hidden treasure

Kobayashi Yamato – Commercial Work 1993-2004 (2014)

easy listening / sequencer & MIDI / synth pop / new age

RIYL – Donkey Kong, Super Mario and other Nintendo 64 music; vaporwave, Eyeliner

This ‘album’ gathers commissions K. Yamato stashed away for years. Only after seeing the new online interest for 90s game music did he share them. Some tracks glean from other media, but everything has a certain 90s-VGM flair here.

The early lower-bit jingles make a brief but fun cherry on top. The rest is a tour in digitized MIDI bursting with color. Mallets, synth pads, slick bass, bells and adorable flutes are on the menu. Versatile as expected, Yamoto shifts from 16-bit Outrun synth-pop to deluxe 90s chill-out. Somehow “Pleasant Specter Lever 6” merges a heaven-sent unicorn lullaby with summery disco.

Yamoto fills these bite-sized songs with sweet, romantic melodies, never letting them ramble. The “Spa Tape” tracks near this but their refreshing synth textures won me over. Spa music needs space to breathe after all.

CW is like playing Kirby for half an hour: a quick, simple pick-me-up with no pretension. Anyone curious about 90s VGM and/or the cuter side of synths should look here. No more Yamoto albums followed, but his Pleasant Specter EP from months before is your next step.

For more great video game music on the obscure side, see my top five

Favorite new wave-inspired albums

George Clanton – 100% Electronica, 2015

synth pop / chillwave

RIYL – Brothertiger, Eyeliner, Luxury Elite’s With Love, Esprit Fantasy – virtua.zip

George Clanton’s past making eccentric vaporwave as ESPRIT Fantasy informs his pop songs in interesting ways. He may sing and arrange his songs into verses and choruses now, but vaporwave’s neon shades plaster themselves all over just as they did before. He developed a great ear for that glittery pastel side of eighties synths on the part-composed, part-sampled ESPRIT album virtua.zip, and that stays his strong point here. His tones resemble sea creatures jumping from digitized sea in euphoria; it’s a hugely endearing effect.

George’s vocal style gets overbearing on occasion, but he does bring a lot of energy to these songs. As on Brothertiger’s new EP, it’s refreshing to hear a ‘chillwave’ vocalist this dramatic. Instead of drifting along a shore, he reaches for the stars, bringing this album to metaphysical peaks even at a slower pace (“Wonder Gently”).

By far my favorite is “It Makes The Babies Want To Cry”, where adorable peaks of synth propel his easygoing melodies into pure bliss. The momentum he builds toward the first hit of the chorus makes it so much more exciting.

♥︎ – “It Makes The Babies Want To Cry”, “Never Late Again”, “Keep A Secret”

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know: Claude Larson

w: txt.png

Claude Larson (AKA Carlos Futura, Klaus Netzle) was a frequent contributor to the German music libraries Sonoton and Selected Sound. Many of his albums focused on cinematic backdrops with a tech slant (plants, space, snow, fantasy) and early experiments with digital synths, being one of the first to make extensive use of the Fairlight CMI. As with a lot of 80s library music, his songs were an earlier example of the polished synth-pop/electronic sounds now popular with modern vaporwave/synthwave producers.

Several CL songs have resurfaced on Youtube in the past ten years. Aside from a Fiat LX reissue in 2018, though, they haven’t attracted the same attention as most of Youtube’s other revitalized 70s-80s favorites.

Youtube playlist

I’ve gathered my favorite Larson songs on Youtube with this playlist. Of course, the limits of Youtube’s selection means I can’t make aim for something ‘definitive’, but it make be a good sampler for the curious listener.

Note: I focused on his Sonoton history as most of his Selected Sound albums are rare jingle collections or full of 10+min songs that could disrupt the flow.

1. Sand-Dunes / Environment, 1978

2. Industrial Plants / Surroundings, 1979

3. Helicopter / Synthesis, 1980

4. Marshy Ground / Scenic Sequences, 1980

5. Panorama / Panorama, 1980

6. Biopulse 2 / Scenes And Images – Developing Underlays Vol. 1, 1981

7. Machine Language 2 / Industrial Future, 1981

8. Wolga / Rivers, 1981

9. Harpsi 1 / Digital Patterns, 1982

10. Hardware / High Tech, 198?

11. Blossom / Plantlife, 1983

12. Transformation / Digital Landscape, 1983

13. Dramatic Impact / Dramatic Impact, 1984

14. Autumn Mist Drama / Soundscapes Vol. 1, 1984

15. Wings In The Sky / Wings In The Sky, 1986

16. Aurora / Soundscapes Vol. 2, 1986

17. Synchrosonic / Synchrosonic Patterns, 1987

18. Haunted Clockwork / Synchrosonic Patterns, 1987

19. Alpha-Dream / Euphonia, 1988

 

Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Eyeliner – Buy Now, 2015

a1535676123_5

synth pop / sequencer & MIDI / vaporwave / synth funk

More like this – Eyeliner’s High Fashion Mood Music + Larp Of Luxury; Kobayashi Yamoto’s 商業的な仕事 1993 – 2004 + 快い亡霊 OST; Luxury Elite’s Fantasy

Eyeliner’s crystal-clear sound revitalizes late 80s/early 90s electronic music with optimal charm and without reducing it to another snarky joke. Instead, Buy Now takes you to an easy-going virtual world of polka-dots and pastels. Like the giddy cover art, the album doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it doesn’t need to when we’ve had this many vaporwave projects sulking in cyberpunk/ambient gloom.

That said, his research of this music is serious, interpreting a full rainbow of sounds and moods with accuracy. These include ambitious electro-disco (“Pinot Noir”), hold music, hints to library music, new jack swing (“Sneakers For Men”), a cross between The Knife and 80s funk (“Showbiz), and Miami Vice tension (“Pictionary”).

Some striking cool-down moments (”Payphone”, “Venetian Blinds”) and soulful flutters aside, Buy Now highlights the toy-like gloss of digital synths over more accepted analog tropes (to most amusing effect on “Toy Dog”).  Oh, and if that drunken Seinfeld intro had you doubting the powers of slap bass, this is the album to convert you.

♥︎ – “Toy Dog”, “Showbiz”, “Payphone”, “Private Hospital”, “Pictionary”

Unique samples in electronic music

Lukid – “Bless My Heart” (sample of Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King – “Shame”, 1977)

Part of a new column highlighting creative uses of sampling in electronic context.

Lukid’s Lonely At The Top is an example of the huge potential lying in modern electronic music and it’s never-ending connections, through sampling or otherwise, especially when we avoid cliches. Like a mutating creature, it shifts gradually from ferocious water-splashing rhythms (”This Dog Can Swim”) to techno synths shrouded in fog and shattering like glass (“Southpaw”).

One of it’s more emotive songs, “Bless My Heart” makes a distinctive opening by morphing this Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King hit into something both robotic and soulful, emphasizing the shimmer of the e-piano and adding a number of strange (but subtle) down-pitched voices.