We’re nearing the halfway point of our track-by-track review of Chiptunes = WIN Vol. 4. So far, we’ve had the pleasure of hearing some truly astonishing tracks, and I already feel like declaring Volume 4 as Best Volume. It’s just that every year, all of the artists involved consistently outdo themselves and put so much heart into their compositions!
Today’s collection of tracks is a microcosm: a perfect representation of what I love so much about the ChipWIN project as a whole. Here we have newcomers and veterans alike sharing album space, happily caught in the endless loop of inspiration and creation. What’s more, is that each one of them uses their own unique toolkit and approach to ultimately arrive at the sonic aesthetic that we’re all about celebrating. Let’s jump in!
21. Amphibious – ‘Anura Jam’
‘Anura Jam’ is an incredibly FUNky FM jam. Amphibious states in the liner notes that the music from the Sega Genesis is what sparked his interest in game music to begin with, and that influence is immediately apparent upon pressing play. Made in FL Studio using FM8 and the Ultimate Mega Drive soundfont, ‘Anura Jam’ conveys the breakneck speeds and colorful imagery that the Mega Drive evokes. The signature FM sonic slap bass is present and accounted for in its full glory, but what really lifts this track into awesomesauce territory is the series of improvisational solos that take place over the course of the song’s entire second minute. Shifting in timbre from what sounds like the FM equivalent of a Moog to a Fender Rhodes, these mini-adventures seamlessly lead into one another, increasing in intensity and becoming more flamboyant before settling back into the pocket of the main groove. This leaves the last minute open for the final buildup and climax, with its clean and aggressive percussion that feels like a double bass kit and has the listener banging their head by the end of it all. Overall, ‘Anura Jam’ is a highly efficient and well-structured track. It does its job of getting in and rocking out very well, and it’s great to see Amphibious on a ChipWIN compilation.
22. Brick BRKer – ‘Broken Mirrors’
This is Brick BRKer’s third appearance on a ChipWIN Volume, in which he’s promised will be his last 1 X LSDJ submission. Well then, it seems fitting somehow for this track from Brick BRKer to be named ‘Broken Mirrors’. Now, Brick BRKer’s been known to shred a Game Boy ’round these parts, but this one really takes it to the next level and exemplifies the ChipWIN ideal of #DONTFUCKAROUND. A heavy sawtooth WAV channel bass steadily drills its way into your brain, accompanied by a four-on-the-floor beat. In addition to an extremely catchy hook, the noise channel really carries this track. At :50, its rhythmic hiss really hits its stride and it’s in this moment that it clicks with the listener: My god, this song is so fire that it’s emitting steam! There’s a delightful interplay between the pulse channels, and their staccato stabs provide an excellent counterpoint to the gutteral bass. There is a brief moment of respite at 2:30 as the track regains its strength, and then launches into the final freakout, pitch-shifted upwards into a higher register. You are jumping up and down at this point. Extra bonus points for the sweet and subtle use of the BRK sample.
23. Russellian – ‘A Vessel in the Void’
Last year, Russellian melted faces with ‘Retour sur Terre’, an absolute banger of a track that’s better than most debuts have any right to be. This year, he’s upped the ante by creating a full blown multi-part odyssey. ‘A Vessel in the Void’ takes you on a harrowing and cathartic journey through the cosmos. It also contains a tragic narrative which can be found in the track’s lyrics section. A humming, mechanical bassline establishes the somber undercurrent that’s sustained throughout the song, just before a searing lead erupts upon the listener’s eardrums to create an extreme sense of urgency. It’s made clear that all is not well with the titular vessel. As its story unfolds over the course of the song, Russellian ups the intensity with each new section. At 2:00, the lead melody is diced and distorted in such an impressive way that I recommend hearing with headphones in order to fully appreciate the intricate work that went into it. Russellian again makes excellent use of rests during the breakdown that starts at 3:00, gradually filling that space by layering bass upon percussion that culminates in an alarming climax. It’s an excellent end to what’s one of the most dynamic and multifaceted tracks on the album.
24. Monomer – ‘Lexicon’
Soaring chip melodies, larger than life drums that reverberate with each powerful hit, and synth pads that pulsate to the point that I’m convinced they live and breathe. These are the sonic ingredients that Monomer wields oh so well. I’ll just come out and admit it: Monomer’s albums ‘Quite Operational’ and ‘Labyrinth’ are among my most listened to, and the neo-80’s style that he, as well as any artist under the Telefuture netlabel, creates is a huge weakness of mine. Of course, I was beyond excited to see a Monomer track on a ChipWIN compilation! With its opening salvos that ring out and grab the listener’s attention, ‘Lexicon’ plays out like a majestic call to arms. I can see the spirits of Skeletor and General Zod being summoned to do battle, because hell yes. In all seriousness, the soundscape of this track is so incredibly rich and full of subtle details that you’ll want to listen to it repeatedly in order to soak it all in. This is the kind of song that was made to test your car stereo’s structural integrity by playing at full volume while cruising down the road. ‘Lexicon’ is a beautifully sinister experience with incredibly clean production quality, and a standout track from ChipWIN Vol. 4.
25. Will Bauer – ‘Thaw’
As with ChipWIN’s previous volume, I once again have to give it up to Kubbi, whose track ordering has been integral to the overall pacing of such an epic album. After the white-hot intensity of many of the previous tracks, the temperature is lowered with ‘Thaw’. Created in Famitracker, ‘Thaw’ is a beautifully serene track that provides a welcome warmth to the listener. This ChipWIN debut from Will Bauer also serves as a peaceful palate cleanse, if you will. ‘Thaw’s greatest strength lies in its sumptuous harmonies, constantly shifting and changing, yet always remaining harmonically pleasant. Somewhat muted, lo-fi percussion bookends the track, but even this is given room to shift and change, adopting a light unce unce dance beat midway through. While listening to ‘Thaw’, it conjures up imagery of a flowerbed set before the early sunrise, covered in morning’s dew after a day’s worth of rain. Excellent use of stereo panning and the rolling nature of the bassline complete the track’s dreamlike atmosphere.
That’s all for today’s collection of badass tracks. Keep it locked to the ChipWIN blog, because Viridian Forge will be back on Monday to review tracks 26 – 30. Meanwhile, keep your hands and heart held high! \m|♥|m/