Ship to Shore Phono has announced its next vinyl compilation of classic game audio: Taito Sound Team's Arcade Classic Volume One.
This should be a remarkable collection for a few reasons. So far as I can determine, it's the first official U.S. release for music by legendary Taito house band Zuntata in any format, CD or vinyl. It also appears to be the first time the soundtracks for the three games collected here — Night Striker, Metal Black, and Elevator Action II — will have been in print since the original releases of those games' import-only CD tie-ins back in the early ’90s.
It's also the first classic game soundtrack release this year I won't be reviewing, because I wrote some of the liner notes for the album. After all, I wouldn't exactly be an objective party (though I wasn't paid for my contribution and have no stake in the album's success, or else I wouldn't be writing about it at all). As it happens, the record contains the soundtrack to one of my favorite arcade games of all time, the criminally obscure Elevator Action II, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to contribute to a project that will bring at least some portion of that gem back into circulation.
Besides, I've been fascinated by the idea of game music on vinyl for almost a decade, ever since I first spotted a few rare vintage game music LPs in the premium display case at Japanese retro game shops. The fact that retailer Super Potato wanted $380 for a 12" record of Dragon Quest III's original soundtrack was much less startling to me than the fact that there was, in fact, a 12" record of Dragon Quest III's original soundtrack. What a strange idea: Taking completely digital audio sources and mastering them for a completely analog medium! Fascinating, but impractical.
It wasn't until I finally sat down with a decent record player and some high-end headphones that I appreciated what vinyl can actually bring to game music. A well-mastered pressing of freshly recorded game audio lacks the distortion caused by digital compression, and it sounds great. It's still impractical, but in a worthwhile way.
Zuntata is one of the Japanese games industry's rare publisher house bands — see also Falcom's JDK Band — and they've always brought a distinctive ensemble sensibility to their work, even when composition credits were attributed to a single band member. The games collected on this anthology are the definition of obscure, especially in the U.S. (where one of them has never even been included on a home console anthology), but that's precisely what makes a record like this so valuable. I'd be picking up this record in any case for my collection; the fact that I had the opportunity to take some small part in it was a genuine honor.