The last thirty or so days have been enormous for fans of chipmusic. Between a new boaconstructor EP, ChipWIN: Volume 7, a new Chunderfins LP, and various other new albums, we’ve been gifted with a simply staggering amount of high-quality material to soothe our ears. On September 10th, the legendary Bit Shifter has graced our community with a brand new release titled ‘Closed System Blues’. At times blissfully peaceful and pensive, and at others pugnacious and adrenalized, ‘Closed System Blues’ showcases a difficult to match diversity in composition. I’m honored to have been presented with the opportunity to review an album by this master of his craft, so without further ado, let’s dig in!
For this review, we’ll be taking a look at four different tracks on different ends of the emotional spectrum. ‘Commit’, the album’s introductory track, falls into the calmer end of Bit Shifter’s collected compositions. The track opens with an affectionate, guileless chord progression; for nearly forty seconds, no other sounds can be observed. This boldly simplistic approach gives the introduction of percussion and bass at the 0:42 mark that much more influence over the mood of ‘Commit’. Immediately, the piece takes on a different tone and several new elements are added. A slight change in the established melody occurs in order to signify the entrance of an entirely new, slightly more optimistic theme. Heavy kicks and a quickly decaying cymbal crash signify the beginning of each measure, and the rigidity of this structure gives these chorus segments a sense of unwavering resolve. Finally, the legato nature of the square tones throughout this track convey fluidity, and serve not only as melodic devices but as a way to tie every element of ‘Commit’ to one another.
Next, we’ll look at ‘The Butterfly’, a comparatively high-energy drum and bass piece. ‘The Butterfly’ features a relatively dominant WAV bassline that never overloads the listener with its complexity, but it’s worth noting that this could be an effect of it being the first melodic element introduced in the song. There’s no drop in this piece, and this allows the song to back off of its intensity without really having to build any further into it in order to develop other instruments and moods. For example, at the 1:05 mark, the listener can note that up until this point, the bassline has been omnipresent. By simply removing it from the equation for a short while, the listener can focus more on the subtle, square elements of the track, and their focus is also drawn to the quick hihat-snare patterns of the noise channel. By the final third of the song, a new square melody is established, setting a new focal point, which breaks the otherwise stoic, methodical nature of the rest of the track. A second square voice harmonizes with this newly introduced voice, and adds even more layers to the sound in a effective minimalist manner. Ultimately, these square tones and the light pulsing of noise channel percussion are the only instruments remaining, and ‘The Butterfly’ flits away into nothingness; the stark contrast in instrumentation between the beginning and end of ‘The Butterfly’ is impressively executed.
‘Hypervigilance’ is, like ‘The Butterfly’, also a drum and bass track on the energetic end of the aural spectrum. While the former is slightly subdued, the latter is undeniably aggressive. The tone for the track is established within its first few seconds; a heavy kick, chugging WAV bass, and quiet square channels are the main voices of ‘Hypervigilance’. Heavy distortion and various other effects in the WAV channel are the focal point, and all other voices take a backseat to this brutal bassline for the majority of this track. A simple, punchy melody and the bassline’s prominent execution is sure to stick with you after the first listen, but various effects in the more subjugated square voices may take several replays to catch. One such example occurs at 2:15, during which a quieted climb can be observed, adding a small layer of complexity to this otherwise predominantly minimalist piece of music.
Finally, we’ll look at the last track on ‘Closed System Blues’, titled ‘Au Revoir Soleil’. This relatively soothing piece evokes nostalgia in its listener; in the same way that the melodic square tones in ‘The Butterfly’ signify the end of the track, so too does the same melody signify the closing of the album as a whole. Noise percussion is sparse in the first half of the piece, accenting only a few select measures. In the second half, with the re-introduction of the closing melody of ‘The Butterfly’, percussive effects are more distinguished between kicks, cymbal crashes, and snare hits. ‘Au Revoir Soleil’ is particularly easy on the ears and isn’t a particularly busy piece like many of the other tracks we’ve looked at today, but it’s a wonderfully emotional and lovingly crafted song nonetheless.
Upon hearing the closing measures of the final track, I found myself yearning for more from this pioneer of modern chipmusic. Many of us recognize Bit Shifter from our earliest days in the scene as one of the greatest and most creative artists of our time, and for him to have released such a landmark work after his creative hiatus is a blessing. All good things, however, must come to an end. As such, for the time being ‘Closed System Blues’ is a closed system indeed, and I, for one, am happy to accept it as is. This album is a masterpiece, and is a must-have for chipmusic historians and newcomers alike.