Hey there, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots, my monthly album review column that brings you the latest from the scene to help you determine if something is right for you. This month, I’ll be reviewing four new albums from friends in the scene that are at different points in their careers. While some are just getting back in the scene, or are continuing to thrive in it, one is taking their final bow, and leaving us with a parting gift before they move on with their lives. It’s going to be a bittersweet journey this time, folks. So take a seat, plug in those headphones, and get ready for a rollercoaster of feels, as we look at music from The Laohu, +Let’s Disinfect+, StarStorm, and BitTrashRiot.
‘Get Me Going’ by The Laohu
Up first for review is a two track EP from The Laohu. I generally make it a rule of thumb to not review such short EPs, as there often isn’t much to say about them. Lars, however, is an infectious, gregarious, charming personality in the scene that I haven’t experienced in a couple years. The last time I did was when I last performed alongside him and several other artists on Clipstream back in 2014. So when he offered me the chance to review his newest work, I couldn’t turn him down. Featuring all the spunk and positivity that makes The Laohu a standout in a scene that is rife with people who wield their axes in conjunction with LSDJ, ‘Get Me Going’ lives up to its name and is a delight to listen to. The EP kicks off with the title track of the album, and feels as energizing as a morning jog on a spring morning. The use of high energy drums, keyboard samples and steady rhythm guitar amid a playful pulse lead is smart and infectious, as they compliment Lars’ excited vocals wonderfully, and work to highlight the noise-filled instrumental breakdown at the 1:45 mark. While I adore the eponymous first track, I find that I’m most fond of the EPs second track, ‘Donkey Song’. Its more subdued vibe and noisier LSDJ work makes for a song that’s slightly reminiscent of Cake or Soul Coughing, and it scratches an itch I haven’t tended to in a while, both within the scene and outside of it. All in all, Lars manages to deliver in splendid fashion on his first release in nineteen months. My only complaint, really, is that this EP is much too short, but it does get me excited for more. If you’re in need of an alt-rock fix, I’d strongly recommend picking up this little diddy from The Laohu. At just a dollar for two rockin’ tracks, it’s hard to say no to such a sweet deal.
Fave Track: ‘Donkey Song’
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Value: 4.5/4
Overall Grade: 4.3/5
‘As Above, So Below’ by +LET’S DISINFECT+
Another friend who requested a review of his work, Sean Monistat is back at it under his +LET’S DISINFECT+ moniker with ‘As Above, So Below’. A ten track LP that runs about twenty-six minutes in length, ‘As Above, So Below’ marks a return to form for this prolific talent. While he has dabbled in several genres of music over the years and continues to do so with various projects, +LET’S DISINFECT+ has always seemed most comfortable and well defined by Sean’s punk rock roots. Admittedly, I tend to find Sean’s darker offerings more intriguing. The last album of his that I reviewed was a harsh, noisy, violent, tour de force of a concept album for Datathrash that was a lot of fun to listen to. That said, I am happy to hear Sean getting back to basics with this album, and can honestly say I enjoy what he has whipped up this time around.
‘As Above, So Below’ is everything that a good punk album should be. Sean’s growling voice is still as biting and gritty as ever. His ability to play off his Game Boy’s loud pulse waves and dirty static is simply fantastic, and I’m always in awe of the way he interweaves the rhythms of his guitar with chiptune. ‘Criminal Minds’ is a particular favorite example of this talent, as it features fantastic interplay during the second half of the song that plays out like a duel between his guitar and his LSDJ cart and shows off +LET’S DISINFECT+’s ability to squeeze the most out of every short composition on this album. In fact, virtually every song on the album is short and snappy, never overstaying its welcome. The exception to this–‘Pisces Moon’–is still a welcome treat, though it’s one that’s very unexpected from Sean. In fact, the first time I heard it, I had to do a double take, because I thought that I was listening to a post-rock track from Chip’s Challenge. The transition in style can be a bit jarring if one is using the album as background noise as opposed to actively listening to it, especially since ‘Pisces Moon’ sounds cleaner than the rest of the album, as if it were purposely polished up a bit more in post production to help it stand out from the rest. Regardless, the song works nicely to break up the homogeneity of the rest of the album, and shows that Sean always has a trick or two up his sleeve. Ultimately, ‘As Above, So Below’ succeeds in being a solid punk production from +LET’S DISINFECT+. While it lacks the harshness I’ve come to prefer in Sean’s work over the years, I can’t deny that he’s put forth a very entertaining album, and it’s always a pleasure to hear what he has to share with the world. Keep up the good work, buddy. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Fave Track: ‘Sadist in the Sky’
Bang for Buck: 4.6/5
Replay Value: 4.2/5
Overall Grade: 4.3/5
‘Rainbow Boba’ by StarStorm
Up next for review is an album I’ve been eagerly anticipating from StarStorm, not only because I’ve been dying to hear what she’s created, but because of what it represents to her. The fruit of seeds sown over a strife-ridden year, ‘Rainbow Boba’ is a ten track LP that combines chiptune with elements of trance, d&b, hip hop, and big beat in a way that only one of the lovely mahou shoujo of the scene can produce. It’s a work I’m proud to see StarStorm finally release after all she’s been through, but does it manage to be as vibrant, dynamic and uplifting as herself? Well, sometimes, yes, other times, not so much. In listening to this album, I’m reminded of an old saying about how it takes two artists to make a painting: one to apply paint to a canvas, and another to pull the brush away and say when it’s finished. StarStorm’s biggest weakness is that there are moments when she seems to apply a bit too much paint, so to speak, and doesn’t seem to always have a presence there to help her stop going. Songs like ‘Do It For Her’, for example, start off really strong, and remind me of my younger days of listening to Airwave and Louie DeVito’s ‘Dance Party’ compilation albums. They have such a big, airy, cosmic feel to them that’s just awe inspiring. Then she’ll throw something onto the canvas that’s a bit too much, and it takes away from the experience. In the case of ‘Do It For Her’, that would be the Undertale sample she uses in the song. While I get the effect she was trying to go for, it detracts from the beauty of everything else in the song. Conversely, when she does shine and seemingly has had that helping hand to tell her when to stop, such as in ‘Gotta Get Loudr’ or ‘White Out’, her work is spectacular. The songs have time to breathe and exhale slowly across the listener’s conscious, allowing her music to truly shine in all its splendor, and that’s what I really want. Ultimately, ‘Rainbow Boba’ is proof StarStorm has what it takes to take the world by storm, but if she can learn when to step away and let the spells she weaves do their thing on their own after a while, she’ll be playing main stage at big events like MAGFest in no time. Keep up the good work, StarStorm. I fully expect to see you doing your thing on a big stage in the near future.
Fave Song: ‘Gotta Get Loudr’
Bang for Buck: 4.5/5
Replay Value: 3.5/5
Overall Grade: 3.8/5
‘To The Stars’ by Bit Trash Riot
Up last for review this month is a release that’s bittersweet for me, and for the scene at large. Having been a steady presence in the community since the days of 8bitcollective, Bit Trash Riot has held fast as an Amiga composer. Having released a diverse range of music ranging from metal to electropop, and on virtually every medium from mp3 to floppy disk, you’d think that there was seemingly no end to what this master composer could bring to the table. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Despite the fact that BTR doesn’t indicate it on his bandcamp page, the man himself told me on Twitter when he asked if I was interested in reviewing his latest work that this would be his ‘upcoming, last album’. That statement caused me to do a serious double take. While I had my doubts, as chiptune is notorious for its ‘I quit’ moment, BTR is seemingly set on this being his last album. Whether that means it’s his last album as BTR, his last chiptune album, or his last album, period, I can’t say for certain. What I can say, however, is that unlike other last albums I’ve reviewed for the blog, ‘To The Stars’ separates itself from the crowd because it plays out like BTR has steam for years to come. Featuring seven songs that, unlike some final albums I’ve reviewed, are all original, complete productions that aren’t reworkings of older works, ‘To the Stars’ is an impressive EP despite its brevity. Clocking in at less than twenty minutes, Bit Trash Riot combines aspects of electropop with the sounds of demoscene chiptune from the late 80s and early 90s to masterful effect, creating a quasi-concept album that delves into the fear and wonder of exploring the cosmos. Songs like the opening ‘Children Shall Lead’ and ‘CapCom (Capsule Communicator)’ have a sense of hope and wonder to them. They successfully combine the Amiga’s proclivity for Kraftwerk-like synthwave with a bit of funk reminiscent of Daftpunk’s music during the ‘Discovery’ era. Alternatively, songs like ‘Moon Bus’ sound more like new wave mixed with aspects of new jack swing, as BTR manages to stay on top of his game and put out songs with breakdowns that are surprising and entertaining as always. All in all, this brief trip through the stars is satisfying as hell and I really can’t say anything bad about it. It’s just a shame that this is BTR’s last album, because it still feels like he has a lot more to offer the scene. That said, Bit Trash Riot, whatever you do, know that you’ll be missed. You’re an under-cherished legend in a scene that shines a little less brightly without you here, and I’ll never forget the good things you brought to it while you were a part of it.
Fave Song: ‘Mission to Mars’
Bang for Buck: 4.5/5
Replay Value: 5/5
Overall Grade: 4.8/5
Well folks, that does it for this edition of Quick Shots. If you liked any of the artists whose music I reviewed, don’t forget to follow them on social media to keep up with their latest and greatest exploits. Also, keep tuning back into the blog, as we put out new articles three days a week, and strive to bring you the latest and greatest the scene has to offer. Last but not least, if you’re an up and coming artist who hasn’t been featured yet in an article, keep doing you, cause you never know when Kuma-senpai might notice you.
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