Army Of 2600 was born in Omaha in the late '08 as an outlet for mr. Mike Bourque's fascination for retro & vintage sounds. The one-man project has made a few smaller releases and taken part on numerous compilations since, but this is its first professionally done full-length release.
This one's for the gaming nerds out there, as the album is almost fully done using Atari 2600's soundchip as the sole sound source. Even further, some of the sound effects have been taken directly from the actual games, so if you've been playing with an Atari there's a chance you'll hear many familiar beeps, bleeps, crackles and bops here. As a fun detail, the people at the online community AtariAge were able to purchase the album for a cheaper price.
I got into gaming after the Atari-fever had passed myself, so I'm more familiar with Amiga's games and sounds, but I did a bit of research and came to the conclusion that as far as whole songs go, this album isn't even comparable to most Atari-games. The songs are very intricate and consist of many layers of different beats and beeping melodies, and some more abstract and droney sounds (think about some driving games and the acceleration-sounds) are embedded here and there to give the songs more contrast, depth and detail. The soundscape is obviously a hint plumper than when heard through the Atari's own descanty sound gear, but still has the trademark dryness that chiptunes need. I might prefer the original harsh descants as far as the gaming experience goes, but this type of sound certainly brings something new to the Atari-sound.
The songs vary a lot from each other. Some are based on poppy and dancey beats with proper build-ups, some on full-on spatial effects and atmosphere, and some have a hint of harsh noise and abstract panning sounds thrown in - along with a big cup of old sci-fi. Couple of the songs differ a lot from the composition-reliant and poppy ones, as for example "The Zaxxonian theory" explores the area between space ambient and harsh drone, and "Into the Darkness We Goeth" is a similarly abstract song that could be a background for a scene where the player is exploring a dark cave. The songs might open up better if you try to fit them into the background of some gaming type or a certain scene - at least for me some elements in the songs represented the background theme, whereas some other ones were more reminiscent of the arcade-action that goes on while the theme-tune keeps on cheering.
The artist is certainly very skilled with the hardware he uses to make the songs, and has managed to imbue them with both modern day compositional hooks as well as more nerdy little twists and surprises. The album is loyal to the original spirit of the Atari soundchip, but uses this loyalty as a strenght instead of letting it become a limitation.
As for a personal experience goes, I certainly appreciate the songs' boldness and amount of detail. I'm just not enough familiar with the original Atari-games to put the album's approach and level of talent to the right context, and for my ears the album felt a bit too long. Depending on your relation to the said gaming console, you might want to either add or substract a point or two from the grade - especially since even the album design is based on Atari-games.
"Return of the Bloop Beep Buzz" is something that had to be made to show people what the vintage equipment is actually good for in capable hands, and does so in a manner that honours Atari's past. As AO2600 makes some clear nods towards noise, drone and ambient on the album, I'd be curious to hear what he'd be able to create if he went further down that path in the future.