Review Summary: This bizarre take on video game music isn't just a novelty act; it's a tightly performed example of how to use vocals in completely unique ways.
Fans of video game music are no strangers to covers. We’ve heard countless metal covers on Youtube and OCRemix is jam-packed full of remixes of famed themes, from Super Mario Bros.
. But providing these tracks a capella, without any instruments whatsoever, is not something the gaming crowd is too familiar with. But leave it to Max Gleason, best known by his stage name Smooth McGroove
, to tread this completely untouched land of gaming covers. Smooth McGroove has been making a capella game covers for over a year now, already netting himself over 750,000 subscribers on Youtube and earning internet fame in an incredibly short period of time. Though his formula doesn’t fit perfectly in every song on his VGM Acapella: Volume 2
album, Smooth McGroove uses well-implemented variety in how he performs these tracks, while also showing an unprecedented amount of vocal technicality that no a capella artist has demonstrated in a long, long time.
Smooth McGroove has earned himself a tremendous internet following for his famed a capella covers of classic video game themes. And when I say “his famed a capella covers”, I mean that in the most literal sense. Every single voice heard in his music, every rhythmic tap and chiming note, is the same one guy. This makes Andre 3000’s vocal work on the multi-layered OutKast song “Hey Ya!” look like American Idol in its first week. Smooth McGroove’s Brady Bunch
sectioned internet videos have demonstrated everything from rhythmic claps and snaps to baritone beats to higher falsetto and even whistling, all in perfect sync with each other. On a technical level, Smooth McGroove’s work is downright superhuman; the way he’s able to sync every individual tone and cue together so perfectly is an endurance test of efficiency and pitch perfect pacing. The technical proficiency involved in composing such a tightly knit machine of a capella covers is surreal, even more so when you consider that this is one guy doing all of the heavy lifting.
At first, the songs Smooth McGroove records sound overly simplistic, with his repeated “bahs” representing nearly every melodic note, but the way he delivers many of the tracks is surprisingly melodic. The two Mega Man tracks, “Mega Man 2 – Dr. Wily’s Castle” and “Mega Man 3 – Dr. Wily Stage ¾” are brilliant representations of how good a vocalist Smooth McGroove is; many of the harmonized lead vocals sound extremely clean and, for lack of a better word, smooth. They’re toned so tightly and harmonized so compatibly that they actually sound like slick keyboard chords or resonant production-packed electronica tunes. “Sonic – Green Hill Zone” follows similar suit, with his simmering voice adding to the track’s already light-hearted, laid-back vibe. It’s just relaxing to listen to. “Zelda: Twilight Princess – Midna’s Lament” is a great demonstration of the sonic elegance and atmosphere Smooth McGroove’s a capella tone can provide, with the harmonies taking a more echoing tone and his whistles drawing out the woodsy mystery displayed in the original version. It’s these subdued and ambient covers that show McGroove in his element; with such a powerfully resonant vocal style, using it with these soaring and epic tracks is a match made in heaven.
However, the more energized songs are where the cracks in the formula start to show. Some songs feature faster tempos, so using them with McGroove’s croony and resonant vocals feels less apropos than preferred. “Sonic 2 – Chemical Plant Zone” remains one of the most memorable Sonic themes of all time (maybe even one of the best), but its heavy, Genesis-era, techno-inspired rush of energy doesn’t combine perfectly with McGroove’s a capella chops. The driving beats lose a bit of luster when displayed through McGroove’s vocal prism, quieting down their appeal considerably. It’s not a revving rush under a capella rules, so it doesn’t live up to the original’s signature vibe. “Super Metroid – Prologue Theme” is another track that misses its mark a bit. McGroove definitely varies up how he delivers the rhythms and sound effects, but the different delivery methods clash more than sync. Unlike other tracks like “Chrono Trigger – Corridors of Time,” songs like “Super Metroid – Prologue Theme” show so many different beats and notes that they displace each other, draining the track of that crucial vocal synergy. Despite being infrequent, they still stick out far too much to ignore.
Smooth McGroove’s take on video game covers is not just a paramount of example of technical proficiency in music, but it also adds a great amount of new dimension to these legendary themes. A capella covers aren’t usually the most interesting way to show the mood and energy of video game music, but the way McGroove is able to sync with…well…himself so phenomenally adds a fantastic amount of unity and synergy to how he delivers the music. He sounds fit and optimized at every note. His cleanly harmonized vocals add even more ambiance to atmospheric tracks like “Chrono Trigger – Corridors of Time” and even a new approach to more upbeat tracks like “Mega Man 2 – Dr. Wily’s Castle.” While the heavier, more accelerated tracks like “Sonic 2 – Chemical Plant Zone” don’t fare as well in delivering a truly unified and apropos whole, it’s downright stunning to hear a capella performed so fluidly, so creatively, and most of all, which such precision from a lone vocalist. Smooth McGroove’s take on gaming covers isn’t going to please everyone, but considering how well this one guy is able to harmonize, vocalize and use percussion without showing the cracks in the foundation, it’s surely going to impress a lot.