Pixelated Glitchy Dreams

It’s been a pensive weekend in many ways. We have a 3-day weekend, for which I am very grateful, and I’ve rested up a lot and recuperated from the barrage of work lately. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job, but neither me nor my wife have had a vacation in way too long. We have a week-long vacation coming up soon to see my family in Oregon, and I’m super, super excited about it as a chance to recharge. I haven’t seen my mom since 2018, and haven’t seen my dad for almost as long, and haven’t seen my sister since 2018 either.

But I digress. So today I had to work on 6hrs of Latin translation, which kept me busy for a big chunk of the day, naturally. Most of it was transcription, but yeah. I always listen to music while working on Latin, whether translation or transcription, and usually throw 500 random tracks into Cantata and let shuffle take its course. I don’t often listen to music super intentionally, but usually just throw it to Chance and see where things go. Sometimes the juxtapositions are gorgeous.

However, today I was in the mood for videogame or videogame-adjacent music. That was a favorite of mine while studying or writing papers, because it’s usually calm and beautiful and relaxing, helping with concentration. Usually. I know I’ve mentioned the wonders of Bandcamp on here before, but I thought about it recently, and realized something cool: I’ve bought more music in the last year and a half of Bandcamp Fridays than I think I have in most of my life. And that’s a wonderful thing. I am awash in music, surrounded by light and love and wonder. And I find and select new wonderful things every month. It makes for a great end to a Friday night.

I decided to throw on Ricky Eat Acid’s When they align just so, memories of another life bleed into my own (2020). The story the artist himself tells of the album is that it was intended to be the soundtrack for a retro indie RPG that ended up being shelved. I am grateful that they allowed him to release the music nonetheless, and the track titles are very descriptive and perfectly fitting to the music. I would love to have played the game it’s intended for, as the album is just wonderful. Reminds me of the NES/SNES RPGs I grew up on and loved, so yeah. Happy.

After that, I loaded up the Petscop soundtrack by “Rainer” (aka Tony Domenico). Petscop is one of the weirder phenomena on the internet in recent years. It is a YouTube webseries that started in about 2017, coming out of nowhere, purportedly a Let’s Play-like series about an unreleased PSX game that took a turn for the bizarre. Serious nightmare fuel. The videos were released very intermittently, sometimes with months between releases. It’s really quite a singular thing, and an experience. I highly recommend checking it out, and if you like the series, you’ll definitely like the music. Haunting and bizarre.

I loaded up my typical 500 random songs after that, but was contemplating listening to some other recent albums I’ve gotten into that are videogame-adjacent.

R3 (short for R3tronaut, as far as I know) is an artist who makes chiptunes, and does it incredibly well. I got into their music, IIRC, through Black Bandcamp, and absolutely love it. R3 is a little more Sega-tinged, though, and since I never had a Sega and only played Sonic sparingly, I don’t understand the references or instruments all that well. They still put out some wonderful music, though, and I highly recommend all of it.

RAPIDPUNCHES is another artist I found out about on Mastodon. Really sparse, yet lovely chiptunes, soundtracks to games that never existed, but which you could easily visualize. Really great stuff, one of the more recent artists I got into. Would definitely add to a list of game-adjacent music.

Zackery Wilson’s SNESQUE albums use SNES instrument samples from various games, so they have the feel of your favorite SNES games’ music. I bought both volumes, and would be happy to listen to more. SNES music is some of my favorite in general; it is miraculous and astonishing what artists could accomplish with such a relatively limited sound chip; think about how much more rudimentary the NES’ sound hardware was!

Inverse Phase has a number of chiptune albums, but the one I really got into was Re2rocovered (2007), chiptune covers of a number of pop songs. It’s fun stuff. The rest of the catalogue wasn’t really for me, but I really enjoyed that one.

The incomparable Lena Raine has to get a mention on this list as well. Her work on the Celeste and Chicory soundtracks is just wonderful. I need to buy the Chicory soundtrack, but would like to play more of the game first. But Celeste is one of my favorite game soundtracks ever these days, and I cut my teeth on vintage Nobuo Uematsu and the Final Fantasy oeuvre, so I’ve been into game music for decades now. I bought the Celeste and Celeste – Farewell soundtracks and absolutely love them.

Since I’ve been obsessed with Hollow Knight recently, I have to give a shout-out to Christopher Larkin’s fabulous soundtrack. The mark of a great game soundtrack is one you still want to listen to after hearing hours and hours of it during gameplay, and that definitely works. Soaring orchestrals and just epic music in general for hours of exploration. Just wonderful. I keep toying with the idea of buying Gods and Nightmares, but I need to dig more into Godhome and its interminable, terrifyingly hard boss battles. Epic music though!!

I am trying to think of other game music that’s off the beaten path.

Tsukasa Tawada’s soundtrack for Ihatovo Monogatari (Stories of Ihatovo) is breathtakingly good, and I don’t think most people have even heard of the game. I mention this in my favorite retro videogames, and gush about Ihatovo Monogatari there at length, so check it out. It has a fabulous soundtrack, wonderfully apt for the game. Beautiful and melancholy and hopeful all at the same time, like the stories of Kenji Miyazawa the game is based upon.

Spencer Nilsen’s Ecco the Dolphin OST is also surprisingly good. I never played Ecco as a kid (as I said, not a Sega person), but I’ve tried it in emulation and it’s pretty cool and weird. The music is really calm and lovely, and evokes the seas very well.

Nathan Wang’s Return to Zork soundtrack is also quite good. Return to Zork is one of the first computer games I ever played, back in 1993 when we got our first PC. It came bundled with our CD-ROM (a 1x!!), which also included such “classics” as Mad Dog McCree, a point-and-click Wild West shooter game; Critical Path, a point-and-click adventure game that relied heavily on FMVs; Iron Helix, very similar, where you tried to avoid a killer robot on a spaceship; Richard Scarry’s Busytown, a game I, at 9, was too old for, but nonetheless enjoyed; Busytown‘s CD also included such classics as Rock, Rap, and Roll (a weird music-creation tool) and Lenny’s Music Toons. I think the latter is available on Internet Archive.

In any case, Return to Zork was a lot of fun, and got me into the Zork text games. It’s got some great dry humor and some surprisingly scary moments. I ripped the music off of the CD and it’s actually really good, even though some of it is barely above MIDI-quality; other tracks, such as the forest theme, are well-done, and you can even hear the flute-player breathe here and there, which is odd.

Osamu Sato (and “Out Ass Mao,” an anagram of his name) composed a fabulous soundtrack for the incredibly trippy, bizarre, and addictive LSD Dream Emulator, a weird Japanese-only dream simulator released ca. 1998. The game is bizarre enough, and if you look hard enough on the Internet, ye shall receive, and its soundtrack is as bizarre as the game itself. Highly recommend, and the game is nightmare fuel.

Yume Nikki is another delightfully bizarre, terrifying game, where you explore dream worlds and sometimes find things you didn’t want to find. The music is incredibly weird and unsettling, almost straying into dark ambient quite often. There is the official soundtrack by the developer, KIKIYAMA, and also various remix albums (Silent Cicada’s Yume Nikki Reimagined [2014] is a great one).

I don’t know what made me think of writing this, but I guess game music (and game-adjacent music) is inspiring. I don’t know if you have heard of any of these before, but they’re well worth checking out. And if you have any suggestions for game(-adjacent) music for me, I am happy to hear them. More about my love for game music is in my favorite music post (found elsewhere, easily, on the site; I am feeling too lazy to link it at the moment).

In any case, thanks for reading my late-night Sunday thoughts. I am going to listen to some more music (currently Tamaryn’s Dreaming the Dark) and chill otherwise.

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