The OneUps Volume 2
The OneUps Volume 2
September 2, 2008
Buy at OneUp Studios
After the jazz band The OneUps released their debut CD in 2005 to nearly universal positive reviews, expectations were high for their next release, The OneUps Volume 2. Fans of the band will be happy to note that their sophomore act does not disappoint. There are a few weak tracks and some points where the melody seems to get lost in the band’s superb background accompaniment. However, this two disc set is generally an inspired and well-produced effort overall from the perspectives of track selection, arrangement, and performance.
It’s good to see a group in the video game arrangement community that is willing to step outside the bounds of role-playing games and take on some of the less-remixed music from other genres. Those familiar with OverClocked ReMix and VGMix will probably note that games such as Chrono Trigger attract an absurd amount of attention when it comes to rearrangements, but that very popular themes like the original Super Mario Bros. background music are often left by the wayside. In this two disc set, The OneUps take note of this issue and generally steer clear of repeating what has been done, redone, and redone again ad infinitum. Not only do they avoid remixing songs that have been mixed to death, they also manage to stay fresh even with tracks like “Green Hill Zone” from the Genesis classic Sonic the Hedgehog by varying the melody considerably from the original and improvising where appropriate.
A stellar example of this avoidance of remixing a well-known, but less often covered, track is “Music A (Korobieniki)” from Tetris. Starting slowly, the band builds the song up with the violin closely adhering to the source material. Then, suddenly, everything breaks loose, and we have a no-holds barred sax solo by Anthony Lofton. It is followed by a more traditional refrain and then again by a completely different take on the song by Greg Kennedy’s violin. The arrangement closes by bringing both the sax and violin together to fully realize the piece in a work that could be performed at any graduation, wedding, or other celebration. Surely chaos would quickly ensue as dancers attempt to keep up with the accelerating beat.
Many of the songs here are based upon a formula that works extremely well:
Introduce the theme and slowly build up to a climax
Break out into a sax solo
Come together in harmony with the original theme again
Let the violin have its turn as the lead
Finish out the piece with a breakdown
The previously mentioned “Music A”, Final Fantasy VI‘s “Terra”, and Super Metroid‘s “Brinstar” are just a few of the examples of this formula. It works very well and all of the tracks that utilize this formula succeed in introducing a new interpretation while still remaining true to the original melody.
Unfortunately, there are some tracks that aren’t quite up to the level that we’re used to with this band. “Dungeon Medley”, an arrangement of the dungeon themes from The Legend of Zelda, is too long and does not develop into a coherent piece. The bass line and the harmony dominate the piece, and the melody simply seems to stop at several places, for up to 30 seconds at a time. The listener is left bored, waiting for something to happen, while all that’s going on is a few drumbeats and an ominous bass line. Without a strong melody, listeners may find themselves thumbing the “next” button on their CD players or iPods.
The OneUps also make an effort at “Chrono Trigger”, which also falls short. Someone who has never been exposed to video games would probably appreciate this piece, but there’s not much new here in what is possibly the most-remixed song in the entire history of video game remixes. This is a good performance of the original with some arrangement, but it’s difficult for the arrangement to break any ground because it’s no longer possible to do anything new with this tired melody.
The feel of this album is definitely laid back and relaxing, even more so than the first album in fact. I found myself listening to it on a perfect afternoon for this type of music — a sunny Saturday in mid-September, with the temperature hovering in the upper 60s, and a light breeze whistling by. The band’s sound was perfect for just sitting outside in the pleasantly warm sun and relaxing to these tunes for an hour or so. Secret of Mana‘s “Into the Thick of It” and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past‘s “Tiem of the Falling Rain” are especially relaxing and could easily serve as lounge jazz. If you’re looking for heart-pumping driving music, however, another selection might be better.
This is a great second go-around for The OneUps, so I look forward to their recently confirmed The OneUp Volume 3. The OneUps Volume 2 has a distinctive sound that is cohesive throughout the entire album. The band expertly avoids tracks that have been over-remixed, with one obvious exception, and concentrates only a small portion of the album on RPGs, which is refreshing. Excepting a handful of weak tracks, the arrangements are expertly written and performed, and do these classics justice. It’s hard to achieve balance between writing something that’s entirely new and simply transcribing the original melody, but The OneUps have succeeded in creating arrangements you’ll be tapping your feet to in no time.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Stephen Sokolowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.