Hello all and welcome to the last leg of the Vol. 6 track reviews. One great thing with Chiptunes = WIN’s yearly mainline Volumes: the overall quality is so high and consistent, you’ll never feel like the compilation loses momentum at any point, even for the very last tracks. On the contrary. On this truly STELLAR Volume 6, some of my absolute favourites are actually part of the last ten! And I was lucky enough to review them. Let’s dive in! “La main à la pâte”!
Immortan – ‘外太空电子游戏’
Not enough LSDJ artists dare to use this program in conjunction with other tools, be it chips or synths. As shown by Roboctopus’ and Auxcide’s brilliant tracks on this Volume, when done right it can really pay off. Immortan is a new face to me (one of the 19 first-timers on this volume) and boy am I happy to discover them. The track opens up with an airy piano-like motif that would fit right in a Zelda Fairy Fountain or Water Temple, and builds up with a smooth mid-tempo beat and additional layers of texture. By the halfway point of the track we’re completely immersed in these beautiful harmonies and slow grooves, and that’s where Immortan chooses to burn the curtain. They could have continued on this path and made a good track out of the original idea. But no. They made a GREAT track. After a surprising but very well-indroduced buildup, The drums double up into a frantic, almost DnB-like groove and a fat, supersaw bass drunkenly pounces around on the center stage for the rest of the track. Immortan made a daring gamble, put his money on the element of surprise, and brought it home with his catchy bass riff, which somehow complements the airy harmonies of the beginning really well. It shouldn’t work. But it does. Deal with it.
WillRock – ‘Into the Lion’s Den’
This track can be described as a perfect hommage. It packs up all the ingredients of a great SNES-era JRPG boss theme, but is coherent enough in its own right to never fall into cliché territory. ‘Into The Lion’s Den’ is laid out in several movements as if meant to follow boss fight phases. This track is extremely dense in only 3 minutes and a half. Starting with a definitely Uematsu-esque intro, it follows up with daring yet expertly executed rhythmic and harmonic shifts. Sound design is super crisp and detailed throughout, reminiscing of the best 2a03 tracks out there, even though it was made in Reason. The borrowed idiosyncrasies of the NES chip are very thoroughly replicated, and even the bass sounds like it’s been downsampled to DPCM quality, reminding the listener of an all-time 2a03 great: Hertzdevil’s ‘Extends Levant’. Arrangement is masterful, solos show a lot of virtuosity and humanity in their execution. Overall, compositionnally, this track is a progtastic and very impressive display of true musical skill.
Jredd & Groovemaster303 – ‘Cyborg Enforcers’
The most iconic duo™ in Genesis Chiptune takes a break from haunting the BotB leaderboards and drops a very aptly-named track on this decidedly stellar Volume 6. The liner notes specify that this track would probably not play back properly on a Sega Genesis, given how liberally these 16-bit Brigands break the chip’s limitation on their tracker. The track is anchored down with a heavy hip-hop beat and a simple but effective chord progression, allowing its hyper-slick sound design and arrangement to shine through. No wonder the console can’t keep up. Jredd and Groovemaster303 really went all out and squeezed every last drop of what Genesis FM is capable of delivering. Synths glimmer and shine, leads sweep away cheekily, amidst a crapton of impressive warbly FX. This chaotic yet coherent ensemble sets up a very believable atmosphere throughout track and really drags the listener in.
Ojiichan – ‘John Lemon (All you need is polka)’
Ojii returns from his past ghostly misdeeds on Vol. 5 with another high-energy “Polka-core” track. This song might sound super goofy at first, but attentive ears won’t fail to notice a very careful and detailed approach to composition. The lead is simple and very catchy, but full of little winks and tasteful ornaments. Slower bridges right in the middle of the song let us enjoy rich and textured arpeggios, showcasing Ojii’s harmony skills, before returning to the main theme. Striking a great balance between mischievous and ominous, Ojii delivers a track that is more delicate and mature than his already brilliant sub on Vol. 5, without ever going away from his signature playful and insolent style.
Aquellex – ‘Tachyon Beam Cannon’
Oh my god. I have to review this. It’s so rich and dense I don’t know where to begin and I’m very afraid not to do it justice. After blowing everyone’s minds with his Vol. 5 track ‘Wanderflux’, Aquellex returns as a seasoned veteran. He’s honed his skills, he’s perfected his craft, and it really shows. Making breakcore is no easy task as is. But making GOOD breakcore that’s both super chaotic, accessible and rich as this, on ONE gameboy no less, is really, really impressive. ‘Tachyon Beam Cannon’ hits very hard, and ripples in every direction, as can be expected of an Aquellex track. But it is a very controlled and beautiful form of chaos this time. Imagine a masterful pyrotechnic show going atomic. The recurring chord progression and melodies are odd, surprising and enticing, yet very easy to follow, allowing Aquellex to lead you through a galleries of glowing kaleidoscopic gems at lightning speed. Cherry on this highly radioactive but DELICIOUS cake: you can check the liner notes to get a download code for his LSDJ project file.
Bubblegum Octopus – ‘Tree Cutter‘
This track really shows how important the track order is in a 50+ song compilation, and how good Kubbi is at this job. Following up the dizzying speed of Aquellex’s track is not something everyone can do. Leave it to ‘Tree Cutter’s’ raging bass riff though. More like Chainsaw Massacre realy. It’s a perfect fit. The beginning of this track harkens back to the golden days of hair metal, with a hefty ladleful of FM synths and organs thrown on top. Metal and FM synths? This track literally screams “COME AT ME BRO”. It would feel right at home in the attract mode of a Neo Geo cab caught on fire, running beat-em-alls or VS fight games. The fat, slow chords in the middle of the track complement the zig-zaggy lead of the faster main theme, with its unrelenting assault of slap bass drilled into your skull.
Man, if this track is ever played live by a band, the bassist will need to wear hard-shell protection on their thumb and chug down a gallon or two of Redbull. I’d love to see that. Brandon slap it out!
Brick BRKer – ‘Sequence BRK’
In this track, Brick BRKer chooses a more minimalistic approach to LSDJ than what the tech-heavyweights usually deliver, and it’s very refreshing. Deliberately utilizing the Gameboy’s idiosyncrasies rather than going all out with shiny, larger-than-life design, Brick BRKer puts together a melancholic and very sincere track. Lancinant leads, resonant drums and the signature LSDJ stock sample ‘CHK DIS OUT’ all form the words of a delicate love letter to the traditional chiptune sound. The composition and arrangement really let every detail, raspy or soft, seep through. The listener is faced with a paradox of apparent imperfections, assembled together into this beautiful song, like a diamond in the rough.
Producer Snafu – ‘Hyper Focus’
Once again, Kubbi has spotted two tracks that transition perfectly together. Brick BRKer’s pleading pulse leads give way to a timid arpeggio in the beginning of this new track, which quickly gains speed. The intro sound design is just as idiosyncratic as in the previous track, and its minor-heavy harmonic march reminds of a prelude straight out of Bach’s well-tempered clavier. Soft pulses and baroque arpeggios? Producer Snafu is having none of that for too long. Spicing up the intro, the noise drums get gradually more and more frantic, finally leading to the TRUE FINAL FORM of the track. Grandiloquent jungle, gabber and breakcore beats then take the center stage and showcase the amazing sampling power of the Gameboy. Snafu uses home-made sample kits to great effect: warped beyond recognition, chopped and screwed, granularized into gnarly basses and bent out of shape with the strength and precision of a master blacksmith. Amen (break) to that.
Freeo – ‘Happy Kill Lucky’
From the get go, this track means beeswax. One of the hardest-hitting kicks I’ve ever heard in chip, loud pulse bleeps with zero volume decay and a gritty, dirty bass design. Could it be another one of these LSDJ ear-splitting EDM bangerz? Aw hell no. After just a few seconds of 120bpm intro, the tempo actually doubles up to about 240 (yes) and the other instruments combine to form the most unlikely of musical Megazords : an exhilarating, happy, cali-punk bomb track. Erupting with childlike joy and insolence, Freeo grabs you by the collar and throws you into the mosh pit. Picture an early Blink-182 concert, but with only the fastest songs, and absolutely no pause. The onslaught of Kick’n’snare and frantic riffing doesn’t let up for even one second until the very last moments. Chug down some of your favourite go-go juice and buckle up because this comp isn’t done with you just yet.
Kommisar – ‘Turkey Turkey’
Who better to follow up Freeo’s hyperventilating frenzy than our trusty Acadian LSDJ Solo-master Kommisar? This artists is well-known in the Chip scene for his high-speed, high-energy, high-everything tracks and signature dizzying solos. The track starts off the track with a heavy dose of swing. Basses and leads are welded together and detuned to form a loud pillar of sound that feels as solid as it is shaky. Fast wub swirls come and go, adding even more texture and playfulness to the straightforward base of the song. After the first motif is introduced, the lead splits in two for a catchy twin lead chorus that does a great job of establishing a strong structure. And right after this, Kommisar pushes off the starting blocks, the fucks he gives suddenly dipping into double digit negatives. It’s time for solo city. Single lead, twin lead, bass solo, and of COURSE anime samples. Back to the chorus motif one more time, then it’s time for a second round of solo porn. Detuned leads, bass growls, vreeps bleeps and sweeps. Kommisar pulls no punches and whips out every trick up his sleeve up until the very end. I can never not like this.
Lute and Key – ‘Aftermath’
After the double onslaught brought by Freeo and Kommi, it’s only fair that the listener should get a chance to rest, think back and get some well-deserved closure. Lute and Key is a new duo formed by Vol. 5 recidivist Pieces of Eight and his partner in crime. And boy do they steal the show. This track has to be one of the most interesting ChipWIN tracks ever included in a mainline Volume. We’ve all heard moody, slower jams pulled off masterfully, like Starscream, Shadrew or FAAS did, we’ve all heard Chip with guitar, or Chip with vocals. But not like this. Nothing comes close. No track is this sincere, this hearfelt, no track feels this complete or this rich. We are in front of a true masterpiece.
There is so much to say about this track. The way the pulse notes in the beginning perfectly complement the delicate guitar motif, the way string slide squeaks, and unquantized drums give it a compelling human and organic feel, while still retaining digital grit and lush texture. The way eight minutes fly by unnoticed. At the end of this track, I don’t know if my heart craves more, or if I’m satisfied and relieved with a longing sense of closure. Listening to this track I feel like a traveller nearing the end of his journey, looking back on his adventure, feeling the experiences of several lifetimes swell in my chest, shared with friends and strangers alike. I see it all. Ache and relief, strength and vulnerability, sun and moon, air and earth.
I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs describing in detail the wide range of emotion this track pulls out of me, movement after movement. But it’s not my place to do so here, so I’ll let you discover it all for yourself. Do however pay close attention to the last minute of the track, when you think all has ended and the last fireworks have eventually died down into the night, and let the soothing, warm vocal harmonies lead you back to a safe place.
AND THEN THERE’S FRIGGIN’ HAUNTED HOUSE AGAIN BUT IT’S WORSE THAN BEFORE SOMEHOW GOD (pls actually never stop kthx)
I feel truly humbled to have carried the torch on this final lap of Volume 6 victory. The level of this compilation just keeps getting higher and higher, and the only thing I can say for now is, hit replay, and until next year. Congratulations everyone.