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BRASH BRASS & SAX MASH

As the number of video game tribute bands increases, new and existing groups are challenged to distinguish themselves from others to avoid sounding generic. For instance, Bit Brigade accompanies live playthroughs of classic games, Select Start opts for a classical chamber ensemble, and even VGM staple The OneUps have recently started performing with a freestyling hip-hoparista named Lucio. The emergent Los Angeles-based band Tanuki Suit Riot, with their unique sound and wickedly clever mashups, have proven that they are able to distinguish themselves right off the bat in their ten-track debut album The Edo Sessions.

The album begins with a high-energy arrangement of the “Burning Building” theme from TMNT II: The Arcade Game for the NES. Right away, it establishes the potential of the group’s arrangement. Soaring above a solid rhythm section and spot-on keys is the main source of Tanuki Suit Riot’s aural flavor: a sexy tenor sax, and a trumpet reminiscent of the band Cake. This two-man horns section, provided by Matt Van Gelder and Kyle Polich, sets the band apart with a sound I’ve never heard before in the VGM scene.

But where TSR really sets themselves apart is in their mashups, such as “Megaman Cowboy Bebop,” which alternates between Mega Man 3’s “Snake Man” Theme and the iconic Cowboy Bebop title theme. Over the course of ten tracks, they seamlessly blend elements as disparate as Journey, Michael Jackson, and Mozart in between tasty marble cake swirls of classic game tunes. And on top of their ability to backflip from one tune into another, they also tackle a huge array of musical styles—a big jiggly swing tune, a tom-heavy jungle rock jam, and a Shaft-like 70’s groove are represented, among many others.

If there is one blemish on the face of this fun-fest, it is the occasional sloppiness of the very horns section that makes it so tangy. The trumpet and saxophone sometimes lack a sense of tempo and rhythmic simultaneity; in some cases, this gives their arrangement a fun, messy feel, but my inner music teacher wants it to be a little more together and a little more on-beat. In any case, it will probably only bother the more anal-retentive listener and may not even occur to the average retro game fan.

My favorite track is TSR’s interpretation of the overworld theme from Zelda II. Fun fact: Hearing their live version of this song over a Ustream feed last year led me to write “Zelda II With Lyrics.” It takes the song from a noble march to a lackadaisical, almost Caribbean feel. What was once a hero’s fanfare now sounds like it could blend into a Luau playlist quite nicely. And that is just one example of the reason I’m recommending this album to you: you’ve never heard video game tunes quite like this.

All in all, The Edo Sessions is a fun ride that shows Tanuki Suit Riot to be exactly what they are: A promising new band in the VGM scene that—while not always perfect in their mechanical delivery—provides a sound unique to the genre, bites off an ambitious amount of fun, and in the process gives the listener a lot to chew on.

PROS
Refreshing new arrangement. Great mix of classic and obscure tunes. Brilliant, ballsy mashups of different styles and genres.

CONS
Sloppy playing in parts. Only ten tracks.

BRENT’S FAVORITE TRACKS
Track #6: “Zelda II”
Track #4: “Moon Patrol”
Track #10: “Driver’s High/F-Zero”

OVERALL SCORE
B+

RECOMMENDED BUY?
Yes!

The Edo Sessions by Tanuki Suit Riot can be purchased on iTunes for $9.90 here.

The band may be contacted at info@tanukisuitriot.com or by tweeting to @tanukisuit.

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