WAR 02 – housethegrate HOUSEWORKS Album Review

If you can’t see the video above, click here.

*Update 03-12-2011 – Buy HouseWorks Here*

For today’s album review, I’d thought that we’d review an independant release that most of you might be unaware of. This week, I popped in Houseworks, the debut album that I bought straight from the artist himself, housethegrate (a.k.a. house).

I had put off buying it for a very long time because my inner chronic music downloader thought it was flat-out retarded to buy music, regardless of its quality or whether or not I wanted to support the musicians.

Eventually, I just bought the album because I wanted to give back to house for being a high-caliber musician and for giving me so much good music already to listen to. I’ll admit, I was also curious as to how the new songs, as well as the songs that I practically burned into my cerebellum, turned out for the album. Let’s find out:

Personal Backstory

How I came to find housethegrate is almost an entire post onto itself.

You see, back when I was in ITT Tech, my friends and I would often go during our breaks to websites like Fugly.com and KillSomeTime.com and eBaumsWorld.com to watch funny video clips. For those of you who don’t know what these sites are, they were basically the YouTube of their day, but instead of people vlogging all the time, they just put up funny clips that were found on TV or that people recorded themselves or what-have-you.

One day, we stumbled upon (before StumbleUpon was around lol!) a clip of this androgyneous Asian (I still to this day don’t know if he/she is a he or a she) playing Super Mario Bros on an electric guitar, complete with sound effects! Needless to say, I was blown away by not only his/her playing, but by the concept of people using rock instruments like guitars to play music that was on video games that was mostly done with keyboards! I then was on a mission to see if anyone else had done something similar. Since YouTube wasn’t around at the time, clips of other people playing video game music were scarce and the quality was mixed.

After doing some extensive site-searching, I came across OCReMix.org (a.k.a. OverClocked ReMix a.k.a OCR), which was basically the jackpot of video game music performances and rearrangements. Although there were no video clips to be had of people playing the music, there was a seemingly never-ending amount of MP3s of video game music from just about every game imaginable! People did all kinds of strange and beautiful things to the arrangements: they would add a killer synth drum beat and techno-fy it, they would perform the music as a rock band would, and they would sometimes change the arrangement so much that it would almost sound like an entirely original piece were it not for the bits and pieces of video game music put in there. I felt like what the first kid who tasted sweetened chocolate for the first time must have felt like! It was bliss!

I eventually came across an excellent remix of a song from Ninja Gaiden 2 for the NES called NinjaScape. It was done by another excellent musician named Ashane, who it turns out had an older brother who also did remixs of video game music. His name was housethegrate. I loved Ashane’s other remixes like Red Cap Assault, which is a remix of the battle theme from Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest for the SNES, so it was a no-brainer to check out what his older brother was doing.

While both brothers share an excellent melodic feel to their music, house’s music seemed slighty more mature and refined than Ashane’s. After talking with them online a couple of times, I found out about an indie rock band called the minibosses that do strictly music from NES games, as well as a monthly competition that Ashane and house participate in that’s held by the people on the minibosses’ forum called the Dwelling of Duels (or DoD).

From there, I got the chance to listen to a lot of perfectly-legal music done by independant artists that strayed far from the norm. Because I was so passionate about the music and the ease of contacting these wonderful musicians, I then started acting like a total attention whore on their message board, which is why most of the members still don’t like me even to this day (keep in mind that I first joined back in 2005), but that’s another story altogether.

The Track Breakdown

This album was released back in 2006 and people are still talking about it even today!

The first track, Sanctuary, is a medley of songs from the CastleVania series. It has a big jazz fusion feel to it, especially in its quick musical changes.

The next song, Light In The Fortress, is a remix of a song from Mega Man X for the Super NES. With it’s keyboard-meets-guitar-meets-techno beats style, it is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Alien Corpses, which is a remix of a song from the game Duke Nukem 2, reminds me a lot of a rhythm section in a Joe Satriani song.

Up next is a short piece from King’s Quest 6 called Murdered By Flora. Although it’s barely over a minute long, I loved the nylon guitar work that house did.

After that, it’s Midnight Cocktails, a song from the game Leisure Suit Larry. This is about as jazzy as you can get without breaking out a semi-hollow guitar and plucking a bunch of jazz chords. The song’s very smooth and an especially good listen if you’re writing.

Madara: 1st Movement is a combination of songs from the game Madara, and another one of my favorites! It feels like a prog-rock song without being a 9-minute+ opus, which works out just fine for me.

The seventh track, Seized With Fury, comes from the game Final Fantasy 6. It is classic house, complete with backing orchestra and smokin’ guitar licks!

Malac’s Cross, a remix of a song from Betrayal at Krondor, is another short-but-sweet nylon acoustic piece in the same vein as Murdered By Flora.

Brinstar Minibossa, a remix of a song from Metroid, is next on the disc. It has more of an old-school 50s-60s jazz flavor to it compared to Midnight Cocktails, which has a contemporary jazz sound to it.

Track 10 is Walk On Water, a remix of a song from Sonic & Knuckles, and the most anticipated of the CD-exclusive tracks. It’s another great jazz fusion song that really reminds me of Al Di Meola in how the song is structured.

The next track, Crumbling Statues, is from the game Magic Sword. Next to Walk On Water, Crumbling Statues is the best of the new CD exclusive material. Once again, I’m getting an Al Di Meola feel from this track in terms of structure and it also reminds me of Light In The Fortress.

After that is one of house’s signature tunes, Waltz of the Dolls from Final Fantasy 4. Only housethegrate could take a waltz and make it rock! This track is also a fine example of house’s overall musical style.

Track 13 is Track 8. Wait, did I read that right? Yes I did! The 13th track is actually called Track 8, and it’s based on the game Metal Gear 2. It’s a slow, industrial-beats-meets-jazz-guitar-sensibilities kind of track.

Up next is Snowflakes on a Rosegarden, a track that house submitted for the DoD competition, but pulled the MP3 from the site because he didn’t like the way it sounded. Thankfully, he redid it an released it on this album! It’s quite a moving classical piano number.

Hurry!, the 15th track on this CD, has some nice alternative guitar picking that makes me think of what a combination between Alex Skolnick and Al Di Meola would sound like.

The 16th and final track on Houseworks is housethegrate’s masterpiece, La Hora Es Tarde, from the CastleVania 3 game. It’s a combination between prog rock, latin jazz, classical, and neoclassical music all rolled into one glorious track! If Jason Becker and Al Di Meola did a song together, this would be what it would sound like! If you only listen to one song on this entire album, listen to La Hora Es Tarde!!

The Goodies, The Baddies & The Uglies

I was estatic when house announced that he was releasing an album, but at the time, I didn’t have the money to buy it. I’m glad I eventually bought it though, as it’s one of my all-time favorite CDs! Housethegrate even sent me a written personal message in the album jacket when he sent the CD to me! How awesome is that?

Although most of the tracks on Houseworks are solid, I do have some gripes about this CD.

I could go into the fact that house put out way too much of his older and freely-available material, but most of it sounds great so I’m not gonna complain about that. What I will complain about is that the production value on the older tracks, and even on some of the new tracks, doesn’t seem like a leap forward that’s expected from an album release.

For example, even though I disliked the redone older songs like The Saltwater Room and Hello Seattle on Owl City’s album Ocean Eyes, I can at least admit that the sound quality was higher even though the overall song quality was not. I know that house didn’t have the budget that Owl City had, but I think that he could have done a better job mixing the songs.

With the re-release of so much older material (10 tracks out of 16 total), I’m disappointed that he didn’t put out a remix or a live version or even an acoustic version of at least one of his older songs.

Also, since the songs were fairly short (exactly half of the songs were over 4 minutes long and only three of them were over 6 minutes long), I’m sure that house could have also included video footage of him playing some of the songs or a behind-the-scenes of the making of Houseworks that would be viewable via computer or DVD player.

The Verdict

Despite the technical shortcomings and the re-release of a lot of otherwise freely available material, housethegrate’s Houseworks is a staple in the small-but-growing collection of rearranged video game music albums available for purchase!

6 Tracks To Give a Clicky-Click

– Light In The Fortress

– Midnight Cocktails

– Madara: 1st Movement

– Walk On Water

– Crumbling Statues

– Waltz of the Dolls

– La Hora Es Tarde