Daniel Tidwell – Versus Video Games 2

My afore-mentioned travels with a band that exclusively plays music from video games has granted me two things: A. a new-found appreciation for video game music in all its forms and B. a rather healthy knowledge of most of the other musical acts out there doing something similar. Really early on, one of the first acts I became aware of was the internet sensation Daniel Tidwell and his really solid Metal covers of video game tunes, seen here in all its green screen glory:

Now, my first reaction was “So… much… cheese…”, and rightfully so, but as I got to watching more and more, I could tell this guy has a real sense of fun that you don’t often get from Metal performers, plus the covers were quite good and getting better all the time.

I eventually met Daniel at an event called MAGfest and it turns out that he is the nicest man (and yes, completely aware of how cheesy his videos come off, in fact he relishes in such things, as we all should).  We traded CD’s and that’s where I got to hear his fantastic debut album, Versus Video Games, which I will talk about another day. Today, I want to fast forward a year and talk about his brand new album, Versus Video Games 2, and at the end, you can check out a conversation I had with “The Daniel Tidwell”! For now, let’s get cracking:

Seriously, does it get any better than this?

Now, the first thing to know about this release, and indeed all Tidwell releases up to this point (2 full length albums and 1 EP, we’ll get to that in a bit), is that “The DT” works alone. The drums are all programmed and the instruments all passed through the mighty hands of this metal maestro. While one may indeed miss the dynamic of a “full band” in this release, it is more than made up for by the two things I think make for a fantastic VGM (Video Game Music, for you “nubes” out there) cover album: Superior arrangements, and song selection.

As far as the arrangements go, VVG2 is both solid and varied, which is so rare for a metal album and even rarer for a “genre” VGM album.  The opening track, “The Vengeful Frog“, which is a reworking of the infamous “Frog’s Theme” from the Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger, starts with a quiet acoustic rendition of the normally brassy ballad, then lets in a sort of mock-up of the game’s original synthesized sound, which is quickly blasted apart by the Metal version, which rings out for just enough “loops” to give you a good sense of the song without lingering long enough to trigger your ADD and click “next” in a huff.

While the Tidwell COULD have kept that solid enough arrangement theme going throughout the album’s 20 tracks, you won’t hear another acoustic intro until track 8, which is his loving tribute to that masterpiece of a horrible game, “Wizards & Warriors“.

Some other interesting arrangement choices actually see the album taking a much needed (depending on your preferences) break from the Metal. In fact, the Legend of Zelda-based “Ordon Village” theme features not only an entirely acoustic backing, but a guest Ocarina player, which is a first (as far as I know) for the Tidwell.

The biggest and perhaps best change of pace in this album is the rather climactic “The Planet’s Dyin'”, a medley of songs from the wildly popular Final Fantasy VII that is simultaneously rockin’ and epic to the core, which is a good thing because the song pushes 8 minutes like nobody’s business. Still, if ever there was a good choice for an ending song, that would be it.

Speaking of song choice, the thing that struck me with this album is that it varies rather nicely between eras, platforms, and genres of video games (and, naturally, of music), which is actually a lot rarer than you might think among the groups/artists that cover VGM. While the games I mentioned so far are all songs derived from adventure/RPG games made in the 80’s and 90’s, Tidwell brings in obscurities like Beetlejuice on the NES, Werewolf (a fantastic game where you not only play as a Werewolf, but a Werewolf with prosthetic blades for hands), and even the almost unheard-of classic Legacy of the Wizard (which features a soundtrack composed by one of my favorites, Yuzo Koshiro, but this isn’t about me).

Despite being a Metal album, all kinds of music is represented, and then promptly filtered through Metal. I already mentioned the almost madrigal-sounding Frog’s Theme, but there are also some jazzy numbers from platform favorites Super Mario World and Sonic The Hedgehog. Perhaps most surprisingly, one of the peppiest songs to come out of the NES, the theme to Tecmo Bowl, is represented, though the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV track “Sewer Surfin’” certainly provides a worthy challenge in the pep department. It almost seems that the more un-metal the original song was, the better Daniel Tidwell can make them sound through his use of power chords and crazy lead scales. I say ALMOST, because I haven’t even touched on one of the best parts of the album: the actual Metal songs.

Starting with the very second track, a very spirited tribute to the grandaddy of perverted, crass, and completely awesome one-line-spewing gun-happy anti-heroes, Duke Nukem, Tidwell really shows his roots with his re-interpretations, and he even included voice clips from the game to give it a nice level of authenticity, which makes for a very satisfactory tribute. He also tears the roof off the Iku Mizutani co-penned classic “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” game on the Super Nintendo (I have always loved that song), and the incredible afore-linked-to cover of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest’s Boss Battle Theme.

All in all, Versus Video Games 2 is a must-have for VGM enthusiasts, Metal enthusiasts, or just music fans with a curiosity for these kinds of things. The album is thorough, cohesive, and most of all, a lot of fun. It’s to be hoped that Tidwell will continue cranking out those cheesy green-screen videos, and in fact he just started a regular video chat channel (he’s just so cute), so make sure you check out both his channels on the ol’ Youtube.

Oh, also make sure to buy his album(s), you fool! 

And now, live via Facebook messaging, an exclusive (?) interview with The Man Himself and your own Chris “ADJ” Taylor!

Chris Taylor: Daniel Tidwell, internet metal god legend, thank you for joining this humble blogger for an interview. My first question: As anyone just getting into your music will no doubt notice, you operate as essentially a one-man band, how has the experience of being a one-man force been so far? Any plans to pursue a Daniel Tidwell Band?

Daniel Tidwell: The pleasure is mine man, it’s cool to be a part of your blog! I’ve also seen what you’re capable of doing to a bass guitar and you’re far from a slouch in that department, my humble friend. The one man band thing sort of just happened after getting sick of having to rely on and deal with others to get anything done. If you are lucky enough to get a group of people together that get along and work well together then it’s undoubtedly a great thing. While I do enjoy having complete control on projects it’s sometimes hard to get perspective when you’re responsible for every aspect of what’s going on. The DT live band concept is definitely not far-fetched and I’ve been considering making it happen for awhile now. Also I am working with a live band now on an entirely separate original metal project.

CT: From what I can tell, both of your “Versus Video Games” albums feature a very broad range of different games from different eras represented. Is there a set criteria for the music you choose to cover?

DT: Not at all. The only criteria is basically it has to inspire me, of course. But I don’t exclude songs from games that I may have never played or even heard of before. There’s a greater nostalgia attached to games I grew up with but many of the songs are thanks to requests in which I heard and fell in love with the tunes on their own.

CT: Your Youtube channel, which boasts over 40,000 subscribers and a total of over 10,000,000 views, seems to be a hub not only for your unique “green screen” music videos, but also videos specifically made to interact with your fans, which you do on a regular basis. How has the experience with Youtube been?

DT: I don’t think it would be hyperbole in the least to say that YouTube changed my life. About 5 and a half years ago now I posted a video of me playing my version of the battle theme from Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, just randomly felt like doing it on a whim. I didn’t even realize it was something that people did or people would care about. Well – long story short that video is what made me realize that I’m far from the only one dorky enough to think that this could be a really cool thing to explore. And exploring the concept has been a huge part of my life ever since. I definitely love the impact websites like YouTube are having on the music industry.

CT: I just mentioned the “green screen” videos, I wanted to ask how that idea came about?

DT: Basically just wanted to make the videos more entertaining and be able to do funky things with backgrounds or relate it to the songs. At the same time, I think there is a certain charm to being able to see my bedroom in the background, hahah. I prefer not reminding the audience that’s where I am though – I’d rather be on the goddamn moon or some shit like that! I’m definitely not much good when it comes to the video editing side but I guess it’s mostly about being able to transport myself and the audience to somewhere other than my bedroom!

CT: Your newest album is “Versus Video Games 2”, the sequel to your debut album, and it features 19 tracks of single songs from various video games and one big ol’ medley of Final Fantasy VII music. Was there a reason (besides it just being awesome) behind going for a full-on medley with FF7, and can we hope that such a thing will happen again?

DT: The main reason behind that track is that, at the risk of seeming like a cliché fan boy, it’s probably my favorite game of all time. And definitely one of my favorite soundtracks from a game as well. Beyond that – a big portion of the people who enjoy my stuff are big fans of the game as well and first found me via the battle theme video. So while I wasn’t pandering that’s also a bonus to know that much of your audience will have a similar connection to it.

CT: Being that you’re a Metal guitarist with a penchant for covering video game tunes, I have to ask, which came first: the Metal or the Video Games?

DT: For me? The video games. I never realized how goddamn metal some of the tunes were until later on after I got into the metal! When I was younger I liked the game tunes but didn’t give them much thought.. After I had played guitar for awhile and started to hear those old game tunes again I heard them in a totally new glorious light.

CT: Going back a bit, you also released a very cool EP of classical tunes turned up to 11 with “Echoes of the Elders”. How did that come about, and are there any plans to expand further on the classical covers?

DT: Kind of just one of those things that I had an idea to do and ran with. I love classical music so it just felt natural to pay tribute to some of the greats in my own way. There are a lot of folks out there who whine about recreations of classics. Y’know the rolling in their grave stuff yada yada. Seems silly because the original composition is still there – nobody is trying to replace it. It’s also worth noting for some people that there are no “original” recordings from Beethoven or Mozart or Pachelbel. There are people playing and recording their compositions the way they were (most likely) intended. And of course I can’t speak for them but even if someone was to “butcher” something I composed in an attempt to recreate it in a new way I would still be happy they thought enough of my work to do so. End rant. Yes I will continue to do classical stuff! Hahah.

CT: What are your favorite video games?

DT: Oh man… I hate the favorite questions but since I love you so I shall rattle some off: Final Fantasy VII, IX, Chrono Trigger. Of course classics like the old NES Mario games, Sonic games from the Genesis, Donkey Kong stuff on the SNES. I loved the old TMNT games too! I know I’m leaving out so many favorites. I hate to even start listing! Oh well – let’s end it with etc. Heh.

CT: Kind of a separate question, but what is your favorite video game song, soundtrack, and/or composer?

Overall I would probably have to go with Nobuo Uematsu for favorite VG composer. I mean there are so many amazing composers that I love but if I had to pick one who had the biggest influence on me it would be him. Again – hate favorite questions! For soundtrack I’d probably go with FFVII or IX. Again so many amazing ones I love so much and it changes with my mood so favorites are hard for me to pick.

CT: What are the future plans of Daniel Tidwell? Anything in the works at the moment? You don’t HAVE to answer in the 3rd person… 

DT: Daniel Tidwell likes his chicken spicy. Right now the DT is working on original compositions for a separate project and also some to be released under the DT banner. Some cool live show opportunities have been popping up too which I definitely want to start doing more of it’s just a matter of practicality and figuring out the best way to put on a live DT show.

Again, my thanks go to Daniel Tidwell for the interview and for his fantastic music. If you’d like to follow him on Facebook, he has one of those! While you’re at it, you might consider “Liking” the official Album Du Jour page or maybe even my video game band’s page, where we love to interact with VGM fans on the topics of video games and video game music. Thanks for reading! Rock on!

They Might Be Giants – Join Us

Hello everyone! Well, let’s go for a blog-time.

I wracked my brain trying to figure out what album would make a good re-entry into the world of making updates, and as I sorted through all the various comeback or re-entry albums I have in my possession, it soon became clear that I already wrote about most of the ones I could think of, so I decided to heck with it and did my usual thing: write about an album I have been listening to lately that’s not really connected to anything! Here it is, They Might Be Giants’ kinda-newest album: Join Us!

It's SPANISH rice, I don't care if it's not made in Spain, that's what it says on the Rice-A-Roni box!

A Tonka hearse, oh Johns, you never disappoint.

If, like me, you didn’t concern your daily life with albums for a couple of years, you may not know that 2011 has been an interesting year for albums. I’d hate to spoil future entries, but Radiohead came out with an album that sucks, Johnny Cash came out with an album that more or less proves he didn’t record any more hits, Sia went all dance-clubby, and Warren Zevon, unfortunately, remains deceased.

It hasn’t been looking all that good for my musical heroes, which makes it all the more fortunate that They Might Be Giants released an album that can best be described as a catharsis of musical ideas and probably the best album that’s come out of this decade so far. Too glowing? Well it HAS been a long time, hasn’t it.

What separates Join Us from about 2 full decades’ worth of TMBG material is pretty evident from the first track, the wonderfully egotistical and dickish “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” (with a video featuring Rip Torn in one of the best “WTF” associations TMBG has ever made). Though the joyous guitar/keyboard/something arpeggios that open the track have that oh-so warm and inviting pop music sheen, you soon realize that the song contains no more sound than a 5 piece band can make. The sound is clean, dry, and devoid of electronic filling that most bands, even the Johns themselves, have been pumping into the mix for at least 2 presidential administrations.

Yes, “minimalism” is the key to Join Us, a stripping of all extraneous musical ooze that would otherwise cloud the extraordinary ideas behind the songs.

Of course, musical ooze is something we have grown to accept and even love about modern music, and honestly there are some recordings where I would have it no other way, but when approached by the unhindered ideas behind a They Might Be Giants’ song, suddenly the world becomes this animated place where anything can happen and probably should, and I have to say that I’m hooked. The last album I can think of that has that effect, indeed, would be TMBG’s Flood, from 1990.

Now, this being a TMBG album, most of the songs that come the closest to sounding like radio hits (in an ideal world where music is played on the radio based on the quality of its melody, but we’ll end that parenthetical diatribe here) are right in front of the album, but the amazing wordplay surrounding those brilliant “Why didn’t *I* think of that” ideas come right on through the solid, elegant melodies.

The first song to really nail that point is the second song on the album, “You Probably Get That A Lot“, which, just reading that title, seems like it’s going to be a ho-hum pop song. However, just a cursory glance at the lyrics reveals that familiar yet always exciting John Linnell lyrical twist:

Do you mind, excuse me?
I saw you over there, can I just tell you,

Although there are millions of cephalophores
That wander through this world
You’ve got something extra going on
I think you probably know

That is correct, ol’ J.L. built an entire catchy pop song around the idea that a cephalophore (go ahead and pretend you didn’t have to look that up) would be such a common thing that a special one would have to deal with constant praise from skeezy strangers. I could have turned the CD off there and declared this my favorite album ever, but there are 16 more songs where that came from. If there’s one thing the Johns have kept since day one, it’s the almost overwhelming amount of songs on their albums, which is one of the bigger reasons why I keep buying them.

John Flansburgh, not to be outdone, has some amazing contributions to the album, and even (I think) matches the otherwise unmatchable John Linnell in cleverness, especially in a song called “Protagonist” which goes something like this:

She stole my day dreams
She stole my air guitar

(Exterior, man on lawn, alone at dawn)

Packed the typewriter
And drove off in her car

(A battered automobile drives past state line sign)

And now I know that I’ll rue the day
I let her get away
I need a haircut, I’ve got myself to blame

(A gloved hand spins a combination dial, quickly opening a large wall safe)

The first part of the verse is Flans singing in a kind of weak, poetic falsetto (with this one melodic move in the line “I let her get away” that just kills me), and the parenthetical lines are kind of barked out by what sounds like a chorus of stage hands, and indeed the whole song is constructed to look like a “spec script”, which you’ll need to look up and then hear the song to fully appreciate what’s going on with the song. It also helps that the tune is reminiscent of the kind of acoustic-y sentimental jazz that forms the core of “Reprehensible”, one of my old favorites of theirs. The fact that the “real” story is told in the narration lines rather than by the protagonist is such an awesome idea, I really can’t describe how golden this song is.

Still, as with any TMBG song, the strongest and best stuff features both Johns carrying out these amazing ideas; my two favorites being right next to each other toward the end of the album.

The first is “The Lady And The Tiger“, a song that immediately sailed right to the top of my “Favorite TMBG songs EVER” list. Starting with a very bored-sounding tuneless rap (man do I love when the guys incorporate ennui into their humor), it becomes this funky minor-chord arrangement of horns, guitars, and beats that sounds so very synthesized, yet a closer listen reveals that they are simply that good at arranging real instruments. The lyrics are a bizarre retelling of an old short story that incorporates some really tight rhyming schemes, but like all my absolute favorite TMBG songs, what pushes this one to the top is just the overall *sound* of it. This song hits every musical pleasure center in my brain, and yeah it might not be YOUR favorite, but I’ll be damned if I don’t dedicate the entire paragraph to how much I love it.

The other song is based on an idea that is so insanely clever that I had to stop everything to give it a second, third, and however many more listens before being able to move on. The song is called “Spoiler Alert“, and it’s basically 2 songs in one. Each John is in a different side of the mix (take out one ear of the headphone or turn your speaker mix entirely to the left or right to hear what I’m talking about), and they are both telling stories about driving and being distracted that are independently different and alarming, all leading up to a climax that reveals that… well… I’ll let you figure it out for yourself, but I urge that you do so while enjoying the smooth, smooth sounds of the backing band.

Honestly, I can’t dedicate an entire paragraph to each of the 18 songs on the album, so instead I will tell you that the Johns came out of a period of making somewhat awkward recordings (though still amazing) and have really come home to a sound that, while rather familiar to old fans, is also a unique entity unto itself. On top of all that, Join Us shines with a philosophy that music doesn’t have to be tethered to a style or central idea, and that a great album doesn’t even have to be cohesive, but rather music has to be free to roam and say whatever it has to say, and if it’s done honestly, people will connect to it with their hearts. Bravo, Johns, this album is a modern masterpiece.

Go buy it, you fools!

Hey folks, Chris here, thanks so much for coming back to Album Du Jour or discovering it for the first time. If you didn’t know, you can now like the blog on Facebook and be kept up-to-date with all the happenings on this blog, plus it’s a great place to interact. Come be the first on board this exciting internet experience!

Album Du Jour – Returning Shortly!

You heard me!

That’s right, after 2 years of abandonment and focusing on other projects like playing video games, I have unanimously decided to bring back everyone*’s favorite blog about albums!

There will be a few changes, however!

1. It will no longer be an album every single day, in fact the frequency of posting is tentative! Thankfully, “every single day” is not implicit in the phrase “Du Jour”, so just think of it as “Album of the day”.

2. I’m planning on adding a few more elements to the whole “album review” formula, such as interviews!

3. I’ll probably be cross-promoting with other blogs I collaborate with on occasion such as FemPop (I’m not a feminist however).

4. I’m now accepting submissions for material to review! Thus, if you would like your album talked about on ADJ, you can now contact me and perhaps get some free publicity out of it!

5. Since this is no longer a writing “project”, I am not going to follow the 1000+ Word rule of ADJ from the past. If something can be said better with less words, I might just do that (but probably not).

Of course, as always, I’ll be writing very quickly about albums I like and listen to, and maybe even post some re-iterations of some of the posts I made in the past, especially the really bad ones. Either way, happy to be back! Stay tuned for more content!

*The people encompassing “everyone” may vary, check your local listings.