April 26, 2007Glenn Turner

8-bit Operators Cover Art

Two worlds of nostalgia collide in the tribute album 8-bit Operators: the shrill, yet warm, 8-bit tones of my childhood, and the wonderfully sterile pulses of electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, whom I really didn't pay much attention to until my late teens. And while I've returned to the world of NES-generated melodies, GameBoy-based effects and Commodore 64-scored symphonies these past five (or so) years, Kraftwerk has surprisingly languished on my album shelves, only given a fleeting bit of remembrance when word of Chicago tour dates (and the dearth of available tickets) arrives.

And so I feel a bit bad that, for as great as 8-bit Operators is, and for as much of a labor of love as it is, more than anything else it's reconnected me with Kraftwerk. Their back-catalog, like the 8-bit sound, has held up remarkably well, and has possibly improved with age. While going through and re-acquainting myself with the source material for the tribute, I kept getting hung up on the original tracks, marvelling in the compositions, the sonic chirps, the whole package - listening to them as if they were new again.

Nonetheless, after each source track, I'd slightly reluctantly return to the tribute album's interpretations and find them more than capable of suiting my ears' needs. Bit Shifter's cover of 'Antenna' captures both his signature quick-paced & layered fore-fronted melodies all while retaining the quaint, upbeat vocals and playfulness of the original. Covox's rendition of 'Computer Love' hits all the right notes, preserving his crunchy and effervescent nature. Nullsleep wonderfully layers 'The Model' to perfection, despite the somewhat rough & disappointing vocal treatment, but the last half of his cover well makes up for that deficiency with wonderfully abrupt turns and new harmonies that never existed in the original. Role Model also serves up a fun, albeit un-chip-like, interpretation of 'Showroom Dummies', and David Sugar gives us an treble-laden and extremely danceable 'Radioactivity'. If Glomag hadn't already provided ">the pitch-perfect single with his 'Pocket Calculator' Mega-Mix, this would definitely be a contender for the club decks.

That's not to say there aren't a few flat tracks on the album: gwEM & Counter Reset provide an admirable departure from the normally-excellent 'The Man-Machine' with its irreverent emcee and increased beat, but the sound simply doesn't mesh. It feels immediately dated and almost comedic, and including the 'gwEM & Counter Reset – outta here' closing shout-out isn't exactly how I would have chosen to end the song, much less the album as a whole. 8 bit Weapon's edition of 'Spacelab' comes off slightly anemic, thanks to some stale sounds and rather generic vocal treatments, but it's still extremely listenable. And Neotericz's version of 'Electric Cafe', while enjoyable, is also slightly disappointing thanks to some plodding and overbearing programming that lacks the tension of the original.

Nonetheless, I've listened to a number of tribute albums that have been shameless cash-in attempts that lack consideration, heart or even straight-up competency in considering the source material. Consequently, it's a pleasure to see that 8-bit Operators is a soulful, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable tribute album that sincerely pays respects to the band that inspired a generation of electronic sounds and sound machines. The chiptune moniker is no gimmick here: Kraftwerk helped to mold these tones, so it's only natural that those influenced by it and the 8-bit aural aesthetic pay their respects. It's simply a bonus that the this generation's tribute weaves such a compelling album and brings forth a new appreciation for the old material.

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