Since the conclusion of our track-by-track breakdown of ChipWIN Vol. 4, we’ve been having to play catch-up here on the blog. Just a glance at the ChipWINdex reveals that this summer has been chock full of incredible chiptune releases.
About 2 months ago, ‘Red Eyes and Gray Skies’ was released by Norwegian artist Laffe the Fox, whose name should ring a bell if you’ve been following our annual compilation albums. The feelgood party atmosphere of her Vol. 2 contribution, ‘Sloth Machines’, will never cease to put a smile on my face every time that I hear it. This trend continues with the release of her second album via the Russian netlabel, BleepLove. ‘Red Eyes and Gray Skies’ is a delicious slice of bitpop with some unique and unexpected flavors thrown into the mix. Featuring collaborative tracks with Rymdkraft, Super Robotic Encounters and Robot Orgy Massacre, these hypnotic hooks and catchy melodies are all set to burrow themselves into your brain.
This album carries a theme of bright and playful optimism amidst a gloomy atmosphere, which is conveyed not only by the album’s title, but by many of its tracks as well. With names like ‘Symphony of Apathy’, ‘Hopes Down Low’, and ‘I’m Just Gonna Lie Here Until My Lifebar is Empty’, you’d probably be
expecting a first class ticket to frowntown. Upon hearing them however, these tracks are just so darned upbeat, playful and fun! This dash of the dour sprinkled throughout Laffe’s happy-go-lucky bitpop sensibilities works in the album’s favor and makes for an enjoyable juxtaposition.
The solid opening track ‘Symphony of Apathy’ is the sequel to her premiere album’s opener, ‘Apathetic Theme’. It establishes the overall tone of ‘Red Eyes and Gray Skies’ with a light and airy melody that flutters
and reverberates before a rhythmically thumping bass beat is introduced. One can’t help but notice the incredibly clean mix, especially while listening with headphones on. What really make this track stand out are the unique and unexpected sounds employed, which beautifully complement the soundscape as a whole. The wintry bells that first chime in at 1:10 and continue throughout feel like they’d be right at home on a ChipWINter album. They lend the track a slightly gloomy, but undeniably comfy vibe.
The energy levels are then amped up in ‘Extreme Krocket’, a jolly collaboration with veteran chiptuner Rymdkraft. Boisterous percussion meets a searing, staccato chip lead that impacts the listener with the rocking aggression of an electric guitar. A melodic bridge leads into another facemelting solo, while the low rumbles and rising pitch of assorted sound effects add to the overall feeling of liftoff that this track creates. For its rousing climax, the beat kicks into double-time at the 2 minute mark at perfect jumping speed. I can just envision a live performance of this track with everyone jumping in unison, deep in the throes of this infectious composition.
After some more hook-laden grooves, Laffe relaxes the tempo with ‘The Sweden Experience’, which was inspired by the Swedish bitpop act Gäddan & Braxen. Remarkably simple in its composition, the track manages to be one of the most memorable takeaways from the entire album. It’s comprised of a barebones bassline, a whimsical, carnivalesque chip lead, and a rising, multi-measure earworm of a melodic phrase. It isn’t until past the halfway point that some basic percussion enters the mix. On paper, there are many more rich and complex to be found on this album. Yet, I find ‘The Sweden Experience’ to be so captivating in its minimalism, and it has stuck with me well beyond my first listen. It fosters warm feelings and quiet introspection, and serves as a welcome intermission-style moment in the track order.
Another track off the beaten path is ‘Dancing to Bullets’. We don’t get to hear all that much banjo in chiptune, and luckily Laffe has helped to fix that. It’s a foot-stomping ditty with a danceably rustic, Banjo-Kazooie vibe. Maybe I’ve just been spending a little too much time around ChipWIN and President Hoodie’s shenanigans, but I can’t help but feel that this track could really use some jaw harp! Still, ‘Dancing to Bullets’ is another enjoyable and lighthearted change of pace from the wide selection of bitpop bangers on this album. There’s even a more traditionally chiptune variant of ‘Dancing to Bullets’ which
is a bonus track after the official album finisher, ‘Furry Flurry’. Speaking of which…
‘Furry Flurry’ does an excellent job of sending this album out on a huge high note. Its jubilant and celebratory vibe, combined with its driving dance beat, gives the track an incredible sense of forward momentum. Laffe’s knack for effective song composition is reflected in her uses of rests and breaks throughout, giving the explosively happy moments even more of an impact upon the listener. By the time it winds down to a close, I’m left wanting to experience the party all over again: a sure sign of success by anyone’s estimation.
I can say without hesitation that ‘Red Eyes and Gray Skies’ would make an excellent addition to the collection of anyone who loves chipmusic. Since his contribution to Vol. 2, Laffe the Fox’s sound has continued to
expand upon the cheerful and fun side of chiptune that we all love so much. Even more sonic treats await you which I haven’t touched upon in this review, and it’s my hope that you’ll give this album a spin. Sure, you can buy the album on bandcamp for just $1. You can even download it free of charge from Bleeplove’s website, a service that this kickass netlabel so generously extends to their entire catalog. However, the clear WINning choice here, especially for all you collectors of physical media, is to purchase the digital download + limited edition compact disc for only $5! There’s even a bonus track; Indeed, the title track to the album, ‘Red Eyes and Gray Skies’, which you can only find on the disc. Are you a cunning enough fox to jump on this deal? Support this artist, and your ears will thank you.
Keep your hands and heart held high!