Category Archives: Music

What I’m listening to.

Edgar Winter Would Like Castlevania

Think about killing R. The Creatures to one of the best renditions of mister Winters’ Frankenstein. Now that’s some real Frankenstein killing music.

Yes, I know The Creature is not Frankenstein. Don’t really care.

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Not bad for bootlegs…

Apparently at a Nintendo World conference today there was an impromptu concert featuring some jazz band. For bystander recordings, these aren’t too bad at all. There’s Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing, Zelda, and Mario. Pretty jazzy, if I do say so myself! If you, like me, are into game music, then you’ll probably agree that these are some quality arrangements.

It’s interesting that jazz or big band sound isn’t very prevalent in game music rearrangement, but there are a few obvious reasons why. One, you need an actual band to put it together, and those things just don’t come together easily. Two, it has to be a JAZZ BAND, where most of the game rearrangemet crowd is more into metal or synthesizers. Plus, doing quality jazz arrangements is pretty difficult, as well as having people who are decent at providing some minor improvisation here and there.

Once again, barrier to entry prevents my favorite things from flourishing. Damn it all!

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The Music Returns

There’s something I really dig about Donkey Kong Country Returns’ soundtrack. Aside from having many original new compositions by the talented Kenji Yamamoto, it reinvents and rearranges the original DKC’s soundtrack quite well, and in two ways. The original tracks are all back under “Returns” names, like DK Island Swing Returns or Fear Factory Returns. However, these same tracks get redone several ways over in different directions. This way you don’t piss off the purists and you get to explore the basic motifs and melodies in different ways. Having your cake and eating it too and all.

There’s one exception to this, and that’s Aquatic Ambience, where Aquatic Ambience Returns is a very loose interpretation of the original track. It’s taken a lot of flack for not being a more faithful mix, like the other Returns tracks. I’m not sure why Kenji did this – it just makes his moves with the other tracks more obvious. Definitely a curious decision.

One track that’s improved the most in my opinion is Life in the Mines. I preferred DKC2’s mines track to DKC1’s, but this new arrangement makes me a believer. I think it’s because Kenji took the original Mine track, which is a bit open and airy for an enclosed space like a mine, and blended it with elements of Stickerbrush Symphony. It also has a new bridge section before the repeat which breaks up a bit of the original’s monotony, giving the track more of an epic feel.

I was a doubter because Dave Wise wasn’t doing the music himself, but Kenji got the essence of what made the original music great and managed to improve it – no small feat. I heard that Dave was a consultant on the music side of things, which helped placate me a bit, and I have a feeling he’d be happy with these new arrangements of his classic tunes.

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You Got A Bloody Right To Say

I like Supertramp. A lot. It’d be fair to say that Supertramp isn’t my favorite band of all time, but they’re pretty high up there on my list of “Artists I’d need to have on a desert island.” Some that know me well know that there is only one song that will make me smash whatever radio is playing it, and it’s the Goo Goo Dolls’ cover of Give A Little Bit.

Normally, I’m okay with the Dolls. They make good music… except when they poorly cover Supertramp. One might say “Dan, you’re okay with many covers of other songs, but why is this one so grating to you?” Glad you asked! The first reason is that the musical depth of the Goo Goo Dolls’ cover is vastly reduced compared to the original. It’s basically acoustic guitar with a little crunchy rhythm in the background. That’s it. The multiple layers of instrument texture, like piano, organ, multiple vocal harmonies, don’t exist. Where’s the saxophone? It’s gone, and nothing really picks up where its place in the song goes, leaving an empty hole. The bridge section completely collapses without some alternative melody instrument like the saxophone. Plus, the cover is mastered in the new Wall-of-Sound method, reducing the dynamics to jack and squat.

When you hear the original, there’s several key rhythms and melodies absent in the cover. Namely, the iconic “da dun, da dun” banging of Rodger on the piano isn’t referenced at all in the cover, which was always the defining  part of the second half of the song. There’s beefy guitar rhythms in the original which are glossed over in the cover. You could say that the cover is kind of a Cliff’s notes version of the song, or something sanitized for a youthful audience.

If that occurred to you, then you’ve reached a key insight about the cover. This particular cover was done in the span of three days at the behest of Warner Brothers to be used to get people, specifically children watching Cartoon Network, to care about the Tsunami relief effort in India in 2004. It’s not like the song hasn’t been used in this context before – but it’s always been the original. The Dolls, along with a few other artists, recorded hastily arranged covers to plaster on commercials to get kids to bother their parents about contributing to the tsunami relief.

This isn’t the first time such a thing happened, either – and it was the Gap that perpetrated a terrible series of commercials with awful covers of this great song nearly ten years ago. At least the tsunami ads (I hesitate to call them public service announcements) had the pretense of using it for the force of good. The Gap mangled it over and over for the sake of hipster jeans.

When I sit down and think about it, I try to wonder why I have such visceral reactions to covers of this particular song. The reasons I listed before are actually fairly capricious – after all, the Goo Goo Dolls’ style of music is completely different than a 70s progressive rock group, so it’s fair that most of the music itself might not transfer over. I think the core of it is that the people covering it just don’t “get” the song. There’s more to it than just vapidly singing “Give a little bit of your love to me” or playing some chords on an acoustic guitar. It’s the simplification, the reduction of the complexity of the original for the sake of using the song as a vehicle for someone to suit their own purposes. That’s what bothers me, I think. Kind of like making a kid-friendly version of Carrie – it defeats itself.

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Life’s Been Good So Far

Ever have that one album you bought because it had that one hit song on it, and you didn’t really care about the rest? You thought they were all filler, right? Well, today it’s tougher to do that, thanks to online music sales where albums are less important. Still, the concept may apply just the same.

I had that feeling over the last week with Joe Walsh’s But Seriously, Folks. I bought it for Life’s Been Good and never really had the idea to listen to the rest of the tracks. That is, until last week, when I found the CD in my big box of CDs and decided to rip the rest of it.

Most people only know this album due to the number one hit it produced, Life’s Been Good. It’s an absolutely fantastic tune that overshadows a completely excellent body of work on the rest of the album. In fact, it feels out of place for it to be on there entirely in some ways. The majority of the album is basically one long song, from the beginning of Over and Over until the end of Theme From Boat Weirdos. Even Life’s Been Good still sounds consistent with the rest of the music on the album.

It starts out with Over and Over, Joe’s message about how the passing years desensitize us to life, and transitions seamlessly to his fears of losing relevance in Second Hand Store. The counterpoint to these songs is Indian Summer, Joe’s memories of his childhood in Ohio. It’s a happy, pleasant song in an otherwise melancholy combination of tracks. If you listen carefully, you can hear the Eagles providing the harmonies. Moving on to At The Station, which is more of a James Gang-ish or solo Walsh song with a grittier tone, similar to Life’s Been Good but without the synthesizers. Once you’ve left the station, you have to think about Tomorrow, Joe’s thoughts on procrastination. Some might recognize the tune as that of Shandi, by Kiss, but this album came out several years before Shandi did. I’d say Joe would be able to sue Paul Stanley over the similarity, but it’s been decades, and I doubt he’d do that.

Before you get to Life’s Been Good, you’ve got Inner Tube and Theme from Boat Weirdos, two seamless instrumental tracks that are perfect summer day layabout songs. It all wraps up with the eight minute Life’s Been Good, complete with excessive synth solo.

If you like Lif’e’s Been Good, you’ll like the rest of the album. Give it a listen and don’t let the rest of the tracks waste away in a drawer.

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But I hate baseball cards.

I think I’ve just seen the funniest thing ever.

Sure, the song is cheese to the  Nth degree. Yet, you know deep within you that there’s just something right about this. It’s like the Superfriends of Rock and Roll have come together to give the world’s greatest performance of the world’s greatest song.

Bruce needs to work on his guitar solo a little bit, though.

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Serious Monkey Business Reviews, Part Deux

It’s time to finish this stuff up and get on with it, as it were. The second disc of Serious Monkey Business has 19 tracks, and then there’s two bonus tracks as well. Without further ado-do, let’s rock and/or roll.

Roller Disco (Disco Train) by Zylance – One of the mine cart levels in DKC2 is themed like an amusement park, and  this track provides the backing. It’s got a groovy beat that you can get right into. It tends to push the right buttons harmonically and expands upon the originals’ electronica nicely. I suppose I could quibble with choice of synthesizers a bit, as there’s parts where the lead/solo synth sounds very generic and baseline. If this synthesizer was updated to a different type of sound, it would have certainly helped. The song does end a bit abruptly, but that’s because the ending is Diddy’s level clear jingle when he gets the bonus barrel at the end. If you’re not familiar with how this level worked, that might not make much sense. I also really liked the game sounds interspersed to the beat at the end. It was humorous and helped keep it grounded in the game.

Verdict: OK. Could have been Excellent with a few tweaks. I still really like it, though.

This Chase is Haunted (Haunted Chase) by Prince of Darkness – PoD is one of my favorite musicians due to his rocking synth/prog-type work. I get kind of a Castlevania vibe from this take on the track, which helps a lot in the haunted / creepy factor. The urgency of the original is still there. Feels like great driving music. The multiple guitar layers work with the occasional synth for a thick, meaty sound that doesn’t get boring. The song doesn’t overextend itself either. There’s not a lot of noodling or wankery going on, and each segment of the song blends into the next nicely It crescendos into a big, beefy climax at the end with a solid, resounding finish. There’s a lot of great work here.

Verdict: Excellent. One of the best tracks on the album.

Paleolithic Park (Lost World Anthem) by bustatunez – bustatunez was going with the Jurassic Park theme as inspiration here. The bongo introduction is a nice touch, giving the song a sense of urgency, and the big horn sections give it a bombastic, over the top feel deserving of a hidden, secret area. The song starts to lose me about halfway through, but it manages to bring me back in with a nice sound that feels like good chase music. They took the original in a different direction, and it works out pretty well. busta wisely gives a bit of a break before the final segment of the song, and it ends on a quiet note. Though there’s some dynamics going on here, I can’t help but feel that it feels very enclosed in its sound. This is a trap of a lot of synth orchestra work, and it’s not really busta’s fault; it’s tough to replicate that big orchestra sound without an actual, you know, orchestra.

Verdict: OK. I like it, but it’s just missing something to push it to the next level. Probably something to do with mixing or EQ.

Rhumba Rumble (Steel Drum Rhumba) by Patrick Burns – This is the main menu background music, which itself was a rearrangement of Donkey Kong Country 1’s main theme. This doesn’t stray too far from the original in terms of instrumentation; there’s some backing guitars, a steel drum, some organs, et cetera. Patrick brings in some synths to mix things up now and then to keep the steel drum from having all of the fun, but it’s clear that this track was written to expand upon the original instead of going a completely different direction.

Verdict: Excellent. Well produced and interesting to listen to. Patrick’s better track is Rare Respite but this one is a good second.

Us Monkeys Together (In A Snow-Bound Land) by Flickerfall (diotrans, Palpable) – Electronica with Mandarin Lyrics. I’m not sure how much I can say about this song except I don’t like it. There’s some good synth work going on here, but the Mandarin singing totally takes me out of it. If you like that foreign language pop stuff, this might be up your alley. I guess I normally wouldn’t have a problem with it, except the singer’s voice is a bit off. It just doesn’t do it for me.

Verdict: Skip. There’s some to like here, but the singing just takes me out of it. If you like Asian pop, give it a try.

Club Klubba (Klubba’s Reveille) by Diggi Dis – This track takes a complete 180 from Klubba’s original track. It makes an otherwise minor, dour track and turns it into a beboppin’ club exercise. Aside from sounding like something I would have heard on OCR about six years ago, there’s some interesting things going on here. It’s a perfectly fine club/electronica track, but  I guess I would have liked something big, booming, and bombastic, which is more fitting to Klubba’s character.

Verdict: OK. I guess. It’s too well done to knock it too much. I probably would have arranged it differently.

Swamp Gases (Bayou Boogie) by Another Soundscape – A quiet, ambient theme fit for the swamps. It’s well produced and it does some interesting thematic things with the swamp melody. It tries some staccato segments and it works out fairly well. This is a song that takes its time to get where it wants to go. It probably feels like it was stretched a bit too far near the end; it’s another case of “this song feels like it should have been done a minute earlier.” It’s a fairly minor quibble in an otherwise decent track.

Verdict: OK. Could use something in the middle to break it up a little more.

Backwards Room (Run, Ramb! Run!) by zykO – zykO’s third track in the album is this rather different take on Rambi’s escape from King Zinger. It starts out slow and quiet, building up some anticipation in the first 50 seconds until a backing synthesizer, rhythm guitar, and a drum kit come in. It’s still just part of the buildup until about a minute through, when tthe airy lyrics and synthesizer come in. The lyrics in this track are pretty well written; it feels like something I could imagine U2 and Tool doing together if they joined up. Run, run, run! The track finally bulds up to the urgency it needs around two minutes in. Then, around 3:25, the song goes into some kind of circly way, for lack of a term. The lyrics come back in at around four minutes, bringing a bit of a reprise of the two minute section. Ultimately, this is a good track that could have used some tightening up. Did it really need to be nearly six minutes long?

Verdict: OK. A little self-indulgent near the end and could have used a little bit of a trim.

Trapped in the Minds (Kannon’s Klaim) by Geoffrey Taucer, Jose the Bronx Rican, and Hale-Bopp – I liked this track when I heard it back in the January 09 DoD. The basic music is still there, but refined. The instruments got a bit of a touchup inbetween the two mixes, and this new track is, musically, superior. However, the rapping now feels a bit off. There’s some parts where it doesn’t match up well with the beat. The actual lyrical content of the rapping is really nice. Hale-Bopp’s chorus segments are pretty good, but are just mixed too low in the track. The unfortunate vocal problems in this track could have been solved with a little more work on the postproduction side of things. This is how you do a 5:30 long song, by the way – each segment is interesting and doesn’t feel tacked on, though the “we’re going apeshit’ at the end is probably just a hair too long.

Verdict: OK. With some more work, it would be an excellent.

Crystal Swamp (Snakey Chantey) by Tepid – Not really sure what to make of this one. It’s another case of taking a track, going electronica, and… well. It takes a non-ambient track and turns it ambient, which is kind of the antithesis of Snakey Chantey. It just doesn’t seem to fit very well. I mean, it’s not BAD ambience, I just couldn’t get into it. About halfway through it changes up and goes higher tempo, but the drums are too high and somehow manage to make me lose the melody. The section about three minutes in is interesting, but it’s still ambient.

Verdict: Meh. You might like it better than me; I have a feeling this is more of a personal taste track.

Dance of the Zinger (Flight of the Zinger) by Jake Kauffman – Now here’s a track. It’s still got that great beehive sound to it in the beginning. The piano and synthesizers work very well together. Right about when you feel it should come in at 1:05, the main melody drops like a bomb. It’s a heart-pounding, gut stomping track. Then you’ve got the big bass drum hits in the background adding even more. Virt manages to make the main melody a star throughout the track without becoming boring. Then, right when you expect a change, around 3:46 he takes that melody and just changes it up a bit as a counterpoint, leading up to a raucous finish. It also ends with the picking section, as it should. It winds down without being abrupt.

Verdict: Excellent. One of the best tracks to come out of this.

Dead Raggening (Bad Bird Rag) by Mazedude – This one takes quite a while to get started, and is still pretty slow all the way through. It went the opposite of the original, which was an uptempo chase track. The 2:40 whip/drum hits (it’s hard to tell exactly what it was) along with the synthesizer help things pick up a bit, but it’s a shame it takes that long for it to get there. In the end, the track just seems to go around and around.

Verdict: Meh. I like Mazedude, but this track wasn’t my cup of tea.

High Seas (Stronghold Showdown) by Nutritious – Another faux-orchestra track. This is the “fake” Donkey Kong rescue music, right before Kaptain K. Rool swoops in and takes Donkey Kong away. It tries to manipulate your emotions a bit, just like the original level, but it goes kind of backwards, as the introduction already has the “found” melody in there. It then goes in its own direction entirely. It’s tough to extrapolate these short tracks into a complete arrangement, but I don’t think this track needed to be 4:20 long. It seems to be a common trap a lot of these songs fall into. It also still has that kind of “fake” synth orchestra sound which gets a little dull due to lack of dynamics.

Verdict: Meh.

Exit Row (The Flying Krock) By Skrypnyk – More ambient electronica. The urgency is once again lost. I can hear some talking/lyrics in the background, but I can’t really make them out. It would be nice if these were a little more forward in the mix. The drum track is trying to be too interesting for its own good; it seems to be a looped beat of loosely structured hits. In the end, this feels like Dead Raggering – it just goes on and on in circles. It needs some different sections to break things up a bit.

Verdict: Meh.

Pickin’ Out The Fleas (Swanky’s Swing) by Sixto Sounds – Here we go, after the kind of slow and ambient tracks, we’re back into the groove with something upbeat and, dare I say, swanky. Sixto gets what’s going on in Swanky’s original track. It’s got a swing vibe, and he brings in his trademark guitar sound. He’s also not afraid to bring in the horns, which are a big part of that swing sound. The only nitpick I really have is that the guitar playing is a little loose in some sections and could use some tightening up. Sixto also manages to mix in some slow and uptempo sections to keep the song from being too repetitive despite the main rhythm being present almost all the time. Then the guitars just go up to 11 near the end, joined by big, boomy horns to wrap up the song. It also ends very well, with no fadeouts or abruptness. Great work.

Verdict: Excellent. Could use a little work but overall very little to quibble with.

Bramble Reprise (Stickerbrush Symphony) by Joshua Morse – Brambles is overdone, but Morse puts his take on it and keeps it from being repetitive. Most people think Brambles is an atmosphere track, but I’ve disagreed with that; it really needs the front-and-center sounds of expressive percussion to really work. Morse recognizes this and manages to use the airy intro to lead into the contrast of the main brambles theme. It manages to hit both buttons without sounding poor. It’s also nice to hear that the backing rhythm beat is not ignored and is mostly present throughout the track. The real meat comes in around at 1:40, with the guitars providing the foundation. The use of varied instruments is one of Morse’s calling cards, and he manages to bring in the pianos, violin hits, guitars, synthesizers, and bells for a lush sound. The track never feels slow or draggy. A real great take on brambles.

Verdict: Excellent. A great tribute to one of the standout tracks of the original.

Castle Crescendo (Krook’s March) by Sole Signal – I really like what Sole Signal did with this track. It creates a booming, methodical sound that, with a little work, could be very Trans-Siberian, except it dispenses with guitars completely. The synthesizers used along with the string section create a nice backing track, and it really goes places. The original had a bit of a march feel, and this keeps a bit of that influence. It also, wisely, uses slow sections to break up the marches. The only downside is a missing harp part from the original that I can’t seem to hear in the slow section; I think it’s just very low in the mix. The main melody comes in at 1:48, and it’s still pretty jazzy, but I would have went with a different choice of synthesizer. Later on, there’s some horns used in the slow sections; I wish these were used more throughout the song. It also ends a bit abruptly.

Verdict: OK. This is a great track that, ultimately, needs some work.

Monkeys Disarm Their Kremlings (Crocodile Cacophony) by Nekofrog and Brandon Strader – This track was great back in the September 09 DoD, and it’s still great here. It doesn’t sound like any changes were made to it. My thoughts now echo mine from back in September. It’s death metal complete with growly lyrics. The death metal singing is well done and the lyrics are clever and well written. The music is still just as good, though I feel there’s a little too much double kick in some parts. The recorder part is still a bit of a WTF at first, but it’s well played and sounds pretty good and keeps the pirate influence in the song.

Verdict: Excellent. It’s a final boss fight wrapped right up in song form. Bravo.

Re-Skewed (Donkey Kong Rescued) by David Wise, featuring Grant Kirkhope and Robin Beanland – The crown jewel of this album is David Wise, the composer of these tracks, submitting a track of his own. Guitars, synthesizers, percussion, horns, saxophone… this song’s got it all. It’s a modern re-imagining of the original track, and perfectly captures the feeling of kicking K. Rool’s ass and beating the game. The saxophone and guitar play off of each other and are well recorded. Really, I have no qualms with this song. Just go listen to it. It’s also got some gentle chorus in the background where others might have used synthesizers, which was a smart choice.

Verdict: Excellent. If you listen to just one track on this set, this one is it.

Bonus Bop (Token tango, Bonus Lose, Bonus Win) by Xenon Odyssey and The UArts “Z” Big Band – A bonus track for a bonus song. It’s a swing version of the bonus room song, and it’s definitely boppin’. The only problem is that some of the players have issues with keeping time, but that’s just the risk of doing things live. The live sound is pretty good, but could have used some engineering to separate some of the instruments better. Overall, though, it’s a good listen.

Verdict: OK. Needs a few more takes but is overall still pretty good.

Monkeys Disarm Their Kremlings, instrumental version – This is the same as the earlier lyrical version – just sans the lyrics (and the recorder, interestingly enough). It’s still good, but the song loses something for not having the story being told.

All that being said, what an album! There’s more good tracks than bad, and overall the whole thing is worth a listen. Congratulations are in order to OCRemix and all of the individual artists involved for producing this excellent piece of art.

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