Ben Landis – Adventures in Pixels Review

Ben Landis’ new record, Adventures in Pixels, is an ambitious if not tame beast.

Spanning 18 tracks (20 with the inclusion of two live extras), the album is a journey through the nostalgia of 8-bit and 16-bit computer game genres. Being a topic that is especially noticeable right now with the release of Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph and the recent one day transformation of East London’s Brick Lane into ‘8-bit Lane‘, Adventures in Pixels is certainly successful in the timing of its release.

The album itself is certainly accessible to an audience thrilled by those homages of early virtual entertainment, containing within its running time a number of themes and styles that are bound to make even the most hard-hearted of modern gamers yearn for an earlier time – a time when eggs with waving arms went on adventures and kiwis employed their archery skills to rescue their kidnapped siblings.

Unfolding its narrative through songs and the innovative use of pictures displayed with each track, Adventures in Pixels is a very unique way of drawing the audience into an album concept without interfering with the listener’s reading of events.

Opening with an overture that brings to mind the menu screens of many a title from the back catalogue of Clive Sinclair’s most famed invention, the album progresses merrily along through the amiable opening – Chickens (going -peck peck peck-) – the introduction of conflict and playfulness – Mayhem in the Village – and a main character – Matt’s Theme – who sets out in rescue of a number of kidnapped chickens. The art continues to unveil boss fights with dinosaurs, scaling mountains, foreboding castles, enchanted forests and a ‘Terrible Tarantuloid‘.

All the while, the music carries on with a mix of influences worn clearly on the sleeve.

The trouble however is that whilst this a wonderful concept, it also leaves much of the story’s progress open to personal interpretation, where comparison with the sources of its inspiration may too readily be drawn. Particularly in the second half of the album, where Adventures in Pixels seems to go off the rails slightly regarding its direction and flavour, the album as a whole is unsuccessful in truly capturing the imagination and spirit of the past era it apes.

There is a certain lack of urgency in the make up of the album, a hesitation in truly giving in to the frantic chaos that fully drives such games as Adventures in Pixels takes its inspiration from.

When compared to the work of Masato Nakamura of Dreams Come True on Sonic the Hedgehog and Nobuo Uematsu on the Final Fantasy franchise as representatives of the platform and RPG genres respectively, Adventures in Pixels seems to lack the urgency exhibited in both franchises, its tone too casual and laid back to drive hypothetical players forwards.

As mentioned above, this is most evident in the latter half of the record when Mister Landis varies from his arrangement and imitation of 8-bit and 16-bit titles and introduces more modern synthesisers and drum beats. Conversely, this flaw in the presentation of the story is also what makes the extras so good.

Stripped of constraint and pretence, the live versions of Matt’s Theme and Frontier, with their artificial string arrangements, are infinitely preferable to the album versions.

Yet this is not to say that Mister Landis’ record is a bad one, merely that it might be a step towards a finished project rather than the final product itself.

Recommended for fans of the genre if not a work destined for crossover appeal despite its presentation, Adventures in Pixels by Ben Landis is available on 1st February 2013.

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