A lot of chip music is very direct with its presentation and direction of how to enjoy it. It also happens to play safe within the boundaries brought to us by keys and scales. Because of this, many people don’t exactly know what to expect when they hear the term “avant-garde”. ZBW’s latest, ‘MIN. – Vignettes on Self Loathing’, would be a good starting point if you search for something avant-garde within chiptune. If you want an adventure of someone else’s emotions, follow me after the jump. Or don’t. We all go to the same place.
ZBW is, as stated on their bandcamp, an artist that makes chip-jazz fusion and ambience, a lot of it inspired by old Japanese Role-Playing Games. It’s no surprise they have also tackled making soundtracks, and good on them for doing so. However, much like any human, self-doubt and critique might gnaw away at your resolve. In some cases, you may question everything you’ve learned. This is immediately expressed within the first three minutes of the album with the songs MIN, I Hate Myself pt. 1: the Medium Matters, and its second part (of three,) the Medium is Wrong.
It’s very interesting to listen to these three tracks and break down potential interpretations to see what they could possibly represent from the artist’s point of view. There are many layers to focus on, including the stylistic elements, sound design and media used. Even if you don’t decide to jump down that rabbit hole as I did, it’s easy to still follow the mood being conveyed due to the cohesiveness of the first half of the album.In part three, aptly subtitled FUCK YOUR FEELINGS, we see the eventual breakdown and boiling point come to fruition. Suddenly and abruptly, the track brings the intensity before completely dropping off into white noise and microtonal frequency sweeps before coming back to get the last of its energy out as abruptly as it started.
We finally get to a large shift in style with God is Probably Dead and other songs like The Well Runs Dry and We All Go to the Same Place. Each of them conveying a wide range of negativity directed internally and externally and breaking up the pace by being the slower and longer tracks of the album. Other tracks such as Melting, Insomnia, and Perpetual Exhaustion take the perceived expectation of avant-garde jazz tropes and runs with them to satisfy those probably waiting for or expecting some music with typical tropes in there. Fortunately, each one of them is audibly aesthetic and shows the strength of ZBW’s comfort in writing pieces out of the normative or popular genres and composition formats.
MIN. – Vignettes on Self Loathing is not something you put on in the background for your typical party setting, but it’s definitely background music for the kind of parties I want to be invited to. ZBW provides a perspective into their emotional livelihood that many artists claiming to be “experimental” and “avant-garde” fail to achieve. It’s weird, sometimes uncomfortable, but always weirdly and uncomfortably pleasant. All of this while avoiding the cartoonish and amateurish appeal many associate with avant-garde. I feel that ZBW put it best by describing it as, ‘… an exploration of artistic critique and self doubt. All the dumb feelings we put into the music we make and the baggage we struggle to leave at the door.’ You can pick up this album on ZBW’s bandcamp. Or don’t. We all go to the same place.