In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs we discovered in video games.
Cibo Matto, “Birthday Cake” (1996)
Jet Set Radio is Sega’s cel-shaded, inline-skating game that takes place in a future Tokyo where free expression is outlawed. Sort of Footloose by way of an issue of Giant Robot, except instead of angrily dancing with farm equipment to rebel against authority, you skate through the city, creating elaborate graffiti and claiming territory from opposing gangs.
Jet Set Radio was well-received, but also had the misfortune of appearing on the Dreamcast, Sega’s under-supported—and final—game system. Two years later, the game was slightly reconfigured and released on the original Xbox as Jet Set Radio Future. Along with a few changes to the gameplay mechanics, Future featured an updated soundtrack.
In a solid, but thematically similar assortment of zippy space bloops, Cibo Matto’s “Birthday Cake” is the strongest addition to Jet Set Radio Future’s music. At first, the Japanese expat duo’s absurd, frenzied anthem to over-protective parenting might seem dissonant in a game about rebel teens ripping up the streets. But it’s easy to imagine the ghoulish caricature of a mother baking a rancid cake for her 30-year-old son as the kind of stifling home life neuroses the player is fleeing from as they race down the corridors of Tokyo-to. Having a “Beat It”-style dance-off gang war against a band of mummy-themed goons seems preferable to facing down the woman who, when asked, “It’s moldy, Mom, isn’t it?” about the milk in the cake, replies with “I don’t give a flying fuck though!”
“Birthday Cake” has a dirty, loosely produced sound that stands out against the games slick, trippy synth beats. When building up a rail-grind fast enough for your character to leap between skyscrapers, it’s energizing to have singer Miho Hatori’s strained, distorted vocals exulting:
The original Jet Set Radio was updated and re-released in 2012, but there’s no indication Jet Set Radio Future will receive the same treatment. Absent that, just listen to Cibo Matto’s Viva! La Woman. Preferably not while attempting to skate up the side of a city bus.