes
07 – Prom Night
08 – Interlude (Gymnopedie No 1)
09 – Akira
10 – SPF 420
11 – Interlude (Total Tea Time)
12 – Meow
13 – Canal Paradise
14 – Snow Angels
15 – In The Basement
16 – U n ME
17 – Space Wax America
19 – Interlude (STILL ‘SPLODIN’)
20 – Pastel Flags
21 – Bosozoku GF
22 – (T-T)b

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