Often, musical passion projects inspired by video games feel like empty exercises in recreation or nostalgia, devoid of personal touches or a distinct artistic perspective. Gold Coins, a new release from SHWILSON—the electronic music project of Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist and composer Kyle Wilson—is something entirely different. Rather than covering the music that underscored his favorite childhood games on Super Nintendo or N64, Gold Coins’ original, synth-driven compositions are the product of Wilson’s open-ended adult imagination, full of charm and oddball inventiveness. Its six tracks play freely off his specific memories of the games and gestures from their prominent soundtracks, which helped shape his love of music at a young age.
“So many people have such a personal history with video games, especially from that time period,” Wilson explains. “It was such basic technology that you kinda had to use your mind to fill in the gaps creatively. You just had three little dots and you moved one dot to the game. I think the music played way more of a role back then than it does now because it was such an integral part of the gaming experience.”
Now—a couple of decades after he beat Donkey Kong Country 3 for the first time—Wilson is primarily known for his formidable work as a jazz saxophonist. Among other projects, he leads the band The Burnt Ends, tackling Western swing country music with a hazy lurch that imagines a David Lynch scene set in a Texas dive bar. Humor is a part of every artistic project Wilson helms, but SHWILSON, in particular, is a concerted escape from the world of jazz charts, self-seriousness, and maybe the planet Earth at large. Beginning with an interest in the compositional possibilities of Casio keyboards in college, the instrumental soundscapes became more ambitious over the years; by now, his discography includes everything from psychedelic full-band excursions to balmy ambient music to horror movie soundtracks—a natural fit given the influence ‘80s horror and sci-fi movie soundtracks like Big Trouble in Little China and Videodrome exert on his music.
Wilson’s childhood video game regimen has also always cast a shadow across his writing, but Gold Coins was a chance to fully immerse himself in that world. Wilson created synth-driven fantasias based on textures, melodic snippets, or even specific sound effects that reminded him of games that defined his pre-college years. Outside of video game composers, he found inspiration in uncanny library music, dollar-bin fusion, obscure New Age, and cult electronic records by everyone from Japanese cult icon Haroumi Hosono to jazz pianist Dick Hyman. For Wilson, these assorted vintages of “how did this get made?” mood music records formed distinct, strange, and immersive worlds, much like video games themselves.
With an arsenal of synths and some remote help from his jazz musician friends, Wilson created a collection of lush musical miniatures. Unlike so much propulsive, 8-bit video game music, they are gentle, funky, and smooth around the edges, never losing their cool veneer even when building up kinetic energy. (For instance, “Splashtown Spillway” has a bit of Casio-tone rhythmic muscle befitting the racing game that inspired it: Wave Race 64, which Wilson claims he once tried creating a whole band around). These songs are full of polyphonic ear candy which encourage the listener to conjure their own sense of time and place, separate from any knowledge of the game context. The flutish melodic lead and faint bossa nova echoes on “Cockpit Cruisin’” might evoke a luxury hotel lobby in an interplanetary space station as easily as the action in Pilotwings. “Diving For Rupees”—with an appealingly slumped groove courtesy of guest drummer Sean Mullins—encourages the listener to imagine themselves in free fall in an underwater world, whether or not they’ve ever grappled with the waterfall in Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
While he was working on Gold Coins, Wilson was also bulking up his portfolio as a collage artist, building humorous, otherworldly vistas out of repurposed scraps from old sci-fi magazines, National Geographics, cookbooks, and more. Gold Coins’ compositions have a similarly instantaneous appeal. They both stand as striking new creations built out of eccentric source material from weird cultural corners of the last century, exuding an infectious, slightly cracked energy that can’t help but induce a smile.
released October 15, 2021
Kyle Wilson - Roland JU-06, Moog Grandmother, Casio PT-1, FunkBox, Saxophone
Sean Mullins - Drums (Diving for Rupees)
Noah Garabedian - Bass (Cockpit Cruisin' & Banana Bird Secrets)
Frank LoCrasto - Piano, Synths (Banana Bird Secrets)
Matt Marantz - EWI (Up, Up, Back, Forward, Punch)
Written, Recorded & Mixed by Kyle Wilson
Mastered by Matt Marantz
Collage Artwork by Kyle Wilson
Layout & Design by Derek Eads
Dedicated to Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo & Haruomi Hosono
Diving for Rupees - Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)
Cockpit Cruisin' - Pilotwings (SNES)
Splashtown Spillway - Wave Race 64 (Nintendo 64)
Banana Bird Secrets - Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES)
World Map - Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)
Up, Up, Back, Forward, Punch - Killer Instinct (SNES)
SHWILSON is the electro-psych alias of Kyle Wilson. He explores the versatility of Casio keyboards and synths inspired by the sounds of vintage horror movies and video games to create tasty nostalgia soundscapes and promote posi vibes.