Last time on Mind.in.a.box: Oh boy Black went through a lot of challenges in the last chapter of Mind.in.a.box. L̶͉̜͕̻̲̼̿̅́̕͜͝͝e̶̙̅̔̌͋̏̌t̷̛͚͌͛̐̐̏̈́͌̄̈̊̆͋͝’̴̢̺̩̹̦̠́̈́̄͜ș̵̢̪̬̥̝̭̗̲̈̕ͅͅͅ ̶̘̹̓̿̄̅̂̐̽̋̑͘͝r̷̮͐̏̀̇͠e̸̢̩̥̐̊̂̐̊͐͆̓͑̓̇̕̚͠v̵̭̰͎̙̼̑͋͛̑́į̴͇͉͚͎̻̫̣̪̳͒̇̽͌̂́̆̓̋͑͋̇ę̷̨̛͔̻̟̮͉͒̈́w̶̤̜̟̙͉͎̘̯͆̆͊̂͛̀͌ͅ ̵̪͌̿̀̏́͂w̶̢̨̛̗̦̭̺̘͇̳͂́̆̍̀h̸̨̧̛̞̪̲̮̣̪͐̀̒̈́͜͝a̶̫̭̹̖̼͔̱̫̫̭̙̺͚͐̄͐͂͗̔̽̋͗̒̇̚͜͠͠t̸̯̜̿̒͒̓͛̈́ͅ ̴̡͖̬͓̪͚͓͌̃̀̓̊͠h̷͖͍͍̺̩̳̐̄̀̓͊͊̅́̇͐̔̾͛͠a̶͔̭͔̱̙͆p̵̪͙̖͎̘̔͒̀͘͜ͅp̵͉̫̠̞͓̻̦͈͈͆ͅe̶̡̧̛͍̺͇̣̥͐̓͑͆ņ̸̦͚̗̣̻̣̝̑͆́̇̒͐́̊͊̕͠e̵̗̖͠d̴̤͇̣̖̈̈͗̽̅̿̂͛̚̚ ̸̤̗̘͂̐̌̈́͒́̎̄͒r̵̢̞̙̜͈̪̝̱̥̹̪̠̼̞̒͘e̷̡̧̧͔̘̳͙̤͕͠͝ã̴͔̳͈̮̱͓͇̍̈́́͋̈́́̄̈͘l̶̪͓̓̉͆̄̎̈́͒͐̿̕ ̷͕͕̊͊̏̈̓͑̿̏̈́̊̅̏q̵̧̪͉̞͇̯͓͇̲͓͍̙̈́̾̀͌͌̍̑̔͝͠ͅͅu̸̧͚͍̝͓̫͕̹͑͗̈́̿̽̎̊̾̾̄́̕͠ȉ̵̢̝̟̦̔͛̌͋̚͜c̷̗̋̏̏́̇̽̍͋ḳ̷̡̱͓͖̱̳̒͂ ̶̢̨̲̦͚̠̥̎̂̿̿̈̔̈̏̈́̏̀̾͝ḇ̴̪͍̲͍̞̤̄́̑̄̐̂̎̾̋͘̕͝͝͠ë̶̙̪͓͈̟͉͉̫̳̖̯̔̌̏́͝ͅf̵̡̖̝͕̝̿̈́̍̉̂̏͆͘͝ǫ̷̛͍̣̰̘̩̟̯͚̭͉͉̮̎̽͑͒̈́̀́́̌̚͜͝ŕ̴̻͖̬̹̀́́͂̔͆͝ȩ̷̡͖͕̯͙͓̪̝͇̭̾̑̓̈́…̸̗͓͓̩̓̀̕…………………………………………
Introduction: Actually, let’s hold on for a second. This may be a Mind.in.a.box album but there’s no need to recap the story this week. For the story is generally irrelevant to R.E.T.R.O. Think of it as an intermission of sorts. None of the songs in this album hold any bearing on the story we’ve been traversing through over the past 2 months or so. Here, Stefan takes a step back and just makes a handful of songs inspired by games off of the Commodore 64. A retro flashback to his nostalgic days I presume. This is unfortunately his most popular album. I say unfortunately because I rather prefer the storytelling songs rather than the slightly more attempted nostalgic style that much of this album takes on. It isn’t a bad album but… You know what? I can explain my feelings on the songs of this album while I review them. Maybe I should start on that.
Mind.in.a.box – The Last Ninja III (6): Not to be confused with The Last Ninja (which appears later on in this album) or The Last Ninja II (which is completely irrelevant to his album but I’m sure it exists). A large number of these songs are somewhat remixes of games from the Commodore 64. This one is the first one. I trust it to be based off of the game, The Last Ninja III, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t played any Commodore 64 games as I hasn’t grown up in that era (earliest gaming system for me is the original Xbox so I’m kind of in the late middlish I think).
However, despite my lack of knowledge, I decided to take a second and look up the theme music of this game I only just heard of just now (I’m a listener of music, not a player of games) and it sounds like this is a pretty faithful recreation involving a slightly more updated feel as the technological sound of Mind.in.a.box has taken over many of the melodies and drumbeats of this song. There are a few portions that maintain a very similar sound to the original game soundtrack (the section at 1:11 being the most prominent example)
However, I don’t really feel that this is the strongest fusion of electronic and retro chiptune. A lot of the elements work well. The main melody has taken on a more modern feel and it fits quite well with the drumbeat and bassline. And there’s some subtle arps added in the second half that really flesh out the full Mind.in.a.box feeling (or at least as close as we can get). The sections that are a bit closer in tone to the original Commodore 64 game however… it’s a bit of a clash to be brutally honest. This song just really doesn’t strike me as anything worthwhile. It has some good ideas here and there, but it could have been executed a lot better.
Mind.in.a.box – Lightforce (6.75): Lightforce feels a bit more polished and seems to fit the general Mind.in.a.box mood much better. The introduction to this song in particular feels a lot like it could be part of the story of Black and his explorations through the Dreamweb. It’s not about that. None of the album is about that (well, it’s debatable for some of the later songs but we’ll get there when we get there. No, this song is a throwback to the soundtrack from an old space shooter known as Light Force (hence the title. Titling songs after the game it’s based on is a theme for a good half of the songs on this album). It’s a pretty faithful modernized recreation from what I can hear after looking up this game I hadn’t heard of prior to reviewing this album.
Everything in this song meshes a lot better than we saw in The Last Ninja III. I still don’t think of retro chiptune melodies when I think of Mind.in.a.box, but at least this song doesn’t really distract with its 8-bit elements. Perhaps it helps that much of the song, particularly the arp and the bassline, have a rather simple tone to them as well. Because of this, everything feels much on the same level, unlike the weird mesh of cinematic and 8 bit we had back in The Last Ninja III.
My only complaint is that this song is a bit excessive in length. I do like the occasional lengthy song, but there has to be enough variety for the song to earn it. And to be honest, I feel like this song could get along just fine at half the length. Ah well. Still a decent track.
Mind.in.a.box – The Last V8 (7): The Last V8 tells of the chaos arising within a family that all wants a can of V8 veggie-fruit juice. But there is only one left. And so, they engage in a never-ending battle over the last V8.
Actually, it’s another song that references a game of the same name. I mean, what else did you expect? That’s all this album has been so far. It’s not going to change soon. As usual, we have a decent modernized version of a decades old song from a classic video game that I’m sure makes Mr Poiss extremely nostalgic.
This one seems to be one of the closest to the game that inspired it based on what I could scrounge up. The stronger bassline and the smoother melodies really fit together quite well. I especially love the combination introduced right at the beginning. There’s less instruments and vocals distracting from the simplicity of these two instruments as they bounce off each other. Nothing wrong with the instruments and vocals or anything. I just enjoy the simpler vibes a bit more. The whole point of this album might be focusing on being R.E.T.R.O., but honestly, the 8 bit portions are often my least favorite part.
Oh yeah. This song has vocals too. It almost sounds like it belongs in the Mind.in.a.box storyline. As I’ve established already, it doesn’t. Pretty sure the lyrics here are referencing various elements of the game this song is based on. So, there’s not as much to get into with these lyrics. It’s a bit more fun when I get to delve deep into Black’s mind and the world that he lives in. Could’ve nearly fooled me though. There ae a lot of mentions of a guy in white… but that couldn’t be our White… Could it?
Mind.in.a.box – Supremacy (7.25): You know the drill. Supremacy shares the theme with a video game of the same name. The game was retitled Overlord when it came over to the US (where I live, though I wasn’t living when the game was released), but that fact is completely irrelevant. Mind.in.a.box is Austrian anyway, so they needn’t care for the renaming.
The mood of this song is completely transformed in this case. Oh, the melody stays the same. It wouldn’t be much of a remix if it didn’t contain a melody from the original title theme of the game, but when I went ahead and looked up the original song form the game, the mood was completely different. The game had a bouncy upbeat feel backing the melody that Stefan chose to base this song around. However, when we get to the remake in question (I am reviewing Mind.in.a.box, not games from two and a half decades ago), the song focuses a lot more on ambience.
I definitely prefer this transformed calmer mood. Maybe I’m biased because Mind.in.a.box is my favorite artist and it would be quite nearly impossible for me not to prefer his version over anyone else’s, but I feel there’s a bit more variety with what Mind.in.a.box creates by creating a calmer atmosphere and building off of it. Over time, the song grows slightly more intense, pulling away from the ambient vibe that the song started with and growing in intensity with increased arpwork. Eventually, the song reaches its climax in which the main melody from Supremacy. Only difference is that instead of committing to the bouncy mood of the original. Mind.in.a.box opts to aim for a more cinematic feeling with a slower drumbeat and some slower basswork (almost sounds a bit like a guitar, but not nearly as much as Machine Run).
Overall, this is one of the better adaptations of a game soundtrack to be seen on this album. The overall progression and variety really makes it stand out above some of the less interesting or overly lengthy tracks I’ve reviewed so far.
Mind.in.a.box – Shades (6.25): As far as I can tell, Shades does not come from a Commodore 64 video game. That’s different. Well there are a few other songs like this as well, the soundtrack recreations only take up half the album and we’ve looked at the majority of them already. How about a short break for something a bit more original? Shades, while not taking inspiration from any particular game, still maintains a similar retro feeling within its core. Many of the synths used to imitate the 8-bit melodies are still present here. Or at least there’s something similar in play.
After spending so much time comparing the covers to their original counterparts, it’s kind of weird to look at this track as its own original creation. I guess I’m just stuck in comparison mode. Ah well, I can still compare this to the last few songs on the album. It’s really par for the course. There’s plenty of decent elements to the song but few of them really stand out.
The drumbeat is kind of in the middle as far as tempo goes. Wouldn’t say it’s plodding, but it definitely isn’t driving either. There’s a bit of nice variety to it with a few extra syncopated kicks added into the mix at some points in the song.
As for melodies, they aren’t really distracting like in The Last Ninja III, mostly because they have longer notes with smoother transitioning. However, it just doesn’t feel quite as dynamic as it could be. There’s just not really much to work with. Some simple melodies play in the background but they don’t really add much to the song from what I can hear.
And then there’s basslines… I guess. I really don’t have much to say about these basslines. Inoffensive but completely forgettable.
I want to enjoy this song, but it really has nothing to offer that can’t be given by the other songs on the album.
Mind.in.a.box – 8 Bits (6.5): Here it is. The most popular Mind.in.a.box song. It shouldn’t be a song from this album, but it is. 8 bits may be enough for some people, but not me. Ok that was too harsh. I just wanted to do a pun on the song lyrics.
8 Bits and its counterpart, I Love 64, seem to tell their own narrative in a way. Not saying it’s connected to the narrative from the other albums. Not nearly as good as that. No, these songs seem to follow a virtual being made of code, though the tone doesn’t quite fit with the type of code I’d consider to be related to the Dreamweb. Interestingly, the world of 8 Bits is the reverse of the main Mind.in.a.box universe. Instead of escaping into the virtual universe known as the Dreamweb. An emulated entity desires to transcend its world perhaps to enter into our own reality. That would be a bit crazy though, right?
Both stories do have an element of trying to escape the world we see in front of us and redefining reality to maybe find a way to live comfortably with ourselves. And I think both themes are worth looking into. But this song feels somewhat cheapened. With everything that the rest of the discography shows, 8 Bits is very shallow in comparison. It’s alright but it just feels shallow.
The brighter happy music does contribute to this. Simple drumbeat and bassline with no harsh elements. And the melodies are made completely of short little chiptune bleeps and bloops. It’s definitely a happy mood. Maybe that’s my problem. I do seem more attracted to slightly edgier music. This song just doesn’t do it for me in the same way. It’s a good song despite my negativity, but it pales in comparison to everything else.
Mind.in.a.box – Mindkiller (7.25): All this time we’ve been putting the mind in a box, but now we’re killing it? Well this has taken a violent turn. Mindkiller is surprisingly not from a video game called Mindkiller. It’s actually supposedly from a game called Parsec. It’s only called Mindkiller because those are the sole words spoken throughout the song. Or are those words spoken because the song is called Mindkiller. Why isn’t this song called Parsec?
Actually, come to think of it, does the music here come from Parsec? Because I looked up the game on Youtube and I can’t find any moment anywhere in the surprisingly varied soundtrack (in comparison to the other games I’ve looked at) that sounds like what I’m hearing in this song. I’ll be honest, I got that little tidbit of info from Wikipedia which is possibly not the most reliable source. It is possible I missed the similarities though so if anyone else magically hears it, let me know.
Anyways, enough of the pondering of the song’s source and title. That information holds no weight on my final rating. It’s the music itself that matters. And this music is definitely different from what I’ve heard so far on this album. In fact, this is one of the three songs that I might consider to be suspiciously similar to what I’d expect from the more narrative albums. Perhaps the melodies are a bit more simplistic in the beginning, but the rest of the music here sets up a great dark atmosphere. The drumbeats are constantly changing, focusing on an eclectic range of kicks, snares and claps to keep that unsettling mood going. Not to mention the creepy breathing down the neck that builds as the song reaches the midway point.
The second half of the song sounds much like the Mind.in.a.box I know and love. That technological arp really is a staple that’s been missing for a lot of the songs in this album. The drumbeat does return to more regular four on four beat here, but it still maintains a bit of its edge to keep that unsettling vibe in place. And of course, there’s the titular lyric: Mindkiller. I theorize that this as well as two other songs later in this album are deleted scenes from previous albums, this one being the least developed of the bunch. The Mindkiller could be a deleted element from the Mind.in.a.box universe that was cut in favor of some of the other mind-bending elements sch as the Dreamweb and the Stalkers. I have no idea what a Mindkiller would be, but it could very well fit in with what Stefan has already created for us. But we shall never know what it would be, for if it was ever part of the story, it has since been removed.
Mind.in.a.box – The Last Ninja (7.25): Not to be confused with The Last Ninja III (which appeared earlier on in this album) or The Last Ninja II (which is completely irrelevant to his album but I’m sure it exists). A large number of these songs have been remixes of games from the Commodore 64. This one is the last one. I trust it to be based off of the game, The Last Ninja, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t played any Commodore 64 games as I hasn’t grown up in that era (earliest gaming system for me is the original Xbox so I’m kind of in the late middlish I think).
But enough with recycling content, now that I have a soundtrack to compare it to (unlike with the enigmatic Mindkiller), I can faithfully say that this is a pretty good recreation. When I’d scoured through the soundtrack on Youtube (much easier to sort through than Parsec), I found a song that confused me because it sounded exactly like the Mind.in.a.box remix at the beginning. More accurately, the Mind.in.a.box version sounds exactly like the beginning of the original piece, but that simply isn’t the order I heard it so that’s not how I experienced the comparison.
But a good remix isn’t just about making the song sound similar to the original. It’s about improvement. And Mind.in.a.box’s modernization is certainly an improvement. As far as composition goes, this sounds like a direct copy of the original soundtrack with some drums added into the mix. However, it’s only the beginning of the track that truly sounds identical to the original. As the song travels forward in time as far as duration is concerned, it also travels forward in time in the modernity of its sound design. It may start with the simple 8 bit melodies, but it isn’t long before this songs starts using more guitars and modern synths to display the melodies originally composed three decades ago. And it definitely works quite well, as it sounds in some places that the original Commodore 64 wasn’t quite up to par with its instrumentation for some of these melodies (or maybe I have a bias towards Mind.in.a.box). It still incorporates some chiptune elements in there to maintain the retro integrity of the song, but there’s some great guitar added into the mix as well as a fantastic breakbeat portion in the middle.
Despite its intense modernization. This song serves as the most faithful recreation of the other recreations this album has to offer.
Mind.in.a.box – I Love 64 (6.5): And now to continue in the two-song universe of the emulated soul trapped in an 8 bit world. Fittingly, I love 64 refers to 64 bits. A bit of an upgrade from the 8 bits we had in the last song. I love 64 follows our eight-bit emulated entity as it discovers a second being made of 64 bits. 8 falls in love with 64 and romance begins to blossom between the two as 8’s eyes are opened to an entire new world beyond the one it had been stranded in back in the last song. Filled with desire, 8 wants to upgrade to become part of 64’s world but worries about whether their love will last through the transformation.
Honestly, it’s a cute love song with a unique spin on it. It serves as a nice logical sequel to 8 Bits as it allows the protagonist a window to embrace its dream to transcend into a greater reality. And in doing so the story of a search for meaning also becomes a search for love. There really isn’t much in particular to say about this one. It’s pretty similar to 8 Bits in tone and serves as a bouncy happy distraction before we get to the last two edgier songs that conclude this album.
Mind.in.a.box – We Cannot Go Back to the Past (7.5): This could have very well been a song on Crossroads that just ended up getting cut and left aside to be released later on this album. One of the very themes on Crossroads was moving on from the past. A song of not being able to go back to the past would have fit the album perfectly. However, it really just states an idea and it hits the nail pretty hard on the head. There’s really not much added into the narrative by including this song so that might explain the reason it was cut (if I’m correct at considering this song to be a deleted scene). The remaining songs gave this message out clearly enough on their own.
Seeing as the more narrative driven side of Mind.in.a.box is what I like most, this song is a bit closer up my alley. The C64 covers are fine and the short 8-bit storyline is suitable, but it’s Black’s journey that got me into Mind.in.box. This song gives a small taste of that feeling, even if it really is just stating the title of the song on repeat… kind of like Mindkiller did. Unfortunately, all that’s to be said about moving on from the past was said in my Crossroads review so you should probably just go ahead and read that one. Best album I’ve reviewed so far.
As for the music, it’s got a really solid bassline introduced at the very beginning of the song that serves as a backbone to the rest of the track. It’s dark. It’s a bit mysterious. And it honestly has a lot more texture than any of the other basslines I’ve heard from Mind.in.a.box. Like if the song Mind.in.a.box on Mushrooms ever came into existence (it’s not going to but that would be cool), then I’d likely expect a bassline like this one to be a main element. It doesn’t sacrifice its iconic technological nature, but it still creates something new that I haven’t heard in any of the other songs as far as I can remember.
Really, the bassline was the only musical element I wanted to highlight. Maybe if I weren’t so late on getting this review out (not going to stress too much about that. I cannot go back to the past), I’d try and dig deeper into the other parts of this song, but nothing is really as prominent as that bassline, which is fine because the bassline carries the song very well.
Mind.in.a.box – Whatever Mattered (8.75): Saving the best for last. This song could have definitely replaced The Place from Crossroads. I’m not entirely certain which one was produced first as I’m the one calling them deleted scenes and for all I know, I’m just making assumptions, but if he was choosing between this and The Place, I personally think he made the wrong choice. Really, it’s mostly a musical preference. The Place definitely had some flaws that held it back from me enjoying it. It was just a bad combination of musical elements that didn’t quite fit, making it the worst song on the album.
This, however, is the best song on this particular album. While The Place had conflicting moods between the piano and low end technological synths, this song focuses on a very smooth collection of instruments the feel somewhere in between. It does focus more on the relaxing side of Mind.in.a.box just as The Place did, but all of the melodies feel a lot smoother. Sure, they don’t stand out as much as the piano in The Place, but they do serve the song well in creating a deeply relaxing and introspective mood. And seeing as Whatever Mattered is all about introspection, then that works quite well for the song.
I will admit that when it comes to lyrics, The Place is a little bit better. It goes a lot more in depth to where Black is in his life (though it surprisingly doesn’t give much details on where Black is physically considering that the song is called The Place). This song is a bit more simplistic focusing only on the concept of moving forward into the future despite the past. And yet, stripped of much of the narrative detail, it does maintain the soul and message that was there in The Place. It’s more simplistic, but I feel that only makes the message stronger. Living in the past does not make the present a comfortable place to build one’s future.
Plus, it sounds good so there’s that.
Conclusion: This is Mind.in.a.box’s worst album. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album, but I can’t help but prefer the more unique narrative that expands exponentially as the discography continues. Worldbuilding is just a passion of mine.
This album is simply different. It instead serves as a tribute to the Commodore 64 and some of its games as well as testing some new waters without contributing to the storyline. Maybe I’d like it more if I’d played these games as part of my childhood, but I wasn’t even alive at the time they were released, so you can’t really blame me too much for overlooking them (again, gaming is a minor pastime for me, not a passion).
While I may suggest skipping it if you’re listening to the discography chronologically for the narrative, I still think it’s worth coming back to once you finish listening to whatever the most recent installment is in Mind.in.a.box story.
Final Score: (7/10)