Writing weekly dispatches on music means I’m constantly seeking novelty. I’m trying to surprise myself, because if something catches me off guard, there’s a chance that my reading audience will also find it intriguing.
In some cases, that novelty could be a particularly weird guitar lick or a voice that takes your breath away. In others, what’s interesting is how an album came together, that it even exists at all. There’s a joy in getting wrapped up in something so distinctively odd that you can’t help but be drawn in over and over again.
In Rainbow Roads is an online mashup album by somebody who goes by the name “on4word.” I have no idea who they are. However, something compelled them to intricately recreate the sounds of the Radiohead album In Rainbows through the medium of the 1996 video game Super Mario 64.
Listeners of a certain age (millennials) will remember being flooded with mashups and remixes all based around some pun, the godfather being Danger Mouse’s 2004 Grey Album, which took the vocals of Jay-Z’s Black Album and made beats out of The Beatles’ White Album. Get it? At the time, listening to The Grey Album, which sparked a whirlwind of legal commentary about the internet and the future of copyright, felt like being offered a glimpse into a whole new world of music.
That both was and wasn’t true, as was the case for so many digital promises of the aughts. Mashups and remixes soon became common, occasionally with artist co-signs. But the fad came and went. The music wasn’t good enough, no matter how clever the pun.
In Rainbow Roads, on the other hand, is completely delightful—if you’re the type of person who has listened to a lot of Radiohead and played a lot of Mario 64. Put Mario’s lo-fi electronic instrumentation into the context of Radiohead’s songwriting, and songs like “15 Step” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” almost sound like they’re being recreated on marimba. This makes sense, considering that Mario composer Koji Kondo has played marimbas nearly all his life.
“The sound of video games originally was the combination of sound effects and music,” Kondo said in a 2001 interview, and maybe that’s what I find so delightful about In Rainbow Roads. The complexity of Radiohead’s music, not to mention Yorke’s quickly changing vocals, makes a true copy impossible. There’s a depth to In Rainbows that can’t be replicated, and this mashup doesn’t try. Rather, it gives the brightest, sunniest day version of Radiohead, lending a shimmer to the band’s famously knotty music.
On4word has taken a tip from Radiohead’s then-revolutionary step of releasing In Rainbows in a pay-what-you-want model by doing the same. If you’ve listened or played either of these, the first click will bring a smile to your face.
And, if you’ve somehow never listened to Radiohead or played Mario Kart, it would be pretty funny if a 2023 online mashup was your first experience with either. It’s music that surprises and delights—perfect for the winter doldrums.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.