Happy New Year, everyone! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column where I dissect the latest offerings from the scene to help you determine what’s worth listening to. This month, I have two EPs to that embody very different aesthetics within the scene. The first is an endearing cross pollination of pop culture that feels slightly tongue-in-cheek. The second is a more serious attempt at capturing the glorious nostalgia of a niche within PC gaming that is often overlooked. These albums both succeed at capturing the attention of their intended audiences, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the time to showcase them properly. So let’s not waste anymore time. Join me as I delve deep into work from newcomer Khaz and multi-faceted veteran Destruction Luster.
‘Music 2 Shrug 2’ by Khaz
Hailing from Boston, MA, neophyte Khaz steps onto the scene with the pleasantly subdued ‘Music 2 Shrug 2’. Featuring a mix of experimental instrumentation along with familiar bleep bloops, Khaz’s debut EP is an intriguing offering that tries to pass itself off as nonchalant. Khaz’s unique blend of trip hop and chill out (seemingly inspired by cult classic video games such as ‘OFF’ and ‘Yume Nikki’ in conjunction with the album art that reflects the album title nicely) paints a portrait of an artist who is definitively a product of current internet culture, as everything about the album oozes with hints of all the sources of inspiration Khaze draws upon. From glitchart to furry artists such as Gullacass, memes and cartoons, Khaz is an amalgam of pop culture that represents a very charming curiosity as a chiptuner. Despite this being Khaz’s first official EP, ‘Music 2 Shrug 2’s mellow down-tempo offerings show a solid understanding of the medium. Arias combined with hints of nostalgia through samples from anime and video games come across as playful and memetic, almost like a play on the sadbois that proliferate the scene. This effect was so strong that when I first listened to ‘Music 2 Shrug 2’ I was under the impression that Khaz was a veteran of the scene who decided to make an album under a different pseudonym. This ability to fit in so naturally with the scene upon their first release is what makes Khaz exciting. Being able to exude a sense of style and humor that resonates strongly within the scene despite not being part of any of the well established social circles that comprise it are a testament to both Khaz’s importance to the scene as well as the scene’s longevity and cultural permeation, thus making ‘Music 2 Shrug 2’ a hidden gem worth delving into.
Clocking in at roughly twenty-one minutes, Khaz’s album maintains a steady tempo and plays out less like individual tracks and more like a short live set meant to be experienced continuously. It presents itself with a bit of humor but without pretension and doesn’t attempt to distract you or rile you up. Rather, Khaz’s artistic inclinations shine through as ‘Music 2 Shrug 2’ seeks to entertain passively, allowing you to go about your business as it acts as background music to your daily life. This is definitely Khaz’s greatest strength as a composer and I hope they continue to play towards it as it’ll definitely keep people coming back for more.
Combined with slight hints of nostalgia that invoke pleasant memories without making one wistful (‘Getting on the Subway’ and ‘Taking the Red Line’ are especially good at this), Khaz offers what might be the most refined debut EP I’ve ever reviewed for the blog and I’m definitely looking forward to more, both visually and musically. Keep it up, Khaz. You’re gonna go far, kid.
Fave Track: ‘Slide Whistle’
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Value: 4.7/5
Overall Grade: 4.8/5
‘Dragoneer’ by Destruction Luster
Our second album for review this month is ‘Dragoneer’ by Ottawa native Destruction Luster. An artist I originally believed to be a new face to scene, Destruction Luster is actually a side project of the highly prolific artist known as The Untimely Wound. A musician with at least eighteen different side projects, you’ve likely encountered this artist in one form or another if you’ve been in the scene for at least a year. You’re also likely to think ‘wow, is this guy spreading himself to thin?’ and I can tell you that the answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’. The key, it seems, is to make each project as specialized and stylized as possible and nothing in the scene may be quite as stylized as Destruction Luster because DL’s entire presentation is based on a unique niche within PC gaming :the PC-88. An often overlooked line of gaming PCs from NEC, the PC-8800 series (called the PC-88 for short) were powerful machines at the time, giving Amigas and Commodore 64’s a serious run for their money. Featuring 512 color displays, fast processors, and OPN sound chips from Yamaha that would later become the bedrock for the YM2612 the Sega Genesis utilized, the PC-88 was an attractive platform for developers to experiment and establish themselves through. From point and click games like ‘Snatcher’ to ero-novels that would ultimately find themselves archived on abandonware sites, the PC-88 had a style all it’s own. Destruction Luster attempts to glorify this system and it’s style in his sophmore album, ‘Dragoneer’, and does so to mixed effect.
A five track EP that clocks in at about 24 minutes in length, ‘Dragoneer’ continues Destruction Luster’s trend of creating chipmetal concept albums that thrive in recreating the thrill of games made during the heyday of 16-bit gaming. As such, the album is highly reminiscent of music made by Diad. Much like Diad’s work, ‘Dragoneer’ features complex melodies, syncopated drums, and excellent use of noise. Destruction Luster weaves these elements together to create music that is technically impressive, but at times also feels long winded. Songs such as the album’s second track, ‘The Princess Whose Lips Swore Both Love & Revenge’ makes excellent use of the wave and noise channels the PC-88 has to offer, allowing for Destruction Luster to shift moods within the songs quickly. These mood shifts, along with the song’s length also make for a listen that’s not always easy to digest. It’s a complex offering that forced me to give it more attention that I was initially expecting, and at times the demand for this attention was exhausting. Destruction Luster is able to successfully convey the flood of emotions he is seeking to evoke in the listener, but at times, does so for much too long. Conversely, ‘Ultimate Transformation Dragonmech!’ is a much more successful endeavor in this regard, as it maintains the sense of resolve found in vengeance, but does so at a clip that’s less erratic and emotional than “The Princess…”. This allows the song to showcase Destruction Luster’s proclivity for powerful drum work amidst a lower tempo song. It’s an impressive feat that I really would have liked Dragon Luster to show off more, as it is an impressive experience especially when taken into conjunction with ‘Blood Rots The Blade’, another short aria that show’s of Destruction Luster’s skills wonderfully before another long winded finale in the form of ‘Hidden Castles of the Sea & Sky…’.
Ultimately, ‘Dragoneer’ is an album from an artist that is worthy of your attention, but is an experience best indulged on it’s own with an open mind and patience. If you’re a fan of concept albums (especially of metal acts like Diad) I’d definitely give this a listen. You won’t be disappointed.
Fave Track: ‘Ultimate Transformation Dragonmech!’
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Value: 3.1/5
Overall Grade: 3.5/5
Well folks, that does it for this month’s edition of Quick Shots. If you liked what you heard, I’d def consider following these artists on your social media platform of choice for their latest endeavors. Also, don’t forget to hit up the blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as we regularly put out new content to help keep you in the know about the latest happenings in the scene. Last but not least, if you’re an artist who’s new or relatively overlooked, keep doing what you do. You never know when Kuma-senpai might notice you.
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