There’s more than one reason to get hyped about the album that I’m reviewing this month, chipfam. Not only is ‘Black’ by Russian chiptune artist Zan a killer new release in its own right, but it also marks the launch of an exciting new chiptune netlabel, • Forest •! Yes, the founder of Forest Booking, Alexander Agri, has recently leveled up from booking agency to full-blown netlabel and joined forces with none other than Kubbi to begin releasing awesome chipmusic to the world. In addition, ‘Black’ features Twistboy (now going by the name Purely Grey), who takes turns with Zan remixing each other’s tracks on the latter half of the album. I’ve expressed my love for both Kubbi and Twistboy’s music in previous blog posts, and to see their paths cross for an album in this way was more than enough to pique my interest. After hearing ‘Black’ by Zan, I think you’ll agree that this is one hell of a kickass release, and look forward to what • Forest • puts out in the future.
In ‘Black’, Zan uses LSDJ to create an engaging mixture of chiptune, techno and drum’n’bass. The result is anything but a simple case of laying down a four-on-the-floor beat, repeating identical verses and calling it a day. In fact, ‘Black’s tracks have developed over the last four years into what you’re hearing today. These bangers have a dynamic song structure as well as melodic hooks and the use of samples at just the right moment. As a result, these tracks hold their own just as well under headphone scrutiny as they do on the dancefloor.
In ‘Black’s title track as well as others, the bassline is just as much a lead instrument as the pulse wave channels. During the buildup, the pulse channels arpeggiate and tickle the listener’s eardrums. After the drop, a thick and groovy bassline takes the spotlight and mimics the established melody as an “oh, shit!” sample is repeated, which is exactly what you’ll be thinking when hearing this track. Later in the track’s decompression phase, the simplest form of the main melody is played over the softly sustained hiss of the noise channel. It’s quiet moments like this that allow the track to breathe and give the drops a greater impact upon the listener, as well as underscore Zan’s excellent song structure.
The following track, ‘Amsterdam’, has a breezy sense of forward momentum. After a strong buildup, ‘Amsterdam’ boosts the tempo and launches into an incredibly catchy groove. What I love most about this track is the percussion; its metronomic beats remind me of one of my all-time favorite EP’s, Juicepouche’s ‘Transients’. There’s something really interesting going on with it in ‘Amsterdam’, however. Every other measure, the steady tick-tock rises and lowers in pitch. The punchy high end of the beat is removed and then replaced again, which gives it a very lively and organic feel. There are many enjoyable little flourishes contained within ‘Amsterdam’ as well, such as when all of its elements suddenly slow down and derail, only to quickly fall right back into the groove again. There clearly was a lot of work put into ‘Amsterdam’, one of my favorite tracks from ‘Black’.
Moving into the remixes, ‘Wow!Wow! (Twistboy Remix)’ starts out by establishing a brooding and ominous atmosphere. Then at the 1:30 mark, a searing lead breaks the tension and takes everything into party mode. After a brief breather, we have the single greatest use of Scorpion’s “Get over here!” sample, and the ensuing bassline forms the sharpest edge that has been heard up to this point. This cathartic climax really gets the blood pumping, and from this point on it’s nothing but a headbanging good time. Everything comes together in the final minute to create a raucous finale. When it’s all said and done and you look back at how ‘Wow!Wow!’ began, it’s quite an incredible journey that this track takes you on, enough to make you go Wow! Wow!
Zan remixes Twistboy in ‘Black’s final track, ‘Black Light (Zan Remix)’. The first minute is an ethereal intro that is slightly pitched down from the original track, at which point the soundscape swallows you with the most deliciously disorienting dissonance that I have ever heard. This sound was present in Twistboy’s original track, but it is brought to the forefront much stronger here. The way in which the off-kilter tones warble, warp, and worm themselves into your brain is so hypnotically satisfying that it could go on for many more minutes and I’d have no problem with that. ‘Black Light (Zan Remix)’ is something that you must experience for yourself, a truly mesmerizing end to a fantastic album all around.
Zan’s music is dynamic and compelling, it’s danceable with a whole lot of depth. It’s always exciting to discover an artist whose music is this engaging, and I’m doubly excited to know that this is just the beginning of a whole lot of awesome music that will be coming from the brand new netlabel • Forest •. At a price of only $2, it’s totally worth it to get in on the ground floor with their first release, ‘Black’ by Zan, If you’re a collector of physical chiptune discs like I am though, definitely go for the CD as well which is just $10 and support the awesome artists who have cooperated to bring you this excellent music.
Keep your hands and heart held high!