Back in 2011, before I had been formally introduced to chiptune, I listened to a lot of folk and indie artists. Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Tree People, and AJJ (then Andrew Jackson Jihad) dominated my playlists and YouTube history. I listened to that music so often that as I got older I had to start taking breaks from it because it felt too familiar. But nevertheless, those records maintained their value to me over the years, acting as my go-to answer when asked about the kind of music I like.
So what does all that have to do with ‘.--. ..- .-.. .-..’ by null? Well, there’s a special feeling you get when you hear a song that sounds enough like your favorite band to make you do a double take. When you find yourself wondering if you didn’t get the memo about their early-years alias. When you realize you’ve discovered something completely new, but so similar to what you’re fond of. It’s a good feeling – and when you hear chiptune in it, it’s an even better feeling. And here’s where I tell you all about it.
The morse code spells out “pull,” to save you the trouble of checking. This album is so far out there, but its execution is incredibly dignified and robust. I don’t often hear LSDj bitcrush and wave distortion being paired with noise rock, but they’re remarkable together. The vocals are heavily manipulated and are treated almost like another instrument, but make a lasting impression with their emotional delivery and intriguing lyricism.
Noise rock, man. It never gets old for me. I got major Casio Dad vibes from this one. The whole song is one static, repetitive chorus-section and it’s definitely doing its job as an opener by giving me a good taste of what these guys have to offer. The scattered, echoing voice samples really complement the charged, busy disposition of the piece. The lyrics are simple enough to make sense through the distorted elements, but they’re suggestive enough to be interesting. I also love the pulse lead that pops in later on! ‘tiny hands‘ has a super interesting conclusion, and I can’t help but wonder what’s being sampled. It sounds like dialogue from a movie.
I love the intro on this! These guys know exactly what kind of sound they’re going for, and that’s so incredibly important when you inhabit a niche within a niche. These punk-pop riffs contrast really nicely with the wave distortion elements and noisy beat sections. I’m almost getting Modest Mouse elements from the way the lyrics are delivered, and that’s pretty much the best thing I could possibly say about any song with vocals. The middle section of the song gives you the impression that it’s about to end, but then instead of a quick and satisfying conclusion, the track continues with what sounds like the band’s equipment cleanup procedure accompanied by more noise distortion, motorized screeching, and myriad samples. If you listen on for long enough, you’ll hear the rattling of machinery and some of the wobbly waveforms that Modest Mouse incorporates into their outros, most notably in ‘Dramamine’. Frankly, I felt like it rambled a little bit; I love the lynchian aesthetic, but the outro is the length of the rest of the song. I don’t blame the writer though; it’s easy to get carried away with this kind of thing, and he definitely had a lot of cool ideas.
‘m(e)atter’ is such a good track. Right off the bat, you get some of the most eclectic, interesting sound design on the album, and it’s followed up on by a lo-fi guitar riff and harmonized vocals in null’s signature style. Again the track flourishes with MM/built to spill-esque intonation and lyrical expression, but with more predominant pop overtones. At 1:30 we hit an elaborate vocal progression that smoothly gives way to a droning outro characterized by the highly saturated feedback of distorted chords.
This track immediately engaged me with its evocative, energetic pulsewave opening. The synergy between the guitar and the detuned lead that plays throughout the instrumental segments is powerful and effective at holding my attention. The vocals were highly inflective and dripping with emotion, marking a stark shift back to expressive punk/pop themes. The breakdown is incredibly well-timed, coming in just as the repetition of the primary verse starts to get a little dry. The conclusion of the song snuck up on me out of nowhere, which was pretty unsatisfying after being drawn in by the electrifying intro and breakdown pulsewave segments. That being said, the disorganized framework of the piece is actually consistent with the jumbled, capricious composition and sound design this album is full of.
I appreciate the nice change of pace with ‘rob song’. We switch back from pop to indie, starting off with pure LSDj waveform distortion and the same wavering pulsewave instrument from ‘tiny hands’. They’re playing in a minor key this time and carrying their lines into long sustains. I’m getting incredible early-years Isaac Brock vibes out of this and I’m definitely enjoying it. The brief outro incorporates the LSDj speechbox and some more interesting sound design to bring the album to a fitting conclusion.
Overall, this is a fantastic album. null knows exactly what they’re trying to accomplish and each song gets right to the point. It’s a little rough around the edges at times, but in some ways that even complements the aesthetic. null excels at filling empty space with unique and evocative aural textures, and the way that they control the feedback levels of the different voices implemented is superb. I especially like the tone and delivery of the vocals, which exude the demure harmonic temperament of the ’90s indie scene, when ‘indie’ meant something completely different.
‘.--. ..- .-.. .-..’ (pull) won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s certainly not trying to. I’d definitely recommend this one to anybody who likes something a little out of the ordinary every now and again.