I’m not really a music reviewer, and in fact, this is the first time that I have ever decided to “review” an album. I don’t have any real credentials to speak of, other than the fact that I have been a musician since I was a child and I make my own music as well (check out my work-in-progress video game soundtrack here!) Is that enough? Probably. Did we really need this disclaimer? Probably not.
I meant to write a review for Anamanaguchi’s Endless Fantasy immediately after it released back in May of 2013, but it’s probably a good thing that I let some time pass. Sometimes an album comes out that I get super hyped over during my first few listens, but a bit of time gives me better context and I can look back and realize that i wasn’t quite as good as I originally tho...
No, wait, it’s been a few months and I’ve listened to it countless times now, and Endless Fantasy is still pretty freaking amazing.
If you somehow don’t know who Anamanaguchi is, they are a 4 person “chiptune” (retro game music inspired) rock band from New York City. Anamanaguchi have released various eps and full-length albums over the years they have been together, and Nintendo fans may recognize them as the musicians behind the intro and credit music in BIT.TRIP RUNNER for the Wii. They have also created the soundtrack for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, and have had one of their original songs (“Airbrushed”) appear in Rock Band. Anamanaguchi is no stranger to the video game industry.
The official video for the titular intro song. Involving launching pizza into space or something.
I’m not generally the biggest fan of chiptune music, at least from my admittedly limited experience with it. A lot of what I’ve heard is pretty impressive technically, but lacks a level of quality songwriting that would make it worth listening to repeatedly instead of just rocking out to my favorite classic video game music. Anamanaguchi has always stood out for me as an exception, less a chiptune project, more a rock band that creates awesome melodies and uses their chiptune sounds to enhance the greater whole. After all, they have stated that their music is just as inspired by acts like The Beach Boys and Weezer as it is by video game music. That’s not a bad place to find inspiration (as long as we’re talking about early Weezer here…)
Endless Fantasy is Anamanaguchi’s second full-length studio album, the follow-up to 2009’s Dawn Metropolis. As an interesting side note, it was funded through Kickstarter, raising $277,399, making it the second most successful music project funded through Kickstarter to date. It’s clear to me that they have come a long way since Dawn Metropolis. Don’t get me wrong, Dawn Metropolis was a great album and part of a library of Anamanaguchi songs that made me a fan, but a few songs into it you kind of already knew what to expect from most of the rest of the album. Endless Fantasy, on the other hand, is 22 tracks (19 full songs + 3 interludes) of music clocking in at well over an hour (76:10), a length which would usually make me worry about lack of variety and filler tracks, but Anamanaguchi has pulled off a remarkable feat here; pretty much every track on the album is not just a quality track, but there is a wealth of variety contained within as well. Anamanaguchi has managed to expand their sound in many ways, while still retaining the melodic hooks and raw energy that made their earlier works such a joy to listen to.
Now that is a band photo!
You’ll notice some of the growth immediately, with the opening track (01 - "Endless Fantasy") starting off sounding almost more like a club track than the Anamanaguchi rock that we know and love, before eventually settling into a hook that skirts the line between dance and rock. Moving forward, you will find a veritable smorgasbord of sound, from the slow and (often) melancholy (04 - “Planet”, 08 - “Interlude (Gymnopedie No. 1)”, 14 - “Snow Angels”), to the more upbeat, J-pop inspired (02 - “Japan Air”, 07 - “Prom Night”), some upbeat rock (09 - “Akira”, 15 - “In The Basement”), unique hybrids of electronica and rock (05 - “Viridian Genesis”, 13 - “Canal Paradise”, 16 - “U n Me”), and more. And, of course, there is still plenty of what primarily defined Anamanaguchi’s sound in the past, melodic punk-based fare that covers a range of emotions (03 - “Echobo”, 06 - “John Hughes”, 12 - “Meow”, 18 - “Everything Explodes”, 20 - “Pastel Flags”). Although most of the songs are instrumentals, guest vocalists are called in for a handful of tracks, to great effect, including one of my favorite tracks on the album, Japan Air. I would have liked to see them expand a bit more into other genres, such as they did with their Das Racist (rap) remix in the past, but you can only ask for so much from a single album.
Variety is nice, but it’s meaningless without great songwriting (and, if you care about such things, production) behind it. And Endless Fantasy has plenty of great songwriting and production. Anamanaguchi has perfected their sound, taking excellent melodies that would fit nicely into classic video games, and working them into a variety of genres, often within the same song, all of this topped with excellent Famitracker-created chiptune lead synths and a whole variety of other synths and effects. Imagine taking some of the brilliance of early era Weezer / melodic punk songwriting and combining it with some of the best music of the 8-bit era, mixing in a bit of electronica, and layering sounds over sounds, resulting in a rich final creation that is simultaneously complex, yet accessible. This is what Anamanaguchi has done with Endless Fantasy, and it’s an impressive album that transcends mere chiptune music, and excels as a music album, period.
Not just one of the best songs on the album, but one of the best music videos I’ve seen. Watch it!
Endless Fantasy is not perfect. A few of the later tracks, while still good, don’t stand out as much as the rest of the album. And if you’re looking for some true rock n’ roll, don’t look here. The live instruments mostly just provide the base for the programmed drums, synths, and effects to sit on top of, so you won’t hear any impressive guitar solos or anything like that.
Still, it’s pretty darn near perfect for what it is. I hesitate to be too hasty, but three months straight of listening and I’m ready to call Endless Fantasy one of my favorite albums of all-time. You want a score? 5/5 stars? Sounds about right. Yep, it’s just that good. Check it out!