4 out of 5
Label: 555 Recordings
Produced by: Joshua C. Davis (recorded by)
The history of chiptune music is quite fascinating. Depending on how far back you want to go and how you define it, it’s not just a nostalgia reaction in modern times, which I’ll admit it’s often how it’s seemed to me; rather, perhaps unsurprisingly, as soon as a new medium for producing sounds was settled, people were trying to incorporate it into music.
But if we do extend that into the modern age, the explosion of chiptune artists does seem to align with the explosion of games that are indebted to 70s and 80s single-bit bleep-blops, and the growing availability of soundtracks of games from those eras on vinyl or via digital. Bit Shifter is a known quantity in that space, and a deservedly premiere name, but he’s also been here for quite a while, dropping Life’s a Bit Shifter at the start of the 00s. …And possibly dropping the mic along with it, which makes it all the more impressive how his later releases have evolved on his sound.
Which is the thing: from here on out, Bit would push his chiptune works towards fuller experiences – bleeps and bloops that wrap themselves around full songs and albums. The seeds of that are present on Life, which is why it still rocks: Bit hits emotional highs and lows, rockers and pop and more contemplative works, all within the confines of old-school gamey sounds. However, being a formative work, the scale on which those highs and lows and etc. exist is compressed, and I’d say the music is more directly indebted to games in the sense that it’s a lot of brief, less-than-2-minutes flashes of beats that could potentially benefit from being looped behind some level you played over and over and have memories of; it’s an album of tracks that needs an accompanying game to perhaps push it over the edge.
But then I think back to 2003, before I had any idea what chiptune was. And had I heard Life’s a Bit Shifter then, I probably wouldn’t be saying “needs a video game;” I’d be asking what game this is a soundtrack to.
So, yeah, Bit pretty much mastered it right at the start, and then just kept on mastering it as he went along…