Let’s face some hard truths, no matter how popular chiptune gets (as a niche medium), there have always been a lot of people thinking it’s starting to fade away. The reality, though, is that isn’t even close to true. There will always be jaded people; this is inevitable. However chiptune, much like synthesizers in the 80’s, has helped many people evolve their tastes in music beyond just what they expected. A lot of expectations were the concept of the nostalgia and limitations of the sound of a single console or a few combined. It has brought people into a whole new perspective of appreciating composition, sound design, and genres they never expected to find growing on them. People who haven’t explored their music tastes before chip music are exploring the wide variety of music that’s out there. We have people continuing to put chiptune elements and chip music influences in their music, whether it’s strictly hardware, strictly software, or somewhere in between. This is exactly where mal4m’s EP, “Don’t Wait,” comes into play.
mal4m, previously known as Radionarcotix, has a long history with music even before diving into chipmusic. Making covers for holiday albums, working in countless amounts of projects with various friends found in the chiptune scene, and releasing some pretty sweet jams that included the use of a vocoder that worked on a Gameboy DMG-001 for Chiptunes=WIN Volume 4, mal4m is always experimenting with what he finds interesting in genre and hardware. For this EP, we discover the latest experiment was combining various chip sounds for synthwave and some swinging jazz (sadly, not together, but one can only dream for so much.)
Don’t Wait starts off with the title track, which immediately presents some very solid ambiance that fades in directly to a standard synthwave trope of the helicopter bass rhythm while presenting two square leads very similar to the NES’ 2A03 chip using pulses. Also the longest track on the EP, the title track is a story being told through music and without lyrics, but with plenty of melodic exposition and compositional technique that never gets either too repetitive or drawn-out. Many moments seem to bring you to a low physical and emotional dynamic to bring along a state of dreamy, reflective vibes before ramping right back up into a near-march rhythm to pick the pace back up and bring you further into how the song develops while calling back to elements from previous in the song.
Super Nintendo Games is a lighter-hearted piece that feels like a chiptune track that was mostly-converted to be played on synthesizers. You could argue that the way the song progresses could remind you of 2009-era Justice combined with a short jingle after a Chromeo track on ‘Fancy Footwork’. A danceable four-on-the-floor rhythm and bass groove are strongly present and combined with synthesizers, funk, and sounds of traditional instrumentation between an electric bass and electric grand piano to make a song that feels as a mix between the background music you would expect in a cyberpunk-themed shopping district full of commercially-superficial smiling and cheering faces. Or basically, imagine working in retail during any major commercialized holiday with cyberpunk vibes, and you not only have plenty of imagery. From the moods you get from the chords throughout the song (especially in the bridges,) to the cheery melody, to the reverb-soaked snare and clap in the rhythm, it’s becoming difficult for me to not picture such a scenario from this track.
Getting progressively upbeat and jazzy over the course of the EP, Bark Bark is a fun, light-hearted jingle. It starts off with a high-pass filter that feels almost reminiscent of a jazzy FM hip-hop beat. The groove is strong in this with the usage of the bass synth, and the transition into the keys and drum using brushes was a nice clash of style of instrumentation. It brought a smooth, classic piano-lounge jazz touch at the end (despite mal4m sneaking in that dog bark sample.) You can tell mal4m is just as much an producer’s producer as he is a producer for the public ear by the way he leaves in those subtle touches that most people would either take for granted or perhaps not even notice. All of that praise said, I felt like this was a bit short for an end track for the EP. I could see this being stretched out for a little longer and it still maintaining its perky charm that I instantly loved, but after listening to mal4m’s previous work for years, it fits the overall emotional landscape of his work that he decided to leave it short.
At the end of the day, Don’t Wait is a promising EP from mal4m and a good expectation of the quality to come from future releases. Don’t Wait is currently out on Bandcamp.