Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I break down a handful of new EPs, then give a quick and dirty TL;DR to help you determine if a record is worth your time. This time around, I have two unique albums that are miles apart in terms of style and country of origin. While one is the product of several artists uniting to produce something truly bombastic, the other is a culmination of a single person’s ambition to pay homage to the medium he holds so dearly. So let’s not dilly dally any longer. Sit back, relax, and indulge with me as I dissect work by presented by the world renowned Japanese chiptune & breakbeat label OthermanRecords and Canadian newcomer HOFFMAN_IV.
‘color EP’ by OthermanRecords
Founded back in 2009 by othermooon, a breakbeat producer and raver based out of Kanagawa, Japan, OthermanRecords is the culmination of culture intersectionality and cross pollination that is decidedly Japanese in origin but definitely will appeal to the MAGFester in you. Combining othermoon’s love of breakcore, chiptune, and IDM, the offerings from OthermanRecords range from being brutal, face beating offerings in the vein Bloody Fist Records, to surprisingly adorable chiptune that occasionally fucks with your head, a la Bokusatsu Shoujo Koubou (BSK). The result of this culmination of musical cultures is a record label that has produced seventy three albums over the course of 6 years that has published work from artists all over the world, all of whom produce music that you’re just as likely to hear at footwork and juke party in Scotland as you are to hear at a rave during an anime convention. It’s incredibly delicious stuff and, thanks to othermoon choosing to expand his audience by re-uploading the label’s older releases to Bandcamp, I’ve come across an album that I feel embodies the best of what this collective has to offer.
‘color EP’ is the tenth album to have been released by OthermanRecords and was originally released back in January of 2010. While most of the work released prior to this album had been predominantly noise and breakbeat, it’s worth noting that the label’s second album was a nanoloop compilation featuring work by miii, NTDSK (aka Rika Chang), cheapshot, suesett, and east breaks in thousand (ebi1000). This is important to note because while all those artists would become widely respected names in the Japanese and eventually global chiptune communities at large, it’s the latter two artists, along with Ca5, who are the focus of color EP.
Starting things up in playful fashion that’s reminiscent of AWESOMECAT or KymAz, suesett kicks things off with ‘U-Yake walk’in’: a Game Boy track that sounds considerably more LSDJ than their previous work with its heavy kicks, spritely arpeggios, and high pitched melody that dances along some of the nicest GB snares and high hats I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a pleasant track to start the album on, as it conjures memories of the first ChipWIN compilation and my first few months in the scene in which everything was new and magical. That sense of magic is followed up in suave fashion by Ca5, as a dulcet pulsewave melody and a steady flow of breakbeats leads you into the actual crux of what OthermanRecords is really about with ‘evergreen’. This song’s combination of sugary Game Boy harmonies and savory drum work summon forth nostalgia in surprising ways. It successfully melds the joy of summers past spent playing in the park with my younger sister while also being redolent of 2D shmups like Space Megaforce, GeKiOh or Touhou. It’s a satisfying result that’s incredibly pleasing when put on repeat.
That aesthetic, particularly the aspects of ‘evergreen’ that are similar to Touhou, is built upon even further as the album continues with ebi1000’s ‘in the blue’: a song that uses breakbeats in ways that would make Galaxy Wolf blush by allowing them contrast against the subdued melody and contemplative piano work woven throughout this lush, trance-inducing track. It made for one of the most psychedelic experiences I had in quite a while, as I often found myself zoning out intensely while listening to it.
For as delightful as those first three tracks were, the last three tracks on the album are perhaps among the most interesting I’ve partaken in in quite a while. While it’s not uncommon for a record to have remix tracks, what makes ‘color EP’ standout as a unique gem among chiptune I’ve heard as of late is that the latter half of this EP is composed entirely of remixes. Furthermore, all the remixes featured on the album are done by the artists who contributed to the album, making this the equivalent of an auditory game of musical chairs. Ca5 takes on suesett’s playful aria and amps up the arpeggios and breakbeats in such a way that they become almost indistinguishable on his remix of ‘U-Yake walk’in’. ebi1000 brings his jazzy, Jamie Myerson aesthetic to Ca5’s ‘evergreen’ and turns it into another intense trip through consciousness and imagination that makes me feel like I’m fifteen years old and dancing at a rave in Costa Rica. Wrapping things up in charming fashion, suesett takes on ebi1000’s ‘in the blue’ with vocals, high pitched pulsewaves and arps that blend the auditory distinction between 4-bit and 16-bit sound, as the song sounds like a Game Boy emulating a Sega Genesis in all the right ways, and makes for one of my all time favorite ends to an album.
All in all, it’s a pleasure to have had the experience to take a trip down memory lane thanks to ghostmoon’s decision to re-upload OthermanRecords catalog to Bandcamp. Not only does it allow him and all the artists involved to reach a wider audience, but it also allows for cultural and temporal boundaries to be breached by neophytes looking to explore the past exploits of their idols as they aspire to reach new heights. I definitely do recommend picking up this album, as it’s a fantastic place to start diving into the long catalog of OthermanRecords offerings; but even if this EP wasn’t your style, check out the label anyway. Six years and seventy three albums are bound to have produced something you’re sure to enjoy
Fave tracks: In the blue (suesett remix), evergreen (ebi1000 remix)
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Value: 4.6/5
Overall Grade: 4.8/5
‘Boundarymen Vol. 1’ by HOFFMAN_IV
The second album up on the chopping block for this edition of Quick Shots is ‘Boundarymen Vol. 1’ from newcomer HOFFMAN_IV. Based out of Alberta, Canada, HOFFMAN_IV is an aspiring video game composer who sought to make an album that pays homage to the games of yesteryear that brought him so much joy. In the process of showing love to Capcom and Konami, ‘Boundarymen Vol. 1’ ended up becoming more than he expected, as his own personal sense of style started to come through while producing the LP. The result is an collection of aria that recalls a combination of games like Shatterhand and work by other chiptuners I admire, including Big Giant Circles, AutoRemi-PK, and Daniel Capo.
Starting things off with the eponymous track, ‘Boundarymen’ shows off HOFFMAN’s skill as a composer, as the song quickly goes from typical, arpeggiated Nintendo fair and breaks down into a surprisingly more progressive, darker melody, as the grinding bass and syncopated drums compliment the lead in stark fashion. The overall presentation makes for a powerful opener, particularly for a debut album, and lures the listener in effectively. The following two tracks deftly relay HOFFMAN’s original intent with this album, as both feel like the beginning stages of a good video game. ‘Home Breeze’ is aural honey, as the nostalgic melody, funky groove and twanging bass is nicely accented with a touch of Sega Genesis flare thanks to a constant dog bark sample that sounds almost indistinguishable from the classic “HEY!” sample Genesis composers were so fond of. This sense of funk gets explored even further via the stylishly eerie ‘Eibensbach’, which recalls faint hints of the new jack swing inspired goodness of tracks like Mystic Cave Zone benefited from in Sonic 2.
‘Carving a Path’ continues on ‘Eibensbach’ eerie footnote while maintaining that distinct NES sound that’s abundant throughout the album, and is even somewhat redolent of AutoRemi-PK’s famitracker work, while ‘Boss Battle’ comes across less as the typical boss fight theme and more as a metal song with tinges of Vince DiCola trapped within the confines of an 8bit synth. The experience is one that ultimately feels less like a battle in the sense of a video game and more like something that would be seen in a high budget animated feature. It’s an engaging song that’s followed up in slightly jarring fashion by ‘Victory!’ and ‘Ability Get!’. Both of those tracks do an amazing job of paying homage to classic Capcom tropes, but also sound a little out of place in relation to a song as powerful as ‘Boss Battle’.
This moment of disjointedness gets smoothed out nicely, however, by ‘Free at Last’, which utilizes swelling harmonies over a contemplative melody and subdued drum work, and leads in splendidly into ‘The Sacred Woods’, which plays out like a missing track from the classic Ducktales game Capcom produced so many years ago. It’s lingering melodies over its upbeat rhythms make for an inspiring, uplifting swell of emotions, as confidence can be felt deep bubbling towards the surface from deep within as the track plays out. It also makes for a delicious contrast to ‘Downstream Data’, which recalls some of the funk and darker tones earlier tracks like ‘Eibensbach’ explored while retaining the progressive leads and rhythmic stylings of ‘Boss Battle’. It’s another self-encapsulated experience that really makes HOFFMAN’s work stand out and displays his artistic repertoire and proclivities off nicely, but also feels a little disparate when taken in with it’s follow up track, ‘Currents of the Deep Sea’. ‘Currents…’ is certainly not a bad track by any means, but out of all the tracks on the album, it is the song that feels the most out of place on the LP, as it is decidedly stuck between HOFFMAN’s desire to want to pay homage to Konami but also his unleash his unique brand of creativity to it’s fullest. It also doesn’t help that it’s sandwiched between ‘Downstream Data’ and the closing track of the album, ‘Dispel the Clouds’, which closes the album on a note of high energy that can easily be transliterated into animation, as the song’s energy recalls a collage of numerous anime themes I’ve heard throughout the years.
All in all, ‘Boundarymen Vol. 1’ is a remarkable debut album. It at times feels a little uncertain of it’s vision when transitioning from one track to the other, but ultimately the album succeeds at being a solid benchmark for HOFFMAN_IV’s career as a composer as the sum of it’s parts are greater than the whole. If you’re in need of an experience from a new face in the scene, I would strongly recommend checking out HOFFMAN’s Bandcamp, as this young man can only continue to impress going forward
Fave tracks: Home Breeze, Eibensbach
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Value: 4.4/5
Overall Grade: 4.6/5
Well folks, that does it for this edition of Quick Shots! I’d like to take this time to remind you to keep up with these and any of your other favorite artists through your preferred poison of social media for the latest on their happenings, as well as to check back with us every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for more on the latest goodness in the chiptune community. I’d also like to remind you that if you or someone you know is a composer who’s looking for some attention, keep doing what you do, cause you never know when Kuma will take aim at you!
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