Slime Girls’ ‘Vacation Wasteland EP’ was one of the first albums I listened to when I was just getting into chipmusic, and it’s stuck with me for a really long time. Every once in a while, I listen to this classic and reminisce on the events five years ago that ended with my current involvement in the ChipWIN community as a writer and occasional musician. It really has quite a special place in my heart. So, when I saw that Slime Girls had just released a compilation of unfinished works titled ‘sketchbook vol #1: 12-17’, I jumped at the chance to give it a listen. I fell in love with a number of tracks on this enormous 23-track treasure trove, and I’m happy to share with you the ones I enjoyed the most today.
We’ll start this review off with my absolute favorite track on the album, ‘Backyard’. This song feels pretty similar to the first half of a Slime Girls’ track from 2016, ‘Tapioca‘, and ujico*/Snail’s House popular ‘ra-mu-ne‘ in terms of its overall sound. ‘Backyard’ is sweet, unassuming, and tropical in tone from start to finish. It features a wide variety of instruments ranging from ukelele to steel drums, and a small square voice to the melodica – whose sound is, might I add, growing in popularity at an amazing rate. The song’s melody shifts between instruments seamlessly, and each and every section of this song blends into one another without any stuttering or awkward transitioning. The first half of ‘Backyard’ is slightly more assertive in nature, with punchy snares accenting every other beat for some time before a build-up leads to a ukelele solo. Instruments re-enter the song one at a time, but with more mellow percussion backing them the second time around. Combining all of the aforementioned elements with memorable hooks and melodies culminate into a lovely, adorable way to start off the album.
Next, we’ll take a look at ‘Aether (Tropicana Slip ‘n Slide Remix)’, a remix of a track originally by Michael Vallejo aka SkyBox. This song also features steel drums; this seems to be a theme in the tracks I particularly enjoy throughout ‘scrapbook’ thus far. This song was also featured on SkyBox’s ‘Stardust‘ EP as a bonus track, so this song’s original release date is April 1st, 2016. Hyperactive percussion lines the aural background of this track, and an extremely bouncy bassline can also be noted. ‘Aether’ is constantly exploding with joy until the brief break at 1:09, and in this moment the instrumentation undergoes a slight change. A washboard and a kick are featured as percussion for this brief break into build-up, with these few measures ending with an airhorn that pierces the very heavens. Another brief break features cutesy vocals (‘Alright!’ and ‘Here we go!’), dogs barking, and numerous soundfonts that I can recognize from games, such as the wind instrument from the ‘Golden Sun’ soundtrack. The track screeches to a halt at the peak of its energetic climax, and transitions into a sweet resolution.
‘Meteor Showers’ is reminiscent of emo music or punk rock, but not along the lines of My Chemical Romance or the like; this is more similar to bands like I Kill Giants. Its sound is gritty and lo-fi in every sense of the word, and this gives the song a really authentic vibe. Slime Girls belts out the vocals to this song with passion; each phrase bears weight, and you can really hear the vigor in their voice as it comes close to cracking. Slime Girls’ vocal control, on this note, is impressive, as a lot of the higher notes are sustained for some time before changing pitch. Chip voices in this song are limited to square chords prefacing a guitar solo, backing otherwise organic instrumentation. Slime Girls’ lyrics are heartfelt and emotional, and are supported by an entrancing music video that portrays ‘…how somewhere between childhood experience and adult memories things can get a bit twisted and we risk losing the plot’. Check that out here for what may be a different take on the song’s meaning!
Up to this point, one may think that from my review, the entire album is nothing but non-chip instrumentation. ‘But, this is a CHIPMUSIC BLOG!’ you cry, ‘and the album is by a CHIPMUSICIAN!’ Well, there’s plenty of that to go around throughout this album, so don’t worry and STOP YELLING AT ME. ‘BB CRUZIN LOVE’ is a hella danceable, original song that features an electric guitar chugging away at chords, but the listener’s focus is drawn to the song’s LSDj melodies and harmonies. From the first moment of the song, it’s obvious from the vibrato square tones and the WAV channel-processed vocal sample that this is certainly chiptune. Percussion is simple yet effective, as are the guitar chords; the majority of the song’s development takes place in its square leads, transitioning from melody to melody, and pitch-bending to create Mega Man-esque pulse kicks and effects. One especially excellent example of Slime Girls’ use of pitch bending takes place close to the 2:10 mark, where one of the prominent instruments is bent to a lower pitch and then back to its established voicing. Memorable and optimistic, it’s a surprise to me that this track went unreleased in Slime Girls’ discography until now. I’m really glad it’s gotten to see the light of day, as this originally unfinished idea is one of my favorite jams right now.
‘sketchbook vol #1: 12-17’ is completely, absolutely free on Bandcamp, but for the sheer amount of quality material contained within, this could easily be a $10 album or more. Not many musicians go out of their way to put out compilations full of oddball, unfinished music, and fans of rock-infused chipmusic are sure to appreciate this absolutely colossal album. Many early members of Chiptunes = WIN will also recognize ‘Space-Fold Romance’ from ChipWIN’s first expansion pack, which is a nice surprise included in ‘sketchbook’. I hope you enjoy this insightful peek to the past as much as I did.