The indie hip-hop producer shares the video game soundtracks that inspired his new "Armed Wing Battle Unit."
Last year, indie producer AF THE NAYSAYER’s The Autodidact Instrumentals Vol. 1 began life as a set of beats that suddenly had to stand alone when his planned collaboration with a rapper fell apart. His affection for West Coast G-funk and new jack swing shows through in the tracks, so much so that one, “R-96,” got a second life when the Japanese rapper Shizuku Kawahara added vocals to it. Another influence, ‘80s video game soundtrack music, isn’t obvious, but you hear it once you know its there.
His new EP, Armed Wing Battle Unit, very deliberately highlights that influence. It’s the soundtrack to a first person shooter video game that exists only in his head, and like the best soundtrack music, the tracks don’t demand your attention, but they never entirely go away, coloring moments and rewarding the time you spend paying attention to it. Not being able to see the action or shoot along to these tracks is no detriment in this case. You’d never know from the faint austerity and elegant otherness of AF’s tracks that any action more frantic than yoga was ever envisioned to accompany them. They only reveal their video game inspiration as the tracks lock in on a motif and explore it for as long as it takes a player to finish that part of the game. Because you’re not engaged in a boss fight while listening to Armed Wing Battle Unit, the tracks don’t hang around long enough to remind you that you’ve struggled in a fight for too long.
The strongest stand-alone track is “Briefing Room (Staff Roll) [peaceFIRE Remix],” which quotes heroic snippets of a dialogue while a heavy, distorting bass pushes the mid-tempo funk. The synthetic kettle drums animate a piece of music that serves satisfactorily as a reward for players who finished the game so completely that they made it to the credits.
AF THE NAYSAYER will play an EP-release show Thursday night at the Hi-Ho Lounge, and like anyone with a pet fascination, he is dying to share it. He has worked on the soundtracks for video games Mecho Wars and Steam Pirates, so he knows what kind of music should go where. He agreed to share some of his favorite soundtracks and the people behind them.
Mystic Warriors, Konami, Arcade, 1992
Composers: Yuji Takenouchi, Junya Nakano
It can be extremely difficult to evoke emotion through dance music, but Mystic Warriors finds itself doing so with ease. This game’s score is overall comprised of upbeat early-’90s dance music infused with oriental tropes and an underlining somber vibe. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest arcade soundtracks of all time, though it’s often overlooked. On top of a stellar lineup, Mystic Warriors was my first introduction to one of my favorite composers in the gaming industry, Yuji Takenouchi.
Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future, Capcom, Arcade, 1999
Composer: Hideki Okugawa
3rd Strike is the Samurai Champloo of video games: stylized, filled with unique personality and musically rooted in drum-n-bass and hip-hop. There's really not much else to be said about this one. The soundtrack has the reputation of being regarded as one of the greatest official soundtracks in the Street Fighter series. I should also add, this game’s soundtrack is my favorite overall work of Hideki Okugawa.
The Last Blade II, SNK, Arcade, 1998
Composer: Shinsekai Gakkyoku Zatsugidan
The Last Blade II is one of the most beautiful games I have ever laid eyes on. The presentation is stunning, with a strong musical score to back up its colorful moving backgrounds and interesting characters. The game's music shifts from heroic tropes to the ambient noise that fills each environment, making each stage seem like more than a simple backdrop.
The series takes place at the end of the Edo period in Japan, a long-reigning isolationist foreign rule. In my opinion, Shinsekai does a superb job of musically concocting a Japanese period drama with American western ideas, expertly imagining the Bakumatsu era of the game’s story. The score might just be the most tasteful on this list; emotionally charged, but not overly dramatic. The music enhances the presentation of the world without outshining the gameplay, giving the entire game a very complete and original feel.
Suikoden, Konami, PlayStation, 1998
Composers: Miki Higashino, Keiko Fukami
Suikoden will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) I ever completed. In fact, I adore the game so much that I 100 percent completed it multiple times. One of the reasons I keep going back to this little-known gem is the ace soundtrack and compelling story. The score jumps from heroic fanfares to somber ballads and back again, giving the game an overall dynamic feel. I'll admit that the sequel, Suikoden II, is the superior product with a better score, but I have such a strong sense of nostalgia with this title that I have to add it to the list.
ChainDive, Sony, PlayStation 2, 2003
Composer: Yuji Takenouchi
Yuji Takenouchi is credited for being one of the first composers to bring techno music to the video game experience. ChainDive is a soundtrack where Yuji's deep house alter ego, missingsoul, meets TECHNOuchi. Out of all the games on this short list, Armed Wing Battle Unit draws the most influence on this score, the main difference being that instead of deriving its aesthetic from techno and deep house themes, Armed Wing Battle Unit approaches the genre from the theme of future beats and chillwave.
ChainDive’s score is similar conceptually, even down to how drastically different the "Staff Roll" theme is for both soundtracks compared to the rest score. This was all done subconsciously, not intentionally, but I still think it’s worth mentioning. If you're a fan of Carl Craig's work, check out ChainDive’s soundtrack, as well as Yuji Takenouchi and the various music aliases he creates under both inside and outside of the gaming industry.