I’m far too young to have owned or even played an Atari (believe it or not, the Nintendo 64 was the prominent console of my childhood), but the proud ownership of several Gameboys and a hand-me-down NES means that the sound of 8-bit evokes very vivid memories for me: bright summer days neglected in favour of the artificial light of small television screens, or crippling bouts of car sickness coupled with sore “A/B button” thumbs. For those whose gaming past stems back considerably further – the 70s, to be precise – Return Of The Bloop Beep Buzz no doubt conjures a different set of flashbacks, featuring a greater degree of pixilation but an equally extensive array of bloopy, beepy audio. But while its texture may be direct from the source (98% of the sound has been derived from old Atari 2600 systems and cartridges), the music itself deviates from the addictive soundtrack loops that slipped behind the likes of Pac-man and Space Invaders, warping its source material into thumping chiptune dance cuts and ominous lo-fi noise.
It’s not so immersed in Atari nostalgia to abide by the musical limitations of the console itself, and the tracks often heave and bustle with layers of percussive static punches, chattering buzzsaw arpeggiations and beepy glissando movements. The most interesting pieces tend to be the most abstract: the points at which chiptune’s stereotypical high energy is dragged to a halt, and teased into the drones and dissonance of console malfunction. But there’s nothing particularly new about this for the most part. Army Of 2600 is one of many artists trapped (somewhat heartbreakingly) within their own gaming memories, resulting in an indulgence that will only truly fulfil those longing for an 8-bit fix. There’s not enough substance within the music itself for it to warrant appreciation outside of its cultural context, and start-to-finish listens will no doubt test the endurance of those seeking any other form of musical merit; that said, one particularly enjoyable quality of the album is the way in which, after 47 minutes of lo-fi Atari noise, the return to “normal” music suddenly sounds strikingly detailed and somewhat futuristic.