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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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The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.

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Stan Diego Comic-Con

Stan Against Evil returns November 1st.

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Photo Credit: Erin Resnick, GIFs via Giphy

Another Comic-Con International is in the can, and multiple nerdgasms were had by all – not least of which were about the Stan Against Evil roundtable discussion. Dana, Janet and John dropped a whole lotta information on what’s to come in Season 2 and what it’s like to get covered in buckets of demon goo. Here are the highlights.

Premiere Date!

Season 2 hits the air November 1 and picks up right where things left off. Consider this your chance to seamlessly continue your Halloween binge.

Character Deets!

Most people know that Evie was written especially for Janet, but did you know that Stan is based on Dana Gould’s dad? It’s true. But that’s where the homage ends, because McGinley was taken off the leash to really build a unique character.

Happy Accidents!

Improv is apparently everything, because according to Gould the funniest material happens on the fly. We bet the writers are totally cool with it.

Exposed Roots!

If Stan fans are also into Twin Peaks and Doctor Who, that’s no accident. Both of those cult classic genre benders were front of mind when Stan was being developed.

Trailer Treasure!

Yep. A new trailer dropped. Feast your eyes.

Catch up on Stan Against Evil’s first season on the IFC app before it returns November 1st on IFC.