If there’s one thing that makes the Internet go round, it’s kitschy works of fandom. Creators these days have much more freedom than those of days gone by – rather than trying for mass-market appeal, people can aim their products at a specific niche and end up appealing to them perfectly.
Thus are the joys of Pretty Eight Machine. As absurd as an entire album of chiptune covers of Nine Inch Nails might sound, Brendan Becker (working under the pseudonym of Inverse Phase) managed to pull it off, spending years of his time manipulating old hardware into making the industrial synthpop that earned Trent Reznor his household fame. This is the sort of thing that will baffle anyone who’s not already on board, but fortunately for us all, I already is.
It must be said, Pretty Hate Machine was the only album that would’ve been suited for a project like this (although others have tried, even if they just used MIDI files). When you compare it to the soundscapes of The Fragile1 or the hardcore glitchcore of Year Zero, the debut album is almost…conventional, the synthpop tunes not too far removed from the Nintendocore version on offer here. (It also helps that the age of Pretty Hate Machine is quite close to some of the sound systems used here – both that and the Game Boy were released in 1989, and if you’re old enough to experience those things firsthand, then I’m sorry to tell you that you’re old.)
That said, there’s still a few sounds that don’t quite transfer across well, and these are usually vocals. The replicated rapping on ‘Downloadin’ It’ (and yes, every song title is based around a similar dodgy pun) loses something in the translation from vocals through to chips, and the piano of ‘Something You Didn’t Ever Have’ starts to grate over the six-minute running time. Indeed, a lot of the songs here start to feel too long, without the vocals to add variety.
But if you wanted an album that’s inarguably great, you would’ve just listened to something that’s not chiptune (or, especially, the original album). And with the exception of ‘Kinda I Want 2A03’ (fittingly based off Reznor’s least-favourite NIN song), every song has something going for it.
‘SID’ is easily the best song on the album, amping up the low-end to extremes. ‘That’s What I Get’ is the most forgettable song on the original album, but the intro of it becomes awesome on rework ‘That’s What I Chipped’. The hard guitar riffs of ‘Atarible Lie’ become self-destructive crunches of lo-fi electronica, while ‘Head Like I/O’s heavy drumming gets flipped into a synth pad that’s not too dissimilar to ‘The Wretched’. ‘SYNCtified’ has the background tones sounding on point, ‘Get Pong, Breakout’ does a hilarious job on coding the porn samples, but it’s the intro ‘Token Ringfinger’ where the album really peaks. It’s the most impressive sound on the record, and it hints at a tragedy: by the time this album came out in 2012, smartphones has doomed the 8-bit ringtone. And this would be perfect.
This isn’t an album that I’m going to listen to regularly – the hardcore chiptune aesthetic can really get on your nerves after a while. But it’s a delightful piece of fandom, and it shows the power of the Internet. Plus, it’ll make you want to find your old NES.
1Note: while researching for this review, I found an interview with Inverse Phase where he does say he wouldn’t mind covering The Fragile, since it’s his favourite NIN album. Good to see someone else of fine taste.