One of my favorite games of all time is Earthbound: Mother 2.
The game was made for the SNES, coming out a few years before I was even alive. Fundamentally it’s about a kid leaving home and trying to heal the twisted, zany world around him – and, of course, making friends along the way. Each milestone is a collected melody housed in a special, sacred space where your life points get fully healed.
I remember my first time playing it I was so thrilled with the innovative style – the fun 16 bit melodies, the surprising depth of the story and characters. I’ve always been attracted to wild, colorful absurdism with a large anchor of brutal vulnerability. There are nods throughout the game from the developers that only draw you further into the labor of love such a work is. I’ll never forget the first time I was losing in battle because my character missed his mom too much. You have to call her before you can battle again!
For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about this game as I was researching Philly band, Chanteclaire, and their single, “Ripped Off the Covers”. Their song comes off like the theme song that should’ve been: the game literally starts with the main character “ripping off the covers” of his bed, “10,000 miles from myself, I’ve been trying to find your trace” echoes the feeling of a long journey, “Up on the rooftops in the city / There’s no place to hide,” taking me back to the sudden shift the journey takes from countryside to skyscrapers, and “I’m gonna make it out ok,” – the anthem of survival and pushing through.
Now I’m sure Chanteclaire (which my nearly useless French degree can now tell you vaguely translates to “sing clear”) did not create a theme song for a nearly 30 year old game I happen to adore. In fact, their vocalist Jemma was born nearly a decade after its release, now 19 and a freshman in college, her voice experimental and diverse as a Regina Spektor with shocking moments of power so refined I sometimes think my Spotify radio has put on Florence Welch.
Jemma is accompanied in the band by two guitarists: her brother, Max, and their friend, Elias, who are both five years older and now transplanted to San Francisco working office jobs. Formed during the absurdist play of the pandemic, their sound mirrors the baffling lows and highs of that period of terror, rest, shock, and apathy – wide ranging and barely topical to anything, yet tinged with a fire perhaps only the pandemic-worn could ever understand.
The synergy of the three gives a psychedelic, electronica edge to the music, reaching toward Lennon-esque “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to Susumu Yokota’s “For the Other Self Who is Far Away That I Cannot Reach“. Besides thrilling dynamic changes shifting throughout the song, Chanteclaire’s samples are otherworldly with what I swear is a whale cry sample in the left ear at the beginning of verses, the rhythm shaking with sounds like a thousand clothespins snipping shut. At some point the beat is so persistent and loud it feels like galloping into a void.
Ultimately the message and wide, hallowed vocals have the grandeur of gospel weaved into what can only be described as ambient new wave folk electronica hyperwave indie dreampop-rock.
Okay, maybe that’s not the only way it can be described, but I said what I said.
When I recommend Earthbound to others, they always ask what it’s about. What kind of game is it? Well, it’s an RPG. But like so many cult classics, it’s also a hero’s journey, a puzzle; it’s bright like Pokémon with themes dark as Majora’s Mask. It’s also righteously funny – fantastical as a Warhol Campbell soup can, yet as thoroughly stunning and heart-wrenching as Klimt’s Kiss. And yes, it’s a kid’s video game.
So what is Chanteclaire’s “Ripped Off the Covers”? It’s a hero’s journey, a puzzle, its sounds thrilling and deeply resonant. The band itself says it’s a song about “discovering that you, alone, are enough,” and that, “Sometimes it takes being alone to figure it out.” What is unfathomable about it makes it better, like Cameron staring at Seurat’s pointillist art in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as he finds infinite areas to explore.
It’s a blessing to catch a band of such potential at its nascence.
With a new single already out, now is the perfect moment to catch the painting as the brushstrokes are still being splattered across the canvas. But just like my favorite games, I can only explain so much. At some point it becomes incumbent on you, the reader, to rip off the covers and start your own journey, to go listen to Chanteclaire and see what journey it takes you on.
We’ll hear all the same sounds, yet are guaranteed to go to different places, and find different treasures.
As someone who’s been obsessively listening through their discography, I can tell you one thing’s for sure with Chanteclaire: the journey’s worth it every time.