2011 was a pretty great year for chiptunes, with several new and established acts releasing material that really knocked my socks off. The scene is starting to pick up a lot of steam, but I think that its increasing audience hasn’t dumbed it down in any way. If anything, we’re seeing a lot more original acts trying to stand out from the crowd, resulting in a lot of unique sounds that make use of chiptunes in new and interesting ways.
Hit the jump for some of my picks from this year.
Omodaka – Sanosa
Omodaka have been producing music for several years, but Sanosa is their fullest release so far, remastering a lot of their previous work, along with several new pieces released this year. Their slant on chiptune is that they combine those tones with Japanese folk music (Minyo), occasionally reaching towards funk, hip-hop, and classical music (as shown in his marvelous rendition of Bach’s Cantata No.147).
The combinations work extremely well on the whole, especially when they involve more folksy tones. One of the best examples of this on the album is “Hietsuki Bushi”, with melancholy vocals and strings over a repeating, hypnotic LSDJ rhythm. It also has one of the best music videos of the year. Seriously. Go watch it.
You can buy the full album at HearJapan here.
Danimal Cannon – Roots
Roots is the first full chiptune album from Danimal Cannon, guitarist for Metroid Metal and member of videogame music arrange collective Bad Dudes. He’s been doing chiptune stuff for a while, but this is his first solo release outside of his stuff with Bad Dudes, and it’s marvelous. Combining guitar shredding with hard LSDJ beats, it’s a fun and intense listen. Surprisingly, along with the hard beats on this album, he shows some skill with atmosphere. His version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is superbly dark, something you don’t hear in a lot of chiptune music. It takes a lot of skill to produce that with LSDJ, and Danimal shows it.
You can buy the full album at his Bandcamp here.
Starscream – Future, Towards the Edge of Forever
Starscream is definitely one of my favorite chiptune bands out there right now. Not too many artists can mesh chiptunes into more progressive tones well, but Starscream does it wonderfully. They’re not extremely chiptune-focused, mostly using them as just another instrument in their inventory of guitars, drums, and synths, but the fact that they can fuse it so well into the rest of their music is something to be lauded.
Future, Towards the Edge of Forever is a must-listen for anyone into progressive rock, not just chiptune. It’s beautiful.
You can buy the full album at their Bandcamp here.
Cheap Dinosaurs – Cheap Dinosaurs
Cheap Dinosaurs, like Starscream, go for a progressive sound with their work, but their tones are much more catchy and upbeat, with less focus on layering and atmosphere. That’s not to say they’re objectively worse; they aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination. Their jazzy guitar riffs combine with the lush gameboy sounds quite well, creating a fun, poppy melange unlike most other chiptune musicians that combine guitar and chiptunes.
You can buy the full album at Data Garden’s Bandcamp here.
The J. Arthur Keenes Band – Computer Savvy
This one was definitely the most surprising chiptune album I’d heard this year. The J. Arthur Keenes Band are a relatively new project, Computer Savvy being their first release. I don’t browse 8bitpeoples often because, frankly, there’s a lot of stuff on there, and most of it isn’t that good, but one of the few times I looked at it this year, this was on there, and I gave it a shot. And it was worth it.
Computer Savvy‘s influences are all over the place, from shoegaze/dream pop to reggae to electropop, but they work extremely, extremely well together. I’m also a sucker for dream pop and when a song can switch genres about halfway through, and this album does both of those things often.
You can download the full album for free from 8bitpeoples here.
Sabrepulse – Close To Me
Yes, it’s a single, but it’s good enough to get a place on this list. Sabrepulse gets a lot of crap nowadays for being less chiptune-focused, but he still produces excellent music. Close To Me is easily one of his best songs, combining chiptune synths with heavy house bass and beats. It’s just extremely fun to listen to, easily one of the best dance records of the year.
Also, I’m not a fan of most of the remixes, but Henry Homesweet’s is worth a listen.
You can buy the single from Bleep Street Records here.
George & Jonathan – Beautiful Lifestyle
Beautiful Lifestyle earns an award for “Most Anticipated” album on this list. After hearing The Best Music last year, I’ve been looking forward to more material from the duo, and Beautiful Lifestyle did not disappoint. Their stuff has always been focused around pure fun, and each of their albums has delivered upon that in droves. Using pixel’s Piston Collage program, they create upbeat jams that are sure to pick up anyone’s mood. It’s also surprisingly beautiful at times, with songs like “One Hundred Lifetimes” that manage to be quite emotional while remaining upbeat.
You can buy it at their Bandcamp here, and I can’t recommend it enough.