May 16, 2014

Shnabubula's Incredible Discography is All Available on Bandcamp

Shnabubula (Samuel Ascher-Weiss) of NYC is hands-down one of my favourite artists ever. Seriously, I think the guy is incapable of producing music I won't immediately love. I first discovered his work through the game music remix scene, as well as his chiptune work using video game "sound fonts" as instruments in the SNESology project. But, he writes and performs a lot of creative, original work too! I thought I had a handle on what was out there so far, but this month he surprised me by uploading a ton of previous work to his Bandcamp site.

Want to snag 13 albums worth of some of the greatest chiptune / piano / electronic / experimental / progressive / funk / jazz you'll ever hear, for free? Read on!

The Essentials
Here are a few key recommendations I'd make, for someone unfamiliar with Shnabubula's music. I've tried to strike a balance between his best work, and what's most relatable to gamers.

NES Jams
A truly stellar piano-centric collection, and one of my all-time favourite albums, period. Like the name implies, these are pieces from classic NES games, reinterpreted and expanded upon for piano with electronic chiptune accompaniment. I have talked about this album before, but honestly, it's just so good that it can't go unmentioned here.

Stand-out tracks: Alien Lair (Contra), Night Sea (Little Nemo the Dream Master), Title (Double Dragon), Gemini Man (Mega Man 3), Stage 1 (TMNT 2)... but seriously, it is all amazing!

The big, theatrical concept album. As Shnabubula says: "This album comes from pure emotion. I poured everything into it." It shows. There may not be lyrics or a concrete plot to tease out of this epic, but there are complex moods and themes at play that contribute to a strong sense of narrative. In some ways, Starbound really feels like the soundtrack to a thrilling action-adventure movie or a classic RPG. It's not just a collection of disparate tracks, it is a singular 42-minute journey. Like NES Jams, this quickly became one of my absolute favourite albums. There may not be any direct ties to video game subject matter or their traditional sounds, but I think the energy, melody, and cinematic quality of this album will have a lot of appeal for fans of game soundtracks.

SNESology is a community where composers, performers and programmers share music created using sound sets derived from Super Nintendo games. To put it simply, it is essentially like ripping the virtual "instruments" from SNES game soundtracks and creating original music with them. You can check out an earlier article I wrote about the project here (sorry, most of the samples I linked to have since gone down, but the music is of course available on the Bandcamp page). At the time, Shnabubula was the driving force behind it and proved very prolific in experimenting with various sound sets, combining the instruments of multiple games, etc. This is a collection of all the work he's done for SNESology, and I think it's a very interesting listen.

Stand-out tracks: Across the Plains, Daring Escape, The Story Begins, Infiltration, Hands of Fate, SNESology

Game Genie
Despite the title, the music in this album doesn't necessarily have anything to do with video games directly, though there are definite "gamey"-sounding chiptunes involved and I'm fairly certain some of the SNESology samples made their way in here as well. Numerous sections of Moonlight Passage sound like they could be straight out of Secret of Mana.

Stand-out tracks: Sho Nuff, Moonlight Passage, Spring Showers, Game Genie

Cybersoccer 2099
A shortie, but a goodie. Cybersoccer 2099 is essentially the soundtrack to a video game that never existed, with very 16-bit sounding chiptune and electronic instrumentation. It may be a little too dynamic to fit the convenient looping format that older games required, but it's fun and punchy in a similar way.

Stand-out tracks: Intro - Title Screen, Mars, Saturn Orbital Platform

Something a Little Different
Here are a few highlights for listeners interested in Shnabubula's style of music, but looking for more variety of styles and moods:

  • Fading Light is pure piano, and generally softer and less frantic than some of Shnabubula's other albums tend to be.
  • Free Play is a gorgeous, experimental album, in which improvised piano sessions were recorded and then layered with additional accompaniment afterward.
  • Americana Dawn: Civilized Folk is a selection of tracks from an upcoming Colonial-era RPG, though it doesn't really sound like anything you'd expect from a retro-inspired 2D game. Shnabubula plays piano, accompanied by violinist Gabriel Terracciano (a name that may sound familiar).
  • Ender's Game is a phenomenal musical interpretation of Orson Scott Card's eponymous sci-fi novel. Not having read the novel myself, I'm not sure how it relates to the plot specifically, but the album definitely has a striking, cinematic, almost "visual" -- feel to it. Much less traditionally melodic, it seems suitable as a soundtrack for a film or experimental ballet

The Goods

That was just a quick overview of the music of Samuel Ascher-Weiss. The full selection of albums are available on his Bandcamp site, and they can all be listened to online or downloaded in a variety of file formats, totally free of charge. Technically, downloading them free means "purchasing" them for zero dollars, as Bandcamp gives you the option to name any price you feel is fair. Hard-working artists do appreciate donations, though, so if you can spare a few bucks for Shnabubula, please consider it! Hopefully it will help support more fantastic music like this in the future!

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