Toronto’s Matthew Bailey takes sounds from the past and shapes them for the future on Camargo. Inspired by chiptune, 8-bit tinged instrumentals defined by contemporary artists like Disasterpeace and Anamanaguchi, Bailey pairs retro gaming nostalgia with beats and melodies that range from crunchy and mean to gooey and mellow. Favouring atmosphere and mood over structure and phrasing, Camargo’s chirpy electronic timbres burst wide open like Sonic’s rings pouring out from him after he takes a hit, or Mario powering-up thanks to a well-timed mushroom.
Album opener, “The Hawberry Strut,” plays like a club mix out of the new Blade Runner, as groggy synths follow a driving beat that stutters in and out of time. The track establishes the first half of Camargo’s scene as nocturnal and mysterious with shadowy dark corners illuminated only by a coarse, piercing high frequency in between kick drums (think Aphex Twin’s “Carn Marth,” except less frantic). Changing to an exterior scene, “Kirby’s Nightmare” casts off into a blurry nighttime haze. Swirling guitars and chilly pads keep afloat a repeating arpeggio motif that bubbles up to the surface with each filter pass and modulation.
Switching gears, “T.O.T.V.G.” features an earnest, kind-hearted woman with one simple message: turn off the video games! The woman warns of kids losing their imaginations, failing to develop social norms and even committing crimes due to gaming. Given the context, the entire speech is played for irony as Bailey crams in every possible sonic reference to 8-bit gaming, from its life – a sprightly 1-up blip – to its death – sharp glissandos cue game over screens that crush 8-bit hearts with every failed level. Elsewhere, Camargo filters past ambient heavyweights (à la Robert Fripp and Steve Reich) on “Bird of Paradise,” as Bailey wakes from “Kirby’s Nightmare” to paint a beautiful, serene sunset. Each decaying synth phrase moves like the air pushed from the wings of a bird mid-flight. The piece is as eternal and vast as a horizon, as calming as a still sea.
Whereas “Bird of Paradise” wanders with a slow, meditative serenity that more than makes up for its extensive length, the last two pieces in this final trilogy of tracks, “The Upside Down” and “Game Over,” don’t make an interesting case for their drawn-out progressions and experimental synth play. The former feels directionless, its tedious bass mops a dark cavern’s floor as eerie electronic hums hang above; the latter is a far brighter affair, building pretty layers as the piece trudges along, but again, the bass wubs and crickety, glitchy textures don’t demand enough attention.
Though Matthew Bailey struggles to code each track on Camargo with its own 8-bit brilliance, retro gems like “Kirby’s Nightmare” and “Bird of Paradise” will convince you to dust off an old console, blow into the cartridge and save the princess.
Top Tracks: “Kirby’s Nightmare”; “T.O.T.V.G.”; “Bird of Paradise”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)