Sounds of Escapism: The Lost Levels
The Lost Levels are a Norwich-based band who are (or at least were at their inception) heavily influenced by gaming. Each track of their self-titled 2006 debut EP, sometimes referred to by fans as the HI-SCORE EP, is expertly woven into the next, creating a hedonistic journey through the mind of a gamer leaving the real world far behind.
On their website the band advises you to, “Listen to it all in one go to appreciate its beauty”. I am inclined to agree. I find it impossible to consider the tracks of HI-SCORE out of context and so what follows is a track by track interpretation of this highly original EP.
(In fact, why not follow that link and listen along as you read?)
Upon hearing the first few notes of opener Cracking Screen, most gamers, at least those of a certain age, can immediately relate to the band’s 8-bit sound. It draws you in, only for them to smack you in the face with loud synth beeps, rock guitar chords and gathering drums. It is an impressive introduction that startles and commands attention. These guys have something to say – and it isn’t the usual story about love, politics or a global crisis (all noble causes, of course); it’s something more personal and close to our hearts. It’s a celebration of gaming.
The Early Sheets is the second and most well-known track from the EP. It has become a highlight of any Levels gig, capable of turning even the most sober audiences into sweaty, frenzied mosh pits. It was the first Lost Levels track that I ever heard, and marked one of those rare moments when you realise you have found music that you can deeply relate to and know that you are going to love it forever. The video for The Early Sheets was created by award-winning animator Steve Jones in 2008 and the track enjoyed a re-release on a later EP :001 in 2009.
If Cracking Screen celebrates the reasons why we game, it could be said that The Early Sheets represents a gamer’s initial foray into a new gaming experience. Almost every track on the EP is a lyrical masterpiece. I especially love lyrics like, “Walk into the waterfall, the secret is there…”, beautiful words that are accessible to all, while also speaking that special language that only other gamers understand.
For a band who describes their sound as “psychedelic indie prog-rock”, what follows is a surprising, simple, yet beautiful piece of electronica. The sound of falling rain sets the scene at the start of Take it All, suggesting that it’s a horrible day out there, so why not stay in for a marathon gaming session? This wistful track is as dreamlike as the state in which we find ourselves in when we are immersed in our latest gaming obsession. As with all good things though, it must come to an end. But not before we’ve overcome that final challenge, which leads us to the next track: The End Boss Theme.
It may sound like a whole load of noise to some, but to others The End Boss Theme harks back to those bygone days of 8-bit consoles. As the title suggests, it evokes the escalating freneticism of a boss battle, starting off slow and steady and building to a furious crescendo before culminating in multiple explosions. Boss: 0, Lost Levels: 1. The End Boss Theme captures the thrill of a classic boss battle so perfectly that I imagine it requires the reflexes of a gamer to play it live! (Not that they could, because that would be insane, right?)
All that’s left now is the end credits, and that awesome feeling you get when you finally complete a really enjoyable game. It’s a mixture of pride and sadness, in as much as you are happy to have completed it, but you are sorry that it’s over. That’s precisely the feeling that final track Game Over leaves me with. It’s like a love song to all our great gaming experiences. And, like all great games, The Lost Levels EP leaves you wanting more.
(Fortunately, there’s plenty more, all of which can be found on The Lost Levels’ Bandcamp page.)