Howdy howdy! For some of our long-time readers, you might remember that the FIRST installment of this column, just over one year ago (back when it was an artist overview column, and not just an album review column) was about this young Californian guy named Vince. A lot has changed in a year’s time, both for us and for him. Here we are, seven compilations under our belt (of which Vince has been ontwo, and had one of his songs remixed for a third), and the fun police haven’t yet tried to stop by and shut us down, so we must be doing something right! Meanwhile, Vince has had two albums out in that last year, in addition to his thriving Soundcloud. How fitting, then, that I should be doing this review, here and now, about Vince’s newest album ‘Ilio,’ since it serves as a fantastic benchmark for just how far this blog and Vince have come in the same amount of time. And little do you all know, but my previous review actually secretly connects with ‘Ilio’ more than you could imagine! (No, I promise that wasn’t a Buzzfeed article name.)
So back on my previous review of Vince’s work, you may notice that there’s a Soundcloud link at the bottom which no longer works. But lo and behold, that track has snuck onto ‘Ilio’ as the second track! Funny how things like that work out. There’s one other track from Soundcloud that made its way into this album, which is ‘Sailboat.’ This is one of the reasons I think it’s a great idea for all artists to have a Soundcloud, or at least some sort of organized place for non-album-affiliated songs – you never know when you might need to use one! What is interesting, though, is that this means that ‘Ilio’ isn’t so much a cohesive album in the sense that it was a planned album with a theme behind it. Given that the lasttwo albums I’ve reviewed here have been straight-up concept albums, it’s refreshing to have an album of mostly unrelated but still fantastic tracks up on the slate.
Now, as I say that this album isn’t a concept album, you may want to take a look at the notes about it from Vince himself on the Bandcamp page. For your convenience, I’ll copypasta that here for you:
“What started as a concept album exploring the softer side of Gameboy music quickly lost focus and became a collection of mid-tempo tunes ranging from straightforward pop to more experimental songs inspired by jazz.”
Which it absolutely is. None of these songs are for raving to, or getting crazy to. These are chilltunes. Some of them lean a little towards slower dubstyle things (like the aptly named ‘Dubpark’), some of them are a little more goovy/funky, like ‘Saraday,’ but they’re all great tunes to calm you down while still serving up enough energy to keep you bopping around. I think probably one of the most satisfying things about the album, though, is the fake ending you get from ‘Shiosai’ – because it’s the final track on the Bandcamp, it’s got the traditional, almost Broadway-style ending to the track, only to have ‘Galaxies,’ the bonus track start playing (which is probably my second favorite track on the whole album) which then ALSO ends with a big finish. (Guess you’ve gotta go get the thing on Bandcamp to listen to it, huh!)
Personally, I love this album for the simple fact that this isn’t what you come to expect when you hear “Gameboy music.” I think this and a few other albums that have come out recently are pushing back on the idea that chiptunes has to be punk rock, or it has to be techno dance music, or it has to be a game soundtrack. Music is music, whatever the instrument is, and it’s good to hear more of these albums coming out showcasing just what you can do when you think outside the box.
That’s all for now, friends! Stay frosty. (Hah, see, that’s a joke, because I live in Richmond, VA, and we literally just declared a state of emergency because it’s about to snow. I hate the South.)
Press play below to fall in love with this powerful foray into 80s electronica, ‘Distant Reality’ by Shirobon.
Released to the masses on Bandcamp February 4th, 2014, Shirobon’s ‘Distant Reality’ is a compact, delicious delve into cyberpunk that infuses you with flowing 80s-inspired synth, weighty bass lines and thoughtful lyrics.
The improvisational nature of the tracks in ‘Distant Reality’ do so much more than simply keep you guessing, they weave inspired transitions together with tell-tale 80s synth to set a mysterious cyberpunk mood that will make you wonder the results of your Voight-Kampff test.
‘Distant Reality’ is a set of 5 killer tracks that waste no time getting down into an 80s groove, embracing it with every single note. This is not a gimmick tacked onto a hacked-together string of ideas, the precision of execution and respect for the era come through loud and clear.
Impressive vocals across the album truly add to the atmosphere including Shirobon himself lending his own robotic vocals to “Regain Control”, “Perfect Machine” and “City Patrol (Stage B)”. “Immune”, however, introduces you to the world Shirobon has created with the unexpected and absolutely alluring vocals of Camden Cox. The weight of the lyrics equal the depth of the bass lines, and the result is beyond immersive.
‘Distant Reality’ tows melodies through inspired funk and synth elements with a directed, yet unpredictable approach to its composition: each change and volley into each new element during a given track on ‘Distant Reality’ feels like the most appropriate direction to shift into, but you simply don’t see it coming. Polished, experimental, and focused, ‘Distant Reality’ is a refreshing exploration of tone and theme in a sea of heartless electronica that deserves your £3 investment.
Shirobon was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his experiences building ‘Distant Reality’, and that interview continues below:
PixelRecall: Camden Cox’s vocals on “Immune” are gripping. How did the opportunity to work with her come about?
Shirobon: Thanks! I have actually known Camden Cox for quite some time. She also did vocals some time ago on my song “Running My Head“. She is a very talented vocalist! I have also produced a group of songs for her which will be released throughout the year!
PixelRecall: Where did you draw inspiration for your lyrics across the album?
Shirobon: These days I like to look up a lot of imagery before starting work on songs. I wanted to go for a Cyberpunk/Futuristic feel while keeping cool and introducing chiptune elements (More of the c64/Sega style) so naturally the lyrics reflect on that.
PixelRecall: The songs on ‘Distant Reality’, most notably with “Cyber Party”, have an engaging, almost improvisational feel to them. What is your creative process like when composing your music?
Shirobon: Well, when I work on a song I like to consider it jamming with myself (or in the case of “Cyber Party” with Radix!). So I would usually come up with some drums or a melody idea and then just jam over them. If it starts to sound good then I hit the record button and take it from there!
PixelRecall: Are you performing the vocals on “Regain Control”?
Shirobon: Yes, I’m a sucker for robotic vocals and love to use my voice when I can! (Also, it’s my voice on “Perfect Machine” and “City Patrol (Stage B)”.
PixelRecall: Did you have a “eureka” moment during the creation of the album you may not have expected to have?
Shirobon: I was having some trouble with “City Patrol (Stage B)” and couldn’t get it to feel good. It started off as a guitar/electro disco number. Before I gave up I thought I would make some changes and plugged in my modular synth and made some chip sounds, from there everything fell into place!
PixelRecall: Do you have a favourite memory from your experiences performing live?
Shirobon: I have had a lot of really fun times performing live and the crowds are always pretty intense, but i think one that stands out the most is when I had a large wall of death and saw this massive dude drop kick a girl in the face! But thankfully she was fine!
PixelRecall: Do you have any shows coming up?
Shirobon: I have a few! Playing at Nintendoom in Belgium which will be a lot of fun. I have quite a few coming up around Europe but i have yet to announce those…
PixelRecall: Any advice for aspiring chiptune artists?
Shirobon: Do it because you love it, not because you wanna make it (big). Popularity in the scene comes and goes but the artists that people love are the ones who have always loved to make (music) and not felt to give it up.
PixelRecall: What was your main goal when you set out to create Distant Reality, and do you feel like you accomplished it?
Shirobon: I just wanted to make something a little different from the generic releases that are out there at the moment, and not to try and jump on a trend and make some kind of bass music! I reckon I did a good job!
PixelRecall: Any final thoughts or news you’d like to share with the Chiptunes = WIN community?
Shirobon: Back Tracking and Distant Reality I consider to be warm up releases to show people what my sounds is like now. With them released I’m going to start work on an album! Still planning what sort of songs I want on it but it’s gonna be a journey that crosses over the sounds of chiptune and synthesizers!
Big thanks to Shirobon for taking time out for the interview!
Now go grab your copy of ‘Distant Reality’ on Bandcamp right now before the next time you hang with your friends so that when they’re like, “Have you heard of Shirobon?” you can be like, “Know him? I have Distant Reality on repeat!”
Pixel Recall ~ (R. Morgan Slade) ~ Support the artists you love
Hey everyone! Danny Pryor here with the first edition of my new column, Prying Questions with Danny Pryor! This will be an interview column similar to that of my friend Kuma‘s
with his Raw Cuts series, although mine will probably get a bit sillier. My intention is to talk to anyone involved in the chiptune scene who’s willing to chat, in the hopes of putting out something both interesting and entertaining!
To kick things off, my first interview is with a ChipWIN regular (he’s been part of the Fb group since early on & has appeared on both Volume 1 & Volume 2) and a fellow that I consider to be one of my personal friends. He is still a youngin’, but I doubt that will stop him from his eventual goal of global domination (or whatever it is he’s into at the time); it’s Neil Williams AKA Brick BRKer!
**BONUS** Stay around after the credits to find out where the name of this column originated!!! **BONUS**
Danny Pryor (Pryor): Thank you Neil for taking the time to talk to someone you talk to all the time and for answering my questions. First off, I have to ask: dam u yung how u no chiptunes?
Brick Brker (BRK): Well…
BRK: When I was even younger than I am now, like six or seven years old, my first exposure to video games was through a hand me down SNES and I somehow managed to pick out all the best games at Game XChange. I’m talking like Super Mario World, Super Mario All Stars, every Donkey Kong Country, Kirby Superstar, Yoshi’s Island etc., so I had the RARE opportunity of getting to experience a “retro” game console like the SNES at a time when all the other cool kids had a Gamecube or something. Soooo, when I got around the age of twelve and discovered what electronic music was, I was naturally inclined to go out and see if there were people that loved the bleep bloop music that I enjoyed so much from those old games.
For a while I only knew about the nostalgic appreciation of past game music, but it was only a matter of time before I discovered that there was entire subculture of people utilizing those old bleep bloop noises to make incredible music of their own.
Pryor: Well it is good to see that you young whipper snappers are getting into the bleeps. The bloops I could do without you all knowing about.
BRK: Did I say bloops? I meant blips. *sweats nervously*
Pryor: I assume that this search for other musicians lead to you the Chiptunes = WIN group and eventually on the first and second compilation albums?
BRK: I have had the honor of appearing on both Chiptunes = WIN Volumes 1 and 2.
I earned a spot on Volume 1 by simply discovering the group on accident like a week or two before the submission deadline for their experimental giant of a compilation album. It wasn’t until Volume 2 that Brandon Hood and everyone else in the Chipwin Facebook group realized the gravity of the situation when they got like 150 something entries and had to actually judge who would make the cut.
And Chiptunes = WIN has gained even MORE attention since then, so who knows how many people are going to submit tracks for the inevitable Volume 3. But I will sure as hell submit AND U CAN BET UR BUTTOM DOLLAR I WILL BRING MY AY GAME.
Pryor: SOOO with all this video game music making does that make you a “gamer”??
BRK: Though I’m not sure how much I like the term “gamer”, I do play video games quite a bit. Practically every day. Or I at least absorb video game related content every day. I love games of all times and genres. I just think they’re an interesting and incredibly fun art form.
Pryor: What about the term “gamer” do you not like? Personally, I could do without the “a”.
BRK: I think it’s just an unnecessary label that was created solely to make the creator feel more important. Like if you really liked to read, you wouldn’t call yourself a “reader” would you? I just play video gaems, mane.
Pryor: I totally get it dude…*enlightening moment*
BRK: *angelic choir singing in the distance*
Pryor: Well then, I got to ask…what games are you playing?!?!?
BRK: I am currently replaying The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess because I’ve reached the point of having forgotten a lot of the game itself. So now, I can go back and replay it like it’s a new game, but it’s also pretty nostalgic since the first time I played it was during my angsty twelve year old phase.
But yeah, it’s tied for first in terms of my top favorite Zelda titles, so it’s given me something to distract myself with while I wait for games to actually release on the Wii U.
By the way, speaking of Zelda, fingers crossed for the reveal of the next console Zelda at E3 2014. I hope they deliver since they’ve finally got a console to work with that can handle everything they throw at it.
Pryor: At this point, we can only pray… I am assuming you are pretty big Zelda fan, mostly because you said the word Zelda a whole bunch of times. Does this mean you have played ALLLLLL the Zelda games???
BRK: Not ALLLL of them by any means. Everything I have played though has been superb and I intend to keep up with all the future releases. A Link Between Worlds was gr8, btw. But it’s not ALLL I play by a long shot.
BRK: Some of my other favorite modern titles are Halo, Bioshock, Half-Life, Portal, Donkey Kong Country, Mirror’s Edge, and Mario Galaxy. At this point I’m just looking at the games on my shelf. In terms of PC/indie games, I really love stuff like VVVVVV, Super Meat Boy, Fez, Limbo… that kinda stuff. Minecraft is pretty neato as well. Then again, my laptop isn’t exactly a gaming PC, so I can’t really get into the big PC exclusives very well other than those indie titles that aren’t very graphics-intensive. Btw, I have loved the music and soundtracks to all the games I’ve mentioned here.
Pryor: You have some phenomenal taste in games. Commendable.
BRK: thank u
Pryor: Any influences into the bleep bloops you are using now? Or any artists influencing the way you compose?
BRK: So after playing around with the pirated (*gasp*) digital audio workstation known as FL Studio for a year or two to actually learn how electronic music is sort of created, I eventually got my hands on my own EMS cartridge and a copy of LSDJ (which I actually bought with real money(!!!)) to use with my father’s old Game Boy.
As far as influences go, I look to larger artists in the chip world like Dubmood or Shirobon, and even artists that aren’t really chip at all like Unicorn Kid for inspiration, but I also try to stay connected with the chip community as a whole because I look up to a lot of lesser known artists as well. It’s always cool to learn new tricks and stuff to use in LSDJ.
Pryor: Have you experimented at all with any other tracker programs? What made you want to use LSDJ?
BRK: I’ve played around with Famitracker a bit, but that’s about it as far as trackers go outside of LSDJ. I really wanted to actually play around with LSDJ because I enjoyed its sound the most. Plus the thought of being able to create “authentic” chipmusic on the go was pretty cool. I also won’t deny that being able to synthesize actually cool sounding music on something like a Game Boy is pretty badass, imo. And hip as fuck to boot. But seriously tho, I love the program itself. The way it’s set up makes the creation process easy once you’re used to it.
Pryor: It is pretty swell being able to make music on the go. Have you put out any album of any kind or are you planning on it?
BRK: If Soundcloud constitutes a disc type object, then yes, I have. I’ve dumped all my music I’ve deemed worthy, from the very first piece of ambient bleh I created on my iPad to the recently posted preview of a track from my UPCOMING EP.
Obvious the scrutiny with which I select what tracks I post to my Soundcloud has gone up over the years…or months. Once I get this whole super srs EP business sorted out, I should be posting quiiiite a bit of content in 2014. There are things being planned. Things that are probably not as exciting as I might lead you to believe, but they are being planned nonetheless… So yeah.
BRK: *cough* *cough*
Pryor: LISTEN I ADD THE LINKS!!!!!….Okay I have nothing after that…I thought it would go somewhere but I think that about does it. I don’t really see any reason to keep this conversation going.
Pryor: Now I am going to rearrange this conversation in a fashion that makes me look like I know what I am doing. Thanks again Neil, for your time and patience with this process.
BRK: no Danny. thank U.
And this concludes the very first interview at Prying Questions. Make sure to check out the links below to listen to Brick Brker’s music, add him to your social networks, and/or just to do some good old fashion internet lurking. Keep an eye out for his EP ‘BRKOUT’ set to release sometime this Spring!
For those of you who were unaware, over at the Chiptunes = WIN Facebook group there are self curated, group sustained, ever-growing lists of both chiptune and VGM artists – both active and past. These lists were initially created by Brandon L. Hood and expanded upon by the community as a way for enthusiasts and artists to expose others to their music, and as a place for the curious to find something new.
About a year ago, those lists were the seeds that sprouted into this:
The map is meant to be a tool for everyone to use to find, explore, and spread knowledge of chipartists, visualists, and video game musicians. Fan of chiptunes & visualizations, and/or VGM? Explore the map to find new artists from around the world. We literally have at least one artist from every (habitable) continent! Planning a tour? Find out what artists are out there to contact for show booking! Looking for collaboration? Click on the corresponding gdoc spreadsheet to find links to the music makers that inspire you.
This map is for the community, by the community! But I, curator Ryn McQ, am a lonely chiptune newb with only social media to guide me. So if in your exploration you come across any information on the map, spreadsheet, or list that is outdated or incorrect, shoot an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll get it fixed. If you want to be on the map and aren’t, send an email to the same address with your artist name, type of creation (chip/VGM/visual), and social media link(s) to your works. And I’ll get it done!
You are what’s needed to keep the map growing and alive!
Sup y’all? =) Prez Hoodie here. It’s been a while since we’ve had a guest spot here on the blog, but today we’re fixing that! A good friend of mine, Glenn Dubois aka Glenntai, contacted me recently about sharing a review via The CWB. While I was already well aware of his multiplicity of talents & involvements (Clipstream, Boston8Bit, chiptunes, Nerdfit, dickbutts, etc.), I was not mindful of his aptitude for writing chiptune reviews! Although now that I am, expect me to happily take advantage of this skillset (you asked for it, Glenn; quite literally <3 ). And on that note, let’s pass it on to Mr. Tentacle Head himself! Take it away, Glenntai!
‘Aces’, by Various Artists, via RSVP Tapes
Hey guys, Glenntai here coming at you with a review of an upcoming album set for Valentine’s Day! It differentiates a bit from the usual repertoire, but I’m sure you’ll most certainly enjoy it. After all, let’s be realistic here: I think it’s safe to say we all love chiptune/chipmusic. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here! Hell, I wouldn’t have written about it in the past, but there’s times where we stumble across great music that isn’t chip-related, or is perhaps only very meagerly chip-centric in its entirety. That’s when I received a digital copy of ‘Aces’ in my inbox with the message, “Enjoy mate!”
‘Aces’ is an exclusive compilation through RSVP Tapes of electronic music featuring twenty artists from around the globe. Compiled by local Boston-area legend Radio Scotvoid, producer and DJ of many sweet jams (and recently a new member of the father club— ‘grats again, bud;) the compilation was designed under a few, brief and strict guidelines:
These artists, or “Aces” of their trade in their own right, would create a song at either 80 or 160 BPM at roughly a 3-minute length in order to release this album on a loudly-dubbed, high-quality c60 cassette. What was produced was an hour’s worth of solid downtempo, skweee, dnb, FM and chip with enough soul, rhythm and ambience to make an hour feel like it almost instantly passes by in a bass-filled cloud of bliss.
The album’s overall mood is semi-atmospheric as a whole with plenty of hip-hop, drum and bass-centric influences. Starting this album off with ‘Kevari’by Mesak was a great decision. Simplistic basslines and a percussion line creeping slowly in and out as if you’re awaiting the lead-in towards the next big wave of sound was a fitting way to start the album. Equally fitting for the next track, Kantoripoika’s ‘Helvetti’provides all of that and more with its deep and almost ominous-feeling bass kicks.
For notable and chip-related tracks, Spunky Brewster’s ‘Invasion of the Froglomites’ is a shining example of how many people in the chiptune scene are missing out by not giving FM a chance. If you’re asking yourself, “Right, but how good is the track,” you’ve clearly yet to discover this is also made by the man behind instant-classic acts such as Oxygen Star, Doomcloud, SadNES, Radlib, Steady C and Rolly Mingwald. You have been forgiven. For the sake of explanation, however, this track brings a more dramatic form and melodically-driven tension to the album and uses some classic O2star-era leads.
ABSDRST may be focusing more on his hip-hop beats instead of his chiptune creations nowadays, but that doesn’t mean an ounce of the quality has gone down. If anything his track, ‘Little Lies’, has only shone through to show how much talent is behind him when he isn’t focusing on hardware limitations. One can only hope he comes back to produce a chip-hop album that would leave the more talented and respected linguists drooling to collaborate.
Admittedly, I had not even heard of DKSTR before this compilation, but in ‘Done & Done’ his use of SID drums and leads behind some soft synth pads not only fits but puts definition to the soulful, rhythmic vibe half-way through the album.
All in all, this album is a fantastic, bass-filled voyage through electronic sound that can be as equally engaging and enjoyable when directly paid attention to or played in the background for pretty much any occasion.