Review: Anamanaguchi – Dawn Metropolis

7 10 2009


Chiptune music, video game-inspired music in general, has always been faced with the stigma of its seemingly nerdy origins; even its name sounds cold and alien to those who fear the large amount of buttons on a Wii remote. Telling your friends that you hop on YouTube and listen to the Duck Tales NES music or YMCK’s Pictobits remixes has never fallen inside the realm of mainstream understanding; it’s more of a clique thing, really, something that only appeals to those who’ve spent all too much of their time conquering Dr. Wiley’s nefarious bots.

If none of these references are making any sense to you, I’d like to welcome you to my point.

But retro and 8-bit, like so many other relics of the 80s, are making a comeback, one whose impact can be felt all throughout gaming’s digital download services and brings with it a little bleed-over into popular art and music. Enter Anamanaguchi.

Based in, where else, Brooklyn, the chip punk band is one of these musical spill-overs. They’re not a new group (their first release was in 2003) and they’re not the first to dig into an NES and Game Boy to create original tunes outside of games (the 8bitpeople collective has been going strong since 1999), but they’re certainly one of the most talented groups of the genre and one that doesn’t seem content with pigeonholing themselves into this niche.

Their latest, Dawn Metropolis, is not some weird off-shoot of electronica; well, technically it is, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a thoroughly exciting album that doesn’t classify well (Pop? Rock? Punk? Daft Punk?) but happens to be unquestionably devoted to gaming history. The band manages to squeeze more out of their hacked NES than a lot of game composers did back in the 80s.

In the course of seven songs spanning just north of 26 minutes, Anamanaguchi doesn’t take a lot of breathers. Album opener and show-stealer Blackout City starts things off with a sparse, Kirby-esque chip solo before marching in the full might of the band’s unwavering drums and guitars. Toes tap, heads bop and everything becomes delightfully blocky as they flex their digital punk rock muscles. The title track does the occasional loudQUIETloud build-up but comes across as bustling instead of tired. Overarrow evokes ninjas and Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (At Sea) is the closest the band comes to an sing-along (had they a vocalist) with what sounds like an epic naval battle. Album closer Mermaid is the most experimental (and longest) of the bunch and wouldn’t feel foreign on a Battles album had it been less cheery, or possibly Nine Inch Nails to take it one step closer to radio.

Anamanaguchi works the rose-tint angle, but instead of looking back at a specific title it guns for your sense of childhood discovery. Anyone with fond memories of low-res artwork will feel as if they’ve just unearthed that game they wanted but didn’t get for their birthday in ’88 was squirreled away in some box in the attic. You don’t even need to be into games to appreciate the band’s pop chops, which makes them one of the likeliest chiptuners around to bring universal understanding and appeal to the definition-of-underground genre.

Anamanaguchi – Blackout City




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