Welcome to the second day of reviews for the newly-released Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 5! As a reviewer, this is a really interesting way of breaking down such a large compilation because we essentially have a separate ‘album’ worth of incredibly diverse material to prepare for dissection, while still relating it to Volume 5 as a whole. I have the distinct pleasure of going over tracks 11-20, which contain some of the best melodic, heavy, and just plain weird tunes on the compilation. Here we go!
A concise description of Chipzel’s style is difficult, but my attempt would be ‘high energy beauty’. ‘Hope (Alpha)’ delivers on both of these levels with shimmering, twinkling textures and crisp percussion work as the backbone of this track. A plaintive melody that fades in and out of the texture, and there are several brief sections where the textures change just enough to not overstay their welcome. I love the level of detail and the amount of activity in this track that manages to never sound too busy or cluttered.
Kudos to the judges and their track order because ‘Komputer Thoughts’ is a great follow-up to the Chipzel track. Opening with a deep and funky bass groove, this tune is a good example of how medium-tempo music can have a groove and still be somewhat sparse and laid back. The solos that accompany the groove are tasteful, with a good amount of space between ideas rather than a barrage of notes that assault the listener. Liberal use of vibrato and subtle volume changes help bring the computer’s voice to life – make sure to read the lyrics!
Arpeggios and synth block chords make for an incredibly lush texture in J▲M▲T▲R’s track ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ inspired by the successful SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and this track would make an interesting and fitting soundtrack to the landing video. Subtle melodic elements appear in and out of the shimmering textures, and variety is achieved in transitions that remove elements from the texture. Pay attention to the percussion in this one, as the bass and snare are present in the louder, driving sections and absent in softer transitions.
The most apt description for ‘thrifty Pete…’ as presented in album order might be ‘…and now for something different.’ AOL wave samples are pieced together amid a bouncy slap bass and punchy organ solos that combine to create something both equally hilarious and elegant in presentation. If I can be so bold, I think this track is the best use of the orchestra hit sample since the theme from the original Mortal Kombat movie. This could work as both a radio/television advertisement for that slimy Thrifty Pete, or being played by the robotic house band in some post-apocalyptic Chuck E. Cheese’s. No spoilers, but this track has the best ending on the whole of Volume 5.
Asleep Droid’s ‘Banana Plug’ provides the first taste of chip rock for my section of the review, and it’s a good’un. The use of syncopation in the introduction riff is something that strikes me as unique among this collection of tracks, and the melodic lines continue the idea with longer tones held across beats. Different blends of live and chip bass between sections are a neat addition to the texture, and the blast of guitar that ends the track is used sparingly, which makes it much more effective at providing the final punch. Fun tune.
Ojiichan’s ‘Memento’ gives us the first LSDJ track of my review, and wins the award for the most captivating introduction. High energy arps and a growling bass provide the foundation for a frantic melody that will get your feet tapping. The use of heavy vibrato and slightly detuned pulse channels really brings the music to life, and there is a ridiculously cool lo-fi moment at 2:26 before the last melody kicks in. Besides the captivating intro, the ending is also unique in that it’s slightly unexpected and, to me, gives a desirable ‘to be continued…’ feeling.
Fellow ChipWIN blog writer Glenntai keeps the retro gaming vibe going with ‘To Struggle Like Kings.’ If Ojiichan’s track was ‘Tetris in Hell,’ Glenntai gives us an open-world adventure theme. After a subdued opening with a simple texture of melody and accompaniment, the track really picks up with added counterpoint and harmony lines near the middle. I really enjoy this mix of complexity because it helps keep the listener guessing while avoiding aural fatigue. Glenntai smartly brings back the simple texture one final time near the end, giving us a chance to hear the opening music within a new context and perspective after 2:00 of development.
‘Noise Ninja’ is an apt moniker for Crab Sound, as this track flips the usual expectation of what constitutes a LSDJ track on its back like an unlucky crustacean. Heaps of chaotic noise channel work, wave sample manipulation, and pulse channel abuse combine in an oddly-pleasing sonic exploration. I think one important element is the emphasis on rhythm; there is a semi-steady beat and the glitch/noise elements are presented in a largely rhythmic fashion. Compare the last 2/3 of the track to the introduction – if the opening texture had simply continued for 3:00, it would certainly be less interesting than what Crab Sound presented to us.
The real beauty of ATCH’s track ‘Village Beneath the Sea’ lies in the gradual build-up of musical ideas and textures that evolve over time. On the surface, this track has an interesting bassline and a really neat transition idea whose use of rests gives a bit of space to the constant stream of notes in the main sections. Pay attention to the transition at 2:24 and notice how effective the arrival of a thinner texture is after such a complex build-up of sounds. The familiar rhythms and use of rests easily makes this my favorite portion of the track, and creates a really nice musical moment on the compilation.
Maybe it’s my inner bass player calling here, but I am such a sucker for a driving bassline in chip music and sylcmyk gives one to us in ‘Licorice’. The overall music is similar to the previous track, with a melodic voice moving freely over driving bass and percussion. I really like the additional accompaniment that is slowly introduced throughout the track, and either I’ve had too much coffee or my ears are detecting a subtle tempo increase as the track progresses – an interesting and under-utilized technique to add excitement and tension to a track.
That’s it for my contributions to the Chiptunes = WIN Volume 5 reviews! Make sure to check in again on Monday evening for the next set of tracks, and if you haven’t grabbed your copy of Vol. 5 yet, the Bandcamp link is calling your name below this text.