Welcome to Squidbeats, a new series of feature articles exploring the fanmade music of the Splatoon community. There's no doubt that fans of Splatoon are a creative bunch, as you'll find fanart of folks' inksonas everywhere. It's not all just visual, though; there's a number of rather good albums of fanmade music out there. From album releases on Bandcamp and Soundcloud to doujin music made by Japanese fans, it will be covered here.
This inaugural feature in the series is a track-by-track review of Splatunes!, an album off the Gamechops record label. Featuring tracks from the likes of DJ CUTMAN (who also mastered the album), Grimecraft, and Mega Flare, this collection of remixes and covers has been steadily growing in fan appreciation since its release in June 2015.
For the opening track, DJ CUTMAN treats us to “Kid Now, Squid Now!” to a thumping remix of the song used in Splatoon's US television spots. In CUTMAN's hands, the infamously cheesy “squid”/”kid” refrain actually makes a compelling cut in a totally head-rocking beat. This is an energetic and amusing start to a great album.
Next comes Ralfington's cover of “Splattack!”. Half chiptune, half drum and bass breaks, this track is full of fast dancing energy that gives you a little moment to breathe in the middle before bringing back the snare drums. This track is notable because of how it combines the whimsy of 8-bit fidelity with percussion that belongs at a club or rave, a trend which manifests throughout the release.
The song abruptly ends, and suddenly we have our third track, “Stay Fresh!”, Ben Briggs' funky remix of “High-Color News”. The choice to transition suddenly and without warning is an appropriate one, as it simulates the way Callie and Marie's breaking news interrupts gameplay. The song builds up quickly with cut-up breaks of the initial jingle and just strolls along from there, at different points incorporating some chiptune bloops and buzzes as well as some disco-style violin.
The fourth track on the album, “Show Me Dat Ink!” by James Landino, combines the wistful feeling of “Maritime Memory” with a danceable, distinctly electro house beat. It's a wonderful mix of the two that inspires nostalgic melancholy as much as it does irrepressible joy. Particularly masterful is Landino's use of vocals-as-instrument, with catchy rhythms constructed from Squid Sisters voice samples, from short vowels to drawn out vibratos. These build beautifully up to head-nodding breakdowns that are a treat for your ears and feet.
Up next is another track from DJ CUTMAN, titled “Jet Squid Radio!” (they sure do love their exclamation points in this release). Splatoon's visual and sonic aesthetic has often been compared to that of Jet Set Radio, and in some ways can be said to be its spiritual successor. This track, despite what its name may suggest, is not actually a mashup. Instead, it's a fast-paced remix of “Lookin' Fresh” that somehow manages to draw further attention to the similarities between the music of Splatoon and JSR without ever sampling the latter. This is impressive considering it would have been so simple to mashup, say, “Humming the Bassline” with the beloved Booyah Base track.
Number 6 is “Squid Island!” by Hyper Potions, a song which combines parts from “Maritime Memory” and “Shiokara-Bushi” into a bouncy trapstyle track. Starting with a saccharine synth melody, the track drifts pleasantly along to the voices of the Squid Sisters and quick hi-hats, quickly becomes fast and hard-hitting, and goes back to being cute, leaving as quickly as it came. This track is reminiscent of The Pamyu Pamyu Tape by Terio, which also combines J-Pop and trapstyle beats.
The title of the disco-flavored “Watching Ink Dry!” by bLiNd may fool you into thinking it will sound boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. Taking a track from the single player campaign, “Cephaloparade”, bLiNd turns something that something that sounds like a Rugrats soundtrack into a Daft Punk/Justice-esque French house jam, complete with electro breakdowns and side chain compression. The ethereal voice piercing through the middle of the song also give it a slight vocal trance vibe, if only for a few seconds.
Despite what it may sound like, RoBKTA's “Calamari on the Funk!” does not incorporate any musical elements from Katamari Damacy. It is, however, as its name implies, a funky cover of “Splattack!”, complete with popping bass rhythms and playful piano melodies. While it begins in a fairly straightforward fashion, the song later develops into something that sounds more like an improvised variation, much like in jazz. Like many other tracks on this album, it also has its own electro house spin on the original it references.
Chjolo's “Dub Splat!”, the ninth track on this album, is a bassier, more percussive version of “Ika Jamaica”, a sound you'll recognize from Splatoon's equip screen. This song not only further accentuates that dub sound, but also throws in some UK garage and trapstyle beats. At one point Chjolo even adds in their own wobbling treble synth, resulting an even smoother texture. Overall, it's not terribly different from the original, but it is still a welcome change nonetheless.
“Squid Girls!” by Ralfington is a thoroughly chiptune cover of “Shiokara-Bushi” with a few interesting choices. Most notably, there is a punchy grime percussion that at once compliments and conflicts with its prickly treble synth that changes between staccato rhythm and full-on wobble. Accompanying this is a funky bassline that definitely stays by the sidelines while giving the track the extra fullness that it deserves.
Mega Flare's “Octoling Assault!”, much like the previous track, is also a chiptune version of “Shiokara-Bushi”, but it differs in that it is much faster and repetitive. Using the first few bars of the chorus of its source material, it builds itself up into frantic, arpeggiated chaos structured only by a steady beat. In this track you hear not just bloops and beeps, but also springs, chirps, and extremely clipped voice samples. Before you know it, you crash headfirst into a wall of noise as the other instruments slowly wind down and out of the track.
The beginning of “Squid Skank!” by Mykah gives the impression that the song will be a dub-infused remix of “Tentacular Circus”, but it quickly develops into pumping electro house track. It does return to the dub sound, but only to let the track breath and to center the listener for a brief moment before diving headlong back into club territory. Amusingly, there is also a stilted, synthesized voice that declares “You are a kid now/You are a squid now”.
DJ CUTMAN returns with “Sweet Inktory!”, a short, fun remix of "Battle Win Result”. It should have been called “Battle Win Jungle” (playing off "Battle Win Jingle"), considering it could fit quite easily into either a jungle or drum and bass track. What really helps drive this song forward is the way it handles the guitar breaks in order to build and maintain its momentum. The staccato samples of the Inkling cheers also don't hurt it any.
The penultimate track featured on the album, funnily enough named “The End!” is Grimecraft's remix of “Maritime Memory” and “Shiokara-Bushi” that mixes the soft, dreamlike quality of the former while pushing the energetic quality of the latter. The vocal samples near the beginning feel distant, like a far off memory or an aged recording. The song alternates between sampling these two source tracks for a while before a synth-driven trance-style breakdown, then settles into some clicky hi-hat percussion. Finally, the song seems to snuggle into a bed of calm cloud-like harmony.
The final track by Party Members, titled “Everytime We Splat” starts off sounding like a very familiar Eurodance standard until it decides to bring in the melody from “Splattack!” to make sure it's Splatoon-related. The song has a somewhat comical quality, with a high-pitched, whiney synth melody and the inclusion of drastically pitch-shifted airhorns. None of this detracts from the song of course, and it really works as a sort of “stinger” bonus track to round out the album.
On the whole, Splatunes! is an extremely listenable release. Its tracks do tend toward the electro house side of things, but the artists featured are also able to weave in and meld a wide variety of genres so that the album never feels boring. Many of the songs here are quite original in their interpretation of the musicSplatoon fans have come to know and love, and even the ones which do comparatively little to change their source material still manage to add just the right amount of spice to make them worthwhile. Hopefully these artists will collaborate again on some more Splatoon fanmade music, or they will inspire others to do the same.
You can stream Splatunes! from Gamechop's Soundcloud page, or download it from their Bandcamp in the links below:
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Squidbeats Album Review #1 - Splatunes!