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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chiptune Tribute Albums: Daft Punk vs. Weezer vs. nerds

Two fairly prominent chiptune tribute albums have been released in the past month: Da Chip and Weezer - The 8-bit Album, based on the music of Daft Punk and Weezer respectively. On the one hand, this perfectly shows exactly what kinds of nerds were into both bands and what kind of nerds chiptune musicians are, namely exactly the kinds of nerds I am. It was hard to find bands more prominently dorky in the 1990s than robo-electronic pioneers Daft Punk and thick-glasses garage dweebs Weezer, and it was just as hard at the time to not be romantically whisked away by the wonderlands of 8- and 16-bit videogames, so naturally the two worlds should meet in euphonic bliss, no? Well, not quite.

The most glaring issue with Da Chip is that it immediately seems all too easy. Daft Punk were already making electronic music. Covering those songs in a more primitive electronic format comes across as little more than gimmick, not quite tribute. Only EvilWezil's take on Discovery's "Veridis Quo" breaks the structure of the source material enough to be interesting on its own. This brings to mind the other instantly recognizable issue with Da Chip, the complete absence of Human After All. I accept that Daft Punk's third LP is their least popular, but seriously, an entire tribute based around two albums seems a little off. "Technologic" practically lends itself to chip-love, and any of the other tracks would have been sweet too, especially "Make Love."

As for Weezer, well, the covers are varying degrees of successful. It's often distracting to hear vocals in chiptune, especially when the musicians are very much not singers, as in the case of Anamanaguchi's take on "Holiday." With the exception of videogame orchestra's Castlevania-inspired take on "Island in the Sun" and Bit Shifter's glow-stick-raver "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here," the songs are all pretty straightforward covers. Tugboat's "El Scorcho" winds up a sconce adorable and would fit in perfectly on the Little Nemo: The Dream Master soundtrack. While neither is particularly impressive, both seal of quality's "Hash Pipe" and Unicorn Dream Attack's "Jamie" are entirely likable fun. The biggest disappointment of the bunch, without question, is nordloef's "Buddy Holly" which forgoes any sense of experimentation or playfulness in favor of a straight midi cover with a fist-pumping club beat.

There's also a three-disc chiptune Prodigy tribute in the works, which I believe makes this a full-on fad. Thankfully, most of these chip-artists are still producing original works that are far better than these tributes. Sadly, only those of us who were already dweebs even know that. The lack of real excitement in these tributes shows and newcomers will ultimately see these as gimmicks and walk away with a laugh.

5:00 PM
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