Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Album Review: Blitz Lunar - Triptunes

Album Rating: A-
Diversity just may be the best part of the chiptune community. In the past few years, Nintendo aficionados have experimented with everything from drum and bass to twisted, seductive salsa to ‘80s-style disco. Of course, many of those artists have also become musical chemists in the process, finding increasingly bizarre and fascinating combinations of genres. Blitz Lunar is one such omnivore, not to mention one with quite the palate. His debut Triptunes, one of the finest of 2013 to date, should prove a feast for even the most voracious appetite.

First impressions matter, and Triptunes makes a big one with a trippy outer-space overture, albeit one neatly divided into a trilogy of fast-paced openers. “You Time” begins with an ominous, lonely melody before spiraling into trippy breakbeats and machine-gun arpeggios, and second movement piece “You Show” continues to turn up the heat. Yet it’s not just the intensity of the track that’s evolving: the atmosphere and texture of the track gradually begin to shift. By the time the overture segues into its grand finale, “You Universe,” what began as straightforward drum and bass has charted a path into an altogether nebulous area, somewhere between that genre, electronic, psychedelic, and jazz. The first seven minutes of Triptunes are a prolonged, blistering assault on the senses, a clear refutation towards anybody looking to dismiss chiptune music as something coke-rimmed geeks make in their free time. When the song ceases take-off and enters orbit in its final thirty seconds, take a moment and look down. If you aren’t eight miles above the earth, you weren’t listening close enough.

Once Triptunes has settled down, the real party begins. “Bedroom Superstar” refilters dance-hall pandemonium through the age of SEGA (picture Sonic The Hedgehog getting crunk with a heaping helping of dub and a synth-sax solo or two). For all its depth, however, the track never feels claustrophobic. There’s a lovely bounce to Blitz’s beats that keeps things light, and the dreamy, lush production prevents it from feeling overwhelming even when it’s running in twenty different directions. There’s also plenty of melody to chew on: “Hidden Heaven” layers rich melodic patterns straight out of prog-rock outfit Liquid Tension Experiment’s playbook over what sounds like game-show theme music from 2050.

Blitz Lunar’s most jam-packed moments are often his most inspired. “Child Play Zone,” a schizophrenic jam session, finds plenty of opportunity for play with solos for the drums, the bassline, and the groovy keys that carries the track. What’s more, the rhythms are always fresh, almost taking on an improvised feel in sections. Wisely, however, he also lets up on the blitz once in a while. “Comfort Zone” offers a brief moment of serenity from all of the madness, hearkening back to the suave jazz movements of the ‘80s with its tropical atmosphere and soaring melodies. “Holy Day” is an adorable little concoction, a starry-eyed take on lounge pop. Say hello to synths that warble like whales, fizzy bubbles floating in the background, and playful percussion that’s part rock band and part marching band, all bolstered by some of the most heavenly production to be found on Triptunes.

Make no mistake: this album is rooted in video game music, and there’s plenty of that influence shining through—and yet to label it as just that would do it severe injustice. Sure, the swirls of synths and the accelerated pace of “Your Royal Highness” evoke memories of “Starman,” but it’s way too fun to be relegated to the background of some Italian plumber’s drug high. And yes, “Cosmic Joke” is an epic worthy of Triptunes’ final battle—the rhythms are a bit weightier, the melodies a bit more heroic—but the track’s ambitious, adventurous spirit propels it past VGM pastiche and into something plenty compelling on its own merit. Especially when it enters its magnificent, diabolical second half. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but if you imagine Dream Theater penning a soundtrack for Paper Mario, you’re getting close.

Point is, Blitz Lunar’s music may be built off of the blips and bloops any self-respecting ‘90s kid (read: not those little drips plastering half-baked Pokemon references all over Facebook) will know by heart, but it sure as hell doesn’t end there. This isn’t music for gamers. It's music made in the spirit of gaming, for spelunking, building, and imagining. Controller and graphics card recommended but definitely not required.

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1. You Time
2. You Show
3. You Universe
4. Bedroom Superstar
5. Hidden Heaven
6. Comfort Zone
7. Child Play Zone
8. Holyday
9. Your Royal Highness
10. Ego Bubble Zone
11. Prisoner
12. Cosmic Joke
13. Honest Truth Zone
14. Not Big, Not Clever

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