Three Star Smash

Descriptive word salad chef and BOFH

The chipstyle aesthetic spans a pretty wide palette. From grungy, robotic C64 grind, to the punishing ping-pong SID metal of Machinae Supremacy; from the exuberantly child-like, Gameboy-centric, new NYC scene to the digitally ancient shores of the keygen/cracktro scene born in the ’80s among software pirates; from the unyielding purist to the simply passionately enamored chiptune composer. Imposter Nostalgia is a chipstyle album with a telling name: it comes from musicians who see the style as a different brush, rather than a strict ruleset.

As with other records, like Disasterpeace's Rise of the Obsidian Interstellar released earlier this year, Big Giant Circles has gilded 8-bit and lo-fi sounds using the modern power of FL Studio. Perhaps a case of using a rocket launcher to kill an ant colony—-not to mention one of the quickest ways to irritate chiptune purists—-but it hardly matters what tools were used. These songs are good.

The vast majority of the pieces on this record are exactly the kind of chip I fall head over heels for: groovy rhythms, driving tempo, sick leads and punky machine hooks. There’s a sense of epic wonder here, mostly devoid of the overt, cutesy “happy” feel that some ‘tuners liberally inject into their pieces.

Okay, "Chip Ahoy Mateys" could probably be a serviceable soundscape for LulzSec hackers… and there’s the purposefully titled "HappiNESs" which isn’t exactly my cup. The main thrust of the record, however, is propulsive lead mania, and starry-eyed wonder of a different tone. It’s also fairly cutting edge/hip musically at times. For instance, "Buzzsaw" grinds on a bassy riff and sweet, punk simple chip leads, but also uses dubstep bass wobble as an effective trick. Turns out it works if the trick isn’t the entire damn song.

Perhaps it’s because of the nature of the musicians at work here, and their personalities. Big Giant Circles (a.k.a. Jimmy Hinson, co-composer of the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack) calls in a cadre of respected game musicians including C418 (Minecraft), Souleye (VVVVVV), flashygoodness (Tower of Heaven), Disasterpeace (FEZ), Alex Brandon (Deus Ex, Tyrian), Mick Gordon (Need for Speed Shift), zircon (Monkey Island 2), and others. The music of games demands through-composition, as well as an energy to keep the player moving. These players are all experts in their craft.

Imposter Nostalgia, being a damn good album on its own, can only aid the growing momentum chip music has in the mainstream. No, I’m not talking about how every pop/rap single these days relies on a lo-fi/8-bit hook. Cultural artifacts like Super Meat Boy, or Scott Pilgrim (and Anamanaguchi's wonderful video game soundtrack) are pushing the ideas out to a wider audience than ever before.

Album streaming now on Bandcamp. $3.99 or more for 320kbps MP3/OGG/FLAC/others.