Hey there, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I pick the latest and greatest the scene has to offer, and dissect it to help you determine if it’s worth your attention. This time around, I have two EPs for you from two names that should be very familiar to you. The first is from an artist I’ve featured previously on the blog who has upped their game considerably, and has fully embraced the simplicity of the Game Boy as a synthesizer. The other is a certifiable legend who has composed music for titles that helped define childhood for a generation the world over. Let’s not delay any longer. Sit back, relax, and enjoy as I take the time to review the latest from SuperStranger and Ryuichi Nitta.
‘Freeclimbing’ by SuperStranger
Up first is an artist I’ve covered before on the blog. Less than a year ago, SuperStranger released a concept album called ‘STAR’ that was less about telling a story through music, and more about evoking emotions felt in wanting more than what our planet could give us. While I enjoyed the album, I felt that its parts were greater than the sum of the whole, as a couple tracks felt out of place on the album, despite being well composed. SuperStranger seems to have taken this criticism to heart, as ‘Freeclimbing’ not only works much more cohesively than ‘STAR’ did as an album, but it is a stronger, more upbeat album than anything he’s produced thus far, and I’m very happy to be sharing it with you all today.
The album starts off strong with ‘Airsharks’, which features a strong pulsewave lead that catches your attention right away. It’s proceeded incrementally by low, snarling bass, a frenetic rhythm section, and expertly crafted noise snares that come together to make an aria which evokes determination and a sense of power. It’s a striking difference from the work featured on ‘STAR’, as that EP was filled with wonder, but that wonder was tempered with moments of melancholy that reflected the current impossibility of deep space travel. ‘Freeclimbing’ isn’t hindered by such hangups, and the energy summoned forth in ‘Airsharks’ is continued by ‘Footholds’: an arp heavy anthem that mimics the thrill of scaling a summit with all of one’s being. It’s a track that, despite its length, doesn’t find itself becoming tired, and continues to invigorate marvelously, which allows ‘Freeclimbing’ to separate itself from SuperStranger’s previous EPs in splendid form.
As the album reaches its halfway mark, it shows no signs of slowing down, as the aptly named ‘Keep Going!’ urges the listener forward with slide notes that glide smoothly amidst a joyous melody, inspiring the listener to aspire to new heights. The whole experience is remarkably similar to some of AWESOMECAT’s bright, cheerful composing style, and contrasts nicely with the album’s fourth track, ‘Summit Fever’. While I’d not go so far as to say foreboding, ‘Summit Fever’ is the darkest the album gets, as it’s meant to represent the anxiety of wanting to reach the top, but also fully expresses the weariness that comes with having undertaken such an arduous task. The slower tempo and lower pitch of the song reflects this dichotomy nicely, especially as the song flows into the album’s finale, ‘Peak’, which features a surprisingly funky groove that’s an infectious note to end the album on.
All in all, SuperStranger has outdone himself on ‘Freeclimbing’. The amount of growth he’s shown as a composer since his release of ‘STAR’ last year is nothing short of admirable, and this album is easily the greatest he’s produced to date. If you’re a fan of chiptune that’s pure hardware, especially if you’re fond of the simplicity Game Boys bring to the table, this is a must have album for you. You are sure to be delighted by what SuperStranger has to offer.
Fave Track: ‘Peak’
Bang for Buck: 4.5/5
Replay Value: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
‘BON !’ by Ryuichi Nitta
Up next for review on the blog is ‘BON !’ by Ryuichi Nitta. Ryuichi is a composer from Japan who has worked in the gaming industry as a composer and sound effects designer since the 8-bit days of gaming. He’s best known for the time he spent with Tecmo, during which he wrote music for Samurai Pizza Cats, Tecmo World Cup Soccer, and Ninja Gaiden I & II. While he hasn’t been as prolific in his work as other artists like Nobuo Uematsu, his presence in gaming is still one held in high regard, as his ability to create tracker music is truly astounding. Recently, Ryuichi gathered some remarkable, if disparate, tracks he composed throughout 2016, and released them in the form of his premier EP, ‘BON !’. ‘BON !’ is a five track EP featuring an eclectic mix of electronic and acoustic music that incorporates Ryuichi’s tendencies as a vgm composer with a heady mix of breakbeat, techno, trance, and chill-out. The result is a diverse EP that is thoroughly entertaining, and makes wanting to see Ryuichi perform live a bucketlist item of high importance.
The album starts off with ‘Overture -Defragment of Communication’: a complex track that incorporates frenetic drum work with excited tremolos and melodies replete with super sines and laser effects. The combined effect makes for a fantastic big hall track that also showcases Ryuichi’s ability to make drops that are filled with palpable, gut-wrenching moments of anticipation. This ability is expanded upon in ‘O.S.S.R’, as the track not only shows off Ryuichi’s aforementioned skills for big hall, but it also plays to his storied history as a chiptuner, as the song is filled with noise and arpeggios dancing along a lead that’s somewhat reminiscent of a polka. It’s a fun ride that shows off his ability to make bombastic music in tight time frames, a skill that can only come from years of being forced to work within hardware constraints that restrict song length. It also serves as a nice contrast to the halfway mark of the EP, ‘Tsumi no Uta’: a track that is bodacious not only for it’s length compared to the previous two tracks, but also for it’s use of acoustic instrumentation and vocal work. These vocals, provided through vocaloid software, provide a light, airy atmosphere to an already tranquil song that displays Ryuichi’s diversity as a composer splendidly. It’s a welcome palette cleanser from the thrill of the earlier tracks, and helps the remaining two tracks stand out nicely.
‘Exhaustion System’ is a return to form set by the first two tracks. It’s another high energy track that is overflowing with the synth and drum work I’ve come to love from this album. This track is a particular fave of mine, as it’s highly reminiscent of the work Hideyuki Shimono and Akihito Okawa wrote for Zero Divide. It’s a feeling I’m very thankful to Ryuichi for instilling in me, as Zero Divide’s soundtrack helped form a great deal of my musical taste growing up, and it was a strong gateway into electronic music as a whole for me. Conversely, the album ends on a more meditative note in the form of ‘Dormant Planet’: a nearly ten minute long track that reflects the title of the song fantastically. It takes the listener on a long, relaxing journey that helps them forget their worries as they travel through space on synthful bliss, and is a euphoric note to end the album on.
Ultimately, ‘BON !’ is a superb EP, one that features tracks I’ll definitely play on repeat for quite a while. While its brevity might leave something to be desired, especially from such a renowned creator, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point anyone in the direction of Ryuichi’s work. He’s an absolute pleasure to listen to, and he deserves just as much adoration as his more popular and well known contemporaries.
Ryuichi Nitta doesn’t get a grade. Ryuichi Nitta is magnificent.
Well folks, that does it for this month’s edition of Quick Shots. Thanks for tuning in. If you liked any of what you heard, feel free to follow the artists on their social media accounts to keep up with their latest exploits. Also, don’t forget to check in with up on the blog, as we regularly update it with reviews, interviews, and event coverage of the latest and greatest the scene has to offer. Last but not least, if you’re an artist looking to get exposed to a wider audience, I encourage you to keep doing what you do. You never know when Kuma will notice you.
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