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The Advantage - The Advantage

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Artist: The Advantage

Album: The Advantage

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: May. 31, 2004

At some point during The Advantage’s 26-track debut tour de force, a certain question invariably arises: why? Why play only Nintendo music? Granted, the Nintendo Entertainment System was no small factor in the lives of a great many sequestered post-Atari youths, and true, the music in a lot of these early games was pretty inspired considering the infinite parameters each melody had to encompass. (The songs had to be designed to loop seamlessly and eternally in case your character took forever finding some secret rocket launcher or dragon key or whatever.) But, still, there are a lot of folks out there who don’t know Hyrule from a hole in the ground. Most people – young types included – remained fairly oblivious to the sub-urban culture of cartridge blowing, controller-callused thumbs, and up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start. These sorts, God bless ’em, need not apply to insular world of The Advantage.

Without a hearty background of Bowser and 8-bit blips, this Northern California quartet’s repetitive instrumentals don’t really make much sense, for the compositions they so painstakingly transcribe are, not surprisingly, creatures of context. After all, these are themes, not songs, and the mid-’80s Tokyo gaming technicians who originally authored these works were only interested in programming melodies as precise as perfect circles, arcing in mathematical cycles to end where they begin. Transmuted to The Advantage’s live rock instrumentation, however, the songs’ archly efficient structures shift from pragmatic to static, almost coldly automatic, with circuitry in place of intuition.

These, of course, are conceptual concerns, ones that have little to do with the band’s mind-blowing perfectionist prowess (the drummer is Spencer Seim – better known as Hella’s hyper guitarist), and technical accuracy. Contra’s “Snowfields” theme comes alive with all its crackling, bullet-blazing stealth and suspense, while their scary dexterity is on high display during the medieval-prog guitar arpeggios of the Wizards & Warriors intro. No track suffers a single off-note, nor do they embellish the songs with personal stylistic flourishes. It is merely men aping machines, and doing a damn good job of it.

Further, for those who do fall within the “I used to play a lot of Nintendo” demographic, this album is a dangerously potent mnemonic device. Simple melodies, especially ones long ago burned into a young mind during the heat of gaming, can, upon suddenly being heard again, induce a crippling, massive nostalgia hemorrhage. And, no doubt, herein lies the most potentially intense side effect to The Advantage’s otherwise superficially dorky endeavor – music as a mainline to pre-adolescent Eden. Of course, since this innocent Nintendo terrain is hardly limitless, one can’t help but wonder what future exists for a band so based on inherently finite resources. At these concerns, Spencer Seim notes there are still about 7,000 more songs to learn, and by the time The (all-male) Advantage learn all of them, they’ll probably be old women. When faced with such advanced stages of delirium, perhaps asking why is a fruitless endeavor.

By Britt Brown

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