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Some Highly Subjective Retroactive Video Game Grammy Awards

Some Highly Subjective Retroactive Video Game Grammy Awards (photo)

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I’ve always loved instrumental music but there’s something particularly special about video game music. My personal theory is that it’s different from other species of earworms, because it’s soaking into your neurons while your cognitive faculties are flexing to solve some gameplay riddle or another.

With the Grammy powers-that-be reorganizing categories to recognize music appearing in video games, my first thought was “It’s about damn time!” Once my indignation cooled, I wondered about game music that would’ve won Grammys if the new openness had been in place since the earliest days of the medium. Here’s a quick list of killer tracks that I’ve loved over the years.

1. “Creation – The State of Art”
“A Gamer’s Guide to Rez”
Ken Ishii

“Rez” creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi took his inspiration from the rave music scene so the whole soundtrack vibrates with glowstick energy. (An official CD release came out years ago and has become a rare find on the eBay circuit.) Yet the music doesn’t sound hopelessly dated in an oontz-oontz-oontz kind of way. All of the tunes–even the menu and title screens–are great, making it hard to pick just one. Still, for me, the audio for the third level of the game stands out from the rest. Japanese DJ Ishii’s nearly ten-minute track takes players on an odyssey even without the neon-colored vector graphics of the game.

2. “Hyllian Suite”
“Beyond Good & Evil”
Christophe Heral

Planet Hyllis, where beloved game “Beyond Good & Evil” took place, looked where a lot of culture mixing takes place. Michel Ancel and his dev team gave us anthropomorphic animals–pig uncles, rasta hippo mechanics, walrus shopkeepers–peacefully living with funky bohemian humans. The soundtrack from French composer Christophe Heral–who’s also done film, animation and TV work–reflects a polyglot sensibility, too, coming across as symphonic world music with a sense of humor. This mini-overture in particular sets up both the action and the emotional notes of heroine Jade’s story. It doesn’t seem that the music was made available separately from the game, though.

3. “Super Mario Bros Theme”
“Super Mario Bros. Theme”
Koji Kondo

What’s most amazing about this iconic piece of music is how supple it is. The 8-bit version that most gamers originally encountered on the NES always sounded a bit mischievious and portentious, alternately egging you on and advising caution. Played on solo piano as in the video above, it’s got a jazzy swing to it. When done in concert with Tommy Tallarico and his Video Games Live crew, it swells majestically. Any way you play it, Mario’s theme music has become one of the most pervasive and enjoyable pop culture jingles of the last 40 years.

4. “Lighthouse”
Soundtrack for “Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory”
Amon Tobin

You can hear the infleunce of Ennio Morricone, which suddenly gives way to Tobin’s signature frantic drum’n’bass collage. The 10-song soundtrack was recorded in Dolby 5.1 and marked one of the first times British DJ Tobin worked with a full orchestra. The best thing about this track in particular is how it mirrors the gameplay of “Splinter Cell.” The bassline starts off moody and sneaky, creeping along with strings and organ sounds for company, until the whole thing erupts into violence. It sounds like franchise hero Sam Fisher staking his prey, in only in awesome musical form.

5. “Passing Breeze”
“Out Run”
Hiroshi Miyauchi

Like long-running TV shows of the past, video game companies in the 1980s had house bands who’d do music for scores of titles coming out. They’d also do pop rock versions to be sold as tie-in merchandise for the games they accompanied. At Sega, there was the S.S.T. “Out Run” was the first game that let players choose their own accompaniments, a feature which helped make it a big hit. Sega’s classic driving game has seen several remakes and the music’s been updated, too, but I still prefer the synthy percussion of the initial arcade release. One tricky aspect of most video game music is that it has to loop back onto itself, because you’ll never know how long it takes a particular player to finish a stage or a mission. With a track as good as “Passing Breeze,” you can just set it in repeat and bask in its beachy groove. Perfect for top-down driving, even in real life.

6. “Still Alive”
“Portal”
Jonathan Coulton

With its sequel just out, it might be a little hard to remember just how mind-bending the spatial puzzles of the 2007 hit were. Shifting momentum and shunting from one platform to another time after time never got easier, especially with bitchy AI GLaDOS snarking at you all the way. That’s what made this credits song at the game’s end such a special reward. You get begrudging respect from GLaDOS and a hint that her death wasn’t as final as you thought, all done in retro-nerd ASCII style. Coulton’s song launched thousands of internet jokes, partially because it tapped in an awesome shared experience but also because it’s cute and funny, with a touch of loopy aggression, too.

7. “Que Sera, Sera”
“Katamari Damacy”
Written by Asuka Sakai, Performed by Charlie Kosei

A bizarre game needs a bizarre soundtrack and 2004’s “Katamari Damacy” got one in spades. The cult PS2 game has you rolling up stuff onto a giant sticky ball and the music you play alongside spans the range from Brazilian samba to dreamy electro-pop. While fans love the na-na-nahs of the game’s main theme, for me, “Que Sera, Sera” exemplifies the weird-cute vibe offered by Keita Takeshi’s masterpiece. It explains the loopy logic of the game mechanics in absolutely sincere lounge-act Engrish and hints at the beating heart of the game’s hero, the long-suffering Prince of All Cosmos, too.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.