We’ve hit that magical time of the year where we release 51 tracks of some of the best chipmusic out there today. For the sixth year in a row, the international chiptune community has come forth to present a collection of some of their best efforts. Without a doubt, with any growing international community of badass composers and sound designers, time and dedication have proven to further develop people’s talents. It comes as no surprise to say that this year’s release is even stronger than the last! Without further ado, let’s dive in to the first ten songs of the track list!
The first track is stylistically an excellent throwback to the start of the last release with Knasibas’ ‘Rural’. Known in this compilation for their happier chip rock, hearing their excellent use of instrumentation with their guitars, drums and bass are nearly considered a given with this level of talent. What really fascinated me was their use of a mallet and toy piano instrument that really shifted the emotional and volume dynamics of the production to go from soft and emotional to loud and somehow even more emotionally-charged. The use of staccato in the pre-chorus is a fantastic example of how the shift in dynamic can really stand out for strong transitions. If you can’t find yourself enjoying tracks from Knasibas, you may want to see if you still have a pulse.
Victory Road took a similar but stylistically more pop-like route with ‘City of Rumors’. The up-beat, bouncy rhythm combined with the excellent arp chord choices and flourishing ad-libs and pulse plucks from the DMG using LSDJ really drive the pop aesthetic behind the vocals. The lyrical content is a sweet story regarding the persistence against adversity for the sake of love, and the melody manages to maintain its catchy quality throughout the entirety of the song. This genre hasn’t been touched very often in chiptune but, when it emerges at this level of quality, it’s bound to get stuck in your head for months at a time.
Purely Grey, returning to the compilation from last year’s amazing composition with yet another track that lives up to the same level of quality. ‘Sunset Bridge’ is an excellent piece inspired by a picture of a black cat sitting on a bridge during a sunset. The song has a certain lightness combined with a very strong funk inspiration while maintaining an essence of whimsy. The syncopated bell tones from FMDrive against the chords really sets the bouncy tone whenever the bass decides to go on its own countermelodic adventure. The very strong SID lead that I have come to make synonymous with Purely Grey brings it all together in each and every chorus. This is a well-pieced-together track that you shouldn’t miss out on.
When I first heard Deathro’s ‘Attemption’, I instantly knew that this was the kind of high-level quality jazz that allows HertzDevil’s 0CC-Famitracker shine brighter than most could have even imagined. When I listened through, there were various elements and embellishments that were either appropriately quoted or referenced stylistically from games like Sonic 3 and Streets of Rage 2 including ad-lib segments, chord progressions, and parts of the melody. This not only is an amazingly composed piece of art, this directly shows that you can properly make reference to some of your inspirations without tip-toeing the line of plagiarism. The way that the reprise chorus slows down its tempo and the swing slightly deepens to further accentuate each note lets you admire the polish on the entirety of the piece while reveling in self-confidence. As lively and energetic as it is impressive, ‘Attemption’ deserves your full attention on every play and is downright inspirational even to seasoned veterans of chipmusic.
For the first time in ChipWIN’s history, Trash80 has graced his name and talent onto the compilation with ‘Divided Skies’; a track with a retrowave-esque aesthetic, a danceable rhythm, a high level of quality and sonic characteristics that are synonymous with Trash80’s name. From the melody to the subtle nuances in the percussion such as the soft, occasional trills of the closed high-hat, the quality of the production is as strong as the sound design of the instrumentation. If this wasn’t placed on the compilation, you could easily see this song being used in a movie sequence somewhere, whether it be replacing a Mitch Murder song in the movie Kung Fury, or a song directly from a movie of the 1980’s itself. This song leaves you in a dreamy and reverb-filled atmosphere that feels both brisk and timeless.
Brian Lindner, a talented artist previously known under the alias ‘Aeros’ in his early days, took a step back to work on other focuses. Fortunately for all of us, those focuses were directly music-related. Brian returned to us with ‘Journey’, a song which couldn’t have a better-fitting title. Opting for the route of combining chip with instruments that I almost swore were real until I accidentally stumbled upon them through my own copy of Xpand!2. A piece opting to go for a stronger emotional presence than volume dynamic, the song feels reminiscent as if to suggest it was looking back at a journey just completed. Do not be mistaken, however, by the emotional presence being stronger; this track builds up to a loud and powerful piece that could very much fit into the epilogue of a story. Brian takes you on a journey through emotion with this track. The play on words was as equally intended as the statement is accurate.
We may not know who Maggie is, but whomever it may be, Zantilla sure made sure the theme to ‘Maggie’s Quest’ is a heavy, badass-solo-filled adventure through metal. To add to it, there’s enough melodic exposition to put most adventure-based games and stories to shame for even attempting to make something as intense as this track. The melody’s rhythmic and tonic structure is strong, although the chord progressions may not stand out as directly considering previous examples such as Big Booty Hank and the Wank Stank Booty Tank (this is also still the best name ever released on a ChipWIN comp in my opinion.) This doesn’t detract from the song in the slightest, however, since Zantilla instead decided on the direction of including stronger harmonic content alongside the melody, resulting in an equally fantastical atmosphere in the melody and solos instead of the chord section. Zantilla is synonymous with high quality; he has yet to release a song that didn’t impress me.
I feel like I am logging back onto 8BC when I see NintenKwonDo!’s name pop up on the track list. What I discovered is that it doesn’t seem like any time has gone to waste between the last time I heard that name and now with ‘sports or whatever’. A very math-rock/prog-pop inspired track made from one DMG using LSDJ, ‘sports or whatever’ is stylistically using several poly-rhythms and changing them up accordingly while maintaining a danceable edge as so commonly heard in chiptune, but in this case proving itself to be fast-paced enough with at least one discernible rhythm that could be used to fit to a broad appeal. The layering of the pulse channel pluck arps was an excellent touch along with the times the pulse channels would be used to play a melody with an accentuating bass line that followed along in the same rhythm. NintenKwonDo! created quite the fun track that was a fun reminder that I need to check out more math rock.
‘Nouvelle’ is an astounding example of what kind of effects are possible when you put enough attention into detail in LSDJ. They/them brings us a track that showcases solid dance music production before delivering excellent stuttering and reverb layering to bring the track to a screeching, albeit temporary, halt. According to the liner notes, they/them “miraculously… got this song done within like 14 hours of the deadline.” While everyone recommends getting it done as early as possible, this track is a reminder that even ideas made in the last second have a solid chance if they’re a powerful enough product. This track is put together so well- that I would not have guessed it had been rushed. This level of talent only shows that we can expect excellent work from they/them no matter the situation.
Hearing his previous works at MAGFest and with The Relay Bros., I knew I could expect quality from Dya. When I discovered this also featured Chain Reaction, I immediately knew to expect something crazy talented to result. Fortunately, ‘Lydia (feat. Chain Reaction)’ is a song that hits my hopes in all of the best ways. The song has a lot of funk elements in the bass line, but the overall song structure provides a strong chord progression that functions as a platform for melodic exposition with less focus on a chorus. As someone who loves melodic exposition, I was all about this and its synth-heavy storytelling through melody. It wasn’t until I realized half-way through that this also had some djent-esque elements in a specific section where the melody was layered on top of power chords and a matching bass line before everything took off for a little bit of scale flourishing and then returning to more melody. This was an unexpected but delightful turn of events for a song that could have easily replaced one of the many songs in the latter-half of the Mega Man X series with its synth-heaviness, melodic exposition, and appropriate level of dramatics.
With that, we have the first ten tracks covered from this year’s compilation. Congratulations to all of you that made it, and I hope you as readers stay excited for the next installment of reviews coming up! In the meantime, I’m Glenntai, and I’ll see you… in a bit.