Synth Album Review: "Voltz Supreme, Synth VGM Remixes Vol.3—Underwater & Slightly Moist Themes Part 1"
There are two musical things in this world for which I am a sucker. The first is classic video game music and the second is synth-based sounds. When you combine those two elements, and then add an extra dose of goodness to the recipe by using real analog synths to create ‘80s influenced remixes of great VGM, you have me hooked. Voltz Supreme has ticked all the boxes in a stylish and entertaining way on the first of his two synth VGM remix albums, which feature “underwater and slightly moist themes.”
There’s something about all of the tones and moods that synths can produce that fits in well with the diverse nature of video game music. There’s such a wide palette of sounds that can be called upon and Voltz Supreme doesn’t shy away from exploring any of them. I feel that he’s been careful in his selection of analog synths in order to create the right tone and feeling, based on the musical nature of each track. There seems to have been a great deal of thought put into the approach he took to every track.
One of the things about the best retro video game music is the sheer quality of the melodies that were written for it. The talent of these composers to write beautiful, catchy and energetic melodic lines was undeniable and Voltz Supreme does an excellent job of finding the best way to showcase those superb melodies through the synths and the bass, rhythms and harmonies that he’s chosen to surround them with. For instance, the tropical feeling of the Monkey Island theme comes through clearly in the synth sounds used and the playful synth choices in “Orange Ocean” touch on the bubbly nature of Jun Ishikawa’s scores for that game series.
I am also bowled over by the fact that Voltz Supreme took the time and effort to use real analog synths to record these tracks. It’s so easy to simply use purely digital versions of synths these days but the fact that Voltz was driven to explore the particular feeling of analog synths adds another layer of quality to the sounds on this recording.
There’s a reverence to the way that Voltz Supreme covered these tracks that clearly shows his love for the golden age of video game music. He was tasteful and respectful in his approach to the music, not seeking to alter but simply to heighten the aspects of it that make it so iconic and enjoyable to listen to.
It was tough for me to choose individual tracks to highlight here, but I have managed to come up with some that I thought were particularly well-done so I’ll run through them and what it was about Voltz’s approach that I especially enjoyed.
Right off the bat, I was drawn to the “Theme From Monkey Island.” The LucasArts dream team of composers (Michael Land, Peter McConnell and Clint Bajakian) were responsible for some truly wonderful melodies and Michael Land’s main theme for Monkey Island is one of the best. Voltz.Supreme’s light touch on this track is delightful.
The tropical, steel drum sounds are charming along with the analog synth sparkle. It adds a positive energy and the way we get that bit of synth reggae towards the end of the track is a great deal of fun. I also enjoyed the way the track began with the tranquil sound of flowing water.
Masato Nakamura wrote some great jazz-inflected, energy-drenched tunes for the Sonic the Hedgehog series on the Sega Genesis/Megadrive. Voltz.Supreme showcases the undeniable melody of “Hydrocity Zone Act 2” with a jazzy-sounding synth, emphasizing the moving, active melody. The drums underneath it cruise smoothly and I am digging the slap bass sound he’s got in this cover. All of Masato Nakamura’s wild exuberance and jazz fusion influences shine through here.
The Mega Man series of games by Capcom is one of the most beloved video game series and one with iconic melodies in it. "Aquaman" composer Shusaku Uchiyama's musical chops are on full display in the melody. Voltz Supreme has chosen to add a house music flair to showcase that melody. His selection of a smooth-sounding, relatively high pitched synth contrasts nicely with that deep beat. The trailing float of the melody and the overall airy, drifting feeling of the track was something I enjoyed hearing.
“Wave 131” is an example of Yuzo Koshiro’s ground breaking work on the Streets of Rage soundtracks. His innovative fusion of European techno with the FM synthesis of the Sega Genesis is still outstanding. Voltz Supreme keeps that techno vibe and very deliberately synthetic and electronic sound going here. Wave 131 has a jazzy melody over that pumping drum and bass and we get a cool pizzicato synth sound that weaves in and out of the main melody. There are interesting background noises that Voltz.Supreme uses which add an experimental edge to the proceedings.
Saving the best for last is Voltz Supreme’s cover of “Dire Dire Docks” from Super Mario 64 composed by the one and only Koji Kondo. This track is like cool water and floating on your back looking up at the sun. Koji Kondo’s melodic mastery shines through in this cover. The melody is charming, gentle and emotionally affecting melody, full of a kind of nostalgic warmth and a hopeful heart. The earnestness of Koji Kondo’s music has always been one of its strengths and VoltzSupreme’s synths that dream and float emphasize that very earnestness. All of the musical choices on this track do a marvelous job of showcasing the purity of Koji Kondo’s melodic writing.
If the goal of remixes and covers is to take what is already outstanding musical material and showcase the best qualities of that material, I’d say that Voltz Supreme has succeeded with his “underwater and slightly moist themes.” His combination of tasteful synth use, a keen ear to what type of sounds suit each track and a clear passion for the music that he’s remixing and covering create a thoroughly enjoyable sonic experience. Stay tuned for my review of the second of these two synth VGM remix albums shortly!