Welcome to the final Sladerfluous Reviews of two thousand and sixteen ladies and gentlemen!
This year we’ve explored newcomers and veterans, official soundtracks and original indie fare. Endeavouring to highlight albums and works that deliver inspiration, authenticity, skill, and entertainment is our unending task here at Chiptunes = WIN.
Hopefully you have found a new favourite or two through the Sladerfluous catalogue, but as 2016 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at the defining tracks from this year’s Sladerfluous Reviews!
‘VENTURE KID OST’ – ‘Stage 9 Space Fortress’ by Norrin_Radd:
Norrin_Radd does such a wonderful job pulling from Venture Kid’s ingrained MegaMan roots to reclaim that frenetic side-scrolling Blue Bomber feel for ‘Stage 9 Space Fortress’, which stood out to me as the top track of ‘VENTURE KID OST’ for its climactic energy and dedication to its inspirations.
Original track review: ‘Stage 9 Space Fortress’ plays with a subtle echo under its bubbly upbeat melody to explore an interstellar sound. One thing’s for sure, ‘Venture Kid’ has energy going for it in spades, and ‘Stage 9 Space Fortress’ is stocked to the brim with it. Norrin_Radd knocks the theme out of this world with skillful manipulation of his melody, giving ample breathing room for it to flit and float on its own with an isolation that spotlights his attention to detail. When the harmony kicks in, all systems are go, and ‘Stage 9 Space Fortress’ rockets to the top spot for me in the album.
‘SPACE CORGI LP’ – ‘FOURTH’ by LittlePaw
‘FOURTH’ by Little Paw is a big kooshy hug for your ears. There is so much joy and cheer in Little Paw’s expressive builds and follow-along-with-me melody that I am incapable of not physically smiling with my face muscles. Little Paw’s ‘SPACE CORGI LP’ is bursting with cheer, but ‘FOURTH’ in particular resonates with me because of its ability to shift my mood straight into happiness.
Original track review: ‘FOURTH’ jumps into the deep end immediately with a return to ‘SPACE CORGI LP’s core sound, allowing Nick’s guitar skills freedom to shine through a high-energy chip-palooza. ‘FOURTH’ rocks an exuberant, cheerful melody throughout, backed up by Nick’s supportive guitar when he’s not pulling forward for a rockin’ solo. The pep, jolly, upbeat tone exploding from every note in ‘FOURTH’ makes it my personal favourite track on the album, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it might just become yours too. :)
‘Pretty in Pixels’ – ‘Pretty in Pixels’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘Pretty in Pixels’ was a welcome surprise this year with Marissa Hapeman delivering a curious powerhouse of an album, and its title track rings out as a tentpole underscoring Hapeman’s tenacity and clear ability to seek out and explore intriguing avenues within her own evolving compositions.
Original track review: ‘Pretty In Pixels’ takes it home with a rocking beat for Marissa to float contrasting chimes and woven melodic strings over, making use of silence to tease and switch up expectation, gaining more and more steam throughout until this anthem’s rocking at full power. Intriguing compliments of harmony draw your ear away form the core in a brilliant distraction, only to snap you back into the middle of what Marissa calls her “…big colorful Bollywood number… but chip tuned”.
‘SPACESOUNDS’ – ‘SINGULARITY’ by JAMATAR
JAMATAR guides theme through music with such confidence. ‘Singularity’ rolls through an explorative soundscape with delightful exuberance, building iteratively until you find yourself in the eye of a beautiful electronica storm. ‘Singularity’ underscores JAMATAR’s strength as a composer through thematic follow-through and easily ascends to top track status for me. I hope you feel the same.
Original track review: ‘Singularity’ enjoys a peaceful exuberance, building into a chill groove beat. Intricate echoes resonate in the background, flitting behind ‘Singularity’s light-hearted pulsing melody. A swelling accompaniment of synth and static expands the scope of the piece, dancing between cheerful ambience and full-force electronica. JAMATAR’s ability to make left-turns feel completely intuitive during daring transitions, branching ‘Singularity’ down through paths of contemplation during what is ostensibly a house track, exploring avenues many would deem too risky. It works, and JAMATAR achieves balance, showcasing masterful control and creative insight.
‘Atlas’ – RUNNING IN THE NIGHT(FEAT. OLLIE WRIDE) by FM-84
‘Running in the Night’ caught me off guard this year. Some people have a hard line against lyrics in their chip-tronica. I personally hold a high benchmark for lyrics that contribute to the sound and feel over detracting or stealing attention from the strength of a track’s overall sound. FM-84 wholeheartedly embraces an 80’s synth glam rock feel and deliver unbridled honesty with collaborator Ollie Wride. Easily one of my most listened to tracks of the year, ‘Running in the Night’ is a must-listen.
Original track review: ‘Running in the night’ features vocals and lyrics by match-made-in-heaven collaborator Ollie Wride. The partnership presented here is simply divine. Assisted by the album’s overall theme of living carefree, ‘Running in the Night’ is such an expression of pure joy. The trusty percussion instantly grounds ‘Running in the Night’ into power ballad mode while synth pours overtop, weaving intricate architecture for Ollie Wride to leap from with an incredible purity. Simply put, ‘Running in the Night’ is an earworm that you can leave on repeat all day and feel imbued with its joy with each passing listen.
‘autre’ – ‘autre’ by xyce:
‘autre’ by xyce is a welcome cheerful romp with enticing runs on the more classically thought-of moulds within the chip space. ‘autre’ is (as I had originally written) a palate cleanser within an album brave enough to explore deep, heavy grunge electronica with reckless abandon and though I surprise myself at my enjoyment of xyce’s hard-hitting thrash tracks, ‘autre’ is a kind-hearted moment to breathe.
Original track review: ‘autre’ encompasses all of the joy and power explored throughout the rest of xyce’s album with two feet planted firmly in chirpy high-energy, with the welcome drum and bass that has cemented its place throughout the entirety of the album. ‘autre’ acts as a palate cleanser after the heavy-duty ground-pounds of ‘autre’s gut-punching grunge tracks, and a send-off tribute to the albums gleeful upbeat explorations. All in all, ‘autre’ represents the best of the album: power, joy, and confidence.
‘WATERCOLORS’ – ‘Sunset Silhouettes’ by Alone in the Universe:
‘Sunset Silhouettes’ is my favorite track from Alone in the Universe’s ‘WATERCOLORS’ for its unchained punk rock revelry wrapped in a chip accompaniment that creates an exuberant audio fireworks display; too much to take in during one sitting. Head-flailing energy and overwhelming carefree spirit makes ‘Sunset Silhouettes’ the standout track on ‘WATERCOLORS’ for sure.
Original track review: ‘Sunset Silhouettes’ hits the ground running with a harder percussion foundation and a FRENETIC lyrical journey through the devil-may-care trials and tribulations that come with deciphering dreams and seeking out answers. A theme of being unable to shake the feeling of something greater beyond your own horizon is only underscored by a famous clip tagging out the tail end of ‘Sunset Silhouettes’ from the film ‘Men In Black ‘in which Tommy Lee Jones’ character “K” explains to Will Smith’s “J” that “…1500 years ago everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. 500 years ago everybody knew the Earth was flat, and 15 minutes ago you knew that people were alone on this planet. (sigh) Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” An apt parallel, indeed.
‘C:\>CHKDSK /F’ – ‘COMMAND.COM’ by MASTER BOOT RECORD
‘COMMAND.COM’ is an insanely well-polished piece of metal-meets-electronica. The entirety of ‘C:\>CHKDSK /F’ surprises and beckons newcomers of heavy metal thrash into its depths with hypnotic ease. Incredible. Intoxicating. Foreboding. MASTER BOOT RECORD is one to watch, and ‘COMMAND.COM’ is this album’s best entry point for those who may be shy about exploring this hard-hitting subset of chiptronica.
Original track review: ‘COMMAND.COM’ attacks hard and fast with an assault of heavy metal percussion and electric guitar in an intriguingly oppressive fashion while the electronica fights for air; a decidedly different direction than the above highlighted tracks. ‘COMMAND.COM’ exudes a fight for survival in a way that exemplifies desperation beyond previous offerings with an emphasis on drowning out fleeting chip melodies in explosive percussive fanfare, evoking a strong sense of encroaching turmoil and a miraculous hope for survival against insurmountable odds.
‘THE LOST ARCADE’ – ‘The Lost Arcade’ by Gil Talmi
‘The Lost Arcade’ is masterful in its ability to evoke the wonder of stepping into an arcade for the first time. Each cabinet so fascinating that one can’t help but be unable to focus on any one for too long before being pulled to the next. Gil Talmi is a dedicated and top-tier composer, faithfully exploring authentic soundscapes and marrying them with modern musicality to welcome you into the memories and wonderment explored in the accompanying documentary of the same name.
Original track review: ‘The Lost Arcade’ explores the fostering and maintenance of community musically by toying with unnerving extensions of tone and minimalism and cohesive buildups with a precision that elevates the entire tone of the album to a cinematic level; a personal goal (magnificently achieved) by Gil Talmi. By injecting pin-point additions of core chip sounds into a much broader organic soundscape, Talmi absolutely achieves his goal of ensuring this soundtrack doesn’t “feel like it’s coming out of the machine” but instead nails a very real and very human sense of connection between organic and digital.
‘ONE DECK DUNGEON’ – ‘Hydra’s Reef’ by Beatscribe
‘Hydra’s Reef’ is a track that impressed me with its confusing time signature designed specifically to offer unease and unnerving explorative thematic tones, which succeed wholeheartedly. Beatscribe’s gambit pays off, and the result is a track that evolves on its own as its beat works to catch up with itself and eat its own tail, which is appropriate given the echoing theme of the home of a monstrous Hydra…
Original track review: ‘Hydra’s Reef’ enjoys a 13/4 time signature that really sets this track into a deliciously unsettling groove. It’s difficult to anticipate the hooks and changes due to the compositional structure, which plays brilliantly with the idea of searching for dangers lurking just below the water’s surface. A flitting melody ducks and dives through a droning bassline like an explorer through vines, eager to uncover hidden treasures and lamenting an unshakeable sense that someone or something is watching from the shadows nearby. Beatscribe showcases strength of tone with complex interweaving composition here making ‘Hydra’s Reef’ by far the highlight of the album.
2016 is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s been bigger than chiptunes and music, certainly.
If you need love or hope or trust or safety, know that you are not alone. Support each other. Take care of yourself. Cultivate love. Offer safety. Pledge trust and work to keep it. Hope will follow and grow.
Music gets me through. I hope in some small way that I’ve helped you through as well.
Wishing you genuine, heartfelt love, hope, trust, and safety this holiday season and throughout 2017.
PixelRecall ~ R. Morgan Slade ~ Support the artists you love