Lykke Li, “Get Some (Beck remix)”

The straight-up funkiest breakdown I’ve heard in a moment. Dogs growling, chopped and screwed vocals, shotgun samples, fingersnaps and Gregorian chanting— and that’s just in ten seconds. Of course, Miss Li’s come-hither voice weaves in and out of these disparate elements, never losing its effect no matter what smashes it apart. Where the perfect summer song is lazy and smooth, this is tight, wound up, harsh… Exactly what the fogged-up windows of my Corolla are gonna need for the coming month.

i’m your prostitute

When I was a kid growing up I was obsessed with animals and monsters… I’d draw them everyday, and when I grew up I either wanted to be a zoologist or a monster hunter… When I got a bit older I realized that being a zoologist was less exciting than I had imagined, and that ‘monster hunter’ isn’t even a real job, so I just kept drawing.

Nicholas Di Genova

So scientific, so fantastical, so in love with creatures and evolution. Color me enthralled. Click the picture to make it bigger, and click his name to check out his other work.

Album Review

Cul-de-Sac by Childish Gambino

If you’ve ever watched “30 Rock,” you may remember that the perpetually delusional Tracy Jordan is committed to becoming one of the few “EGOTs” in the world— that is, an individual who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Childish Gambino, whose Cul-de-Sac was released in July, seems to be gunning for the same goal: he acts on a critically-acclaimed TV series (Community) as Donald Glover, produces his own dance music under the moniker MCDJ, and, as wordplay-loving rapper Childish Gambino, three LPs to his name. The EGOT is an appropriate finish line for Gambino, given that he may have even been the one to come up with the concept during his time writing for “30 Rock.”

Focused creative output and commitment to it is something that Gambino struggles with, a conflict he found under the same self-critical lens many rappers seem to be developing (see: KiD CuDi, Wale, and scarily enough, Kanye.) As heard in these rhymes, CG’s work and fame begets more and more trouble— his friends are less likely to have his best interests in mind, girls keep turning out to be backstabbers, and nobody can truly help him deal with all of this. The real problem is that, well, sometimes the money and the attention isn’t that terrible. An interesting enough duality, but like on his previous albums, this content well starts to run dry enough that tracks like “Glory” and “Hero” end up sounding lost, even in the face of his wit and insight. Thankfully, Gambino has drawn inspiration from his two mixtapes, which cribbed beats entirely from indie darlings like Sleigh Bells, Grizzly Bear (!?), and Fever Ray (!?!?), and has adapted the eclectic assortment of sounds into his own production. In addition, he seems to have completely overcome the incredibly nasal voice heard on previous releases, which distracts less from his now clear enunciation and willingness to vary his tone.

“Put It In My Video” proves that he can write a pop hook with the best of them, as a rapid fire drum beat and 80’s strings piece together the most fleshed out and catchy chorus of the album. “I’m Alright,” coming in at a sparse 1:45 and backed by a simple 8-bit synthline, feels like a stream of consciousness catharsis, punctuated by sweeps of violin and culminating in a confession ripped straight from the title. The album keeps your ears on their toes (can I even say that?) with constant variations in production style.

Cul-de-Sac takes a major swing of emotion soon after the acceptable superhero-theme bombast of “Different,” and this is where Gambino begins to shine. Dissonant guitar and cavernous hand claps swirl and wash around the hater-addressing “I Be On That,” a violent air later heard on other standout tracks “You Know Me” and “Let Me Dope You.” In addition, Gambino’s humor and creativity show up best when he’s allowed to go wild— be it on his detractors, girls, anything: “Gambino stay on, can’t nobody pull the cord out/ a nigga fucked up like a hang-gliding whorehouse.” Disappointingly, it may be beyond Gambino to keep that excoriating creativity focused, as these aggressive tracks tend to ramble, flipping subjects between couplets.

To add insult to injury, the songs that do manage a narrative also stand out. Penultimate track “These Girls” (featuring comediennes Garfunkel and Oates putting aside the humor for an ethereal chorus,) takes the closest look at Gambino’s struggle between work and women, and right after that comes finisher “The Last,” a breathless tour through Gambino’s life and his outlook, his family and his role models. Just by Gambino extending his scope outward a bit, we receive a coherent picture of where he fits into the world— as opposed to hearing his thoughts bouncing back and forth in his brain. He may aim for something more than just a joke rapper, but he’s still a man obsessed with himself (for better or for worse), and in order to be placed into hip hop’s upper echelons, he needs to turn that same critical lens to the world around him and really use it. And who knows? Maybe an EGOT will turn up along the way.

Childish Gambino – Cul-de-Sac – 86/100

Anatomy of a heart in a patient with Chagas disease.

There’s something beautiful in the horror that is degeneration of the heart, little by little. It’s such a strong muscle and to see it broken down like this is violent and so unexpected.

I really hope the US version of Skins is awesome, perhaps more awesome than the UK version, so everyone stops being a lameylame crybaby about it.

Music as a Scene/Subculture

Play Me That Song: The Development of 8-Bit

A band pauses onstage at Death by Audio, a small Brooklyn concert hall/effects pedal company, and lets the pixelated visuals projected on the wall behind them flicker silently. Without any fanfare, the lanky lead guitarist blasts the first notes of their next song, “Helix Nebula,” into existence— backed up by wild, flowing, seemingly outdated synths. The second guitarist joins in soon after, and a Zach Galifianakis-esque drummer ferociously pounds out an uptempo beat. However, the musician keeping close watch on the drummer is the most crucial part of the four-piece known as Anamanaguchi: a perpetually bopping man with a shaved head and a Gameboy clasped tightly between his hands.

Anamanaguchi’s “Helix Nebula” is one of the crown jewels of 8-bit, (also known as chiptune,) a genre classified not by song structure or thematic ties, but instead by the use of computer and video game console sound chips as instruments. My first introduction to that very song and, in fact, the entire genre of 8-bit music in which it dwells, came on a routine 2006 visit to the much-maligned Instead of being greeted by the stream of wit and horror, (mostly horror,) that I had come to expect, a splash page looping “Helix Nebula” accompanied a cartoon informing visitors that the site would be back up soon. I found myself returning to the effectively empty message throughout the day; not with hope that 4chan would have returned (please, give me a little more credit than that) but instead to be carried away by the bleeps and bloops of my childhood, unmarred by vocals and restructured into delicious pop candy described by the band themselves as more inspired by “Weezer and the Beach Boys” than the simplistic tunes typically found on an NES. Determined to discover more, I did what any committed researcher does: I turned to a search engine.

Never one to steer me astray, Google directed me to Anamanaguchi’s singular release, a 7-song EP titled Power Supply, hosted and available for free on the premier “label” of 8-bit artists: 8bitpeoples. As if that weren’t enough, collected in this Creative Commons-licensed discography were 49 other releases to occupy my free time with, and today boasts 112 separate pieces by almost as many artists, with painstakingly crafted pixel artwork for each release. Spanning rock, electro, dub, hip-hop, happy hardcore, and everything in between, no style is left untouched by the creative forces at work. Surely, I had found the Fountain of Youth.

The first recorded chiptune music is attributed to the Ferranti Mark I computer in 1951, but the first original music recorded via sound chips was made for video games in 1985. Accompanying this rise of simplistic composition in games came hobbyists across the globe, who attempted to rip the music from the games so that it could be shared between people— similar to Napster, but before that whole Internet thing. By 1986, programs used to create chiptune music were made freely available to those who wanted to create their own— establishing a precedent of freely accessible music (as well as tools to make that music) which persists to this day.

In 2000, the 8-bit world experienced a revolution with the creation of LittleSoundDJ, a fan-developed Game Boy cartridge that served as a tool for music creation. In addition, LittleSoundDJ was designed specifically for live performance as opposed to recording, putting into motion a shift toward performances of 8-bit music. In 2005, the scene was pushed further into the spotlight when alt-rocker Beck released an EP titled Hell Yes (commonly referred to as Gameboy Variations) which consists of 8-bit remixes of four tracks from his album Guero.

The concept of community has been woven into the fibers of 8-bit, and as such, the two are inextricable. 8bitpeoples may offer the finest example of this: since the collective’s creation in 1999, its mission has been to “provide quality music for free and most importantly to have fun. [sic]” Not just interested in recorded music, the group also maintains a shockingly up-to-date listing of international 8-bit performances: New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Berlin, and Barcelona all host shows on any given night. As simple as their mission sounds, this decade-old artist springboard has sustained itself on sales of physical copies of albums that they release digitally for free, as well as donations and related merchandise. In a time where even a behemoth of service like Wikipedia has to run months-worth of banners pleading for money, 8bitpeoples quietly survives on the love of the fans and the artists involved.

However, this institution-fan relationship is far from the limits of the 8-bit community’s reach. Separate from the record label parallel of 8bitpeoples, fan-site 8bitcollective ( operates an active forum, which includes sections for 8-bit fans to plan gatherings, meet up for concerts, and even negotiate lodging arrangements. Another popular topic outlines an initiative requesting members to leave a comment on every song they listen to, in the name of bolstering the total quality of 8-bit music being produced. All the songs hosted on 8bitcollective, while not screened for quality, are uploaded by their creators, offering a Youtube-esque arena for criticism and distribution.

I can tell you that listening to the best 8-bit music draws up a feeling inside vaguely similar to nostalgia, but is probably more related to the Pavlovian dopamine release that comes with defeating the final boss on your fifteenth try. Others are drawn to the sound because of its relation to folk music. Beck himself finds some modern electronic music “overdone” and “slick,” but chiptunes are electronica at its “most crude and primal.” Anamanaguchi is a rare example of 8-bit bolstered by other instruments, as the vast majority of artists work exclusively with the chips and software to produce the range of sounds they aim for. Not all 8-bit music could necessarily just be dropped into a video game, either: comparatively popular 8-bit artist Bit Shifter (a.k.a. Josh Davis) was quoted in 2005 relating that “there are artists making sad, poignant music.” One 8bitpeoples release, Saudade for Beginners by minusbaby, is described as aiming “to express life after the experience of saudade, a term often discussed pedantically by the academe.” If you don’t know what saudade is, don’t worry: it has been listed as the 7th most difficult word to translate. One attempt relates it as “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist … a turning towards the past or towards the future.” Seems like minusbaby and his peers couldn’t have found a better medium than 8-bit for conveying the inexpressible.

In fact, we may be in the middle of the 8-bit renaissance. As those raised on these early sound chip-using video games and computers are entering their 20s, and music technology becomes further available, these fans from all walks of life are able to take part in the creative process, both within the 8-bit world and collaborating with other artists. While crowds at 8-bit shows are dominated by lanky White guys, there are several high-profile releases by female artists on 8bitpeoples, and with collaboration possible across the Internet, appearance holds no weight toward cred anyways. (No pun intended.) Without style restricting the structure of 8-bit compositions, fans of any genre are welcome to try their hand at their own take on the 8-bit sound. Even LittleSoundDJ can be bought for the paltry sum of two dollars, and is described, first and foremost, as “simple,” but still complex enough that “a complete Bach piece [can be transcribed] … in less than one hour.”

However, there may not even be a wait for the surge of 8-bit: its influence can be heard all over the pop music of today: Carl Wilson describes “Asian video game music” as one of the “most pervasive influences on young pop musicians now,” and Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” would seem to agree. Even the Pitchfork-loved Crystal Castles’ first releases are saturated with 8-bit sound, leading vocalist Alice Glass to proclaim that, no, they did not take their name from a 1983 arcade game. However, the community itself is developing a backlash against this sudden popularity: 8bitcollective’s forums currently host a hotly contested debate about the merits of using modern production tools, such as FL Studio and Reason, as opposed to the sound chips and consoles the style originated with. The term “fakebit” has been coined to describe the new sound with derision.

Not everyone attempts to keep the scene from its progression into the limelight— just this year Anamanaguchi, the seemingly anointed flagbearers of chiptunes, were hired to score a recently released and critically lauded video game based on “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” a similarly praised video game-themed film (which, in turn, was based on a comic book, but that’s another story.) On November 17th, the band performed a free concert in Union Square as a “rally” for the recently banned Four Loko. In spite of the ban, it looks like Anamanaguchi wants to make sure that we always have a sugary, drunken, vibrantly colorful rush of energy when we need it.

Oh, and one more thing. You may not be a carbon copy of the local beauty standards, but that doesn’t mean you’re not pretty. You don’t know it, but I guarantee, every day you’re surrounded by people who think you’re hot.

Dear Coke Talk reiterates the blindingly obvious but difficult to accept.

I suppose this is my monthly DCT plug.


Cover Art of the Day: Team Meat was so impressed with Magic: The Gathering artist Dave Rapoza’s life-like rendering of their meaty protagonist that they comissioned him to draw the box art for the upcoming special edition PC release of Super Meat Boy, which is set to drop in January.


I haven’t been as compelled by a game since New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and I don’t know since when before that. Super Meat Boy is simple, funny, and flawlessly designed. It’s an exercise in not getting mad at myself.

(This picture is far from representative, so don’t let that distract you.)