Before I jump into things I’d like to say a few words. This album review is something I wrote a little over a year ago. It details the first album released by The OneUps, a video game remix band. Since their second album will be coming out on September second, I want to get the word out. Don’t let the nature of the source material drive you away from the album (or the review!); The music that The OneUps play can hold up against any kind of music out there today. If you would like more information on The OneUps please visit their MySpace page. Anyway I’ve rambled enough, on with the review!
I found out about The OneUps a little over a year ago while I was scouring YouTube for good remixes and whatnot. After listening to only a few tracks I was hooked. The OneUps offer a very unique and high quality experience. They take the memorable gaming songs from our past (and present) and turn them into melodies that put most, if not all, other remixes to shame. Before I begin, I’ll let The OneUps explain their album…
“The OneUps Volume I is the culmination of everything that OneUp Studios has been working towards, and the video game cover band’s first album makes the realization these goals even more apparent. The instrumental performances in this collection put style and musicianship before all else, and this makes for a brand of music that easily appreciated by any listener, regardless of their level of interest in gaming. This six-piece band takes songs from games like the Super Mario and Zelda series, as well as Donkey Kong Country, Bomberman, and many more, and gives them new interpretations that takes game music into bold new directions.”
Indeed, this album does not require any real love for video games, all you need is a love for music. There is nothing particularly jarring or intrusive about most of the songs as they all seem to flow right into one another. Do not let this fool you though; each song has a very unique feel to it. For this article I will give you a mini-review of each of the sixteen tracks on their album, The OneUps: Volume I. Also included after the title of each song is the name of the game it hails from.
I. ToeJam Jammin’ – ToeJam & Earl – 9/10
ToeJam Jammin’ starts The OneUps’ first album off with a bang! This song’s roots are located in the Genesis classic, ToeJam & Earl. It features some really nice saxophone work and a baseline that will bounce around your head all day. There are also a lot of great keyboard portions that really add to the overall feel to the song and help it hearken back to the days of the 16-bit systems.
II. Koopa Beach – Super Mario Kart – 9/10
Koopa Beach gives you that vacation feel, it is very relaxing and easy for anyone to get lost in. Again the saxophone makes an appearance in this song and is joined by the soothing sounds of the band’s violinist. At roughly 2:00 into the song there is a simple guitar solo that really amplifies the setting that the piece is trying to depict. All of the instruments blend seamlessly and make for a very satisfying tune. If one had to complain though, it would be that the song may be too simple. The repetitious nature of video game music is especially prevalent throughout this composition.
III. Monkeys – Mario Paint – 10/10
As a quick aside, I am a sucker for Mario Paint, and you should have seen my delight when I discovered that someone actually remixed one of the game’s best songs. This is a song that you want to listen to after you’ve have a bad day at work or just need to unwind. The wide array of unique and interesting sounds within this melody show the care and attention to detail that The OneUps put into their music, very little of Monkeys is synthesized. There really isn’t too much to say about this song, it’s simple but full of life and there is just something about it that keeps you coming back.
IV. Isle Delfino – Super Mario Sunshine – 8/10
Breaking rank from the previous songs, Isle Delfino plays around with the sounds of a much newer title, Super Mario Sunshine. It is uncommon to find a remix from a game that is so recent, what with the advent of games being able to support real music tracks; however, that is what makes this song truly stand out. It is incredibly well done and improves vastly upon the source material. The core melody of the song is there, however the instrumentals in this remixed version make you wonder why the song in the actual game was not of this quality. An acoustic steel string guitar is used for the bulk of the song and is accompanied by the OneUps’ resident violinist; the song’s baseline wraps it all up in a nice neat package.
V. Andy Asteroids – Earthworm Jim – 8/10
Andy Asteroids is a near carbon copy of the original score and is not so much a remix as it is a much-needed update. The OneUps’ fiddle player, Greg Kennedy, plays his heart out and doesn’t slow down for a second. Make no mistake, this is a fast paced song (anyone who has played Earthworm Jim can confirm this) and if you’re a fan of this kind of music you might feel the urge to jump out of your chair and start doing a little dance. At the very least it will get your feet tapping.
VI. Schala – Chrono Trigger – 10/10
After coming off of Andy Asteroids you are probably in need of something a little slower paced. Schala delivers by pairing the style of the sax with the soothing sounds of the violin. Together, this unique pairing of instruments completely captures the feel of the game the song comes from. This song in particular has been remixed countless times by various people over the years, yet none of them have been able to nail down the feel of the melody quite like The OneUps.
VII. City Lights – Axelay – 8/10
City Lights has got a very jazzy feel to it and as the title suggests, it captures the feel of a bustling city during the nighttime hours. As is the standard with most songs by The OneUps, the saxophone has a large stage presence and this song will keep you wanting more of the same. This is a very cool song and works well with the tracks before it and after it to form a smooth transition between three very different genres of sound.
VIII. Katamaritaino – Katamari Damacy – 10/10
Just as Katamari Damacy surprised everyone with its different and off-the-wall sound, so does the OneUps’ tribute song, Katamaritaino, bring a smile to your face. We are given a very lively tune that will get the juices flowing and just when you think the song can’t get any more enjoyable, you’re hit with a very gentle, yet very well placed series of vocals. The key to this song’s success is that the vocals do not try to convey any message, it’s just some nice rhythmic humming. When it comes down to it, this song is definitely one of the best that this album has to offer.
IX. Koopa’s Theme – Super Mario 64 – 6/10
If there was one song on this album that could be considered a blemish, this would be the closest thing to it. The song is good, but it just doesn’t fit properly with the rest of the album. Koopa’s Theme forgoes the smooth jazzy sound found in most of the other compositions and instead comes forth with tune that can only be described as metal. The guitar is loud and in your face and every bit seems to be screaming out at you. Again, this song is very good but it is really better suited to a different album.
X. Bomberman – Bomberman – 9/10
We get back into the groove of things with this song. There appears to be some guitar left over from Koopa’s Theme but it is quickly joined by a violin and a saxophone. Bomberman has a nice beat that will make even the most battle-hardened music listeners tap their feet and smile. At about 1:07 the OneUps’ signature sax sound takes over and we are treated to stylish solo. Directly after the sax solo the guitar comes back into play and lets loose and it works well in this song. If there was one thing to complain about with this piece is that it just ends too soon and too abruptly, despite this tough, it has crawled its way up and found a place as one of this album’s better pieces.
XI. Town Medley – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – 8/10
Ah… the town song from Zelda II never sounded so good! Do you like the guitar? Well you had better because the whole song is done by a sole guitar. Again though, while the song is very well done and executed flawlessly, it really suffers from one of the 8-Bit age’s worst curses. Because the original song was so short there is not a lot of material to work with and so the song repeats two and a half times and sadly it wears thin by the end.
XII. Bossa de Link – The Legend of Zelda – 9/10
Two Zelda songs in a row, what a wonderful thing! Bossa de Link is a nice piece, it is the classic Zelda overworld theme played on the saxophone with a nice string accompaniment in the background. The song repeats three times but does not fall into that same boring path that you might expect. When we reach the first repeat of the song the musician breaks into a stylized rendition of the classic tune and carries it through to the third repeat which is a mix between the two. The most striking thing about this song is how well it fits. Yes it is different, but it works out well.
XIII. Aquatic Ambience – Donkey Kong Country – 10/10
If they remade Donkey Kong Country, this would be the song they choose to replace the old one. Aquatic Ambience is a perfect recreation of the original and it goes one further by improving on it. The balance between sax, drums, guitar, and a pinch of synthesized sound is so well executed that you have to hear it to truly understand it. There really is not much more to say about this song except that everyone should give it a listen to.
XIV. Green Greens – Kirby’s Dream Land – 9/10
Pure smooth jazz excellence, these are the words that best describe this arrangement. From beginning to end you will hear a song that could rival any instrumental jazz piece out today. The saxophone is the focus throughout the song however you should take the time to listen to the smaller bits played by the bass guitar and synthesizer because they really help make this song. While the song would really never fit in a Kirby game (It is just too slow), it is a very creative reworking of the original and ends up being one of the best songs on the album.
XV. Michael – Maniac Mansion – 9/10
Michael is upbeat and lively throughout. It is dominated by the sounds of The OneUps’ violinist and this is a very good thing. One of the best parts about The OneUps is some of the non-traditional instruments they use for their remixes; of these, the violin is probably the best. Also making an appearance in this tune is the guitar which has a really great solo mid-way through. The OneUps chose to end this song very abruptly and it is so jarring that you almost do a double take because you are not really sure what just happened. It is hardly a deal-breaker though and can be overlooked.
XVI. Paperboy – Paperboy – 10/10
Paperboy just oozes coolness, from the steady build up in the song’s intensity to the mean beat that doesn’t let up at all, and from the wonderful sound effects used throughout, this song picks at the essence of the game. This song picks up immediately after the previous song, Michael, ends, and the two form a sort of suite of sound, if you will. The guitar work is hip and the saxophone and synthesizer that share the lead really work well together. Thankfully, the song doesn’t lose a bit of its character and it stays strong right through to the end. It’s a truly worthy addition to The OneUps’ first album and a great closing track. Of all the songs on the album, this last one best displays The OneUps’ style. It is the album’s best song. Additionally, fans of Final Fantasy V should listen through the long pause at the end of this track to hear the secret hidden track.
TOTAL ALBUM SCORE: 8/10
The OneUps: Volume I stays strong throughout and, despite falling off slightly in the middle, ramps up toward the end to closes on a high note. If you love good music, BUY THIS ALBUM!
For further information on The OneUps and their live shows please visit their MySpace page. If you are interested in hearing some samples from the songs mentioned in this review you can find some of them here. Simply scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the song you want to hear, then select the play button. You may also purchase the individual songs or the entire album from that page if you so desire.
Just one more interesting thing, shortly after I wrote up the original review I received an email from Mustin, the OneUps producer! He and I talked for a bit and he told me some cool things about Volume 1 as well as Volume 2. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Volume 1 is that there is virtually no synthesized sound on the album. That’s right, nearly all the sounds you hear were recreated in the studio by the OneUps team using real instruments; the only synthesized sound on the album is in ToeJam Jammin’ and Aquatic Ambience. Additionally, Mustin assured me that Volume 2 will be amazing (though maybe he’s obligated to say that). I kid though! You can find ordering information and a full track list for Volume 2 by clicking here.