January 10, 2012
Download at Bandcamp
In addition to leading Cheap Dinosaurs, Philadelphia-based chiptune music has formed a video game cover project, Autoscroll. On several live appearances, they have received acclaim for combining bleeps from a hijacked Game Boy with live instruments. In January, they released their first album through Bandcamp, featuring nine covers and a number of guest musicians.
The album opens with a spell-binding cover of Shadow of the Beast‘s iconic theme. Blending howling guitar and synthesizer leads with hard-edged chip sounds, Autoscroll create an incredible timbre. Rocking from start to finish, this track is a fine tribute to Lionetti’s routes in the demoscene. In contrast, the rendition of Streets of Rage‘s “Beatnik on the Ship” takes a reductive approach to the original. Driven by the Game Boy’s sharply accentuated beats, the band maintain an incredible rhythmical impetus throughout. In conjunction with the guitar performances and chip frills, they also ensure that none of the energy or colour of the techno favourite is lost. Covers like these two emphasise that Autoscroll are talented musicians with a unique sound.
A further highlight of Autoscroll is its diverse track listings. Rather than stick to overarranged tracks from major series, like most doujin outfits out there, Autoscroll offer a more diverse selection featuring both fan favourites and unknowns. Obelix is a particular revelation — with an unforgettable heroic melody emerging from its heavy choppy sounds — while Gimmick! provides a modest but endearing outro. But with just nine tracks, the album does seem a little sparing in content and a few more covers would have made welcome. It remains a mystery why Autoscroll didn’t include their existing covers of Axelay, Golden Axe, and Tetris in here. It’s not helped by the inclusion Mortal Kombat‘s entrance theme — which lasts little over a minute, most of it repetitive.
The repetition of the Mortal Kombat track emphasises the main limitation of Autoscroll’s music. They generally adhere to the original melodies and repeat them for the duration of the track, raather than add new sections or solos. The aforementioned covers of Shadow of the Beast and Streets of Rage are successful because the originals had such expansive ideas, but they would have been even better if Autoscroll strayed from the originals to offer guitar solos or chiptune breaks respectively. Likewise, while Mega Man 9‘s “Splash Woman” is another enjoyable blend of guitars and chiptunes, it is carried more by the original melody than the creativity of the arrangement. Those tracks that feature more limited originals, such as Alien 3, don’t quite get off the mark and end up being relatively mediocre.
Autoscroll have a great sound. By combining their expertise in Game Boy synthesis with instrumental performances, they offer some incredible hybrids. Most of their covers here have a great sense of melody, rhythm, and timbre, and even though most have a rock emphasis, there is quite a bit of diversity in mood. It’s just a pity that they’re shy to expand beyond the original tracks rather than repeat the same ideas, sometimes ad nauseum. This album is nevertheless a decent debut for the outfit and is well worth sampling through Bandcamp. What’s more, you can name your price for this one.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on January 22, 2016.