In the late 1980s, Keiji Yamagishi composed some of the most memorable soundtracks from the NES era, including games like Tecmo Bowl and Ninja Gaiden. But he hasn't worked on a game in a long time — as game soundtracks became more complex and orchestral, Yamagishi found himself being squeezed out, and he hasn't composed one since 2003. "I can't conduct an orchestra," he explains. "I felt as if my music was no longer needed."
Now he's bringing that music back. His new album, Retro Active Pt. 1, may not be playing in the background of a pixelated video game, but it may as well be: it features the same exciting, high-energy chiptune music that Yamagishi built his name on. It's like the soundtrack to the most amazing NES game that never actually existed.
"I felt as if my music was no longer needed."
Retro Active is Yamagishi's first solo album, and it's a project he's been building towards for some time. In 2013, he partnered with record label Brave Wave to work on World 1-2, an ambitious album that featured a wide range of songs from some of the biggest names in video game music. That experience led to the desire to do something bigger — and this new album is just the first part of a wide-ranging collection dubbed "The Retro Active Experience." Over the course of 2015, Yamagishi will release two more albums, and all three will feature the same kind of sound. He describes it as a "futuristic emotional chiptunes world."
Just take the first song, "First Contact," for example: it's hard to listen to it and not imagine a bright, colorful, pixelated world scrolling past. Likewise, "Starfish Cluster" sounds like a chill beach level from a long-forgotten platforming game. Of course, it's 2015 now, so Yamagishi doesn't have to work under the same constraints he did during the NES days — some songs feature guitars, for example — but that classic feeling remains in tact. The album even features a few collaborations, with the likes of Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae chipping in some sounds.
The result is a breezy, exciting, absolutely wonderful album that fans of classic games will definitely dig. It launches today, and you can grab it right here.