Kemikziel – The Ghost in the Game Boy (2019)

Kemikziel is a chiptune producer from Canada. In less than a year she’s managed to publish thirteen releases via Bandcamp including one WIP album that is set to release next year in 2021. Her latest release is the excellent quarantine LP “Scourge and Remedy.” Today I’m going to be going to be reviewing one of her older releases an EP entitled “The Ghost in the Gameboy.”

As someone who listens primarily to Synthwave, I am not super well-versed in the Chiptune scene. Chipzel is the name I usually associate with Chiptune thanks to her work on Super Hexagon. Kemikziel is slightly different than Chipzel in that she only uses a Nintendo Game Boy and a tracker program called LSDj aka “Little Sound DJ” to produce her music. Kemikziel represents a small minority of producers who are literally giving 8-bit VGMs life after death.

“The Ghost in the Gameboy” is a Halloween themed EP that centers around all things spooky. Sound-wise the album is everything one might expect out of VGM music from the early 1990s—it’s bouncy, light-hearted, and fun. There’s nothing here that feels out of place. “The Ghost in the Gameboy” isn’t overproduced. This is 100% pure Canadian Chiptune, right from the tap. And girl, it tastes delicious. What makes this release notable, lies in Kemi’s willingness to explore outside the comfort zone of status quo, catchy title screen music. Instead, her strengths really lie in producing atmospheric VGMs that use bizarre combinations of sounds in between melodies. She masterfully uses a lot of portamentos, slides, and dissonant sound effects to push forward the momentum of this EP. When I close my eyes and just listen to “The Ghost in the Gameboy,” I can picture little ghosts tugging on my apron in hopes of getting extra Halloween cookies from me. This vibe is highlighted by Kemikziel’s liberal use of spooky, otherwise uncommon 8-bit FX that twists and bends the overall sound of “The Ghost in the Gameboy” into a concise and impressive mix. It’s pretty clear that Kemikziel knows what she’s doing. This EP demonstrates just how awesome the Game Boy can be as a capable music production tool.

Highlights here include the opening track “Brains?!” which literally sounds like pixel zombies gargling, well, brains. Of all the songs on this EP, I find this one really great for straying outside the constraints of the song’s tempo at around 1:19. Next up is “The Haunted Gameboy” which is the most technically impressive tracks on this release. There’s theremin sounding vibes throughout amidst a crunchy tone that just crushes. There’s also some really cool panning effects here that helps to create a really nice three-dimensional atmosphere. “Bloodthirst” and “Skulls” are the most traditional sounding tracks on the album, but they are also the most focused and overtly dark sounding here. Overall, “The Ghost in the Gameboy” is peak Kemikziel. This is a really good place to start if you’re looking to explore her work further.

RECOMMENDED FOR: People who had a Game Boy in the 90s, VGM fans, and unholy Chiptune adherents who want something pure, fun, and digestible.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Brains?!,” “The Haunted Gameboy,” and “Skulls.”

Album Color Profile: #C8E6C9

You can find all things Kemikziel at https://kemikziel.bandcamp.com/

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