My friend was on TV recently. He was shopping at a bookstore, and the local news was doing a segment on reading, interviewing customers there. When asked to “talk about your favorite book”, he panicked, grabbing the first book that came to his mind: ‘The Crying of Lot 49’, a mere 160 page novella. Now, the interview went fine; he talked about its good writing and such. Upon relaying this story to me, however, my friend expressed regret. He told me it really is one of his favorites, and it’s surprising to find so much value in a pretty short book, and he wishes he could have pointed that out. He’d say something like, “It’s a really small book that says a lot of big ideas.”
meganeko’s ‘Nascens’ is one of my favorite music releases. It’s full of originality. It surprises me. Yes it’s short, but it’s a small EP that shows a lot of big ideas.
‘Nascens’ opens with its ‘Boot Sequence’ – a mechanical startup, with arps surging up and down like an electric current, and chords instantly reminiscent of science fiction, all resounding full and clearly in a dark environment with looming open space. For such a short introduction, I love how effective this is, establishing a world, placing the listener right where it wants to be. And equally as impressive are the ways the track balances this, enhancing the atmosphere with these expanding nebulous textures, and moving into both jumpier harmonies and an ever-slowing tempo, making your entrance feel more natural. Even for the boot sequence, musically this is anything but robotic.
SPACE MAGIC. OH MY GOD. If ‘Boot Sequence’ was all about setting the stage, this track is absolutely dedicated to exploring it. Beginning with more streams of electronica, as the arps continue leaving trails of sound behind them, we find ourselves in this pretty expanse. A pulsing bass moves us forward. Our view also features something new – brightness, in the sound choices, and in the more direct harmonies. Before we can fully explore this growing space, however, something else takes over, as it drops from under us, taking the track in a completely different direction. The machine pushing us along the track changes course. This isn’t a new scene, rather, it’s a transformation. We’re still within this dark and open space, but the drums and bass alone completely fill it up. There isn’t too much tension, this isn’t a conflict, it’s just chugging along with a rhythm that gives our exploration more urgency. Fittingly, ‘Space Magic’ not once returns to the progression or sound it starts out with, always opting for new territory. It quickly demonstrates that with a heavy melody and strong chords which, while recognizably patterned, change a bit with each 4 bars you hear them (side note: I especially love the first one, starting off with i – II really got to me). Wild sounds start fighting for room, but then another arp soars, zooming to a new melody and sound.
This melodic satellite doesn’t last forever, and if we’ve been travelling planet-to-planet, I think the arp that concludes it wants to take you to a whole different solar system. It doesn’t, though, as instead the track reminds you of the surrounding empty space, coming back to familiar ground. You can practically hear the individual cogs in the ship you’re moving in, with all kinds of cool clanks in the percussion before the bass takes over again, and you go for another ride to take another trip now that you know what you’re in for. It is a little different this time, with halftime in part of the chorus, and the final melody going up the octave for this really beautiful effect. Just in case you’re done revisiting, catching another look at sights you may have only glimpsed before.
This track has a lot of twists and turns that I really enjoy experiencing by just sitting back for the ride, so I’ll try not to just cover it start-to-finish, but I love how it expands upon elements of the previous two tracks. It’s got weird harmonies and arps, like in ‘Boot Sequence’, but put into a longer and tighter context. The pulsing bass is straight out of ‘Space Magic’, while its syncopation is even more apparent and interesting. This track isn’t just derivative though, bringing funky filtered chords to the table, and rapid-fire glitchy percussive moments that I swear are like calculators playing buzzword. Speaking of which, for a track titled ‘IO’ – I was pleased to find quite a bit of back-and-forth, although that isn’t usually front and center, aside from the slapping FM bass that comes in for just a couple bars before disappearing. Most of the back and forth is just fun to pick up on, like how the song maintains a fairly consistent playful groove, but dives into this much broader section in the middle, with less punchy percussion and a bending lead that really lets it loose. Also the ending is just flat out polyrhythmic, which isn’t call-and-response per se, but still feels acutely in sync with the rest of the track, especially when you consider the amazing job it does setting up the cosmic blast that’s up next.
Somehow ‘Cloudscape Architect’ manages to start off with a kickass explosion and still keep getting bigger and bigger. Bursts of light will start somewhere, carry the piece forward, then use where they land as the starting point for something else. Earlier I mentioned that the second track’s urgency wasn’t conflict – this is why. This is the conflict. There is so much tension, so much escalation, so much intensity. First you’ve got these heavy hits, then a heavier beat to complement them, and then this complex lead to navigate leaping on top, and then harmonies flying close by. Before you can get used to the pattern, even that changes, by dropping everything for a new piece of the puzzle, with these gorgeous filtered arps and a new melody that can’t stay in one place. Time to go back and fight again, except this time those arps make everything even more active, spaceships firing ever more critical, melody even more pressing than before. This time when it drops everything, it even goes to a new key. And once you finally catch a break, as the beat lets up as you can fully hear the swelling that surrounds you, no sooner does this emphatic solo take charge, as everything from the sound to the progression is once again in completely new territory, always in motion. Never an idle target. This is war. But more than that, it keeps going, and soon the space is completely taken up. As more sounds come together, the beat carries more urgency, with a
kick snare, kick snare much more aggressive drum n bass staple. This time urgency comes with a newfound sense of hope. This song has the brightness that we lost before.
In my favorite moment of the entire EP, a little over 4 minutes in, once everything is moving at once, that one melody that can’t stay still morphs entirely, soaring higher and higher taking a completely different spot yet still flying in a similar way. ‘Cloudscape Architect’ is a masterclass in making a great song even greater than the sum of its parts. Each component begins by serving one purpose, then quickly turns to another, and each time we reach a segment we’ve seen before, it’s in a different light. Plus, this is all done in a way so as we put the pieces of the puzzle together, it just builds, and builds, and builds.
This track was built by an architect.
‘Velocity’ is one hell of a closer, especially for my personal tastes. I’ve been a fan of EDM artists like Camellia, Akira Complex, and lapix for quite awhile, and it’s wonderful to hear really explicit influences like that in a chiptune release (and cyberpunk! nice bandcamp tags!) by a chiptune artist I’ve also been a fan of for a long time. But at the risk of getting too technical in an already lengthy review, I’d like to only highlight a few quick things.
First off, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Akira Complex did the mastering for this release, but it’s no surprise their name would show up on something with a track like THIS. I’m not an expert, but from what I can tell they did a really excellent job with the mastering. The album artwork by c.a.chou is phenomenal too, particularly for how it shows a resilient character with warm colors surrounded by a darker, open, and mechanical place. meganeko is a powerhouse, but this release’s final presentation wasn’t done alone, and the choices made in that regard are worth noting too.
With that out of the way, ‘Velocity’ is quite the journey. The sound design is off the wall, working with warbley leads, evolving neuro basses, spacey arps and synths, a downright haunting chorus, and a plethora of drum samples and other glitchy percussive elements. The pacing is incredible, ramping up and down with a wide variety of segments that keep you on your toes, while still making sense together, and also making sense in the context of the whole release. It’s got ‘IO’’s twists and turns, and ‘Cloudspace Architect’’s heaviness of course, banded together by ‘Space Magic’’s sense of wonder and, well, space. The buildups are tense, the drops are audacious, and the fun melodies add a helpful levity. So does the neat bit right at the 4:00 mark, actually, which is a pretty great example of some Camellia/Akira Complex influence as well.
The best component for me has got to be the percussion, though. It’s fucking immaculate. Drum samples and rhythms are always so complex and dynamic in this one, whether it’s heavy and driving forward. Other times it’s filtered and blending in with the atmosphere, or it’s a chaotic breakbeat, or it’s less of a beat and more of just another effect leading up to a change of pace. If you end up listening to ‘Nascens’ more than just a couple times, do yourself a favor and listen to ‘Velocity’ once just for the percussion. There’s so much good stuff here.
Last but not least, ‘Velocity’ almost seems to start off with its own boot sequence, and I think there’s a good reason why. It clocks in at over 7 minutes, and yet the song is titled ‘Velocity’, and wants to be gaining speed. It’s 7 minutes long, but it’s arguably the least repetitive track there is. This track travels seamlessly between fun chiptune electronica, dominating cyberpunk dubstep battles, and all kinds of immersive scenes in between. It may be long, and it may not even be a fast song, but it always gives the impression that it’s fast. At one point, it follows a drum’n’bass high-speed chase by transitioning to a triplet feel and a simple bass isolated in emptiness. This is the first major buildup and drop, but it doesn’t draw attention to the specifics. There’s even an absolute rhythm change, and it’s only part of the bigger picture. It’s kind of like how I recommended listening for the percussion, because you’d have to paying real close attention to catch it all. And how ‘Cloudscape Architect’ is greater than the sum of its parts. ‘Boot Sequence’ establishes a setting, and from then on wants you to sit back and enjoy the ride. From the very beginning up until its mind-blowing conclusion, ‘Nascens’ isn’t about the tools it’s using, or its technical feats. It’s full of space, and movement, and every part of it is ultimately about a feeling.