HarleyLikesMusic is a name that’s been popping up in the chipscene, and for good reason. ‘Game Changer’, both his first foray into the realm of 8-bit music and his Cheapbeats debut, is a game changer in every sense of the word. Every single track on the album showcases Harley’s ability to stretch the Game Boy’s sound chip to beyond the limitations I imagined it had. Let’s take a look at a few tracks and see exactly how Harley’s managed this incredible feat!
Starting this review off is ‘Off Your Trolley’, a perfect example of some of the interesting techniques Harley’s learned on LSDj in his relatively short time using it. The track features a heavy bassline and clever usage of pitch bending in the square channel to establish the song’s main rhythm. Where Harley’s technique really shines in this track is his new signature ‘acid’ effect. While I’m not entirely sure how the effect is created, it involves a combination of elements from a square channel and a WAV channel, alongside very specific inputs in LSDj’s table options. Extremely fluid note modulation creates a sound unlike any that I’ve ever heard before on the Game Boy, and this effect may be a defining characteristic in a new wave of house chipmusic.
‘Bass Time Continuum’ uses Harley’s acid effect in a different way. Rather than playing a more rhythmic role in a house-inspired setting, it shines as the main melody. Harley utilizes an extremely dense kick that helps to give the track a heavier vibe that might not be established with the melody alone. Minimal usage of the noise channel as the kick resonates during its first entrance makes the track go even harder. Simple hi-hat percussion later on in the track lends itself to Harley’s rather minimalist approach. ‘Bass Time Continuum’ utilizes square arps to change the track’s melody before it starts to feel repetitive, if only for a second, and are a welcome change to the slightly altered song.
‘Anchor to Reality’ is the hardest hitting, heaviest track off of ‘Game Changer’, and my personal favorite. Dubstep and DNB vibes can be heard throughout the track, with the WAV channel and stuttered pulse note triggers being used in tandem to create an extremely modern-sounding electronic masterpiece in spite of being constrained to the Game Boy’s relatively limited sound capabilities. An increase in tempo leads to the song’s drum ‘n bass section, and the track changes to a different time signature before a flawless transition back to 4/4 and the previously noted theme. Harley fakes the listener out a bit with his second drop, as he changes the buildup from a sweeping noise channel run to a single, bassy, square note.
‘Game Changer’ doesn’t only feature the talents of HarleyLikesMusic; NNNNNNNNNN, Joint Effort, and Melt Unit all lend their talents to put new twists on Harley’s fresh tracks. NNNNNNNNNN’s remix of ‘Off Your Trolley’ sounds extremely distinct from Harley’s original rendition, being more akin to electro than house. NNNNNNNNNN uses airhorn samples with perfect timing, and just loud enough to NOT blow the listener’s eardrums out, really hitting it out of the park. Two remixes of ‘Anchor to Reality’ are featured on the album, each also in distinctly different formats from the original. Melt Unit’s remix of the track is a chipbreak masterpiece, similar to the style of Kola Kid or older tracks by Sabrepulse, albeit with a much darker tone than many works of these artists. Stuttered hi-hats, punchy snares, and brutal kicks make this a track that can’t be overlooked. Despite its short length, the song is brimming with impressively executed details. Finally, Joint Effort’s remix of ‘Anchor to Reality’ will definitely throw you for a loop on your first listen. The song is utterly revolutionized by being transformed into a sludge metal banger, with the chip elements taking a backseat to brutal screams, guttural growls, and power chords.
If you’re a fan of LSDj chipmusic and haven’t heard of HarleyLikesMusic or ‘Game Changer’, you need to remedy that immediately. Purchasable from the Cheapbeats netlabel for only $6, this is definitely the future of danceable chipmusic. Any fan of electronic music would be missing out on one of the most brutal releases of 2015 if they were to let this album pass by without giving it a listen. Given that this is Harley’s inauguration into the world of LSDj and how much he’s learned in such a short amount of time, I’m excited to see what he’ll come up with next!
I’m going to be following this article up with an interview with Harley himself. It will be recorded and posted after his performance at Square Sounds Tokyo 2015, which is happening from September 25th to September 28th at Koenji High. Information on this event can be found here.