I remember vividly the first time I played a video game. I was young enough (4 or 5) to be so impressionable that "imprintable" seems more accurate, and I visited a friend's house, where he revealed to me the wonder that was Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Instantly I was hooked, enthralled by the promise of a virtual world whose rules could be easily understood and manipulated for gain, where the myriad limitations of my physical body were meaningless.
Fast forward several decades and video games, once considered the exclusive domain of nerds and social outcasts (this author included humbly therein), have become a multi-billion dollar business whose philosophical trappings can be traced back from Neal Stephenson to William Gibson to the Italian Futurists. Meow Wolf's Arcade Soundtracks: Wiggy's Plasma Plex, from San Francisco producers David Last and Chelsea Faith (aka Cherushii), is a musical love letter to (and from) virtual worlds — and one of 2016's best records.
As its title suggests, Plasma Plex is a soundtrack — to a video arcade inside Meow Wolf, a multi-disciplinary semi-permanent art installation in Santa Fe, NM. (If that sounds confusing, it is, but no matter — this record stands perfectly well enough alone, intended functionality notwithstanding.) Spread across two discs, Plasma Plex is a kaleidoscopic listen, jumping from funky electro-pop to hard-driving techno to nostalgic moody grooves from one song to the next.
In fact, it's hard to imagine a better record to introduce someone to the wonders of electronic music: Plasma Plex flows over with hyperreal sound design and production, but it's anchored by brilliant songwriting and catchy pop hooks. This record may sound cybernetic, but it's got real human heart.
It would be remiss to end without mentioning that Chelsea Faith (who appears here under a number of monikers -- solo as Cherushii and Yvette Sheurich, and in collaboration with David Last as Pleasure Corporation, Tristan Zero, and Soft Crash Crew) was but one of the many otherworldly talents lost to us in the Oakland fire on Dec. 2. My selection of Plasma Plex is not intended as an end-of-life tribute, but a simple recognition of her enormous, seemingly boundless talent. Her spirit lives on in her beautiful music, adding poignant overtones to what was already a remarkable listen.