Review By: Eduardo Morales
Since its inception in 2004, L.A.’s Alpha Pup Records has strived to be an outlet for creative, experimental sounds. Backing Bowser, the debut full-length from Jonwayne, feels like a testament to this belief. Incorporating video game sounds, values, and methods of storytelling into a musical epic, this rapper-turned-DJ will be one to look out for in the Los Angeles electro scene.
Bowser isn’t shy about its inspiration—the album is named after the villainous reptilian king from the Mario Bros. video game series. Harkening back to a pantheon of classic titles from the 1980’s Nintendo era, Bowser illustrates life’s challenges and accomplishments through the ears of a child with a controller in hand.
That’s not to say that the album is light hearted. While the first few tracks seem inviting, almost cozy, the latter half uses sounds from survival-horror lore to effectively instill fear and unease.
The intro welcomes guests with a soft and soothing piano, hearkening back to the recuperative role that Inns played within the world of a role playing game. The faster paced tracks like “Darwing” and “Time Trial” warn us that time is running out. Samples of Tupac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” in “Time Trial” feel like a fitting inclusion as the vulgar message brings our villain to a grittier iteration of the Mushroom Kingdom.
The album finds its darker side with the first boss battle at “Bowser I.” An eerie, distant piano becomes a harsh beating of keys, to a point where the lava could almost be felt filling the pit below the confrontation. “Crumbled Luna” is an 8-bit graveyard. The creepy tone is discomforting, and that’s made no better by the nightmarish Petey Pablo sample in “Beady Bablo.”
“Mario is Missing” is a dreary statement about a world without a hero. The tone begins to pick up with the chiptune ditty “Progstep,” befrore wrapping up the album with the bitters “Outro.”
Rather than using video games solely as a reference, Jonwayne’s debut effort admirably incorporates the 8-bit culture and sound, putting a refreshing spin on a weathered yarn. With Bowser, both Alpha Pup Records and Jonwayne have exceeded their goal, setting a new high score for producers everywhere to challenge. It’ll take more than a couple of tokens.
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