Longtime chipmusic veteran Brandt Cooley, aka Professor Shyguy, is a highly revered, R&B influenced artist whose music typically features soulful vocals, powerful guitar solos, and memorable melodies. His golden voice is immediately recognizable by any fan familiar with his work, in addition to his phenomenal shredding on the axe. Shyguy is also an extremely prolific artist, with several singles and numerous album releases since his first ‘official’ album, ‘Geekotica’, released in mid-2012. ‘Fragmentation’, his chip-pop-rock opera amalgam, is a tale of growing up which was soft-released to the public on December 5th and it’s his most powerful and emotional work to date. Let’s delve into this incredible album!
‘Every Day’, the first track on which Shyguy utilizes his renowned vocals, is a short story to which many can relate – being picked on for who you are, and the issues that it can cause. The song begins calmly enough and with a somber tone, but when the chorus enters, Shyguy’s vocals and instruments become significantly more energetic. Emotional vocals in tandem with a cleverly crafted melody and minimal, yet forceful, percussion culminate to create a track which may stir up a number of feelings within its listeners. There are double meanings abound throughout his lyrics; one example would be his use of the term ‘I guess I can’t run away’. This can relate both to an earlier line concerning running away from the situation due to the narrator’s being picked on at school, in addition to running away from home in an attempt to escape the lasting self-doubt inflicted by his aggressors.
‘Notes’, the third song on ‘Fragmentation’, is a musical statement on another common, relatable issue – easily falling in love, especially when applied to childhood crushes and the like. As the song progresses, Shyguy’s childhood feelings on the subject are almost tangible. Moodwise, the song starts out relaxed but again rises in intensity, although ‘Notes’ demonstrates a significantly stronger atmosphere towards the end of the song via a powerful yell in addition to an aggressively impressive guitar solo before petering out. Stuttered vocal effects are used interestingly during a transition from chorus to verse around the 1:15 mark and the final reprise of the chorus. As children, listeners may make a connection with the narrator’s obvious overthinking of simple actions, such as a wave or a smile being translated into feelings of love when the feeling isn’t mutual between both parties. Miscommunication in general is an enormous issue, and should this not be taken care of early on in life, it may become an extremely enormous, insurmountable obstacle later in one’s life; I feel that this could be the overarching message to this song, although the lyrics themselves are presented through the eyes of a child or teenager.
Not every song on ‘Fragmentation’ is calmer in tone. ‘The Wall’, the album’s sixth track, is an aggressive chiptune power pop ballad. Shyguy’s voice has a particularly gritty sound to it in this track, being strengthened by a filter in the first verse. At the end of the second verse, however, Shyguy’s voice literally cracks; while this can sound strange or unwanted in some songs, Shyguy does a phenomenal job of controlling his tone, and again, powerful emotions are betrayed through his vocals in an absolutely beautiful sense. A brief guitar break in the second half of the song leads into a slightly more relaxed setting before catapulting the listener back into the main theme of the song. Shyguy’s lyrics tell of the breaking down of ‘the wall’ between geek culture and popular culture, in addition to being able to see from another’s perspective instead of only your own, which ties in with the subject matter of ‘Notes’.
The final track I’m going to be covering in this review is ‘O Entitled One’, the album’s tenth track. Shyguy’s chip portamento – note-sliding fluidly from one to the next – is well executed, and makes for an interesting and danceable mood. Vocal harmonies in ‘O Entitled One’ are perfect, and tremolo picking by the end of the song provides an interesting contrast to the 8-bit main voice. This song is a bit of a metaphor for the realization of mistakes, and the necessity of dealing with these problems head-on instead of simply turning your back on them. ‘O Entitled One’ also features a reference to ‘Notes’ in its name; in ‘Notes’, Brandt states that he’s ‘entitled to the name’ of whatever he and his crush may have had. It also ties in directly with ‘Enter the Cave’ as he says that ‘clearing the cave’ is undoable, ‘The Wall’ with regards to exploration and breaking the curse of only seeing in two dimensions, and ‘Every Day’ by referring to the fact that he can’t run away.
We’ve got a very special treat for you this time around…an exclusive interview with the mastermind behind this project, Professor Shyguy himself! Enjoy!
Aydan Hollander: How did you come up with the concept for ‘Fragmentation’, and how did you come to a conclusion as to what to name the album?
Professor Shyguy: This is gonna get real pretentious at moments since it’s fairly serious subject matter. So, the idea from this album came from a general place of seeing [a] subculture be jerks from the inside out. People create something to get away from exclusivity then create that same thing. It’s dumb. I get it, but it’s dumb. Also, I’ve done it and it’s dumb. Took me a while to find the right name, and I settled on Fragmentation for a few reasons. The “defragment” PC thing, representing “oooo, your brain has bad spots that need rebuilding”. It also has to do with asexual reproduction, kind of representing how the subculture spreads and grows but doesn’t have directly to do with reproduction. The spreading of ideas. Also, musically it means using pieces of a musical theme, motive, etc. Since it’s a “Pop-Opera” there are melodies that repeat and change slightly throughout.
Aydan: Out of the many ways you could have tackled this project, you strayed from your usual R&B style and composed an entire chip-pop-rock opera, which is definitely not an easy thing to do. Why did you choose this particular format?
Shyguy: My music didn’t stray, really. I actually worked harder to make the music a little closer to the dance music I’ve always tried to use in my sound. My stuff has always had heavier parts and more rocking high energy parts throughout an album. Enter the Cave is one of my most driving songs on the album, but it’s kind of a “trap” beat behind it all. New Treasure Seeker has an almost Michael Jackson feel at times, especially with the harmonies. Leader of Some is really the only one that I feel hasn’t sounded too much like my older stuff. I’ve done one other slow/ballad-y song as Professor Shyguy before, but I really feel like Leader of Some blows that one away. It’s different, but I feel like if they had to fight, Leader of Some would come out with only a couple scratches. Only minor injuries.
Aydan: What software and instruments/hardware were used in the recording of ‘Fragmentation’?
Shyguy: As far as live instruments there is guitar, piano, and my mouth. I recorded drums on one track, but I didn’t end up using that track for the album. I also used Massive and Plogue ChipSounds VSTs.
Aydan: Were there any major musical influences behind your style for this album?
Shyguy: Kimbra is a big influence on this album. Her second album, ‘Golden Echo’, is super experimental without ever getting too “weird”. It’s still got that super unique feel while still being accessible and groovy. Rihanna, oddly enough, for the type of pop that she does. Whoever chooses her songs is smart, in general. Like, with Katy Perry, the emphasis on her syllables are gaaaarbage. She’ll say ticket, but say ticKET. That’s not a word. Also Beyonce doesn’t do it for me, really. She’ll have songs that are just about dancing, like “do the this dance, do the this dance, etc.” The David Bowie album Ziggy Stardust is the kind of Rock-Opera I was going for. A Rock-Opera without dialogue where each song stands on its own but also works as part of the narrative.
Aydan: How much of ‘Fragmentation’ is derived from personal experience, and how so?
Shyguy: It’s really all about personal experience, some of the lyrics directly about things I’ve done, especially in the earlier songs before the lyrics start to really get more “heightened”. Then it’s just about the ideas of what I was dealing with rather than specifically describing things. Writing it was basically thinking of dumb ways I used to view things, then figuring out how my head got to that place. Figuring out how I ended up disliking people because they were like me.
Aydan: Ultimately, what do you want your fans to take away from ‘Fragmentation’?
Shyguy: So, it’s super self-righteous, and I know this, to say I hope people can see how they’re being an asshole. Since this album is about myself, it can come off as “Be more like I am now, I’m not so much an asshole,” which is ironic. But I still catch myself thinking like a jerk about people, and that’s what the next-to-last song is about. I’m not fixed, I’m just less likely to think someone is an asshole because they are either unlike me or like me.
Aydan: Are you happy with the way ‘Fragmentation’ turned out? Is there anything you’d change now that your fans have had a go at it?
Shyguy: I’m super happy with the way it turned out. I don’t think I’d change how it is. It’s a bit different than I originally planned, but not in a bad way. Just, that’s how things “evolve”.
Aydan: What’s next for Professor Shyguy?
Shyguy: No idea. I just finished this 4 days ago, I have to let it settle. I know I want my next album to be along these lines, to be themed, to be focused, and to still be fun.
Professor Shyguy’s magnum opus is a simply marvelous work, and this could truly be the greatest album I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing. Every single song intertwines, and it’s absolutely incredible to see someone execute this so flawlessly. At $10, this is seriously a steal for the listening value you’ll be getting from this album. Brandt solidifies his place as one of the most talented chipmusic artists to roam the earth, and ‘Defragmentation’ is an incredible journey that no fan of chipmusic should miss.
Oh! Before I go, Shyguy’s got a video of an in-depth analysis and explanation of the entire ‘Fragmentation’ album. It’s really good. REALLY good. Check that out here!
So much love to all of you.