For me, the countdown to this epic spectacular was much longer than Lakitu's traffic light signal at the start of any Mario Kart race, going back to February this year when I saw Mississauga jazz-fusion indie prog rock band Dog Drive Mantis splatter and rip this mesmerizing exciting cover live at Brother's Brewing in Guelph (see my concert review here). However, for these fellow 'Sauga stars, this was a massive audio-visual project that began all the way back in 2017. Over thrice the length! Their idiosyncratic independent work is truly reflected in this octane-busting extended arrangement that only Dog Drive Mantis could push into overdrive and beyond!
Dog Drive Mantis takes no detours with the hearts of us children of the late-1990s, as they present to us an 8 minute rendition of Royal Raceway from Mario Kart 64, a classic race track theme by Kenta Nagata from this riveting memorable racing video game of the Nintendo 64 era. This is exactly how the music video begins, with the actual game cartridge in system, being finicky to start up until its blown into (remember doing that?) Enter Derek Serbin on alto sax, Mike Papaloni on guitar, Carmen Haines on bass, and Neilroy Miranda on drums, situated together in a studio space equipped with stage lighting and video projections of Mario Kart 64 behind them. They committed to a full flowing arrangement here: cruising and bursting through the game's menus and race course of Royal Raceway against programmed multicoloured lights and synchronized game play footage.
Those nostalgic chords are tweaked at the get-go on the title screen by Derek's soaring sax singing the main melody with Neilroy's crisp cymbal strikes and grooving drum beat. Effortlessly, they quickly transition to the player select screens, with Mike's dreamy high chordal arpeggiation and Carmen's smooth low bassy groove, showing each of their own character profiles, mimicking in-game characters expressions...which are great and cheeky, allowing their carefree-sides to shine.
We move onto the main course of this thrilling arrangement: the Royal Raceway itself! With Mike imitating Lakitu's signal countdown with his down stokes, the race begins, as Dog Drive Mantis plays through Lap 1 as the track is originally played. Derek taking the lead melody, playing so sweet and spicy with powerful embellishments, acoustically and through effect pedals (one of my influences for my own effected bass clarinet music as Piers Oolvai). The other lads grasp the spirit and momentum, with Mike's snazzy fret board work, Carmen's fluid supportive passages and Neilroy's intricate eclectic textures.
In Lap 2, DDM takes on a calmer stylistic back-road to the original theme based on a slow reggae / samba beat. It is a nice surprising creative change of pace from all those smoking hot vibes they first radiated, giving us a new refreshing atmosphere to sink into. Carmen shines notably bright here with sultry adventurous bass lines, as Neilroy keeping his drumming simple yet omnipresent, Mike creates shimmering waves and Derek slips down sensually with short curves phrases and horn embellishments. This section is short-lived, as the band knocks it into radical burning overdrive for Lap 3, full of vibrant hyperactive layers, a fast frenzy of making it to first place! Personally, I am ecstatic when Derek creates himself a short sax loop, simulating what can only be a panic moment within the actual game play, who then time/pitch-shifts it to the high nether regions. Love it! Another pleasure is the seemingly random appearance of acquiring the Star: the four dudes trail blaze it with Mike executing the item's signature motif beautifully through lively chunky chord strokes.
In the end, everyone is a winner for this personal labour of love. The finale of DDM's Royal Raceway is the results screen, which starting with relaxing romantic post-rock-esque guitar sustains, a joyful bounding bass strut pattern and a perpetual sharp snare/hi-hat groove. All these elements form a wondrous dreamscape, a kind of cathartic feeling of race victory, especially when Derek enters with the melody that is effected with a mixed delay/reverb combination. The coda is simply momentous, as DDM wraps up the entire work with one last surge of glory off their reminiscent adrenaline, playing cascades of intervallic lines in different formations of rhythmic and instrumental unisons.
Dog Drive Mantis takes us for a splendid ride upon a fusion-styled track of complex yet enjoyable design, making childhood memories alive and full of revitalized energy. Fantastical, my human_friends!
Now, witness it all for yourselves below: