Yo, what’s up ChipWINners? Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column where I give you the nitty gritty of some of the newest music to hit the scene, then offer you a numerical little tl;dr to help you decide if an album is right for you. This month, I’ll be examining two high energy LPs that showcase some very different talents and styles. One is from a well known artist in the scene, and the other is a new face looking for their time to shine. Let’s not waste anymore time. Grab a seat and some headphones, and get ready to shake that booty, because this month we’re checking out the latest from DJ SUPER SONIC and Katherine Allan!
Chaos Zone by DJ SUPERSONIC
Mark Homayouni is many things. A stylish producer, deftly skilled DJ, and lover of many things retro. When he puts those things together and takes the stage, the result is the indomitable, magnetic presence of one of my favorite personalities at MAGFest: DJ SUPER SONIC. Combining his incredible compositional repertoire with his seriously sweet moves behind his laptop turntable, DJ SUPER SONIC utilizes everything from DAWs to LSDJ and Sega’s powerful YM2612 sound chip to create music that’s utterly infectious. His latest offering is no exception. A ten track LP that barely meets the definition by clocking in just over twenty minutes, ‘Chaos Zone’ is a record that allows DJ SUPER SONIC to revel in the resurgence of synthwave. It’s a succulent combination of remixes and original tracks that fit along nicely with recent offerings from artists like FM-84.
The album kicks off with ‘Chaos Storm’: a track that combines heavy drums, slick synth play, and hints of Sega’s signature YM2612 sound chip in a way that comes across as a collection of B-sides for ‘Kung Fury’. The song gets you in the mood for cheesy 80s goodness right away, which gets continued nicely in ‘Chaos Gem’. This track takes the awesome aspects of ‘Chaos Storm’ but inverts them, so that the synth work is minimal, and the funky sounds of the YM2612 become the focus. Featuring a fantastic slap bass, satisfying kicks, and nostalgia inducing, bit crushed vocal samples, ‘Chaos Gem’ makes great use of the Genesis/Master System to create funky grooves that would make Yuzo Koshiro do a double take. This is especially the case as his jaw would most definitely drop upon hearing ‘Fight Street’, in which Mark whips out a slick mash up between ‘Go Straight’ from ‘Streets of Rage 2’ and ‘Ryu’s Theme’ from ‘Street Fighter 2’. The combination of ‘Go Straight’s drums and fantastic hook with the bass line from ‘Ryu’s Theme’ is one of the most entertaining mixes I’ve heard in a while, and is definitely one of the hilights of this bodacious album.
Mark shifts things back to synthwave with ‘Heatwave’: a song with a beat that is so steeped in 80s culture, you’ll feel like you’re drinking Crystal Pepsi in a movie theater playing ‘The Breakfast Club’ while wearing a Members Only jacket. The trend continues with ‘Unit 5’, which takes the album down a darker road. It easily evokes imagery of fast cars, neon lights, and pulse pounding action only shows like ‘Miami Vice’ could deliver and will leave you on the edge of your seat. However, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised as the second half the album begins on a rather relaxing note, as DJ SUPER SONIC pumps on the breaks with ‘Zone Improvement’. This smooth vaporwave track seems to have taken heavy inspiration from the jazz stylings of Paul Hardcastle’s ‘Rainforest‘ and Hiroshima’s ‘One Wish‘. It’s a gorgeous piece of aria that will make you feel like you’re lounging on a pastel colored leather diner booth staring at the setting Miami sun as the world drifts on past you.
The last four tracks of the album maintain the heavy 80s feel, and range from fast and smooth, to foreboding and adrenaline pumping. Of note is the second to last song, ‘Bridge (The Pit Remix)’, which features a fantastic blend of vocal samples from Sonic the Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat sprinkled about heavy synth work that’s highly reminscent of the opening theme to ‘Night Rider’. It’s a phenomenal, intense track that doesn’t let up for a moment, despite its brevity, making it another truly stand out track on an already powerful LP.
All in all, DJ SUPER SONIC manages to deliver in ways that fail to disappoint. If you’re in need of another retrowave fix to continue the good vibes this summer, it’s hard to go wrong with this album. Even with its short length, ‘Chaos Zone’ manages to entertain endlessly, and you’d be hard pressed find much better this summer.
Favorite Track: ‘Zone Improvement’
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay value: 4.8/5
Overall Grad: 4.8/5
Dreamchaser by Katherine Allan
A new face to the scene that caught my eye with thanks to the frenetic, highly gestural album art created by Reed Garnett, Katherine Allan (aka Queen Meteor) is an artist from Canada who is seeking to make a name for herself in the world of vgm and chiptune. Having garnered some attention thanks to fairly popular remixes and covers of songs from Undertale and TOME, Katherine is seeking to widen the scope of her audience with an album that’s a collection of aria from projects unfinished. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone in thinking so. Several other artists I’ve reviewed over the years, including Tommy TSW, Hoffman IV, Dream*Eater and n201gaming, have come to join the chiptune scene at large because of a desire to become the next virt, Jeroen Tel, or Jimmy Hinson. Like many of the aforementioned artists, Katherine’s album is brimming with enthusiasm and energy, and it’s good to see a new face to the scene helping it thrive. Unfortunately, ‘Dreamchaser’ shares many of the shortcomings of her colleagues’ first releases suffered, as well.
‘Dreamchaser’ begins with ‘Light in Motion’: a song that feels very heavily inspired by fighting games, as it easily would fit along side some of the tracks in Pokken, like ‘Magikarp Festival’. It’s bombastic, fast hitting rhythm and drums combined with its almost oriental flute sounding lead is an adrenaline inducing rush that’s a fantastic way to kick off the album. From there, ‘March of the Machines’ kicks in with an almost celtic flair, and comes across as an homage to action rpgs a la Xenosaga. It’s another high energy track that slows things up some from ‘Light in Motion’, but is maintained throughout ‘Friendly Competition’, which plays out like a bike race between two kids going down hill. It’s a delightful listen that captures the playfulness that turns into seriousness in a childhood rivalry, and I definitely applaud Katherine’s skill in capturing the energy that such a relationship encapsulates.
‘Within Reach’ is a return to form established in ‘Light in Motion’, but sees the almost oriental flute replaced with super sines that are highly reminiscent of super eurobeat tracks in Initial D. This style of music that seems to suit fighting games best is one of Katherine’s greatest strengths, and do the best job of keeping the listener entertained, especially when she decides to switch things up again and make them feel more adventurous with ‘Worthless Machine Ver. 0.4’. The song is unique in that it’s both the longest track on the album, as well as a significant in style for this song focuses on heavy guitar riffs and 80s style synth play common in older anime. As such, the song comes across as an homage to shooters like Darius Gaiden, as it has a very Zuntata kind of sound to it that’s simply remarkable. ‘Worthless Machine’ is so remarkable, in fact, that it seems has Katherine has some difficulty following it up, as the last four tracks of the album fluctuate in quality greatly, and unfortunately are highly reminiscent of some of n2o1gaming’s weaker work on his most recent album.
‘Close Your Eyes And Run’ is the immediate follow up to ‘Worthless Machine Ver. 0.4’, and it’s a lackluster one. The track’s dulcet lead seems almost out of place with its more frenetic rhythms, making for an experience that definitely comes across as a song left on the cutting room floor of a larger project she was working on. ‘Stand Together’ is a stronger track that carries on the vibe of 2D shooter that was originally felt in ‘Worthless Machine’, but it fails to truly capture the audience in quite the same way that gem did. A shame, really, because the last two songs of the album–‘The Ascended’ and ‘Rainbow Starlight’– fall into the same rut that ‘Close Your Eyes And Run’ did. Both feel very unpolished and come across as products that fell to the wayside while working on a larger production. This drop off in quality is rather unfortunate as it doesn’t do Katherine justice as a musician. The juxtoposition of her incredible potential as a composer in the first half of the album to this shift towards ideas that feel incomplete is a jarring experience that many listeners will have trouble getting over. Even though Katherine herself admits that the album is made from songs from projects unfinished, I can’t help but feel the decision to release them on this album was a poor one, as it holds the LP back from being a powerful premier from an artist that has a lot to offer the community.
All in all, ‘Dreamchaser’ is a decent album, but incredibly uneven in quality. The first half does all the work in carrying the LP through and shows off Queen Meteor’s considerable proclivity for fighting game music wonderfully. However, Katherine still has a ways to go, and doesn’t do herself any favors with the second half of the album. If she hadn’t gone the route of n2o1gaming in using the album as a strange collection of leftovers and instead focused on making an LP for the sake of making an LP, this would be a much stronger release. As such, I can only recommend this album as a listen. Katherine has a lot of potential, and she deserves support for her endeavors. However, between the uneven quality of this LP, as well as the asking price of $10, I can’t recommend downloading it. If the price were to get reduced, I might change my mind about that. But at the current price, you can definitely get better bang for your buck for your collection.
Fave Track: ‘Worthless Machine Ver. 0.4’
Bang for Buck: 2/5
Replay Value: 3/5
Overall Grade: 3/5
Well folks, that’s it for this edition of Quick Shots. If you liked any of what you heard, don’t forget to follow the artists you like on social media to keep up with their latest shenanigans both online and irl. Also, don’t forget to keep your eyes on the blog, as we post new content every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to help you stay current with the latest in this constantly moving community. Last but not least, if you’re a creator in this community who has yet to have their moment in the spotlight, keep doing what you do, because you never know when Kuma senpai will notice you.
Love and Peace
\m| (=^(T)^=) |m/