Sup, ChipWINners, and welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column where I break down the highs and lows of an album, then give you a numerical tl;dr to help you determine if something’s worth the bang for your buck. This time around, I have two very unique albums for you coming from opposite ends of the artistic spectrum. One is an experimental noise album that shifts between groovy, funky, and haunting. The other is a highly polished concept album that aims to soothe, please and inspire as it constructs a vision of a progressive not-too-distant future. If both of those sound intriguing, hop on in and take a ride with the big bear, as we explore music from Corkscrew No. 4453556 and 01100001 S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. Subsidiary.
‘Welcome To Scandicci Valley’ by Corkscrew No. 4453556
Hailing from Scandicci, Italy, Corkscrew No. 4453556 is an Avant Garde electronic producer who creates everything from lofi chillout to droning chiptune, banging grindcore to dada inspired musical vignettes with hints of black humor. He does this using a unique blend of drums, samples, white noise, live instruments and found sound which he crafts to great effect. The result of this combination is an artist that is arguably the most diverse experimental artist I’ve encountered. Having first discovered him through a single he released for a more recent album called 0th, 1st, I was immediately caught off guard by how surprisingly booty shaking the dark, sometimes haunting sounds that Corkscrew is capable of producing are. Thus, I dove deeper into his work, leading me to Welcome to Scandicci Valley.
The album starts with ‘The Gypsy Gardenia’, a track that is somewhat similar to ‘0th, 1st’ in style in that it starts off creepy and gets trance-like, but unlike ‘0th, 1st’, ‘The Gypsy Gardenia’ soon separates itself from the former by becoming incredibly urban. Recorded sounds from Corkscrew’s hometown get interwoven with dark atmospherics and a hip hop beat that makes for an experience that’s reminiscent of the ride home from work during a summer shower. It’s a satisfying and refreshing experience, one that keeps you hooked, wanting more, and Corkscrew delivers in unexpected fashion.
As the album progresses, Corkscrew’s playfulness begins to show as he continues to subvert any preconceptions one might have of his at first glance with some surprising industrial dance tracks. ‘Nonsense Eclipse’ would easily find a home in a small club, as it incorporates not only a banging 4-on-the-floor beat, but also throws in low, chest-vibrating super sines, solid bass, scream samples, white noise, and airhorns. Oh so many airhorns. Enough to give B.Knox and Glenntai a run for their money.
‘Suicide Housewife’ takes a snippet from a famous scene in Desperate Housewives, in which Renee threatens to slap the shit out Bree, only for the scene to unfold in such a way that Renee discovers that Bree had prepped a gun for self-harm as opposed to harming Renee. In context of the episode, I’m sure this scene is very moving, but in the context of Corkscrew’s song, it comes across as darkly hilarious, sounding less like a gripping scene from an award-winning drama and more like an fmv clip from a Sierra point and click game. It’s rather absurd and brings to mind memories of seeing a DJ scratch and mix visuals of Kitten Mittens over Tony Ness’s rapping at Vaudville Park in its wackiness.
Conversely, some songs are very much what one would expect from an artist like Corkscrew, as ‘Suca, Scopa and Infamate Docili’, ‘-274 Degrees’ and ‘Iliad’ are dark, atmospheric, slow and dreamlike, almost akin to binaural beats used for meditative and sleep aid purposes. I’m perfectly okay with songs like these, ones that are a bit more typical of the avante-garde, dadaist and experimental music scenes, especially as ‘-274 degrees’ brings forth memories of living and working in NYC. However, I can’t grant the same leniency to ‘S.I’.: the second to last track on the album and also the longest. Not only does its length play against it because it drains the listener’s attention and ability to really ingest it, but it could be argued that maybe, as being a product of an artist who does take Dada as a serious influence, it does its job as anti-art a little too well. It simultaneously turns the listener off while also strangely dragging them through the journey with just enough carrots to make it seem like the song will progress to some climax, only for them to wind up confused as to whether there was an emotional pay off. It’s interesting, to say the least, but the conflict of intellectual understanding vs lack of emotional payoff frustrates me.
The album closes with ‘Blackfire’, a song more rooted in experimental tradition, and one that helps to conclude some of that lingering doubt and lack of comprehension from the previous track. Perhaps what makes this final track a satisfying end note is that it has hints of noise and harsh drums that are somewhat reminiscent of work put out by Bloody Fist Records. This makes for a nice little cherry topper on an interesting cake of an album. And perhaps that analogy isn’t fair, because this album is less like a cake and more like a curry. You look at the dish and expect a hot and spicy stew like meal, but instead of just being hot and spicy, you’re gifted with moments of sweetness, subtle flavor and even freshness. Sure, there might be an ingredient in the curry that makes you say “huh, I dunno if I like that”, but even that ingredient isn’t off-putting enough to stop you from eating the rest of the dish.
If you’re a fan of noise, experimental lofi, or industrial and are looking for something fresh, varied and different, ‘Welcome to Scandicci Valley’ might be the album for you. If you’re a fan of Bloody Fist Records, SKGB, Shit Bird or Baron Knoxbury, I especially recommend this album, as not only does Corkscrew fit right alongside these misfits of chip, but Corkscrew even kinda looks like if B.Knox stole BBQs sunglasses, which is pretty awesome.
Fave Song: Nonsense Eclipse
Price: Name Your Price (Free)
Bang For Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor: 4.3/5
Overall Grade: 4.6/5
‘Arcadia Campus: Virtual Tour’ by 01100001 S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. Subsidiary
Hailing from London, Ontario, S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. is a young person who attributes their musical taste and style to a student exchange they experienced the previous semester, wherein their roommate introduced them to 80s synth music, seapunk and, most importantly, vaporwave. The result is a spiffy concept album that tells of S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T.’s experience in the year 2095, as they’re invited to take a tour on a unique campus that specializes in teaching art and design via telepathy. Right off the bat, I have to say, as far as concept albums go, that’s one of the most bodacious platforms for auditory experience sharing and story telling that I’ve ever heard. I give major credit to S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. on that front for conceiving of an idea that’s not only relatively unheard of in music, but also one that’s surprisingly docile, as most concept albums I’ve heard always have a sense of tension, violence or danger to them.
This gentleness works twice as well when one realizes that not only is it a fantastic concept for an album, but it sets it squarely into the roots of vaporwave, creating the groundwork for the aesthetics yet to come, and boy do they deliver in high fashion. Kicking things off with ‘First Day Simulation’, Arcadia Campus lays down the bedrock of certain themes and aspects of the album that will remain consistent throughout the listening experience: vocal narration by various AI, heavy high hat use, and lush midi piano and synth work work that help put one at ease and feel welcome taking this tour throughout the Academy.
Following up with more energy and wonder are tracks like ‘Arcadia Campus A Store’, ‘Audio Visual Centre’ and ‘High Fashion Photo Studio’. Not only do these drums kick up the energy with heavier drums, the synth work becomes noticeably more reminiscent of the 16 and 32-bit era of gaming, invoking memories of anime like Robot Carnival, games like Zero Divide, and work by artists like 4mat. In particular, I’m rather fond of the use of midi brass sections and hip hop inspired vocal samples to induce a sense of excitement in ‘Arcadia Campus A Store’. Conversely, while it fits into a more PBS educational aesthetic that was common in the 80s, some songs like ‘Campus B Floor 8’ and ‘High Performance Learning Annex’ don’t quite do it for me. They’re certainly vaporwave, but they’re too much of a departure from the almost Persona 3 overworld vibe the rest of the album has to really make me want to listen to them on repeat the way most of the other tracks do.
However, these shortcomings are easily overlooked by the end of the album, especially as some of the better aspects of the album get revisited with ‘Transportation Design’, which brings one last round of funk; ‘Late Nite Java (Arcadia Cafe)’, which invokes more videogame overworld imagery (particularly of shopping districts). Finally, ‘Relaxing Rooftop Garden Plaza’ wraps up the experience quite nicely with the AI reflecting existentially upon the fleeting nature of life at the Academy, creating a sense of Mono no Aware, as you become astutely aware of the end of your experience and realize things are beautiful because they don’t last, even if we want them to.
All in all, 0110001 S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. Subsidiary crafts a compelling album, one which I’ve eagerly added to my mp3 player since my first play-through of the album on Bandcamp. Its examination of a future that might be through a school that our grand children could one day attend makes for one of the most engaging listening experiences I’ve encountered in a good while. Will we ever reach a future in which the word of Arcadia Campus comes to fruition? Only time will tell, but if you’re a fan of music from games like Persona 3 & 4 or Zero Divide, or are a fan of 4mat, I highly recommend downloading this album, so that a little piece of that ideal future is always with you, inspiring you to always move forward.
Fave Track: Arcadia Campus A Store
Price: Name Your Price (Free)
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Value: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4.7/5
Well guys, that’s it for this edition of Quick Shots! Don’t forget to follow the artists above to keep up with their newest happenings, and keep checking back here on the blog for more awesome articles about the newest releases and concerts to hit the scene! Until next time, keep on chipping, and remember that Kuma Loves you!
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