Knasibas has been my friend for awhile now, and I’ve been a fan of his music for even longer. In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s a chiptune/bitpop genius who has been featured on Tracked and Chiptunes = WIN compilations, along with releasing music independently since 2015. Inspired by the sugar rush of jpop, the writing in heavier rock/metal, the appeal of videogame music, and EDM sensibilities, Knasibas has a unique overall sound with distinct and memorable melodies.
So now that you know what to expect, I’m really excited to talk about his latest album ‘CRY’. This release has a lot of depth to it, but the great sense of style speaks for itself. It’s inviting, open and up-front, and I find that… comforting. So rather than try to talk about everything and how it works, I’ll be honing in on that sense of comfort, and figuring out why it stuck with me. Hope you like it!
As an opening track and a namesake, ‘CRY’ nails it. Its melodies and sound choices highlight a lot of what’s to come, while also standing out for having an energetic beat and faster pacing. It catchy and recognizable, but this isn’t style over substance. There are all kinds of interesting harmonies and rhythms going on. It’s not just effective from a technical standpoint either. I mentioned pacing, I especially love the transitions – this feeling of back-and-forth, going in and out of softer sections. It’s exciting as a listener, while also helping to create that emotive personal flair. I think this unique feeling is important, not just for the music’s sake, but also because the album is deliberately personal. Knasibas does his own artwork and mastering – I really like that decision here. It makes the album feel more cohesive, when I consider the literal image in front of me alongside how the music paints a picture in my head. That being said, I also love the artwork for what it alludes to, a smiling girl in a cartoon from the past. ‘CRY’ is oozing with emotion and personality, but I’m equally as hooked for the impersonal, the wide scope of influences. People have referred to Knasibas’ tunes as anime OPs, which is absolutely fitting. The structure often seems to generate hype like one, between the soaring melodies and choruses, with very jpop-y progressions and turnarounds. Yet the way ‘CRY’ actually applies those things is more reminiscent of EDM – not the aggressive and complex kind, but rather the cute and simple kind. There are EDM staples like percussion buildups or a punchy FM bass (you can hear it best in track 2), but they fit into a jumpy synthpop sound, which definitely adds to Knasibas’s broader aesthetic. The vibrato-y saws and noisy filters are great for complementing the direct chiptune style. All the elements at play here feel in-sync.
Once the tunes build and build, they go in some really smart directions. ‘Blossom’ has a similar radiant style to ‘CRY’ in regards to what I’ve mentioned so far, but it also dives into this halftime breakdown section, which is one of my favorite moments. Of course, I get a kick out of this because I’m a nerd who goes to djent concerts. But more importantly, those heavier rock/metal influences lead to some really nice uses of rhythm and space. Silence and space are valuable tools when you’re writing music, and it’s all the more successful here due to the kind of track ‘Blossom’ is otherwise. It’s probably the most in-your-face track of the album, with a full sound, active melodies, and these glorious arps that seem to fill the room. The breakdown is a release from that, giving the track a chance to widen a bit and explore new rhythmic ideas, while also letting one synth in particular stand out when otherwise it might not. The open space here also amplifies the rest of the track once it returns to its high-octane norm. There are smart choices in these middle sections all across the album. Even when it’s not a halftime breakdown specifically, those ideas are still there. Knasibas’s sound is very full, but he knows when to let it breathe.
By the way, if you enjoy those jrock and metal influences – Knasibas has another project called Evoker which falls into that category much more directly! It’s very good and I like it a lot and you should check it out. ^_^
The penultimate track ‘Neon Sunset’ feels very inspired as well, in a way that surprised me. The bassline and drums (those toms! Oh my GOD!!) sound similar to those in synthwave/retrowave, but after listening to ‘Neon Sunset’ more, I almost feel like its atmosphere is more influenced by derivative works. Particularly considering this is a chiptune album – the way chiptune elements are incorporated into this huge reverberating soundscape, the way the beat moves forward, almost carrying you along for a ride. Looking at the latest comp that Knasibas was on (ChipWIN Vol.6), I hear more similarities to Trash80 or Ayoshutduff than I would other non-chip artists with that sort of 80s Outrun influence. The final stretch in ‘Neon Sunset’ is especially strong as a chiptune track. With a soloistic pulse-switching melody, and this infectious arp panning left and right, it actually reminds me a bit of a Game Boy track. The reverb left over at the end also seamlessly fades into the next track, which happens a few times in this album. It’s a very nice touch, making the whole experience more immersive. Speaking of that soundscape though, my favorite part of the song isn’t the retro aesthetic or the chiptune melodies. Once again, there’s a section in the middle where all the movement just stops in its tracks. The focus on that background in this song specifically shines through, and the whole thing just surrounds you. It’s gorgeous, and it also makes the song feel distant. It contrasts how up-front the melodies are, and how much density the arrangement can have. Just like the rest of the album, ‘Neon Sunset’ has a lot going on – spectacular harmonies, and layering with exciting sounds. Yet adding space in such an extreme and sudden way feels natural, and the ambience is more evocative than empty.
My favorite example of this rich atmospheric quality is in ‘Fond Memories’. For the most part it’s a straightforward groove, using the structure and sounds and techniques we’ve heard from Knasibas already (although the chords for this track in particular are wonderful). It’s also a bit more relaxed however, using more plucky synths than usual, accompanying the leading chip melodies with more laid back drums and a casual tempo. The fuller chorus comes in, and you’re more aware of these echoing synths. It falls into a pattern. There’s this repeating rhythmic arp, but it feels like just a small part of an expansive scene. It’s very charming, but what makes ‘Fond Memories’ stand out to me is how it ends. I don’t know exactly how Knasibas pulled this off, but the track almost… fades away, without fading away. Everything stays there, but the whole song just starts moving further away, with more atmosphere and reverberation – distance. The title is so fitting, because while the track is so pleasant and fun, it’s still out of reach. They’re fond memories, but they’re still just memories, and you’re reminded of that distant feeling. Knasibas conveys this so perfectly, especially with the lead this song centers around. It’s pretty, and bouncy – but it’s also pitchy, roaming up and down like it’s longing for something. And the melodies sound drawn out, slower than the rest of the song, like they’re trying to hold on to something. It’s one of the most lyrical chiptune tracks I’ve heard in quite some time, not in the sense that it literally sounds like vocals, but in how the track revolves around this one voice, singing, trying to be heard.
I want to wrap up my article with ‘BITTERSWEET’ because I think it sums up everything I’ve tried to say here. It’s cute and catchy and lively, but it’s also a bit torn, moody, wistful. It’s emotive and heartfelt, but also broad, and fine-tuned. The opening 20 seconds alone are filled with clever intriguing harmonies, and these fantastic sounds, but the focus is front and center. There’s depth, but it’s direct, accessible. You can feel what it’s getting at even if you never give the progression a second thought. For every melody and sound that jumps out at you, there’s also an immersive atmosphere you can get lost in.
Ultimately, I think what made me connect to ‘CRY’ so much is a sense of contrast, in both its technicality and the general vibe Knasibas creates. Contrast between personal and inspired. Between closeness and distance. If you listen to the entire album, there’s a sincerity in the contrast between where it starts and where it ends. When you add everything up, the result is bittersweet. It’s more than a smile in the face of sadness though. It’ll never shy away from a simple happy feeling, it just embraces something more complex as well. Creatively joyful, while admitting joy can’t always be that easy.
Knasibas created an upbeat album with a smiling anime girl on the cover, and he titled it ‘CRY’. It’s fun, cute, genuine, unapologetic, and honest. I think that’s something we could all use.