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Andrew Kilpatrick Talks: ‘MAGFest = WIN’

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If you’re reading this you’ve probably had MAGfest happenings drilled into your skull for the last two months or so (definitely not the words of an incredibly jealous man -______-). For the uninitiated: MAGFest is an annual video gaming & music festival taking place just outside of Washington D.C., this year in its 12th iteration and featuring a chipmusic stage curated with the help of the Chiptune = WIN team [read: Brandon]. The ever-genius that he is, Brandon thought the best way to celebrate this momentous coalition was to create a compilation comprised from twelve of the MAG 12 chip performers and release it under the Chiptune = WIN banner AT MAGFest…. AND THAT HE DID. My thoughts/feels/jealous insults regarding the release below:

01. Chipocrite – High Fives (To The Face) [new remix]

8static veteran and Philly’s resident chiptune-cover artist, Chipocrite, starts the album with a huge, monstrously catchy track. Dipping and diving between tense build-ups and ballad-pop phrases, ‘High Fives…’ has more twists than a dozen oxbow lakes and some masterful melodic play too, all sounding rather melancholic and compositionally mature, with so much ground covered in so little time. It’s clear from this single track why the talent has gained such currency in the live circuits.

02. Roboctopus – Good Night Stars

Roboctopus. Multi-instrumentalist, composer extraordinaire and writer of one of my favourite 2013 release, the godly ‘Disco.txt’. If that isn’t enough to get you soaking about hearing this, then hopefully the following hyperbole will. ‘Good Night Stars’ is exactly what you would expect from a Roboctopus track, in that it is masterfully composed with incredibly affective melodies, a range of styles too large to be represented empirically and those beautiful LSDJ instruments which solidify both his sound and his unique voice so succinctly. A masterclass in how LSDJ should be programmed, and how to stand out strong in the sea of mediocrity that the chiptune scene can be.

03. Danimal Cannon – Red Planet

Member of Armcannon, releases on Ubiktune, split with Zef, known for his flagrant flaunting of untouchable guitar skills alongside demanding but rewarding melds of progressive metal and chipjazz. Yep, Danimal Cannon makes an unsurprisingly incredible appearance on this compilation. Sounding not unlike label mate Yoann Turpin via Dream Theater/ [insert djent band of choice], ‘Red Planet’ sees Danimal scratching another notch off his ‘top ch00ns’ bedpost, with some incredibly well-produced guitars thickening his masterfully composed chiptune in a genuine musical spectacle.

04. Trey Frey – Vox Humana

A king in the dying days of 8bc, over the last few years things from Trey have been fairly scarce. However, following a recent slew of highly regarded live performances, the promise of a new full length in the pipeline, a track finishing off the WeeklyTreat project for 2013 [*cough cough* self-advertising *cough*] and now this, it seems the stars have aligned in the Earth’s favour. It appears Trey Frey is back. Coming home only like he would, ‘Vox Humana’ is a seething patchwork of fluid noise, beats, melodies and EDM, foaming at the mouth with groove. If you’re at MAG and you missed his performance shut up forever.

05. Rainbowdragoneyes – JjasonSalazZ

Known under for his blending of metal and europop, Rainbowdragoneyes doesn’t let his slightly bewildering reputation down an iota. Returning to that oddly effective genre mashing, (but more on the side of europop here), RDE throws together guttural “hey”s, scalic arps and polka inspirations into a full broth of addictive, chantable and down-right ‘barmy’ (so Radio 4) funky chip pop. There are a few overzealous pirate analogies in there somewhere to explain this, but I’ll let you find them yourself.

06. nickelPUNK – Outrun 2.1 (ft. Ryn)

Funky 80s house from nickelPUNK with accompanying vocals from the President’s First Lady. May seem a bit mis-matched on paper, but the music itself is precise and gorgeous, rife with Miami House vibes, the Hotline Miami soundtrack ran through the Telefuture mincer. Not only that, but the vocals on the top are, well, simply put: Erin’s singing sounds as good as her cooking looks. Only let-down is it’s mixed by Brandon, so if they’d shaken the dead weight it could have been a straight ten but, oh well. He’s always gotta let the side down. [Editor’s note: Suck it, Kilpatty, you smelly buttfart.]

07. Inverse Phase – Unit F [Amiiiiigaaaaa edit]

Originally written for a compilation in 2010 to help aid the fight against cancer, Inverse Phase has re-imagined his own track with Amiga sounds. Known probably better for his many cover releases, tracks like this solidify why he gets called to make soundtracks, play live and put forth for compilations like this time and time again; ‘Unit F’ is incredibly well-written. Simple. Lurching around with incredibly eerie tones, an unsettling atmosphere and some ingenious counter-melodies and scalic work running over the track, turn out the lights and prepare to weep (and not because you missed MAGfest [well this time anyway]).

08. Awesome Force – The MAGnificent Sinner

If his mind-blowing BRKfest set (still streamable on his Bandcamp) didn’t clue you in already, Awesome Force is an awesome force to be reckoned with live (just kill me now). The track he’s supplied jumps between nods to drum n bass, huge melodic motifs, syncopated funk bridges and a slowly building intensity that is as all-encompassing as it is effective; it will literally asphyxiate you with squarewaves. Dripping in as much energy as there would be sweat if you’d seen him live, this track only goes to further highlight Sean Baker as a rising and incredible talent in the chiptune scene.

09. TheDutchess – The Private i

Sega Genesis chiptune, reeking of the 80s and melodically focused? And melodically focused it is, every single second is swarming in unforgettable motifs, as jabbing basslines, glittering leads and clinking counter-melodies build into layers of jazzfunkprogchip. If this doesn’t contain elements of live jazz-esque improvisation, then TheDutchess certainly does a fantastic job of emulating them. One of the strongest composed tracks on the compilation, or on any Chiptune = WIN compilation for that matter. MAG’s booking of this artist was an act of genius. Be sure to check him out before his popularity explodes, if not for support than for bragging rights at least.

10. RobotSexMusic – South Station Breakdown

The Andrew W.K of chip, Boston’s party-chip ambassador Peter Hegarty (aka RSM) is up to his ol’ cheeky tricks again. Inescapable beats, affecting melodies, diverse and powerful wav work, and a shed-load of dance-floor filling attitude, this is RobotSexMusic almost as it should be heard, lying somewhere between EDM, drum n bass and with the ever-so-slight tinges of unce. Another un-missable live act that somehow translates a live energy into the studio. All hail the party king.

11. Auxcide – Revelry

Resident artist at Pxl-Bot and 8static, been on more compilations than memory can serve and rose meteorically to popularity within the scene, and all since 2012. How? This track does a fairly good job of explaining. Auxcide’s ability to meld truly jaw-dropping, heart-rending melodies reeking of the astral has always been unparalleled, and mix that with a genuine ear for dance music and attention paid to audience reaction to music, Auxcide manages to craft another trip through musical space, leading you by hand, captivating as always. Words are pointless at this stage, if you’ve not listened to him before, partake and fall in love.

12. Kubbi – The Cairn

That bloody cat-loving Norwegian. Not content with being one of the most talented composers in the electronic music scene altogether, with the ability to seemingly pluck unendingly grandiose and emotive pieces from nowhere, whilst retaining generic sense in the fields of progressive rock, classical music and electronic dance simultaneously, the Scandinavian devil has decided that one country is not good enough to be graced with his presence. The very nerve. Now he’s off gallivanting to the New Frontier, seemingly hell-bent on world domination, bringing this predictably ingenious, poignant and stylistically diverse track with him. Makes me bloody sick it does.
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And so that’s it! Whilst being one of the shortest Chiptune = WIN compilations to date, it is definitely also one of the most consistent and eclectic. If you missed out on all the MAG 12 fun here, I guess, is a small token to help you through the tough time. Or it’ll push you over the edge and you’ll cry for days. Good work Brandon, idiot.

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Andrew Kilpatrick Talks Chiptune and Hiatuses

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I’ll be taking a leave of absence here on the Chiptune = WIN blog following this piece. Life events (positive ones!) have left me even more strapped for time than before; but before bowing out I thought it’d be best to talk you through three of my favourite artists in the scene, why I love them and where you should begin. Hopefully it’ll keep you busy whilst I’m gone! Intro out:

little-scale: Definitely in the first wave of artists I discovered who made me obsess over chiptune, little-scale has, for years, been blowing my mind whilst tugging my heartstrings. A few fun facts: he has a PhD entitled “On The Development Of An Interface Framework In Chiptune”[read: he is literally a doctor in chiptune], he wrote a new song every single day in 2010 as part of the LazerScale challenge, he has released what must be now at least 25/30 EPs or albums AND often, entire EPs are sourced from a single sample which is then manipulated endlessly (the recent ‘Heavy Deep’ was created only from noises made by a ribbon, a metal cup and a road sign).

Musically, little-scale bridges the gap between ambience and deep, experimental house/trance. The strength of his music lies in its ability to move physically and emotionally, with songs often teetering off into trance-inducing pulsations of luscious tones and massive percussion. The title track of May’s ‘Set Your House On Fire’ displays this beautifully: emotively bittersweet and crushing, all with a confident groove behind it.

My favourite release? Whittling down a back catalogue this robust would be extremely difficult if it weren’t for ‘Nothing Has Been Left Unspoken’. Released on Saskrotch’s Handheld Heroes label back in 2009, this collection of 12 tracks does a pretty sturdy job of defining little-scale’s sound. Mixing the pure euphoric feelings of warm analogue tones in tracks ‘Wake Up, Space Cadet!’ with experimental beat-laden melancholy seen it tracks like ‘Visual Confirmation’ and ‘Delusions’; not for a second does this album cease being incredible. Download it as soon as you can, if you haven’t heard it you’re missing out on one of chiptune’s greatest opuses.

x|k: Don’t ask me how it’s pronounced. Famous (or in some places infamous) for his creation, the Midines, as much as for his music, x|k has gone almost completely silent in the last few years. Nevertheless, his 2005 release on 8bitpeoples, ‘Nestek’, is still THE greatest electronic dance release ever.

Why? Well, x|k’s sound could aptly be described as a ‘tirade of rave’. Not for a second does ‘Nestek’ let up, from the ridiculously no-nonsense breakbeat-tinged opening ‘Connekt’ through the huge accented and dance-causing claps in ‘The Bytemaster’ through the glittering pulses of ‘Terminal On City’… etc. Though the dancing may never stop, neither does the effectiveness of the melodies; and it is this duopoly of melodic emotiveness and dancefloor mastery which really lets the EP shine, as every single one of the five tracks stands out as an unforgettable testament to the power of dance music when used in the right way. You’ll dance whilst you cry.

If the pure genius of ‘Nestek’ wasn’t enough, his 8bitpeoples follow-up, ‘Outra’, is a 20 minute mix of everything from chip-trance through to deep house and sparkling techno. With only a few tracks dotted around various comps, an EP on mp3death, 40 short self-written ‘midines demos’ and a far-from-up-to-scratch full-length (seriously, don’t bother), there may not be a lot of his work, but what there is is often outstanding.  Now someone get him to comeback tour and I’ll meet you on the dancefloor.

Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia: A background description on this incredible talent is fruitless to attempt, as shrouded in mystery as ‘ZZZV’ is. Releases from ‘it’ stretch back to 2008, with albums on Pause and inpuj shortly following, as well as a plethora (and I mean PLETHORA) of B-side compilations, the Meep series, various EPs and an entire fan label seemingly devout towards the jazz-funk deity that he is.

As hinted at above, Zan-Zan’s sound is heavily ‘Ubik-esque’ in execution. Mixing vintage VGM sounds, 70s prog rock, jazz, funk, and possibly hundreds of other subgenres, Zan-Zan’s tracks never ever sound alike, whilst still having a very particular ‘ZZZV style’ to them. If the complexity of the compositions weren’t enough, Zan’s ability to program NES modules is, quite simply, unsurpassable.

As evidence for all of this hyperbole brandishing, I point to my favourite Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia track, the first track on the first ‘Meep’ album. Over the past few years Zan has been releasing albums entitled ‘Meep [insert rhyming word]’ with four in the series out thus far. Within, all tracks range in length from seconds to just over two minutes, are named ‘Meep #something’ with an actual title in brackets, and, most importantly, reek of a strange lo-fi genius. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Meep #002 (how did i lose those things i was wearing)’.  Beginning like a soothing but extremely creepy ballad, the sliding notes eventually give way to the melody. A melody that simultaneously is disturbingly unsettling and breath-takingly beautiful, before a driving beat drives through the centre and the progjazz really cuts loose. Then, as quickly as this shift happened, the track plays nice again, with calming arps and counter melodies taking over before the disturb-o-beauty returns once again. And all in the space of two minutes and eighteen seconds. And some of his tracks are over ten minutes long.

What really gets me about his music is the depth. Everything seems bottomless, even the brief 30-50 second spurts of some tracks sound like full ideas encapsulated and perfected. Each track on the Meeps could demand their own sub-genre and following, and that limitless complexity is what makes Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia’s music some of the best on the planet. And I mean this literally. If you’ve not introduced yourself to the fantastic work within, download the Meeps, take two hours out, get some headphones and prepare to be absolutely astonished. My mind is still being blown three years on.

And thus our brief journey ends. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the above suggestions, and hopefully I’ll be back relatively soon, but until then keep tuning in to the other fantastic writers here on the blog and all the best!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~xoxoxoxo~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

little-scale: Bandcamp | Facebook | Site | Soundcloud

x|k: Site

Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia: Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud | Youtube

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Andrew Kilpatrick Talks: HunterQuinn’s ‘VanitySelector’

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Over the past two years, a small group of chipsters from Cincinnati have been slowly infecting the scene with their quality output. Events such as cartRAGE cemented them as an enclosed but vastly talented collection of artists. As their influence became steadily more prominent, AndaruGO joined prolific label Datathrash as staff, and SSD Engage, an amalgamation of artists SPRY, spOOked and Disabletron, were booked to play the mega-fest 8static. Hunter, however, always seemed to be overlooked slightly. ‘VanitySelector’ appears set to change that.

HunterQuinn’s music always excels melodically, no more truer than here; tracks blast hugely emotive phrases, diving through free-form structures and constantly shifting into stylistic boundaries you’d never suspect they would. The melodies are so emotive in fact, ‘VanitySelector’ sounds like a monorail through the various states of melancholia. ‘SuperSpire’ reeks of desperation, and the fizzing beats behind the surging emotions fit perfectly. ‘Selector’ climaxes by dropping into the audio personification of heartbreak, and ‘RelativeObjectivity’ opens with trance harmonies, lending the track some dream pop atmosphere whilst an ever-present percussion/bass duopoly thunders through.

Whilst this formula of psyche-destroying melodies coupled with vicious beats is predominant throughout, its application is flexible. ‘Splicers’ tessellates into subterranean bass dips before riding itself into angular rave-like melodies, whilst ‘ForeverFaceless’ features boaconstructor basslines alongside Starscream melodies, running parallel in a simultaneously contradictory and complimentary manner. It’s that level of expert craftsmanship that has always set HunterQuinn apart. His music exceeds community standards and is frequently one step ahead of other programmers, a unique voice in a sea of meaningless shit, and one that expels much more emotion than should be possible. Without a single doubt, HunterQuinn is one of the greatest talents this scene has had, and you’d be a fool to give this album a miss. Or not give him his well-deserved dues. 

BandcampTwitter Soundcloud | Youtube

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Andrew Kilpatrick Talks: µCollective’s Compilation, ‘Vol. 1’

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Following the dramatic closure of 8bitcollective, Sam Wray, 8bc’s then last hope, created a site to fill the hole the collective’s ruin would leave. µCollective shortly followed in October of 2012. In a bid to expand, µCollective is putting out their first compilation, a physical only collection of sixteen tracks, to debut at SuperByte. Featuring hugely revered acts (cTrix, Paza, nordloef), lesser known artists (Balloonbear, Skin Walker, <3an) and those somewhere in between (Auxcide, Holy Konni, Decktonic), ‘Vol. 1’ hosts a hugely varied selection of talent.

Getting the negative out of the way: the album’s introduction is weak. Beginning with Byzanite’s inessential take on EDM, ‘Cakebomber’, most listeners are going to quickly see through the thinly veiled lack of substance. ‘Cakebomber’ is followed by the underwhelming ‘Mysterio Guitar Sloth’ by Holy Konni, a track that’s nice enough, but doesn’t even touch the quality of his recent output (though the guitar sampling is a nice touch). Elsewhere, Paza throws up the compilation’s most disappointing moment. ‘Damn Lokki’ constantly builds to absolutely nothing, all grating ‘melodies’ and tiresome percussion in a faux-gabber abomination.

Elsewhere though, the quality is incredibly high. PANDAstar‘s ‘Delirium’ features the album’s most euphoric melody, unforgettable and beautifully sweet, whilst <3an’s ‘Mariana Trench’ seeps watery, lucid delivery, a blend of slow-moving bass and deep ambient undercurrents. Kubbi manages to meld progressive electro with pop melodies and danceable beats on ‘Void Pt 2 (Renovation Mix), and Auxcide supplies those trademark, epic space melodies, slathered over thick layers of gorgeous harmony.

The best tracks on ‘Vol. 1’ are those where the artists outdo themselves. Decktonic’s ‘Dancing Is Permitted’ is a vigorous froth of summer melodies and strong kicks that are irresistible. ‘Czar’, Cheapshot’s contribution, is swagger at its most effective, conveying groove through enormous beats, making it the most exciting Cheapshot track in some time. nordloef’s outstanding ‘Mark II’, repeats this excitement, showing the veteran’s ability to remain as fresh and melodically robust as ever. The album’s crowning glory, however, is the final track, Vince Kaichan’s ‘Sailboat’. Full of striking motifs, harmonies, and layers of delicate nuance, ‘Sailboat’ is a testament to Vince’s growing prowess. It not only sounds strong beside the likes of cTrix and xyce, but it towers above them, sounding like an off-cut from Roboctopus’ recent and fantastic ‘Disco.txt’.

Minus problems with the track sequencing, some of the thematic jumps are too violent to create a cohesive listening experience; µCollective’s debut compilation is fantastic. Sam Wray’s curation deserves special praise, his fusing of the old established and the new revolutionaries works perfectly, and almost every track brims with quality. With all proceeds going to support µCollective plus mastering by DJ Cutman and art by Love Through Cannibalism, this is one package you owe yourself to get if you’re attending SuperByte this year. PS: If you are attending Superbyte this year, come and say hi! I’ll be on the dancefloor or at the bar xo 

Tracklist:
01. Byzanite- Cakebomber
02. Holy Konni- Mysterio Guitar Sloth
03. PANDAstar- Delirium
04. xyce- Arbre De Viw
05. Paza- Damn Lokki
06. <3an- Mariana Trench
07. Cheapshot- Czar
08. Decktonic- Dancing Is Permitted
09. Balloonbear- HAVOK
10. Skin Walker- Shanghai At Night
11. nordloef- Mark II
12. Auxcide- Threads
13. gwEm- High Gain
14. cTrix- Ion Cruising
15. Kubbi- Void Pt 2 (Renovation Mix)
16. Vince Kaichan- Sailboat

Andrew Kilpatrick Talks: The J. Arthur Keenes Band’s Mighty Social Lion

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The three EPs Canadian Dan McLay, aka, The J Arthur Keenes Band, released thus far have been collectively revered by the scene as pinnacles in chiptune composition. However, TJAKB seemed to be adrift in a sea of influences; each release encompassed a different approach to a similar sound, though none cohesively linked to the next part of his canon. That is until ‘Mighty Social Lion’. Acting as a collision catalyst for most of his previous reference points, ‘Mighty…’ also signals a further expansion; this time into the realms of 90s alternative and britpop nuance.

‘Mighty Social Lion’ also marks a significant dip in the reliance on chiptune. This isn’t a bad thing, as whilst these elements are understated, this lends the release an undeniable maturity, where chips are an instrument rather than a gimmick, undeniably aesthetic rather than foolishly crowd-pleasing (not that Keenes has ever practiced this).  In ‘Cardboard Box’, chiptune only comes to the forefront after a drawn out tease, marking the track’s shift from confined tension to bombastic euphoria. Chiptune carries the early 90s Radiohead ambiance of ‘Dumb Jokes’, every staccato arp complimenting the scaling guitars and swooning voices.

Maturity is also prevalent in the composition, with songs feeling less like the work of a teenage Robbie Shakespeare and more like that of a mature Win Butler. ‘Trials’ focuses on slightly sinister undertones, with staccato guitar and piano accenting the Beta Band vibe flowing throughout. ‘Worth Keeping’ keeps restrained in the first half and then lyrically whimsical in its closing. Elsewhere, Wild West themed ‘Old Dusty’ manages to traverse around the edges of tortuous superfluity and instead plants itself somewhere between emotionally immediate and musically ingenious. Also, the line “You gave me dirty looks” seems destined to become as iconographic as “This ain’t your home”.

Arthur also harks back to the grapefruits of old; single ‘Congratulations’ has an instantaneous hook, baring its sugar coated fangs and sinking in early, and ‘Under Construction’, is a welcome return to hook-laden abrupt bubblegum sweetness, sounding like a cut from ‘The World’s Smallest Violin’. It’s hard to point out real negatives on this release, though, apart from the odd moment of lyrical cringe (see ‘Cardboard Box’ and ‘Mr. Radiator’ for the worst offences). In fact, ‘Mr. Radiator’ is the only track that really misses the mark, featuring both the album’s worst lyrics and most uninspired music. It’s not a terrible song, it’s just a rock in an ocean of diamonds is incredibly hard to ignore.

Overall? Well, the final track, ‘The Doors’, aptly explains the release as a whole. This track is epilogical in almost every sense; it encompasses almost all previous sounds on the album, forming a six minute dash of irresistible baroque pop chip with more hooks than a fisherman’s cloakroom. It jumps from sweet and pop-heavy to drawn out and controlled affection, winding its way to a grandiose finale. If last year’s EP turned you off J Arthur’s new direction, ‘Mighty Social Lion’ won’t amend your position. However, by featuring sublime maturity alongside emotional cognizance, J Arthur has never sounded better.

thejarthurkeenesband.com | Bandcamp | Facebook

Andrew Kilpatrick: Whilst I Was Gone

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Due to my (at the time of writing this) extended period of absence from reviewing, I decided to do some sort of wrap up; a review of ten releases that had come out in my absence. So, here are all ten, assembled into a single blog post for your viewing pleasure! Originally written for my Blog (TWG, links found here), it’s my pleasure to be cursing Chiptune=Win with it too. Enjoy! PS, links to the releases are on the titles!

DESUMATE- SELF_TITLED

Having started releasing EPs January of this year, DESUMATE is a bit late to the chipthrash party. Moreover, as the genre has surpassed its peak of popularity, the releases of last year from titans such as Kool Skull and shitbird have long cemented a certain bar of quality to be aspired to and judged against.

DESUMATE is, overall, almost a definition of chipthrash. Focus on drums, dissonant warbling melodies, glissandos into the deepest recesses of pitch and capital letters. However, whilst DESUMATE does get a lot right, for instance the drums are frequently brilliant, especially on ‘COMBO BREAKER’, he’s yet to achieve full effectiveness through his apparent inability to sense when boredom might set in. The three tracks total nine minutes, but the release would be far harder hitting if it were cut down to five. ‘MAXIMUM THRASH’ and ‘GRANNY BASHER’ just never seem to end, made further painful by the truly disgusting melodic instruments.

Overall, whilst the drums are outstanding (the beats on ‘GRANNY BASHER’ are truly remarkable too), the release falls flat due to a trait all too familiar for new chip composers; a lack of eclecticism. Some focus and meticulous attention to detail and DESUMATE’s next release could quite easily reach the bar of quality set by his forefathers, or, if the quality of track ‘COMBO BREAKER’ is anything to go by, even surpass them.

 

Dark Oyster- Wizard EP

The words ‘LSDJ’ and ‘debut release’, when put together, strike fear into my heart. With that dangerous combination usually comes an excess of connotations; badly produced, blandly written, and weakly melodic, all wrapped together in a sound as thin as a squashed cracker. Luckily Dark Oyster raised a middle finger to this norm.

Relief washed over me within the first seconds of ‘Something is Amiss Pt. 1’. The melodies throughout this entire release are, honestly, gorgeous. ‘Something is…’ creeps along like a cut from Infinity Shred, ‘Short Break’ has so much melodic swagger KODEK would be jealous and ‘Let’s Go To The Graffiti Festival’, mixes beautiful croons with Russian melodies to form what the offspring of a Solarbear and Dorothy’s Magic Bag collaboration would sound like.

It’s not all plain sailing of course. Final track ‘The Machine’ is expendable, some of the instrument choices, most of note the sliding instrument in the opening track, are weakly conceived, and sometimes staccato is used in such abundance the pace slows to a stuttering halt. That being said, if this is a debut, there can only be bigger on the horizon. I predict we have another Auxcide on our hands.

 

SMILETRON- APOLLO

Prolific rarely holds as much meaning as it does when being applied to Smiletron. Known as much for his frequent and quality output as the chilled EDM expanses within these expulsions, Smiletron has become a staple figure in the chip scene. With so many releases under his belt and the recent announcement of dissolution, is this a fitting tribute, as one of his last exports, to his vibrant career?

Apollo’ is nothing revolutionary, though that never felt like the point of his work. The first thing you’ll notice is familiarity. ‘High quality chilled chip-tinged EDM jams are the manifesto, and it’s one he’s been preaching for years. As such, by now not a second feels forced; it’s like music flows from Smiletron’s fingertips at the will of his psyche. He manages the ludicrous task of making electronic music sound genuinely organic.

The title track is gorgeous; the familiar mixture of memorable micro-melodies and huge beats over warm analog tones settles the atmosphere quickly. ‘Eclipse’ follows a familiar pattern, and ‘Yours’ mixes an 80s vibe with modern day EDM and some relaxed breakbeats. The three tracks coast along without force; sometimes with too little force in fact (moments of ‘Eclipse’ are SO dynamically flat the song almost disappears if you’re not paying attention). That tiny qualm aside, this is another fantastic Smiletron, another notch in his great discography. At least when he leaves us there’ll be a surplus of tracks to remember him by.

 

EGR- DeathMurderGo

EGR, aka Arnie Holder, is the owner of Datathrash Recordings, THE home of chipthrash. When he releases something the chipscene should take notice; this man played a huge part in shaping one of the scenes most recent stylistic explosions. He’s chipthrash’s godfather, if you will. He also doesn’t release much, so his few expulsions should be lapped up with haste, and his most recent, ‘DeathMurderGo’, is by far his most destructively brutal.

‘DeathMurderGo’ was recorded through a microphoned practice amp and sounds as such. Raw as fuck. If Kurt Ballou produced a chiptune album, this is what it would sound like, a bludgeoning mixture of aggression, understated groove and noise-distorting walls of sound. ‘Death’s beats hit like a charging bison, ‘Go’ sounds like the death of an albatross and ‘Murder’ blends the two atmospheres into a forebodingly swaggering cement mixer of noise and violence.

The production really is perfect for this release. Whilst it may not be for everyone, anyone even remotely interested in noise or chipthrash genres will find themselves captivated by the concrete slabs of produced perfection (through nonchalance). Whilst moments of ‘Murder’ and ‘Go’ could do with being opened up a bit (they tend to dissipate into pure sound experiments, but that might be a bad thing), this is still a fantastic release. I think, for the good of chiptune, we should collectively sign a petition stating EGR must write a full-length. We deserve it, and he has clearly got the talent for it.

 

Xyce- papillions

Cheapbeats, the Tokyo based label/ event organiser, recently released their third offering, xyce’s ‘papillions’. Xyce are an amalgamation of Dutch chiptuners xylo and cerror, and this is their 5th release to date. Picking up where their previous works left off, ‘papillons’ continues the xyce tradition of using Atari, Amiga and old PC sounds to create demoscene styled chiptune with a huge focus on melody, whilst delving slightly into multiple other genres.

The first thing that jumps out from ‘papillions’ is the melodies throughout are absolutely fantastic. ‘avonture au japon’ sounds like a beach personified in audio, the motif for ‘ombres’ is pure sublime, as are the arps that speak it, and ‘grecque’ sounds like hyperactive plush; marshmallow dripping from speakers.  Also, the demoscene theme expands to include collaborations with demosceners Radix and Malmen. Malmen’s contribution takes place on the title track, with twinkling instruments and melancholy in abundance. The Radix collaboration ‘rainbow dash!’  is the albums real highlight however, towering over surrounding tracks with a ferocious sense of dynamics and melodies, dipping into modern house and EDM with unrepentant ease.

Such a focus on melody comes at a price however. The notion of dynamics and timbre are often glazed over, and as such a few tracks, like ‘samedi’, ‘bequille’ and ‘feuilles’, stumble by inoffensively and forgettably. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t bad tracks, they just get lost in the crowd. Less a detriment on xyce’s composing as on their awareness of effective album structure.

That being said, with tracks like the aforementioned ‘rainbow dash!’ and the Miami-house and polka swag-rife ‘subsonique deux’, xyce have another hugely successful release under their belt. Whilst it doesn’t sound like their definitive statement quite yet, it is still another example of chiptune’s continuing statements of quality. And when their definitive statement does come, and it will, we can be assured we’ll have the European 4mat fully realised.

 

Peaches The Wale- Lovely

Godinpants’ alter ego/ nautical hand puppet Peaches has released ‘her’ third EP recently. Featuring the familiar Peaches sound, sampled glitched up breakbeat with drill n bass, jungle and dips into seapunk, ‘Lovely’ cements this alias as one of the highest quality ‘jokes’ the scene has ever witnessed.

The title track has an infectious hip hop gleam, ‘Australia Exam’ uses samples to form a party-rife rave cyclone and ‘Jungle Jungle’ features a formidable fall into jungle mayhem which is, in two words, fucking astonishing. Also, moments of ‘Grumpy Wombat Tantrum’ go full Aphex Twin mode, and when it does it’s captivating.

‘Grumpy Wombat Tantrum’ is nowhere near the quality of the other tracks though, and the Taylor Swift cover is diabolical (though there is definitely a sense of purposeful awareness attached), but apart from that the faults in this 5 track opus are insignificant. I regularly found myself dancing statically and throwing my hands up like it was Detroit. Long live Peaches, both the best animal and the best jungle producer in chiptune.

 

Blitz Lunar- Triptunes

Produced in Logic and utilising sounds from various trackers, released on Ubiktune and with fantastic cover art by the hugely talented ‘ui’, this had all the markings of pure quality.  It doesn’t disappoint. I often steer away from making comparisons between chiptune and VGM, as to do so feels descriptively weak and lazy, but Blitz Lunar’s debut full length honestly encompasses a soundtrack to the last 20 years of video game history.  The industry is doing itself a disservice by not coaxing a soundtrack from this fantastic composer.

The first three tracks, ‘You (and a prefix)’ sound exactly like the releases’ title implies; insane psychedelic chiptune melding elements of 80s electronica and breakbeat into jazz prog; Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia crossed with C-Jeff through Dillinger Escape Plan. The end of ‘You Universe’ leads nicely into the rest of the album’s calming embrace, spiralling into psychedelic ambient space jams at the drop of a hat, a further manifestation of Blitz’s incredible composition prowess. ‘Honest Truth Zone’ flirts with more familiar chiptune sounds whilst displaying hints of Flying Lotus, and ‘Hidden Heaven’ and ‘Comfort Zone’ have a contemporary Nintendo vibe about them.

There is dip in the album’s quality between ‘Comfort Zone’ and ‘Ego Bubble Zone’ though. Whilst all the tracks sound fantastic (I’d like to in particular note ‘Holyday’s audio personification of cute quaintness), there isn’t much that keeps the tracks memorable; they flitter by with incredible grace but with little emotional substance. But there is more than enough to keep fans of chiptune, video game scores or electronic music in general ecstatically happy. One of those debuts that really was worth the wait. Nintendo, take note.

 

Ralp- Petaxer

Known as much for his huge back catalogue of chip as for running Spanish label Low Toy, Ralp returns with another bruising manifestation of club-ready tunes and complex LSDJ/Nanoloop programming, this time in the form of the 24 track progressive monster ‘Petaxer’.

Following the similar trait of previous albums, ‘Petaxer’ almost plays as a single, uninterrupted song. Couple this with the fact the release is only 30 minutes long, those swayed by the huge track count should not let themselves be put off, as what lies within is a tour de force of bite sized LSDJ and Nanoloop mastery.  Ideas are dropped instantly at their peak of quality, flitting to something new , giving the release an unmatched urgency and pace. There is also a huge amount of diversity; ‘Lubra’, ‘Utoh’ and ‘Mitical’ all explore swaggering hip hop beats and melodies.  ‘Psudasco’, ‘Oblea’ and ‘Pungo’ are all gut punches of bass, Monodeer via KODEK, and every track from ‘Toeph’ onwards cranks up the melodic mastery leading to a euphoric and urgent climax on ‘Statoplax’.

You’d thinks with so many tracks there’d be a fair few undesirables. There aren’t. There is nothing but quality here.  Whether you want driving dance floor destroyers like ‘Daxa’ or glitched out melodies in tracks like ‘Virtua’, ‘Petaxer’ shows quite efficiently how versatile both LSDJ and Nanoloop can be in the right hands. One of the best releases of the year, if not ever, in chiptune.

 

shanebro – When Hearts And Minds Collide

Relatively new to the scene, LSDJer shanebro recently put out his first full length and second release overall, ‘When Hearts And Minds Collide’. With a fantastic track on last year’s ChipWINter compilation, it was with enthusiasm that I began listening. However, it quickly became apparent that shanebro would have been much better off releasing another EP or two before tackling a full length.

The theme seems to be balance, as every moment of euphoria is almost instantaneously marred by bad composition or instrument choices. The build in opener ‘The Ballad of the Electric Tigers’ is tense and thick, but the peak is half-hearted and limp. ‘Hakai’ has some wonderful orient-tinged melodies, but they feel underdeveloped, and when the track does find its feet it’s abruptly ruined by a horrid bridge.  Also, both ‘One World, Two Different Axels’ and ‘Semopnume Kashiwazki’ have great melodies but suffer from over-repetition, and ‘Our Final Moments’ is just an exercise in blandness.

It’s an honest shame, as the guy clearly has a shed full of talent. Moments in ‘It’s Happening’ are brilliant, the staccato semi-quaver sections especially, and after the track speeds up it’s highway cyberpunk at its very best. ‘Akarin Is Love’ and the title track are both rife with great melodies and the track featuring Auxcide, ‘Threat Level Midnight’, takes the best of both artists and blends them into an emotive whirlwind of melodic nuance and killer beats. That being said, for a release titled ‘When Hearts And Minds Collide’ there isn’t much heart or apparent thought gone in to detail. There is so much potential here, it’s just unfortunate it hasn’t been fully realised yet.

 

Yerzmyey- Brutal And Aggressive

ZX Spectrum powerhouse Yerzmyey is returning after 6 years to 8bitpeoples to deliver a collection of Spectrum tracks. His 2nd release this year, and another chance for Yerzmyey to prove again to the newer generation who were enlightened by the success of last October’s ‘Strange Light Under My Bed’, that there is a reason he’s still around.

Opening with the epic ‘Dark Galactica’, a string of brilliant melodies and slow-shifting atmospheres, made only more effective after being considered in retrospect. Album closer ‘Alone’ also delivers fury with borderline metal melodies, staccato and kicks the size of houses. The opening of ‘IM35’ swiftly moves from Tubular Bells homage to crunchy, thick bass thuds, sounding like a sledgehammer being dragged along concrete.

Elsewhere however, the mood is starkly different. ‘Get Mad’ tastes oddly like Europop (cheesy trance influences and all), and ‘STandard Crap’ is an 80s dance number heaving under the weight of its own percussion and melodic interplay. There are some duller moments; past the two minute mark ‘IM35’ gets nigh-on unbearable due to jarring instrument choices, and ‘Get Mad’ and ‘Haunted Mansion’ constitute a dip in quality over other tracks, but overall? Another Yerzmyey release, another slice of chiptune gold and another example of how he is one of the few from the ‘2006-8’ generation that has managed to stay relevant, interesting, and dazzlingly exciting.

Favourite track: Alone