Manami Matsumae is most closely associated with a tiny blue robot. The Tokyo-based composer is best known for her work on the Mega Man series, having crafted the sound of the Blue Bomber’s original outing, and later contributing tracks to games like Mega Man 10 and the ill-fated spiritual successor Mighty No. 9. Now, after a career that has spanned three decades and dozens of games, she’s finally releasing her first solo album called Three Movements. And while it may not be associated with any specific game, the album is structured like a tour through the history of video game music.
Three Movements starts out with the kinds of tracks you’d expect from Matsumae. The opening is a trio of bubbly chiptune songs that sound like they’re ripped from some long-lost classic NES game. They even have names like “Select Your Hero” and “The Final Showdown” to drive home the video game vibe. But from there, the sound expands. “Aerial Clash” feels like a more modern electronic track, with a rapid-fire drum line moving the sound forward, and what sounds like police chatter overlaid on the music. But the addition of a retro-style synthesizer almost makes it feel like a track from a PlayStation-era racer.
It’s a slow and gradual shift over the album’s 12 tracks; one hinted at in the title Three Movements. The album opens with classic chiptunes, then shifts to more modern electronic music before moving on to the kind of epic orchestral sounds you’d hear in a Japanese role-playing game. There’s a big, powerful battle theme, and the kind of sweeping song you’d expect to hear during a particularly somber moment in a game. The three sections are divided by a brief, gorgeous two-part piano ballad called “Intermezzo.”
The individual songs on the album are uniformly great, but it’s this structure that really makes it special. It’s like you're exploring Matsumae’s entire career while somehow listening to brand new music. The structure was, of course, intentional. “I want everyone to listen to the different styles I've experienced throughout the years, which is why I ended up creating my album in this fashion,” Matsumae explained earlier this month. It takes a very different approach, but Three Movements is reminiscent of the recent debut solo album of long-time Nintendo sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, who blended classic chiptune sounds with a wide range of genres like reggae and electro.
For Matsumae, it’s been a long time coming for her debut solo work, but Three Movements is the kind of album that could only have been created by someone with her wide-ranging career. It takes decades of musical history and influences, and condenses them down into an eclectic, but cohesive aural experience. You can check it out now on Bandcamp.