November 25, 2013

A Fond Farewell to The Legacy Music Hour

After three years of providing game soundtrack fans with a regular dose of nostalgic joy and thrilling discoveries, one of my all-time favourite podcasts has come to a close. The Legacy Music Hour, hosted by Brent Weinbach and Rob F of Los Angeles, boasts over 150 episodes of timeless music from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming's golden age. Tracks from a huge variety of titles, both familiar and obscure, are sampled from all the classic systems of yesteryear, including the Gameboy, NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and Neo Geo. Through Brent and Rob's playful humour and thorough investigative efforts, even the most die-hard gaming enthusiast is sure to find a novel and entertaining listening experience that celebrates legacy video game music in a new light.

The format of the program is essentially like a radio-style DJ show, enhanced by the chemistry of the hosts' back-and-forth dialogue. As Brent and Rob are both comedians, they often find ways to round out the experience with cute jokes and anecdotes, beyond simply playing the music. Episodes are typically organized with loose themes, such as game genres, developers, composers, musical styles, or in-game mechanics like ice stages or shop music. This makes each individual show feel cohesive and grounded, but still fortified with enough variety to keep things fresh from moment to moment. It's eye-opening to find that genres I would ordinarily have overlooked as sources of great tunes -- puzzle games or sports titles, for example -- actually prove to be packed with inspired and captivating pieces.

One of the greatest and most unique aspects of this show is how they go about playing the music. Because the pieces exist as purely digital files, with pre-programmed sound channels that can be isolated and played separately, there are often times when the hosts take the opportunity to highlight a particularly good bass riff or solo and explore how individual sections of the music behave. This may sound trivial on the surface, but it goes a long way in giving listeners a kind of "Music Appreciation 101" crash course as the show progresses. In limiting the source material to a time period when any given track could only play a handful of sound channels at once, appreciating the techniques of the composers and comparing styles from track to track is made accessible and fun. The relatively short loops that most games employ also contribute to making the compositions easy to digest. Even pieces that might have seemed banal in the context of in-game background can belie a hidden charm when actively listened to.

Throughout the series, The Legacy Music Hour occasionally hosts guests such as other podcasters and even some notable game music composers who worked in these "retro" eras. There are also interviews with famous composers, and recordings from live events such as the game music listening parties Brent and Rob have hosted. Video game music karaoke, as it turns out, can be utterly hilarious when done well.

You don't have to know anything about musical theory, or technicalities in video game hardware and history, to enjoy this program. Brent Weinbach and Rob F explain any relevant trivia there is to know, if it will enhance the context of the experience. They cross-reference favourite composers or developers when it's of note, and do all the detective work in identifying episode tracklists in the show notes for those who want them. Overall, though, it's all about appreciating good music with a couple of lighthearted and funny guys.

It's sad that this exceptional podcast has come to an end -- but, like its subject matter, The Legacy Music Hour is timeless. While there's still the hope of a few infrequent episodes being recorded in the future, reruns of this show are going to be cycling through my playlist indefinitely. Even if you've never heard the program before, don't let the fact that it's "concluded" stop you from checking it out.

The Legacy Music Hour Home Page

The Legacy Music Hour on iTunes