Album Review: Battle Jazz Classics II by Don’tblinkoryou’lldie

Oklahoma's chief chiptune composer bids adieu with a dense, meticulous, fast-paced, and heartfelt sequel EP

A message from the Make Oklahoma Weirder team: this article was originally written by Evan Jarvicks in 2019 and is being released as part of MOW’s “VVeirder VVinter Vault” of 2023.

Chiptune music is at once dated and timeless. Though permanently rooted in the early days of computer memory and synonymous with video games, its 8-bit legacy persists in classic melodies and high-energy compression. Like an unplugged concert, it can serve as a compositional litmus test. If a piece plays well in the video game style, one might expect that it will play as strongly in other contexts. It’s no coincidence that video game soundtracks have taken on a new life in recent years as symphonic repertoire.

If that isn’t a convincing enough argument, perhaps the work of solo artist Don’tblinkoryou’lldie (or sometimes DBOYD for short) can do the trick. A torchbearer of the genre, he writes note by note with a hacked Nintendo Game Boy to create ambitious, fast-paced pieces under the methodical patience of a sheet music composer.

Don’tblinkoryou’lldie relocated from OKC to Washington earlier this year, but before heading out, he dropped Battle Jazz Classics II, the sequel to his 2013 debut EP. He’s released plenty of music in the interim including singles for compilations, over-the-web collaborations, and other solo projects (like 2017’s Big 50 pick Paradise EP). In that time, Don’tblinkoryou’lldie has only gotten sharper, more adventurous, and more inventive.

Battle Jazz Classics II is similar to its predecessor in its hunger for bright, catchy tunes that mirror the action-packed video games of yesteryear. What sets it apart is its scope. Where Battle Jazz Classics was theatrical in the context of an 8-bit television screen display, Classics II reflects on life at large more directly. It’s more operatic in its composition and themes.

“Our Turn” kicks off the album like an overture, compressing slices of high-intensity and profound meaning together into a dynamic mission statement. The momentum continues into the determined “Michiko”, just one of many fine examples of what one can do with limited musical tools. It’s dizzying to consider how Don’tblinkoryou’lldie can spring such tone from mere oscillators using only the most basic effects.

“The Anxiety” takes a turn, using the high-speed nature of chiptune to spread out a shadowy space in a dubstep-influenced banger. The atmosphere doesn’t keep him from dropping a signature guitar-like solo or two in the mix, though. “Undone” continues the drama with a continuous lead melody navigating prickly textures and spooky swells until it lands safely into the album’s pop-centric finale, “Everything Will Be Okay in the End”. Ah, but will it?

Though Battle Jazz Classics II contains no lyrics, it’s full of songwriting. It blends the rhythms and melodies of popular music styles and the noncyclical adventure of classical composition, then filters it through a giddy 8-bit vision. Don’tblinkoryou’lldie’s music is one-of-a-kind, and here, it would be an insult to attribute its appeal to nostalgia. Classics II is about the here and now, and it proves that there is still room for evolution in the chiptune genre.

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aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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