Hey ChipWINners, and welcome back to Quick Shots: the monthly album review column that helps you determine if some of the latest offerings from the scene are worth diving into. This month, I’ve decided that instead of presenting you with work from a splattering of artists across the spectrum, I’m going to focus on just one artist: Nanode.
Nanode is a young, jovial composer who has made quite a splash since joining the scene. From his pulse pounding, stylish music to his reputation as a purveyor of memes; his contributions to The ChipWIN Blog to his role as a panel host at MAGFest, Sam Sher is representative of the longevity and potential chiptune has a scene and as a medium. Combine these with his entrepreneurial spirit in founding Circuitpulse Records and his hunger for improvement and recognition, and it becomes clear that Nanode is a presence that can’t be ignored because he’s done more than many of his contemporaries have at a much younger age than them. Recently, Nanode stated that he would be moving away from chiptune towards more traditional music composition, but that before doing so, he would release a few more pure chip albums as a sort of farewell to the scene that helped raise him to new heights.
Do these two albums do the young composer justice? Will they leave a mark on the scene worth remembering? Let’s not delay any further. Join me as I dive deep into ‘Voyager’ and ‘Paradise’ to discover if there is truly treasure waiting for us within these new waters.
‘Voyager’ is the first of Nanode’s recent LPs and is comprised entirely of music composed in LSDJ. It’s a frenetic concept album that explores a theme common among chiptuners: OUTER SPACE! Taking advantage of the Game Boy’s ability to create excited, arp-filled bangers, Nanode has seemingly drawn inspiration from successful contemporaries such as Kedromelon, Trey Frey, Crabsound and Toriena to create a concept album that satisfies the need to relive the hype of sweaty, cramped weekend shows, but also reveals some flaws that prove he has room to grow. These flaws are interesting, though, in that they are double-edged swords that arise from Nanode’s strengths.
The first of these problems I noticed was a lack of flow from one song to another. This flow, however, isn’t one that stems from poor track placement. Sam’s album shows off an astute comprehension of track placement I’ve not seen in a chiptuner his age in quite a while, and is a testament to his talent he should be lauded for. Being hit with an expertly executed drop in the album’s opening track–‘Singularity’–that helps set the stage for the re-release of ‘DVSTRCVT’ is a bodacious tactic that’s highly reminiscent of Awesomeforce’s ‘don’t fuck around’ attitude during his set at MAGFest. I give Nanode props for making such a bold move. The problem, however, comes from Sam’s track endings. Some artists have the problem of fading out instead of properly ending a song. Sam has the opposite problem: his songs often feel like he’s letting them drop dead. This isn’t the worst problem to have, as it shows that Nanode knows not to let a song overstay its welcome. However, it’s worth noting that whether I was actively listening to ‘Voyager’ or passively doing so–especially while passively listening to it–Sam’s song ending’s always made me look up, as if something were amiss. They caught me off guard like a phone had rung on the other side of the room, and it made for an experience that would pull me out of grooves Sam establishes in each of his songs. This was a shame, because it drew my eyes to a larger issue: a lack of consistent complexity.
I don’t mind a homogeneity of sound, especially when that sameness offers a sense of cohesion to the album, and ‘Voyager’ is undoubtedly a well compiled LP. However, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat hurt by the return to form established in ‘Singularity’ and ‘DVSTRVCT’ after the impression tracks three to five left upon me. Yes, these two tracks are exciting as hell, but when track three started up, I was happy Nanode had the aforementioned issue of track ending, because ‘Revenant’ begins a section of the album that you want to give your full attention to once he has it. The track lives up to its name in that it establishes a haunting, foreboding atmosphere that makes excellent use of the opening melody to offset the previous track’s intensity, and also helps to add shock value to itself when the beat drops at the 1:40 mark. ‘Nova’ comes across as a love letter to Auxcide, and that’s meant in the best way possible. Sam incorporates the same ability he showed off in ‘Revenant’ to make melodies that are sublimely dissonant in comparison to the rest of the song, and the result is an auditory journey through space that would make Auxcide paternally proud of Nanode, especially since it features some of the filthiest wubs and breakdowns on the album. Lastly, ‘Relapse’ starts off like POPCORNKID!’s ‘Take a Breath’ , as it opens with an airiness similar to that masterful track, but quickly turns into an homage to Crabsound, as stuttering wubs get noisier and more compressed, ultimately sounding like a jack hammer among pulsewaves. The combined effect is enviably slick and stylish, and will have you listening to the track over and over again. When all this coolness goes away, though, you can’t help but feel somewhat cheated by the rest of the album for its comparative simplicity. ‘Voyager’ is enjoyable, for sure, but god damn, for as energetic tracks such as ‘Runner’ and ‘Broken’ are, I really wish the rest of the album was as filthy as those three golden tracks. They really set a high standard for Sam, and I hope he continues to work towards making dance music as stimulating as those songs.
That aside, ‘Voyager’ is a damn fine release. It’s by no means perfect, but I can honestly call it solid without a hint of remorse in doing so. At just a dollar for a digital download, you really can’t go wrong with this album, especially if you want experience some of the magic that filled the Chipspace earlier this year at MAGFest 2017. It’s definitely worth more than the asking price and is a testament to Sam’s staying power as a producer.
Favorite Tracks: ‘Revenant’, ‘Nova’, ‘Relapse’
Bang for Buck: 4.5/5
Replay Value: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
A five track EP consisting entirely of music composed in Famitracker, ‘Paradise’ is unique album from Nanode in that it shows off a side of his creativity that often seems overshadowed by his dubstep. In particular, Sam’s ability to craft chill, dreamy, future bass and house music that’s infectious and syrupy as hell. From the moment the opening piano chords hit you in ‘Sakura’, you know you’re in for a treat bound to help you reminisce upon your favorite Summer memories. The brief aria makes excellent use of bass and noise channels to compliment the fanciful, sugary pulse lead, and is redolent of the first morning of Summer vacation, when the world feels like it’s your oyster and that each moment is worth living to the fullest.
‘Surf’ follows up in similar fashion, and hearken’s back to some of the music composed for ‘California Games’ in capturing the thrill of taking the ocean head-on to catch the perfect wave. However, ‘Surf’ also calls attention to two very interesting differences that help it stand in stark contrast to ‘Voyager’. The first is that, unlike ‘Voyager’, ‘Paradise’ doesn’t suffer the effect of short stop tracks the previous album did. The album not only has cohesion, but fluid, luscious flow that allow one to listen passively to the album without any interruption. The second difference is one that comes only when actively listening to ‘Paradise’, and that’s Mastering. While Famitracker and other PC trackers offer an overall smoother, cleaner sound with their production than LSDJ, it’s worth noting that if one listens carefully, there are aspects of some of the songs that stick out as sounding slightly off. I noticed this in ‘Surf’ when the different sections of the song started to come together into a cohesive unit. While there’s nothing wrong with the main melodies, there are smaller, subtler sounds in the background that sound a bit raw or off pitch. While I’ve had some other colleagues say it bothers them some, as it reminds them of a singer that can’t quite hit the high notes they’re reaching for, I’m not as put off by it as they are. This is primarily because the album is a smoother experience than ‘Voyager’, so you have to be actively listening to catch it, and even then I feel like this is something that may not affect you.
What is perhaps more noteworthy than that is that Sam’s sound seems to overshadow his cooperative effort with Glenntai, as ‘Mango’ sounds almost exclusively like a song Nanode composed on his own. I complained about the ubiquity of sound on ‘Voyager’ some, if only because some tracks come across as less complex than others, but if ‘Voyager’ was uneven, ‘Paradise’ is decidedly flat, much like the smooth beaches it draws inspiration from. While there are moments in the album that are more intense than others, most notably the hard piano present throughout the last half of ‘Cruise’, the overall effect of the album is one of delightful, nostalgic, simplicity. More than anything else, I’d imagine this is what Nanode wants you to walk away with most: a shared moment in time that reminds you that life isn’t always as hard as it seems, and that there are good things worth living for.
Ultimately, ‘Paradise’ is another solid release worth adding to your collection, especially as the warm weather rolls around and the sun starts shining on us a bit more each day. While it’s not technically as complex or long as ‘Voyager’, ‘Paradise’ makes up for it’s brevity with a sense of flow and style that is sure to help Sam get noticed beyond the circles he currently falls in. Whether or not his journey away from chiptune will be permanent remains to be seen, but regardless of the outcome, I wish him well, as he’s proven he can only go up from here. Keep moving forward, Nanode. You’ve made a lot of people proud with your work. I’m definitely among them.
Favorite Track: ‘Cruise’
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Value: 4.2/5
Overall Grade: 4.1/5
Well, folks, that does it for this month’s edition of Quick Shots. If you happened to enjoy any of what you heard, please be sure to follow Nanode on social media, as he’s always entertaining as hell. Furthermore, I encourage you to also check out his work here on the blog, as he, along with several other talented personas in the scene, offer regular content here at ChipWIN to help keep you up to date on the latest and greatest this community has to offer. Last but not least, if you’re an artist, musician, visualist, or composer of any sort in the scene who’s looking for their big break, I strongly encourage you to keep doing what you do, cause you never know when Kuma-senpai might notice you.
Love and peace.
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