London producer Joe Moynihan started Yamaneko in 2014 by making mixes of actual video game music and his own tracks that were inspired by those sounds. His first album, Pixel Wave Embrace, continued to build on that idea, folding in tropes from grime, UK dance music and new age. As interesting as those tracks were, they still sounded like an artist figuring out what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. Now, two years and a couple side projects later, Project Nautilus [Keygen Loops] is far more focused and self-assured. Moynihan doesn't completely shy away from the typical grime and video game references—tracks like "Gala Helipop" and "Blitter" are excellent updates on early Zomby-style beats. But he's at his best when crafting singular soundscapes from unexpected sources.
While some of the samples and synth patches from Pixel Wave Embrace carry over to these tracks, none are used so gratuitously as, say, "Slew Wave"'s gunshot riddim or are so straightforward as the rudimentary acid stomp of "Accela Rush." The fluttering chiptune melodies of "Elite" billow freely over spacious bass drops and strange percussive samples, while "Pixel Wavedash" explores a similar angle with sword fight FX, trickling water, and an almost imperceptible rumble of sub frequencies. "Loading Bay," with its jittery, dubwise shuffle, feels like a spiritual successor to "Greeen Hillz"; compare the two, and the extra attention paid to dynamic, full-bodied sound design reveals a matured producer. Like Pixel, Project Nautilus [Keygen Loops] ends with an ambient interlude, but "Playing Fields" is more Eno-esque calm than the sweet romanticism of "Adrift."
Moynihan covers a fair bit of ground over his album's ten tracks and 33 minutes, all of which is marked by the same sharp production and compositional openness. "Rushing The Ice Palace" is the sole outlier, and it's so markedly different from the rest that it's hard not to read as a statement. With its 8-bit synths and classic Hirokazu Tanaka-style melody, the song is an clear homage to the music that spawned Yamaneko. Moynihan adds his own stylistic flourishes—a meaty 4/4, hi-def twinkles, some crunchy percussion—but the core palette never budges from its roots. It seems to be a clear analog for how the producer approaches his music, never losing touch with where he began even as he moves on to far-flung worlds.