Hello, friends! I’m back from an amazing trip from St. Louis, and after having plenty of time to obsess over ‘Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 5’, I have come up with my reviews for the next ten tracks. Please enjoy, and if you haven’t taken the time to listen to this album yet, fix that problem by listening to the tracks alongside my review of each of them!
‘Masygul’ by Remedmatika is a warm, light and progressive track that leaves you feeling as if you’ve entered into a hazy, dream-like atmosphere. Over time this piece builds up a rhythm that you notice immediately shifting, the noise channel turning its atmospheric glitch into part of a near-marching snare line while the pulses fill in with plenty of echo and reverb to continue along the feeling while occasionally referencing the previous sections. Unlike the rest of this album, Remedmatika has succeeded in making a track less focused on melodic and compositional exposition and more about emotional atmosphere. This is a very welcomed addition to anyone’s collection of music.
‘Ghost of Spring’ is as anthemic as a compositional lovechild between chip, rock, djent and symphonic elements come. This song is filled with plenty of strong melodies and an excellent intuition of range of dynamic and emotional range. Even more so is and an even stronger usage of chord progressions and rhythm counting. There is not a single bar in this song, no matter how heavy or light it feels, that goes to waste without being constantly driven to focusing and listening to the next progression. The use of the Follin-esque arpeggio scale continues to pull me in and gives a sense of adventurous spirit to this already exposition-filled beast of a track by Chain Reaction.
Hard-hitting, equally-fast-paced and full of melodic exposition to where some people’s heads might spin if they’re not listening closely; ‘GREED PALACE’ takes you on an adventure. The melody’s instrumentation varies enough between each form to almost make it feel like a different voice or perspective the exposition is being presented by all while a varying array of sustained, reverb-filled arpeggio chords, very clean and precise scaling pulse rhythms, and a constantly shifting harmony section to make every section of the form of the song blend in wonderfully. I would like to make a note that the harmony in the bridge building up interlude has a rhythm very reminiscent of the early HAL development days. The breakdown of various pulse and noise effects also has sounds very reminiscent of the Kirby series of games; which I would assume is part of the inspiration the artist had when learning to create music in LSDJ. On a technical level, I am impressed with how incredibly clean the sound design and instrumentation is. Even the instruments and sections that are intended to be full of reverb, loud crashes and collision-filled walls of sound have elements that are very discernible from each other.
If it needed to be summarized by a silly quote from the IRC release party I feel it was best summarized as, “It’s like Castlevania, Touhou and the genre of Speedcore had this insane, gorgeous love child.”
‘In Silico’, by Sacio, has a strong throwback to the demoscene and keygen eras, and I am loving every second of it. Focusing primarily on instruments you would hear from a Commodore64, holding onto a very strong bass line with a prominent presence in the mix staccato notes that provide the chord structure and progression throughout, even with an accompanying cycling arpeggio contributing to the melody are very centric in many pieces I remember from my now-lost collection of jams from that era. Every solo stands out and provides solid progression through the song, and the funky vibe throughout makes me just put it on loop. This is an excellent track from Sacio and I will be excited to hear more from this artist in the future.
Speaking of the demoscene, veteran Zabutom brings along something that goes in the opposite direction than the previous track with ‘Spinning Enigma’; creating a mysterious island vibe that lays on top of a very strong bass rhythm. The actual usage of instrumentation of LSDJ varies but is highly focused on providing atmosphere and emotional variance, and layered into the snare percussion. This is one of the few instances I have heard an instrument directly mimic a panflute in the melody, which was highly noticed (and equally approved of) by many during the release party. The layering of 2xLSDJ allows for an excellent use of the polar opposites of light and clean instrumentation alongside gritty, growling low-end instrumentation and filtered instrumentation. This level of production and composition shows a certain level of experience and professional atmosphere that is slowly emerging within chipmusic, and I can only hope continuing. As a personal note, to be a part of a compilation and a previous charity bundle by my (and also Chiptunes=WIN’s) friends at Groupees was and continues to be an honor.
‘Ignition’ is, without question, a guarantee more than a name. There is nothing short of a sense of wonder and amazement throughout this entire track. The fast pace and layered arpeggios provide an excellent atmosphere, and it continues with every single melody, solo and shift in form from one segment to the next. According to Guérin himself, “The song is supposed to be from the perspective of someone on the beach, watching the launch of Apollo 11, and listening to the live broadcast on the radio.” This only makes more sense when hearing the melody in the refrain/chorus and its slightly radio-like feel. All of this pays off even greater when Ignition drops its percussion and immediately reveals its jungle and d&b roots. The name Ignition then is a two-fold name for me as I immediately went from wonder to hype. This is an excellent track by Guérin and I can’t wait to hear what comes next!
This song screams the same humorous and gregarious nature as its title, ‘Legend of the Bear Punch’, suggests. Even starting out, this song is full of the loud bravado brought with hard rock, accompanied by clean and strong 2A03 instrumentation via Famitracker. This song sounds like if Guilty Gear’s composers made a track on an NES and then composed around it, despite the Guilty Gear soundtracks never having a progressive nature to them. The notes hit very hard, punchy and progressive, and as it seems to be a reoccurring concept, incorporates concepts of Tim Follin and other progressive chip composers. The pulse channel solos are incredibly strong and reminiscent of a guitar in a solo, complete with bends, vibrato, note slides and tapping. On top of this is an actual electric guitar by Tuberz McGee himself, which leads into a near-djent element towards the end that also fills with dissonance. In the IRC chat during the album release, people were claiming Tuberz McGee to be, “the upcoming Australian Danimal Cannon.” After this track, it certainly seems that Tuberz is on his way towards this, which is an impressive feat it itself.
KGS’ ‘Castle of Inventions’ is a definitive example of how close Chipsounds by Ploque can get to sounding like your music came directly from the source hardware. Baroque in nature, this song feels brings along a lot of mysterious and dramatic feelings. I would even dare say it would be very fitting as the music to precursor story of a medieval adventure that may or may not involve vampires or other supernatural beings. In form, this feels as it would be very true to compositional nature at the time of a performance you would hear by someone such as Bach, were the ending wasn’t always a truly definitive, unique part but more of a warm reminiscence of what was just performed. There is a very strong harmony throughout this track, and serves to be a great example of how to create something thematic that does not necessarily require a fantasy-minded concept.
To anyone looking to chiptune for just melody-driven wankery (something that I admittedly love and create unashamedly, myself,) I want to pitch to you the idea of letting your music tell a story through atmosphere instead of melody. My strongest argument for this would be ‘Her Kingdom, the Ocean’ by Masikus. Another talented Renoise user, Masikus provided us with a spacious, futuristic island feel with sustain and reverb-heavy synths, hip-hop and afro-cuban-syncopated syncopated percussion. On top of that is a deep sawtooth bass groove, and bongos so well-tuned that their notation delivers almost as much exposition as the melody. Considering this is another song that focuses on the entire atmosphere over a large, strong melodic exposition, this is not only a great addition but an excellent way to flesh out the song even further without losing its artistic direction.
This song’s name is ‘Big Booty Hank & the Wank Stank Booty Tank’. If you have any doubts about this song being amazing, you shouldn’t by the time you hear that track title. I’m serious when I say I can’t decide whether Zantilla, Aethernaut, or Pieces of Eight win my award for “song name that I’m going to be obsessed with for at least a few years.” Fortunately, like all three of their songs, each of them are even more amazing than their titles. For anyone familiar with his most previously recent release, Star Bride, imagining Zantilla making his way onto this compilation with a funky FM synth-based jam almost feels like an obvious expectation. San Antonio’s new resident FM groove machine brings a strong swing atmosphere with the staccato chords and impressive chord progressions that deliver the emotion of the song exactly when it needs to build to progress. Every solo incorporated is fluid and feels like a natural occurrence within a jam band, and leaving the bass solo to be the final element to build up the end of the bridge section made the remaining outro sections of the form feel that much sweeter.
Over the weekend that this article was due and I was busy as a guest at a convention instead (sorry Hoodie,) I had time to kill prior to a performance, so I made sure to introduce St. Louis, MO to Big Booty Hank & The Wank Stank Booty Tank. Not only was the immediate response full of people going nuts over the FM synth being reminiscent of the Genesis, people were genuinely dancing both in their seats and in the aisles of the audience seating. People not even familiar with chiptune loved this, which is a testament and future goal every chip musician and artist should strive for.
And there we have it! I hope you enjoyed this review as well as the tracks within it! Keep in tune for the next article of absolutely amazing tracks from Volume 5, and whether it be a review or a segment of my article that I pretend to be a regular occurrence, I’ll see you… in a bit.