20/11/2023

Video Game Lo-Fi: A Winter’s Tale (Vinyl & Cassette) Review ๐Ÿ“€๐Ÿ’ฟ @CuragaRecords @BrittRecluseuk #Vinyl #VideoGameVinyl #VGM

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Video Game Lo-Fi: A Winter’s Tale (Vinyl & Cassette) Review
Here in Wales, as the weather takes a colder turn, A Winter’s Tale arrived at the perfect time! 14 tracks of low-end, heavy, lo-fi warmth, this is an album that takes a trip-hop look at some of those seminal, snow-laden gaming moments through the years, taking us from Donkey Kong Country, past Mario Kart 64, through Stardew Valley, and the coast of Fable – alongside many others.

The front cover continues the classic lo-fi series approach of an isometric, stylised look at a certain location. Here, we are treated to a be-snowed take on Princess Peach’s castle from Mario 64, the familiar turrets poking out from underneath a blanket of deep, white snow; as light bleeds out from the entrance way, highlighting some scattered instruments outside in the snow; a piano, drums, acoustic guitar, and trumpet.

It’s an early morning /dusky evening type of lighting, and calls to mind those long winter nights. Turning over the cover shows the reverse, on which the credits are tucked away in the top-left – so as not to impinge on the artwork – whereas the vast majority of the rear is taken up by a POV-shot, as if walking up towards and over the bridge to the entrance of the castle, with the snowy piano visible on the left.

Again, this is an image that drives home those wintry vibes. The snow-white, deluxe audiophile 180-gram record itself is ensconced in a white sleeve, and features areas of the cover image on the inner-circles. It’s all very festive, a perfect record for the winter season. All of the artwork here is courtesy of Save Point, with the layout handled expertly by Isa Alcรกntara.

I’d also like to point out that this album is available on high-bias cassette tape in an ice-blue colour, on the Curaga records website

Video Game Lo-Fi: A Winter’s Tale (Vinyl & Cassette) Review

Track-by-track breakdown:

SIDE A

Ice Cave Chant (from "Donkey Kong Country") – A swirling, magical opening bursts forth from the speakers, slowly building in scope until the drums kick in, it’s a muted sound that grows until the piano chords, bubbling electric bass and percussion pops out. A brief and soothing track.

Snowman (from "Mother") – Really bringing the mood to a calming yawn, this is all lazy strings, laconic beats, and mellow melodic runs. You can imagine this coming from deep within the mouth of an icy cave, dripping icicles sparkling in the sunlight.

Frappe Snowland, Sherbet Land (from "Mario Kart 64") – Dainty keyboard riffs, flute and that bubbling bass return here over an extremely subtle backbeat. The muted, warm sound continues and leads to a great time signature change that settles into an almost Mediterranean section before dropping back to the main melody. A very cool moment that spices up the album, which so far through these first few tracks captures a wintry breeziness, good!

Flamesgrace (from "Octopath Traveler") - Glassy chimes are backed up by a snappy beat with a prominent hi-hat here, in a track that’s very familiar to me as I spent many, many hours with Stardew Valley – it being the first Switch game I ever played. The song soon opens up and that ever-present bass keeps the energy up over the more festive moments that act as the heart of the song. It’s the first time that the album rears above it’s wintry vibe and becomes almost full-on Christmassy for a moment, the centre of the track especially feeling almost hymnal, then breaking off again into a much brighter and peppery version of the first half, as if the song has woken itself up, a nice move!

The Wind can be Still (from "Stardew Valley") – It’s a stripped-back piano here and rich, bass notes with a lot of sustain that act as an into, before that trip-hop beat kicks in. This isn’t an album that is mastered to get the most out of pure volume and punch, but instead levelled with an eye towards cosy warmth, it makes for a much mellower experience, but certainly captures that muted winter vibe. The piano takes the lead on this track as it weaves around the drums and bass.

Snow Mountain (from "Super Mario 64") – The penultimate track of the first side features the trumpet we saw on the snowy ground of the album cover. It adds a layer of melancholy, again – tied to those snappy drums and light touches of bass. A lovely central melody opens up with scratchy, retro piano and egg-shaker percussion, sliding effortlessly into stoned trip-hop for the latter half of the track. Good.

Snowy (from "UNDERTALE") – Ambient soundscapes whirl over a very subtle percussive beat for this final track of the first side of the record, as if winds are whipping the snow outside. Soon, after a few moments, bright keys play out a dreamy melody over a peppery beat accentuated by downscale keyboard runs, used sparingly and effectively every four bars. After this first minute or so, the piano gets high before some synth plays some warm melodies as the instruments slip back for a few moments, allowing the punch of the bass to come back in - the rich, lengthy sustain adding to that warmth. This feels like a jammy track, especially with the synth noodling its way around, very cool stuff.

Video Game Lo-Fi: A Winter’s Tale (Vinyl & Cassette) Review

SIDE B

IceCap Zone - Act 1 (from "Sonic the Hedgehog 3") – A much more traditional jazz sound here - for the intro at least - with syncopated ride rhythms and what sounds like an upright bass vibe, there’s a great downscale run at the end of each revolution of the melody, and the ambient work here really adds to the groove. This track also sounds a little brighter and more powerful straight out of the gate.

Panicky Paddles (from "Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze") – Hand percussion and lilting piano ease the track off, as vintage-sounding piano is run through a retro filter. The style of this track again calls back to the more muted first side of the record in terms of production, back to a style that’s a touch more understated and mellow.

Hook Coast (from "Fable") – The first hint of vocalisations on the album appear here, giving an R&B sensibility to the track, which also features a skiffling drum beat and a more natural bass sound than a lot of the other tracks. These facets adding a natural, organic touch to the album proceedings.

Winter Journey's Tale (from "I AM SETSUNA") – Instantly there’s an Asian vibe present with the melody that starts the track off. Low, rumbling bass and some gorgeous piano textures act as the foundations for that twisting synthetic flute melody that plays out across the top, a bright and bubbly track that has real character.

Snow Buried Tales (from "Genshin Impact") – Delicate piano and glassy ambience ring out over a slowly growing drumbeat. The layered piano is incredibly effective here, and the melody itself is a tearjerker. The effect on the snare almost feels like a light DJ scratch with each hit, and gives the track a contemporary edge that mixes well with the traditional, clean piano-driven tune. A very pretty and dainty track.

Snowbound (from "FINAL FANTASY VII") – As we approach the end of the record, we are treated to a track that I’m sure will bring back a lot of memories for the RPG lovers out there, more jazz-styled upright bass, plucked strings and piano runs make this feel like a band jamming it out at a cafรฉ. The drums here also sound more organic in terms of the rim shots and rolls. This is all very much up my strasse, and when the muted trumpet joins the fray, my trousers removed themselves. Each instrument has its time to shine here, riffing off each other and working together to create a great live vibe, an album highlight for me!

In A Snowbound Land (from "Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest") – The final track shimmers into view with a slow, distant beat rich with reverb as wavering ambience and keening sounds bleed out over the horizon. The main melody here is wonderfully heart-breaking, sounding almost like an alien lover’s monologue in a language that we can’t understand, but the melancholic intent is all too familiar. This track gave me goosebumps, and makes a great pairing with the previous track, taking us from partying to heartbreak within a few minutes, a hell of a juxtaposition that works wonderfully. Not the most upbeat way to end an album, but certainly one of the most beautiful. The shimmering effect that plays throughout almost seems like someone on the verge of tears listening along with you, gorgeous.

SUMMARY

I love the idea of a wintry lo-fi album, and through the production, track choice, and design philosophy, Curaga records have done just that! The album makes for a great listen throughout , but the tracks on the second side really won my heart, especially the final few. If you pick this up, be prepared for some heart-melting moments! A perfect gift for the festive season ๐ŸŽ…๐Ÿป๐ŸŽ„

Video Game Lo-Fi: A Winter’s Tale (Vinyl & Cassette) Review

Curaga Records – Purchase Link

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