A Review of Chip Tanaka’s Debut Album: Django

(This is an old article that I’ve neglected to post. It’s still being posted for the sake of posterity in its original, flawed form.)

One of my favorite games of all time is Earthbound. An obscure, oddball RPG for the SNES, Earthbound was the pinnacle of strange. It had a B-Movie flair and was filled with crazy pop culture references. However, one thing that really makes Earthbound so memorable is it’s music. Composer Hip Tanaka once said that he made the music simple enough for a child to learn on the piano, yet still endearing. The music had soul, personality, and a uniquely airy quality. It’s a classic game soundtrack, and it deserves every ounce of respect it gets. One of the geniuses behind this soundtrack, the previously mentioned Hip Tanaka, has recently released a new album. Under the stage name Chip Tanaka, he released the chiptune album Django. Chiptune, for those who don’t know, is a genre of music that sounds similar to old-school video game music. Some chiptune artists utilize actual Nintendo hardware that they’ve hacked into instruments, while some use computers and synthesizers. I was very excited for Django, because Tanaka had done so well with Earthbound and it’s airy synths. I was interested in what he had to offer. If he could successfully craft a soundscape like Earthbound’s within the limitations of the SNES, then how would his work be unbridled?

First things first, I was pleased with the album. I found it easier to enjoy if I did something else while I was listening. It’s background music, not something to think on and listen to by itself, which isn’t surprising. Tanaka was a soundtrack composer for years, working on all sorts of Nintendo games. It definitely reminds me of Earthbound’s music, but it’s still something new. A lot of the tracks are very EDM inspired with dance-y drum beats and thumping bass lines. In some of the tracks, the melody was actually rather nice but the odd percussion and strange voice samples gave it this dance club vibe that I wasn’t a huge fan of. My favorite tracks were the ones where he slowed it down. Aurora Swing, Drifting, and Django were all tracks I really enjoyed because they slowed down and made the album generally more mellow. The album actually kinda has this buildup to the middle, where songs like Pulse Ride and EMGR really get those bombastic, almost dubstep-like vibes happening.

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