“What The Hell Did I Just Buy?” : Adventures In Vinyl

As a vinyl guy, it’s my duty to make things hard on myself. I am quite aware that there are these things called “digital downloads”, where you can receive music right through your computer and put those albums onto a digital listening device. This allows the listener to have hundreds or thousands of albums inside of a device you can fit into your pocket. From what I’ve gathered it’s “the future”. Of course I’m the type of guy that if you tell me to go left you can be goddamned sure I’m going to go right. Just because it’s the trendy thing to do sure as shit doesn’t mean that I’m going to do it. In fact, I’ll probably avoid it.

Yes, I’m aware that listening to vinyl is considered a trendy thing, but that’s not why I buy them. I buy vinyl for the same reason that I don’t read books on a Kindle: I want something I can hold. I like that tactile experience you get from opening a book, just like opening a gatefold sleeve LP and looking at the glorious artwork. I love slipping that disc from its sleeve and laying it carefully on the platter. I love the drop of the needle and those first little pops before the first track kicks in. If the world truly comes to an end and the power grid goes down and we’re all living underground traveling through tunnels dug by worker children and simple adults all those thousands of digital downloads and downloaded books aren’t going to amount to squat. At least if we can find an old crank Victrola I can still listen to my collection of horror soundtracks and Steely Dan. Plus, I’ll never get bored reading tattered Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut novels by candlelight.

Sorry, that’s a lot to take in.

The point I’m getting at is that sometimes I buy records and shortly afterwards I wonder why in the hell did I just spend that chunk of cash on this? The Variety Lights LP at the My Bloody Valentine show back in 2013 is one of those times(though in my defense I was caught up in all the hoopla…turns out I should’ve just bought a goddamn MBV t-shirt instead.) And did I really need all those King’s X reissues? Well of course I did, you idiot! And let’s not even start with my ever growing collection of horror soundtracks(you just try and tell me I’m wasting my money…I’ll take you out!)

Today was one of those days where after leaving my local record shop I had a quick moment of “WTF?!?”, but once I got home and put the vinyl on the platter I felt completely justified in spending that $70.

Ever since I first heard Disasterpeace’s It Follows soundtrack I was hooked on the guy. I really like the cut of his jib. He composes and creates in a very simplistic manner, yet his work is so full, dense, and engaging that you’d never know he’s a full-on PC composer. Musically he works within that 8-bit vibe. Chiptunes is what I believe they call it. His sound harkens back to the early days of home game systems. The music you’d hear on your Commodore 64 or NES systems. There’s something very light and nostalgic about a Disasterpeace soundtrack, yet he never comes across as too childish.

How ironic is it that I’m enthralled by his work, yet I’ve never played any of the games he’s scored? I’m not a video game player, but I totally connect to the sonic world he creates. His Fez score still blows me away every time I hear it. It’s both light-hearted and heavy-hearted. It’s like the musical equivalent of contentment in loneliness. Now, I’ve been stuffing my head with the 4-LP box set of his Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack. This thing is immensely dense, dystopian and vast in scope, and really just one of the major game-scoring achievements in years as far as I’m concerned.

The incidental work on this massive set has the same feeling of walking through a gallery and soaking up beautifully aged paintings that hang on the walls. “Vignette: Panacea” opens the album with a beautiful acoustic piano. It puts me in mind of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and one that seems beyond just a video game(though I know video games offer a whole other level of art I just haven’t been able to explore just yet.) “Wisdom’s Tragedy” almost has this neo-futuristic feel. It would fit nicely amongst the Blade Runner or Ex Machina scores, really. “Seeds of the Crown”, if you’re familiar with Disasterpeace’s work, will sound very familiar. It’s a piece that sonically goes from project to project for him. It carries traits that go easily from one project to the next. Like Jimmy Page’s guitar tone or Phil Collins’ drum sound, this song is the proto-sonic vibe of the Disasterpeace discography. It’s brilliant stuff.

Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, works from a very familiar place. Yet, his sound is also very alien. There’s a uniqueness in his work that’s totally just him, but he’s obviously influenced by the world around him. We can’t help but allow our environment to influence us, good or bad. Disasterpeace’s work, in-particular his work on Hyper Light Drifter, falls into its very own category. There’s dreamy incidental music, then there’s more electronic-based music. Stuff with rhythms and early electro vibes like “Gaol In The Deep”. Then you’re thrown into more Gothic pieces like “Stasis Awakening” and “The Last General”. Honestly, this soundtrack runs the gamut. It pretty much has everything I love. Not just in Disasterpeace’s world, but in scoring in general. It’s a dense, magical musical world that I’ve loved getting lost in.

So yeah, occasionally I’ll have a few moments of buyer’s remorse. I’ll look at the massive chunk of round plastic I just purchased and wonder what in the hell I was thinking. But once I put vinyl to platter and drop the needle things become much clearer as to why I spent my hard-earned cash. Sometimes I need that musical escape hatch in order to deal with the outside world. For a couple hours, escaping this reality for another is the best course of action when ones mental wires are frayed. Hyper Light Drifter is a much welcomed escape. It’s a lovely place to clear those mental cobwebs.

Now lets light that candle and read another chapter of Cat’s Cradle, shall we?

 

That Dracula’s A Bad Mutha….

Of all the video games I was a fan of, none of them were as fun for me as Super Castlevania. I was never much of a hardcore video game guy. I liked simple stuff, mostly. Mario, racing, fighting, and shooting games were where it was at for me. Even The Legend of Zelda was just too involved for me. Maybe there was a small bit of ADD going on, I don’t know. Side scrolling platform games were where it was at for me, and the Castelvania series of games from Nintendo were the most fun I ever had playing video games.

While I obsessed over that first game on the NES, it was Super Castlevania that was released for the Super Nintendo system that I truly spent many hours obsessing over. I’d played it so much that by the time my wife and I got our first place together I’d already beaten the game, but still would play it obsessively. She worked 2nd shift and I worked days, so in the evenings when the place was picked up I’d sit in our papasan with a terrible Bud Dry on the end table next to me and I’d run through Super Castlevania. I’d play it till I beat it, and usually with the sound turned down and music playing through the stereo. This was summer/fall of 1995, so I was probably listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or Filter’s Short Bus(It was the 90s, so don’t judge me.)

If you were to have told me 22 years ago that I’d be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl I would’ve told you you had the wrong guy. “Why in the hell would I be buying video game soundtracks on vinyl? That’s ridiculous. First of all, vinyl’s dead. MiniDiscs are the future. And second of all, I don’t even listen to the video games. I listen to the Pumpkins and Filter when I play video games.” Well, here we are 22 years later and I’m buying video game soundtracks on vinyl. It’s nostalgia, yes. Maybe it’s living in the past a bit, sure. But you know what? Nobody’s getting hurt here. There’s something about those 8-bit scores to pixelated video games that bring a smile to my face.

After collecting the first three Mondo releases of Castlevania soundtracks I’ve recently acquired what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of Castlevania scores: Super Castleavania.

Of course I share my love of these scores with my son, so that makes it a lot easier to drop $35 on one of these(maybe it even justifies the purchase in my head.) Spinning this after work the other day I was actually blown away by just how good it sounded. It really reminded me of a film score. I was reminded of Disasterpeace’s great work on Fez and Hyper Light Drifter. The tiny, dated sound of that first Castlevania game is gone and in its place is some seriously well-constructed music pieces. I know that sounds ridiculous as I’m talking about a damn video game, but it’s seriously good. It’s a double LP with some amazing cover art and inner gatefold art by Jeno Lab. It puts you in mind of those classic Ralph Bakshi cartoons of the 70s and 80s(think Wizards and his LOTR movies.) The Konami Kukeiha Club really outdid themselves on this game. This was still 1991, so the composition and arranging here is extremely impressive for the times.

I’m sure I’ll probably pick up the Symphony of the Night soundtrack when Mondo drops that as well, but I think that’ll be it for me as far as the nostalgic video game scores go. I may enjoy delving back in time a bit and reminiscing about the old days, but I’ve plugged into as much video game nostalgia as I think I’m going to.

Unless Kid Icarus is a possibility.