Review Summary: An album dedicated to the past, present, and future of video game music finds itself being almost as memorable as the tunes that inspired it.
It seems odd to call chiptune a visceral genre. After all, it's arguably the simplest form of music: melodies and harmonies distilled down to their simplest, most infectious forms. But it is - just listening to the tunes can open up whole worlds right before our eyes. Let an avid gamer listen to one of the Mega Man level themes, for example, and it will instantly take him back to that level, with all of the enemies, challenges, and memorable moments intact. Humans have a remarkable tendency to use music as a sort of mnemonic device; that's why listening to all of those silly emo bands you liked as a kid brings back all sorts of good (and possibly bad) memories. The newest album from professional video game composer Jimmy Henson's personal project Big Giant Circles embraces this wholeheartedly, piecing together an addictive collection of music made jointly out of our memories and his talent for songwriting. It's ultimately a little too long for its own good, and not cohesive enough for all of it to be as memorable as the moments it stirs in our heads, but it's every bit worth the trip down memory lane its runtime provides.
"The Glory Days" isn't a true chiptune album, instead embracing the style of "fakebit", which combines a modern production style with synths that use the familiar tones of the game consoles of our youth. It embodies the very concept of nostalgia, making the past sound better just as we tend to look back on events more fondly than they actually deserve to be looked at. It also lends the album the diversity it needs; the first track "Go For Distance" is a peppy 8-bit rave, the second track "Relapse" is an ambient piece that relegates the chiptune element to an ethereal backing instrument, and the third track progresses into more familiar EDM territory. To say the album remains this diverse for the entirety of its duration would be a little dishonest - most of the tracks on the album fall into one of those three categories, albeit avoiding the feeling of repetition.
But the songwriting remains incredible throughout: "The Trials of MAN" and "Houston" are two of the catchiest chiptune anthems ever penned outside a video game. "A Rose in a Field" and the title track both contain reinterpretations of famous Nintendo tunes that are well placed enough to make you stop and say "Hey, don't I know that song...?", giving you a massive grin without taking all of the focus away from the amazingly composed tracks structured around them. And "The Chiptune Legacy" feels like some of the most suitable end credits to a game ever composed, giving off a duel sense of finality and continuation.
And that's exactly what "The Glory Days" is - a tribute to a movement that isn't nearly finished, an album dedicated to the past, present, and future of video game music. It's one of those rare few albums that transcends just being a collection of songs and actually feels like it makes an artistic statement, and it's incredible that most of the tracks here are about as memorable as the timeless soundtracks that inspired them. And given that Jimmy's day job is amongst the ranks of the composers working on the video games of tomorrow, it wouldn't be farfetched to say that there are at least a few more timeless soundtracks to come.