July 03, 2003

mmfan316 "dot matrix with pop music"

As a general rule, I never read the press kits that come with the CDs I am sent for review. This is because I don’t want anything a publicist writes to influence (be it negatively or positively) my opinion of the CD in question. In this case, however, I’m making an exception. The cover of this CD proudly proclaims, “All tracks are made using only Nanoloop.” For those who don’t know, Nanoloop is a piece of software that is used to program and compose music, and is compatible only with Nintendo Game Boys. The brief, blunt press kit that accompanied it, little more than a two-inch printout, contained the following statement: “The music may be flippantly referred to in uneducated circles as ‘low-fi electronica,’ but is much more deserving of further attention.’” After reading that, my initial thought was, “Oh, COME THE HELL ON!” If a computerized device generated every single sound on this record, how can it not be electronica? Also, if this computerized device happens to be a fricking GAME BOY, how can it not be low-fi? Last I checked the Super Mario Brothers games weren’t the universal standard of pristine sound and dynamic range. Even the front-page of MMFAN316’s own web site refers to his music as “low-fi electronic pop.” Let’s face it: if you’re listening to a record that contains guitar, bass, and drums, nine times out of ten it’s going to rock (or at least try to). Not all genre classifications are as lazy as they seem.

Having said that, whoever wrote the quoted sentence in the previous paragraph was right when he/she said that the music is much more deserving of further attention. Instead of getting by solely off of the novelty of the Nanoloop, MMFAN316 pays enough attention to melody, rhythm, and song structure to keep his tracks interesting. His songs are good enough that if a four-piece band played them, said band would be hailed as the new kings of post-rock. There are loads of contrapuntal melodies and tempo changes in these songs. There are also lots of moments when it sounds as if someone is seriously abusing the pitch modulation control on a synthesizer. MMFAN316 straddles the line between twee, bouncy riffs (a couple of songs almost sound like variations on “Ode to Joy”) and sandpaper noises, coming across like a less destructive DAT Politics on a shoestring budget. There are even elements of two-step drum-and-bass and Oval-style micro sampling in the mix if you listen hard enough.

Things don’t even begin to get monotonous until the last third of the album, which is quite an accomplishment for a sixteen-track CD of video game music. The worst moments of the record are monotonous only because of the limited timbral range of the Nanoloop, NOT because of the strength of the melodies and rhythms themselves. It’s a lot harder for me to get tired of guitar-based music, but that says more about my own listening habits than it does about MMFAN316’s gifts as a composer. Dot Matrix with Pop Music is definitely too much of a good thing; program any ten of these songs at random and you’d have a killer thirty-minute album. I wonder how MMFAN316 is going to manage a compelling second album, let alone a third or fourth album, with such a limited palette. He’s a good enough composer that he could integrate other instruments (or at least other software) into his music easily. Of course, that would mean he wouldn’t be able to work the “low-fi electronica” novelty angle much. Then again, I’m sure that his publicist wouldn’t mind TOO much.

---Sean Padilla

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