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The video game-obsessed Torpoise inspires flashbacks to the Mushroom Kingdom

Torpoise’s latest album finds inspiration in Nintendo 64’s fluidity. Photo credit: Facebook

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I've never been much into video games, but there was a period of a couple years when I found myself compelled toward the comfort of the Nintendo 64. Usually I only played in the context of family get-togethers - the adults would talk in one room while us kids would play party games in the next room. My subconscious is painted with sounds and images from Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., and Goldeneye. It was so easy to get sucked into tunnel vision with these games, drawn along by repetitive movements, blocky blobs of color, and insidiously pervasive music.

It's the music that tends to stick with people, long after their consoles have retired to the backs of closets. Beyond the sugar-high frenzy of the soundtracks that accompany racing or fighting games, there are the bizarre soundscapes of Super Mario 64, an oddly melancholic game that can sometimes come off more as a sobering view of a post-apocalyptic than a magical world. The patter of Mario's feet echo in empty space, gently underscored by unobtrusive elevator music. I'm not totally certain that this was the game designers' intent, but the effect is frankly haunting. Every "wahoo!" that comes out of Mario's mouth sounds sarcastic, and the sproinging sounds Mario makes when he jumps just highlight the relative stillness of the rest of the world.

While I can't speak with full confidence to how video game music has shaped my brain, it seems safe to say that most people have a more positive relationship to it. Chiptune bands like Anamanaguchi utilize 8-bit electronics to create hyper-realized pop versions of the music that soundtracked the early days of video games, while local bands like the Cutwinkles and Skull Kid craft odes to iconic games. Torpoise, based in Seattle, falls more toward the former, though it would be inaccurate to label it a chiptune act. Griffin Ryan's bedroom project frequently incorporates 16-bit into its compositions, but they mostly act as bits of color to brighten up chilly electronica.

Torpoise's recent release, the Dream Requiem EP, was apparently created using the sounds of the Nintendo 64, which sets it apart from bands that fetishize the glitchy buzz of 8-bit music. There's a fluidity to music that defined Nintendo 64's music, and that smoothness is evident here. While the songs on Dream Requiem are often catchy, they never go full-bore into dancing territory; instead, they're merely content to pull you along, just as they would've done in any game, sucking you into a blissfully meditative state.

With the exception of the occasional vocal sample from various video game characters, Torpoise's music is mostly instrumental, analog chillwave that flirts with psychedelia. Considering the surreal worlds these songs are inspired by, it's no surprise to find your mind wandering as you picture parades of chocobos, Pokémon, power-ups, cloud cities, and go-kart-driving plumbers. The only thing preventing you from slipping fully into a fugue state is the way that Torpoise will mess with tempos, throwing in stutter-steps and jarring samples. Torpoise's previous release, Rewind, is more of a rambunctious album, layering effects and creating an unstable backbone of unpredictable beats.

Torpoise will be holding a release party for Dream Requiem at the all-ages venue Real Art. For anyone doubting Torpoise's devotion to and obsession with video games, in honor of the show coinciding with the release date of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, anyone that shows up with a copy of either game gets Dream Requiem for free. Still, even if you're a lapsed gamer, like me, the music of Torpoise is bound to inspire vivid flashbacks to hours spent in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Torpoise, w/ ITEM, Cheap Sweat, Kowari, 6 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18, $7 ADV, $10 DOS, Real Art, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma,

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