I realize that at the time I write this, everyone’s still probably in the throes of their Fallout 4 addiction, but assuming you can get your Pip-Boy to pick up the ChipWIN-tern Spotlight, I’ll be your Three-Dog for an evening so I can yell at you about everyone’s favorite polka-playing Philadelphan, ap0c. Back in August, ap0c dropped ‘LISTENCORE Vol. I,’ the first of what I hope to be many classical-inspired chiptune masterpieces. Pop open your Nuka-Cola and take a load off while we explore one of the raddest albums to drop this summer.
Before I get into the real meat of this review, though, I need to get one thing out of the way. I respect Steve Lakawicz more than quite a lot of the musicians I’ve ever met, and it’s not just because we have the shared
humiliation experience of being tuba players – it’s because Steve gets out there and makes the music he wants to make. I know that may sound a little silly or maybe a little too simplistic – “Duh Adam, he’s making the music he wants to, he’s writing it,” but what I mean is that I’ve never seen Steve buy into any trend in the scene. On the rare occasion that we’ve spoken about music, or the rarer occasion that I’ve seen him perform, Steve’s not out there to do what everyone else is doing, but he’s not out there trying to reinvent the scene either. He’s not out there trying to feel out what people are doing to see how he fits in with what anyone else is doing, he just makes the music he wants to make because he wants to make it, and it’s for that reason that he has my respect.
Now, in the great tradition of classical composers everywhere, Steve has taken to giving all of his songs excessively German names. For the curious non-German speakers among you, the translation of the rest of the German names are at least roughly translated as follows:
Vorspiel – Foreplay
Litauisch Walzer – Lithuanian Waltz
Abzocke der mauer – Rip Off The Wall
Unterbrechung – Interruption
Neo-kliassichen Katastrophen – Neo-classical Disasters (although I imagine that one was pretty obvious)
Die Tiefen Wald: I. dramatische Reise – The Deep Forest: Dramatic Journey
Die Tiefen Wald: II. zur Realisierung : Implementation
As to why this is important, aside from giving us a touchstone and making us automatically associate the music with classical composers, is that we can sort of plot a course for how the album is going to unfold – we know the first couple of tracks are going to be getting you in the right mindset, we have an intermission to do a palate cleanse, and then we have two tracks that are going to tell some kind of story. (There are, of course, the B side tracks to the album, but they don’t count yet.)
‘Vorspiel’ is aptly named – from the second the broad, sweeping intro starts, this song is very evidently setting and getting you in the mood for this album. It’s a nice little show of what’s to come without being an actual overture to the album, more like a compositional showcase of ideas about to be expressed. You get the aforementioned extremely classical introduction, it picks up with a sweet bass groove, it starts sounding like a proper dance track, then hits you with some dissonance and resets. It’s well balanced, in terms of compositional weight – it doesn’t stay with one theme too long, but it does fully express every musical thought it presents.
We then go to ‘Litauisch Walzer,’ which, shock and horror, starts off in 3/4, like a waltz does. But something really cool happens about halfway through the song – the time signature switches to 6/8. This probably doesn’t mean anything to most of you, but for the general music-goer, waltzes are in 3/4 and that’s just how it goes. When it got there, I had to stop and ask myself “Can…can he do that? Is that allowed?” I, of course, had no answers, but our friend the internet does, and apparently 6/8 waltzes are and have been a thing for quite some time, and of course out of literally anyone in the world, Steve would know this and use this. You sly dog, making us learn while we jam to your music.
‘Azbocke der mauer’ is a straight up banger. A pseudo-classical banger. And while I’m upset at having thought that thought with my own brain, because those are words I did not expect to ever be so near each other, this is where everything starts picking up. You’ve got this neat contrast of these sort of legato passages with all this really frantic bleeping under it and driving drums, and then the whole song deconstructs itself only to change key near the end. Excellent use of glitchy dissonance in parts to bridge different sections of the song together. In fact, that’s one thing Steve has going for him – the man knows how to transition movements in a song, and that’s an overlooked art.
And speaking of transitions, ‘Unterbrechung’ is exactly what it needs to be – a calm interlude between the first half of the album and the second. ‘Neo-klassischen Katastrophen’ is probably my favorite track on the album (aside from its C Side track, which breaks Euclidian geometry with its spüky presence to make it exist as a third side to an album) because of the excellent balance of a walking bassline that knows what it’s doing and wants to make itself heard under all sorts of crazy glitchy ornamentation and slick runs.
As the album really starts to change into something else entirely, we’re greeted with with the ‘Die Tiefen Wald’ tracks, and it’s great because it’s like there’s a tiny concept album inside of this much larger piece. The first movement really does confer that sense that you’re on a journey – starting off light and airy, then picking up speed and intensity. With constant changes in tone and time signature while keeping around certain motifs, it’s completely different than anything else so far on the album. The second movement starts off extremely dreamlike and ramps up into an frenzy which concludes with the song being played out by a brass brass section that begins to overlap with the chip parts, which then gets more traditional instrumentation added into the mix until it’s not clear what you’ve got anymore, aside from what sounds like a wonderful finale.
Which it is, for the A-side, at least: ‘Oddball Forever’ is the first B-side track, and it truly does stick out as something much different in tone than anything else on the album. Incidentally, it’s now my favorite track to hear ap0c play live, since when he does so, he throws tuba on top of it for some really slick bass jams. ‘MORE LIKE BORE-SPEIL’ is, of course, a remix of ‘Vorspiel,’ and it’s cool to hear a more upbeat dancey version of that track. I couldn’t say one does better than the other in terms of composition – they scratch different itches.
We then come to the final track on the album, a remix of the oft-referenced seldom-heard “Haunted House” by 8-bit Beast. This track has become legendary, in certain circles, and it’s so important to Steve that he made sure to release an album dedicated to it for Halloween. It’s actually hilarious and awesome that ap0c has taken a song that is by all rights horrible and through the power of memes and musicianship, turned it into something actually worth listening to. Honestly, I want to give you the whole story here of the clash of ap0c and the 8-bit Beast, to finally chronicle the story of this masterpiece for all to see, but some stories are best left untold. There is a little 8-bit Beast in all of us…and it would be a shame if something were to happen to it.
To anyone who got to go to 8staticfest this year, you saw Steve play several of these songs with himself as tuba accompaniment, which was simply amazing, as well as playing around with that other guy from Philly you might know, just some nobody named Alex Mauer that I’ve definitely never talked about here. Marjorie Becker captured the event, as per usual, and if you’d like to see more of the event from her eyes you can check out her site! (She also has some pretty detailed write ups on the event this year.) Steve has kept busy too – he just dropped a track he did as part of a new videogame soundtrack, so be sure to check it out! And remember kids, the best way to show you love ap0c’s music is to offer him a can of Bud Light & Clamato at MAGFest -he’ll thank you for sure, trust me.