There I was, just pondering what on Earth I should write about this afternoon, when in plops an email inviting me to have a listen to a brand new ska-inspired Mario Kart album by the GameGrooves game music label, which primarily focuses on inventive cover versions of classic game tracks.
Given our Trent’s predilection towards all things ska and the enduring popularity of Mario Kart, this seems like a fine thing to cover on what is otherwise fairly quiet and uneventful Tuesday afternoon.
So why don’t we listen together, dear reader? The album is available on Spotify, which is where we’ll be embedding tracks from — you can also listen over on Bandcamp, where you can also buy a digital copy of the album for your own collection.
Mario Kart 64 Theme
Gotta admit, I wasn’t overly enamoured with this track when I first heard it; it just sounded a bit too “chaotic” and the addition of the Vocaloid lyrics from “Skatsune Miku” didn’t really seem to fit. I guess it makes quite a statement to open the album with, if nothing else. Thankfully, things pick up quickly from hereon.
3 Raceways & Wario Stadium
Now we’re talking. The much cleaner sound of this track and the emphasis on jangly, funky guitars accompanied by an enthusiastic brass section not only felt pure Mario Kart, it felt more authentically “ska” too. It captures the energy of the original tracks very nicely, but builds on them by blending them together and incorporating a delightfully elaborate saxophone solo. And we could all do with more of those in our lives, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Moo Moo Farm & Yoshi Valley
This is another track that doesn’t veer too hard away from the original source material in Mario Kart 64, but it works really well. It sounds and feels authentic to the original tune, but the thicker texture brought about by the real instruments — notably the electric guitars and brass section once again — gives it a distinctly more energetic feel that is a pleasure to listen to.
Koopa Troopa Beach
Yes! This one is very good. The tropical feel of the original track fits well with the bouncy ska feel, and the instrumentation works really nicely. This piece has a really great party atmosphere and is just the thing for bouncing around to in the middle of a blazing hot summer, cocktail in hand. Of course, it’s December right now, but the imagination is a wonderful thing.
Eschewing the traditional ska instrumentation for a more chiptune-inspired feel, the offbeat rhythms of this one give a pleasingly laid-back feel that gradually picks up somewhat in pace and energy as the track progresses. It never gets too intense, though; everyone’s having a lovely time. As it should be in the world of Mario Kart.
Setup and Kart Select
I’ve always thought chilled-out menu music is a bit of an underappreciated art form, so it’s nice to see this groovy almost acid jazz-style number in the mix here. I’ve always been rather fond of Mario Kart’s somewhat “arcadey” menu music, and this is a thoroughly appealing mix of it. It wouldn’t sound out of place in Pilotwings, either.
This one benefits quite well from the “heavier” approach to the rhythm section; the powerful electric guitar ostinato forms a solid basis for the main melody to sing out over the top of. The overall feel of the track reflects the stage itself quite nicely, too; Toad’s Turnpike is a stage where you never feel like you’re going that fast, but there’s nonetheless quite a lot going on with all the traffic everywhere!
Great guitar solo in this one, too.
Frappe Snowland & Sherbert Land
Another chiptune-inspired track, this brings back the somewhat bouncy ska feel, complementing the classic chip music sounds with some jangly guitars, occasionally dipping into more heavily distorted territory; the track has an almost Anamanaguchi-esque feel at those times. For the most part, though, this track is a pleasingly chilled-out accompaniment to a stroll through a winter wonderland.
Choco Mountain & Battle Arenas
This charming track combines elements of ska with a distinctly “Western”-inspired theme — appropriate enough for the somewhat desert-like scenery of the Choco Mountain track in Mario Kart 64. The thick brass section is especially appealing on this one — even if it does sound like they’re about to break into Frosty the Snowman on more than one occasion.
Not sure about this one. It’s certainly got the energy of the Bowser castle tracks, but the disparate elements of the arrangement don’t feel like they quite work together. There feels like there’s a bit of a gap in the midrange of the sound, leaving the whole thing sounding a little “empty”. Or perhaps it’s just that the original piece is quite discordant and not all that fun to listen to anyway!
This is a fun one that captures the manic feel of Battle Mode nicely, and the change in tempo about halfway through feels like the sort of thing that could really get a party jumping around in a “Come On Eileen” kind of style. But with more red shells.
DK’s Jungle Park
This is another track where I’m not all that fond of the original piece of music in Mario Kart 64, and this arrangement doesn’t do a ton to change my mind. The slow-attack synth melody meanders around the place and doesn’t really go anywhere, and the piece lacks a sense of “satisfaction”, for want of a better term — although it does get more fun when the offbeat brass rhythms come in every so often.
Channelling The Specials’ classic Ghost Town may be an obvious choice for a ska-style arrangement of Banshee Boardwalk from Mario Kart 64, but dear Lord it works brilliantly. There’s not much else that needs to be said about this one — an absolute delight.
This one feels a little less “ska” than some of the other tracks on the album, but it’s just a very nice arrangement of the Rainbow Road theme. Perhaps the main melody line could have done with being a little more prominent — the guitars threaten to overwhelm it a little when they get going — but it’s definitely true to the original, and continually gets better as it progresses.
By contrast, this is delightfully ska. The offbeat guitar rhythms, the cheerful brass section melody, the party vibe — all of it is a delight to listen to, and the whole thing feels thematically appropriate for the awards ceremony that accompanies the end of a Grand Prix session. Definitely a highlight of the album.
And to round things off nicely, an “end of night” number that helps us to wind down, get those energy levels back to something approaching normality and remind us that we’ve all had a thoroughly lovely time. Simple brass melodies and soft electric piano accompaniment creates a pleasing vibe, and brings us around for a gentle finale.
And that’s that! I certainly found that an enjoyable listen, for sure — but what about you? Let us know what you thought down in the comments or via the usual social channels, and we’ll see you at the next starting line!
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