Sup, ChipWINners, and welcome back to Quick Shots! This month, I have two very cheerful, funky albums from two very different parts of the globe to help kick off your summer right. One is from an artist who’s ready to go out with a bang, the other is from someone whose career is like a juggernaut: it just can’t be stopped! With that in mind, I cordially invite you to sit back, relax, and join me as I review music by veterans Super Robotic Encounters and Svetlana.
‘End’ by Super Robotic Encounters
I’d like to start this review with a confession: I seem to have an uncanny knack for finding music I really enjoy, only to realize I’m late to the party. I first realized this when I went to Book-Off a few years back and found an album called ‘Orb’ by Maschera: a Japanese alt rock band with roots in Visual Kei. I fell in love with it instantly. So, like any fan to something new, I went online to look at what other bodies of work my new favorite band had made and tried to find out when I could expect a new album. The answer to that second question, unfortunately, was ‘never’, because ‘Orb’ was Maschera’s last album. This phenomenon would go on to haunt me even into my introduction into chiptune, as my first real foray into the scene–Blipfest 2012– was the last Blipfest held in the US, and the second to last to ever be hosted. The reason I’m bringing this up is because it seems, once again, I am late to the party.
Having produced chiptune for several years, Super Robotic Encounters is bringing his project to an end, but refuses to do so in a melancholy fashion. Instead, ‘End’ seems to revel in the glory and happiness that such a project could bring to others, and offers itself up as a final hurrah to celebrate the accomplishments of both Super Robotic Encounters and Point Bleep Studios: the record label that put forth every LP and EP SRE produced to throughout the entirety of his career. While it is uncertain if Point Bleep Studios will be ending as well, what is certain is that ‘End’ is a charming album full of infectious vigor that you would be remiss to pass up on. While song titles such as the opening ‘Song for Sadness’ and ‘Return of the Bonus Room Blues’ are misleading, you’ll be pleasantly surprised because SRE really knows how to put a smile on his audience’s faces. Songs such as ‘I Love Fighting!’ and ‘Donkey Mugs’ are satisfying, upbeat and presented without pretense or cynicism, taking the time to truly revel in the signature arps, catchy melodies and fun sound effects often associated with modern takes on retro gaming. Other tracks such as ‘Happy Love’ or ‘Robots Built for Under Water’ slow things down some, but even with their lower tempos, still remain sweet and light-hearted, highlighting the double-edged sword that is ‘End’s strength and weakness.
The album on the whole lacks emotional complexity, and even at its ‘Darkest’ is saccharin through and through. This is a bit of a shame, because while I do find ‘End’ thoroughly enjoyable, I will acknowledge that the dulcet nature of this album can also be off-putting and perhaps even be interpreted by some as shallow. To those who would judge this album as such, I’d encourage you to remember what got you into the scene in the first place, because even if it wasn’t something as energetic as what SRE has produced here, it more than likely came from the same love for video games he clearly has and is thus deserving of as much recognition as anything else out there.
All in all, ‘End’ is a fine album to bow out on. While it’s a shame to see Super Robotic Encounters go, he has plenty to be proud of, and I hope whatever ventures he pursues next are just as successful as his music career.
Favorite Song: ‘Donkey Mugs’
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Value: 4/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
‘Splinter Zone’ by Svetlana
Our second album up for review this month is a soundtrack to an indie game available on itch.io called ‘Splinter Zone’. Composed by renowned Brazilian veteran Svetlana, ‘Splinter Zone’s soundtrack is frenetic, pulse-pounding trip that’s bound to get you riled up and ready to go. Replete with a classic tracker sound highly reminiscent of the early days of Commodore 64, PC-88 and Amiga soundtracks, ‘Splinter Zone’ catches your attention fast and doesn’t let go for a second. ‘Powertron! Productions’ kicks the album off in high gear with its masterfully layered melodies and catchy rhythm, resulting in a song that’s not only bound to get stuck in your head, but pays homage to the chronological restraints of 8-bit and 16-bit gaming, as the song itself is only about a minute or so in length, but can be listened to endless on repeat and still feel exciting without overstaying its welcome.
From there, the album takes a sharp left turn, as it veers away from this classic tracker aesthetic, and steers straight towards synthwave. ‘Splinter Zone’, ‘Enter the Maze’ and ‘Boss Incoming!’ are all slick, stylish tracks with heavy bass, heady pulsewave leads and head-bobbing rhythms that really help pull you into the album and keep you in the mood for more 80s inspired goodness. This is especially true of ‘Splinter Zone’, as its warbling bass line and four-on-the-floor beat that’s slightly reminiscent of Br1ght Pr1mate’s ‘Source Code’ make for a groove filled track that’s a hell of a good time.
The last two tracks of this EP are equally groovy, but are unique in that they turn the experience back towards more traditional tracker goodness. ‘A Way Out’ is definitely the more traditional of the last two tracks. This is due to the fact that its funky rhythms are superseded by the pleasantly strange, yowling slap-bass that dances along that sparkling Yamaha lead, making for an experience that not only leads smoothly into ‘The Final Encounter’, but prepares you for the pleasant homage to 80s house music the latter. I found this to be a surprisingly agreeable note to end the album on, as it tones down some of the energy experienced earlier in the album and allows the track to stand on it’s own in contrast to the rest of the album, though not as much as the opening does. It also allows the listener to come down from the experience, much the way one cools down from an intense work out, and thus doesn’t leave the listener feeling unsatisfied that the EP is such a brief experience.
‘Splinter Zone’ is definitely one of the more stylish and intense listening experiences I’ve had in a while. With a lot of the work I’ve reviewed as of late having taken on a more subdued, introspective tone, it was a satisfying change of pace from recent endeavors and acted as a good gateway into Svetlana’s work. If you’re in the mood for some good synthwave, house or simply some classic sounding Yamaha goodness, you can’t go wrong this EP. It’s definitely worth the thirteen minutes it’ll take to listen to it.
Fave Track: ‘Powertron! Productions’
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Value: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4.3/5
Well, folks, that does it for this month’s edition of Quick Shots. If you liked what you heard, definitely do yourself a favor and follow these artists on social media. Also, don’t forget to check back here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as we regularly update the blog with the latest and greatest the community has to offer. Last but not least, if you’re an artist or musician who is waiting for their moment in the sun, I highly encourage you to keep doing what you do, cause you never know when Kuma might take a Quick Shot at you.
Love and Peace.
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