The ChipWIN-tern Spotlight returns – and what a day to make a comeback, a day to wake up to some brand-spankity new chipzel! Her new album Spectra has just dropped, and if you haven’t been sitting in your chair frothing at the mouth about it, then you’re doing it wrong. But fear not! We can fix that. We will fix that, presently.
This album has a very polished feel to it – there’s an aura of maturity that emanates from it that puts it a cut above her (already fantastic) previous works. Any knucklehead with a Gameboy, an LSDJ cartridge, and a weekend can make something that at least sounds somewhat musical. chipzel, however, is to that weekend chiptune warrior as Van Gogh is to a kid with a sponge and some paint.
Spectra excels in many ways. In particular the percussion is very well crafted. Some of you may not be aware of the effort that can go into creating percussion instruments in trackers like LSDJ, but take it from me, that’s some darn good music-ing. The eponymous first track on the album showcases the expert way in which those drum sounds have been composed. What really strikes me, though, is that this album is a cohesive entity. Some albums are just collections of tracks with no general theme or purpose. Spectra isn’t a concept album, per se, except perhaps in the broader sense that many of the track names are related to astronomical or atmospheric phenomena. That being said, what makes the album cohesive is how the tracks flow well together, presenting each song as an extension of the one before while at the same time portraying its own identity.
Spectra, Tokyo Skies (which you may’ve heard previously on the Gamechops/Koopa Soundworks collaboration World 1-2), and Forged in Stars comprise the first section. They all have a strong, purposeful bass beat behind them which drives the songs forward, accelerating almost imperceptibly between the first two. Going to the third, the beat speeds up just enough to where the ear knows something’s up. These songs lean a lot more towards standard chipzel – that is to say, somewhere between hardstyle techno and club music. Effectively, they’re a pretty good snapshot of much of chipzel‘s work up to this point.
But then, the second section appears, which is appropriately tagged as an interlude – Formed in the Clouds (Interlude), Only Human and Aurora Borealis are all very light and airy and somewhat slower. It is almost as though the first three songs were building up momentum to break orbit, and now the interlude has the listener free-floating in space, taking in the sights (or sounds, in this case). This is a complete break from basically anything and everything chipzel has done up to this point in her musical career – while there are some tracks out there that aren’t quite as uptempo, they are predominately aggressive and pulsing, so this is an interesting change.
And then you, the listener, find out why you got hit with some slower tracks – because Evolution turns the album on its head. The instrumentation changes: the bass hits become a little splashier and the melody becomes less obviously Gameboy. It sounds a lot more like what someone would expect when they hear “techno,” and a little less what they’d expect when they hear “chiptune”. This segues nicely into the rest of the third section. Beyond the Cosmos appropriately spends most of its duration in the upper octaves, far away from more commonly used notes and Veteran goes right back to that hardstyle, almost industrial, punchiness chipzel is known for.
That only leaves one track left, right? *buzzer* WRONG. Spoiler alert, there are three secret tracks on this album, so that leaves Sonnet, Sunday, The Art of War and Final Credits. These four tracks are honestly what solidify this as not being one of those run of the mill, done-in-a-weekend LSDJ experiences. Excepting Final Credits, these are moderately embellished in processing via Logic, which really sets them apart – Sonnet is more dynamically arranged, Sunday is layered with cathedral-esque choir synths, and The Art of War has quiet booming effects evocative of a fantasy battle scene, creating an atmosphere of tension, of a calm before the storm. Final Credits feels like it sounds – like a finale to a musical, a conclusion to a paper, an autograph on a movie poster. In effect, these final songs work together to showcase that chipzel truly is a multi-faceted musician, and has only gotten better as she has incorporated new technology and abilities.
This is the next in a growing line of chipzel-related goodness this year, and I love it. I need more of it. If she’s already showing that she can go from great to fantastic, then I can’t wait to see where she ends up. But for now, I leave you with all the links you’ll need to show your love for her, and that tasty, tasty album down there for your aural pleasure.