They Look Like Good Strong Hands are a chip tunes band with all the tunes, but none of the chips. Favoring guitars and drums over 8-bit beeps and buzzes, the band holds true to the style of chip tunes music if not the exact sound. Buzzing and picking endlessly, the guitars on THIS IS BOSS pay homage to 8-bit era video game music in the same way as such renowned cover artists as The Minibosses, The Advantage, or even Austin’s own Descendants of Erdrick. The result is a sound that emulates those 8-bit classics, but with a grittier, more organic feel. Unlike those other bands however, They Look Like Good Strong Hands aren’t playing covers, these guitar-fueled 8-bit facsimile’s are 100% original.
Even before pressing “play,” THIS IS BOSS evokes a nostalgia for the 80’s video game music that inspires their sound. With track titles like “Press Start,” “Stage 1,” and “Fin,” the arc of an 8-bit adventure is laid out before us. That they’ve chosen to include the sound of someone blowing into a game cartridge (a “why won’t this thing work” ritual that all 8-bit Nintendo fans’ lungs will recall) in the intro to the album acts as both a nostalgic dog whistle and a mission statement for the next 24 minutes of music. The sad truth however may be that it’s this adherence to nostalgia that makes this just a decent album and not a great one.
While the album is six tracks in total, the bulk of the music happens on the tracks titled “Stage 1-4.” There is an obvious effort being made on each of these four tracks to match a certain 8-bit in-game music style and structure and while technically successful I can’t help wonder if that’s what holds this album back for me. On “Stage 1, 2, and 3” especially I find that each track’s intro sections leave me a little cold, sounding like covers of a game I never played nor heard of and therefore have little connection to. Part of the way through each of these tracks however, TLLGSH seem to break the mold a bit, getting a little looser with both the structure and the sound and ultimately making the songs pop in a good way. “Stage 4” never really reaches this same climax, although as a more structured 8-bit style song (a boss level to be sure) I feel that it succeeds as a whole much better than those similar parts on the preceding 3 tracks.
In the end I feel like THIS IS BOSS is a decent step on the way toward something else. There are parts of the album that feel really good, but unfortunately no one track ever really grabbed me like I hoped it would. Bands like Anamanaguchi and Cinemechanica have shown that there is definitely a place in the world both for chip tunes and 8-bit inspired music that are not also covers. Based on what I’ve heard so far, I think that They Look Like Good Strong Hands have the chops to go well beyond just “decent” in that realm, but in order to get there they’re going to have to break the mold. As an album, THIS IS BOSS is not a bad listen, but TLLGSH don’t get to add their initials to the high score list just yet. Insert coin to continue.
– Brian Audette