Greetings, Chip-stronauts! 🚀 ✨
It’s Brandon here once again with the customary introduction for our latest compilation review crew! In order of appearance, Aydan, Adam, & clover share thoughtful musings on the 31 stellar compositions that make up ‘Spacetunes = WIN‘.
First, enjoy the equally amazing SpaceWIN art slideshow below, and then drift deeply on into the cosmic compilation read/listen!
Hey folks! I’m really excited to have the opportunity to write about this AMAZING compilation. As always, I’ll do my best to bring each and every song the recognition it deserves. If you haven’t already listened to the compilation at its online release party, then you’re in for a huge surprise!
1. ‘Starscroller (Feat. CarboHydroM)’ by The Chunderfins
This track is one HELL of a way to open up Spacetunes! ‘Starscroller’ opens up with all the grandeur of a rocket launch, and with great enthusiasm – presumably for the listener’s 32-track adventure through the galaxy. The Chunderfins’ and CarboHydroM’s organic instrumentals mesh really well with the track’s chip overtones, and give the piece a dynamic sense of scope and depth.
2. ‘Interstellar takeoff’ by H-Mister
This track opens up with some seriously catchy square channel work. The melody, when isolated, is insanely complex and detailed; the same can be said for the percussion as well. But when the two are mixed together, the result is an absolute banger of a dance track. ‘Interstellar takeoff’ will be over before you know it, so don’t blink. (Especially not when the fifth track comes up.)
3. ‘Maiden Voyage’ by Dya
A ship’s maiden voyage is clearly defined as its first trip for its intended purpose after being built. Dya’s piece for ‘Spacetunes = WIN’ makes its debut here, and doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Whether it’s from the smooth, silk-like chords during its quieter segments or the static that signifies an increase in volume and change in dynamic, ‘Maiden Voyage’ will keep its listeners on their toes, anticipating the track’s every twist and turn until the very end.
4. ‘Planet Hopping’ by 3xBlast & DonutShoes
‘Planet Hopping’ has a lot of character; this is a result of it having numerous changes in tone, instrumentation, and tempo. The first minute or so of this track sounds as if the piece’s composers are staring into the stars, wondering what could lay beyond the limited scope of their own planet. A detailed launch effect commences the exploratory second phrase of ‘Planet Hopping’, and on ‘touching down’ the third, synthwave-esque bit of the piece starts. Maintaining its vibe, the artists change locale every minute or so for the remainder of the track, and it’s truly a delight to see just how much can be woven into an aural tapestry in just five short minutes.
5. ‘Out There, Somewhere’ by don’tblinkoryou’lldie
A wistful, pensive melody, supplemented with a repeated sawtooth bass and stuttered arpeggiated chords opens the piece. As noise percussion enters, the same melody is pitched up an octave and expanded upon, giving ‘Out There, Somewhere’ a sense of emotional growth. A key change and a complete change in song structure serves as a great transition for the final leg of the piece, during which DBOYD solos the absolute hell out of the established themes. It’s gotta be heard to be believed!
6. ‘Rosetta Orbit’ by Hypnogram & Defense Mechanism
‘Rosetta Orbit’ is the first of several darker, more aggressive compositions on the compilation. Hypnogram is known for his trance-influenced beats and virtuosity with LSDj, and working with Defense Mechanism, known also for his incredible technique with LSDj and diverse range of sound, it’s clear that their power level is amplified when working together. The end result is a head-bangingly awesome, catchy beat that’ll be orbiting your mind for weeks to come.
7. ‘The Elsewhere’ by Awesome Force
One word: atmosphere. The opening to this track is simply divine, with distorted bass and quiet backing chords allowing the percussion to creep up on the listener. Aesthetically, this track is mysterious and alienated from what we’ve heard thus far. Drum ‘n’ bass instrumentation is mixed with an overall enigmatic tone of voice, which persists throughout the whole track. ‘The Elsewhere’ is a continuous climb in tension and a fantastically composed jam.
8. ‘Pizza Force’ by Polygon Horizon
You may remember Polygon Horizon from a review I did on their debut album, ‘Synonymous Dimensions’, which was a blast and a half. ‘Pizza Force’ invades your brain almost immediately with its catchy, metallic introduction. Polygon Horizon’s awesome shredding takes the main stage in this track, with awe-inspiring solos played over an epic suite of rhythmic and melodic voices. Chip voices are more subtly implemented in numerous passages where the guitar is the focus, but are drawn to the listener’s attention much more so during the song’s transitions.
9. ‘A Long Way From Home’ by Purely Grey
Man, there are a LOT of tracks with organic instrumentation on this compilation. I’m loving it. ‘A Long Way From Home’ begins in a 5/4 time signature, which I feel sounds pretty futuristic and mystical in its own right. More instruments are layered over one another, and a percussive crescendo foreshadows the intense, emotion-filled remainder of the piece. Nothing feels excessive, and the piece is uncluttered, with every single note having a great impact on the overall tone of ‘A Long Way From Home’.
10. ‘Galaxy Glider 3030’ by cTrix
Seeing cTrix’s name on the lineup, I was extremely excited to see what he would be contributing to the compilation, and boy, he didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Compared to the previous two tracks, ‘Galaxy Glider 3030’ retains some of the organic instrumentation, but is significantly more relaxed in nature than the previous heavier tracks. Anticipation of the wonders that lay beyond the limitless planets and stars can be heard in its optimistic tones and phrasing.
I’m gonna go ahead and pass reviewing priority to the next talented writer on our team, Adam! Take it away, fam!
11. ‘Approaching The Mirror Planet’ by Shadrew
I’m immediately struck by not only the wall of sound but also the complex stereo layering and panning to the intro of this track – definitely listen to this on headphones for the full experience. This track is one of those rare trancey shoegazey tracks that we don’t often get in chiptune – often, if someone’s doing chip and guitar it’s more upbeat but this is a great slow and melancholy track that still manages to be in your face.
12. ‘Highspire’ by Auxcide
I think it’s pretty fitting that all of the people I know who make chiptunes and love space are on this album, but right here and right now we have the man perhaps most known for his spacey aesthetics, Auxcide. What I love about when people invoke “space” as a compositional concept, like you would if I said “ice level music” is that there is sort of a certain set of expectations we build for this. We expect something a little trancey, we expect something a little drone-y, we expect something heavy on arpeggios. Auxcide does this but in fresh ways so that none of his tracks ever feel stale or worn out, and ‘Highspire’ is no exception. This track is a journey – from all of the different instrument voicing to how the style varies slightly in different parts of the piece…you’re in for a ride.
13. ‘My Battery Is Low And It’s Getting Dark’ by Binary Counter
Alright first of all Binary Counter, how dare you make me feel sad again remembering the final words of the Opportunity rover. But to the music though, this is definitely good cruising music. 11/10 would explore a barren, rocky planet with this on loop. For such a comparatively short song, a lot of love was poured into making this track and it definitely shows- check the liner notes for Binary Counter’s full process on making it.
14. ‘Escape Velocity’ by Themnotyou
Yet another beautiful execution of bouncing back and forth between left and right speakers in the intro to ‘Escape Velocity,’ that’s a trick I like seeing more and more of that I feel gets ignored a lot. I really love when this song lifts off – I really love how that theme has been explored in this and many other tracks as one of the spacey motifs. It edges so close to drum and bass in certain points because of its driving percussion, but it remains its own unique track, floating through the atmosphere of our brains.
15. ‘Starship Exelion’ by Blue Navi
This song immediately starts stressing you out with the syncopated orchestra hits and then just settles directly into that hard synthwave feel that makes you feel like driving in the rain in the middle of a neon-lit city in 1986. This song is definitely to the point – it states its melody, it grinds it out, it shakes it up and comes back to it for the end. A solid cruising tune to be sure.
16. ‘Continuum of Stars’ by Immortan
THIS TRACK IS SO OMINOUS AND PONDEROUS. It’s not a long track, it’s not here to hold your hand or take you on a journey. This song looms above you on a moonless night when you’re the only driver on a desert highway and tells you you’re not alone… and you’re not so sure that’s a good thing. Masterful execution on the layering and fade at the end.
17. ‘Drifting Forever’ by JammerC64
God, this song is so RICH. If I say one more comment about layers I feel like I’m just gonna start vomiting Shrek memes everywhere, but seriously there’s just so much BEEFINESS packed into the beginning. The fact that the lead voice gets changed up in the middle to accompany the overall change in vibe of the B section feels really good too, and the folding back into the A section at the end feels very natural.
18. ‘Blueshift’ by Rhyphte
Ya boi Rhyphte comes in with a good old fashioned LSDJ track. Fat percussion, a driving beat and a few fun pieces of ornamentation (like the sparkly star effect that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Kirby game) serve to remind us that you can use tried and true Game Boy techniques to new and fun outcomes. I particularly like how the tempo sneaks up right near the end and then immediately cuts.
19. ‘Intergalactic Space Mice’ by WillRock
Oh man, what cinematic experience this one is. This track literally feels ripped
20. ‘What Happens In Roswell, Stays In Roswell’ by She Wants The D-Pad
Open. Up. This. F@#KING. PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT. Seriously, after a few calm or at least very happy upbeat tracks, this one comes barreling into your life like a meteorite headed towards your house. Dissonance everywhere! Literal human screams! Ominous chanting! Jerky starts and stops to disorient you! This track is coming for your soul.
Closing out our collab comp review, it’s clover!
Hi! This new ChipWIN comp is once again the best of the best, and I’m excited to be closing with my initial thoughts on the last twelve tracks! Errr, I mean, the last eleven tracks. Just misspoke. Nothing else going on here.
21. ‘Arrestere’ by Jon Greco of Weird At Last
This song is what pushing yourself forwards sounds like.
Jon Greco’s adventurous space anthem sings with confidence and humanity. Compositionally and sonically, it has an incredible driving force, with booming melodies and a rugged tonality, strengthened even more by intense vocals and gritty rock instrumentation (holy shit, that bass!). This is a pop punk battle cry, especially in the chorus, but only kind of in the way Fall Out Boy’s ‘Centuries’ was. ‘Arrestere’ is heavier, galactic, distorted, and impressively uses the full range of its chip metal aesthetic – opting to appeal directly to imagery and relentless emotion, rather than cinematic drama and approachable depiction. The result is phenomenal. In this war, each element of the piece is really allowed to fight, shots firing off from all directions, instruments allowed to drown out. This isn’t to say they are diluted though – rather, they fully embrace the aggressive spirit. The first lyrics are “I can’t move. I can’t breathe”, but this track is full of movement, even moreso by the second half, rushing into a battlefield of raw sound and expressive lyrics. It is completely engaging, and more importantly, evolves into an emotional journey, resonating with a deep plea.
22. ‘Redshift’ by Brick BRKer
If chiptune is limitations, ‘Redshift’ is gravity.
Game Boy tracks often push the limitations of what the DMG can do with a complex and full sound. Brick BRKer’s addition to this comp seems to functions as an antithesis to this, but doing so really embodies restrictions in a whole different light. The dry emptiness in this slow trek captures a very mechanical kind of solitude. Pulse effects I can’t describe without onomatopoeia (“weeeooooo”… “do do do boing”…?) give the impression you’re alone in a spaceship, surrounded by a silence that makes you notice every little machine around you. You feel every sweeping motion too, every up and down, especially as the track picks up. The loud harmonies can’t help but swing to the motion of the vessel underneath them. The simplicity lets you hear the bass fully even as the intensity grows around it. It is constant, not unlike an atmospheric element, but placed up close, proper footing for the clanging noises. You listen as you shift in your seat. It feels… small. To quote the liner notes, “everything is getting further apart”, and Brick BRKer tackles that anxiety in a piece without space. Full of melodies reaching out, they extend themselves just to be achingly pulled back within proximity.
23. ‘The Spectacular and Perilous Expeditions of ISV Andromeda` by Kartmaze
This track is cold. I love how it sets up a conflict, taking its sweet time in the intro to create a space, and make sure we recognize this, just to plunge into a new act. It’s cold, and confrontational. The sense of meter and the flow of energy are both jolting, unexpected, taking drastic arresting turns without compromise. The synth arrangements are fucking incredible. Melodic runs and timbres mesh so well together, and the track often sounds like if Danny Baranowsky produced a mathcore album (I now really want to hear this). This consistency in tone allows for so much variety compositionally, which Kartmaze takes full advantage of. Things stop, things start. The structure is always throwing punches, hitting hard, and there’s never a lack of combat going on around you. It drives home this sense that even if we’re far far away, chaotic adventures can become a kind of home, with a bond and familiarity to them. We’re home here, and it’s under attack.
24. ‘space comprehension 101’ by Spaceman Fantastiques
We couldn’t call this a space voyage without Spaceman Fantastiques, and no other track here flows in quite the way that ‘space comprehension 101’ does. I really enjoy how often the parts intersect with one another, oscillating and filtering separately, but in the same range, yet also still clear.
Retro waveforms ring in a calculated computational manner, with classical-sounding harmonies, and a delicate tonal balance. Skillful and tight drumming work and syncopated chords help, bringing a more modern and earthy feel to it. The trick that makes it all work, however, is the smart section transitions, constantly showing off rushes of energy with awareness and excitement. This is a 101 after all, and it’s worth studying. There’s a masterclass here in how to maintain density and tension, building rhythmically, with controlled releases, keeping us on the edge of our seats.
25. ‘Odyssée’ by LePlancton
LePlancton’s ‘Odyssée’ brings us the best Styx act since… Styx. Funky guitarwork, epic vocal choruses, and a little rock opera drama, all sing hand in hand on a glamorous synthpop stage, larger-than-life. The melodies are sexy, the bass is sexy, the music will get stuck in your head sexy. The drumming is fucking astronomical, with this fresh groundwork in the chorus that’s another great example of the ambitious 70s rock influence. Another track with fantastic spacey synth effects, I love how here they’re in tandem with subtle arp hits. The middle is especially strong for these kind of details. The accompaniment’s droning guitar tapping is harmonized as the main guitar solo grows, while chords grow in volume on a smaller scale just to disappear each time. These may seem like small enhancements, but LePlancton’s entire approach is run by this kind of escalation. And it sticks the landing so well, so right. ‘Odyssée’ excels in its acceleration, drama with velocity, style and fun on impact.
26. ‘Ghost Signals’ by J▲M▲T▲R
J▲M▲T▲R’s entry is my favorite track on this album. It feels personal, to me at least, in how carefully sounds are placed in a space, how every melody carries this weight and catharsis, stacking on top of each other like shades of color and light, creating an immense complex aura. It’s layered, and it’s interesting, but above all else, it feels deeply tied to a singular vision. And it envelops a multitude of feeling. This whole piece is constructed around mostly one progression, and one idea, that keeps filling up. This song is the space, and the stars, and then galaxies of emotion. ‘Ghost Signals’, signs and messages sent from those left behind, the singing of a star that’s faded away.
27. ‘Epsilon’ by meganeko
I can’t get enough of meganeko’s latest DnB space adventure. Right off the bat we’re hit with the kind of unique timbres and atmosphere present in Nascens. ‘Epsilon’ is surprisingly involved harmonically, which really complements both the feeling of exploration and the more specific theme of space-sounding music. The D♭maj7 following G minor and spacey synths keep reminding me of ChipWIN Vol.6 and Immortan (who’s also on this comp!). There’s so much more here, though. A curious melody is steadily grouped in a syncopated rhythm, like an alien 9-over-8 that catches up with itself. Crazy runs sparkle in the synths around it, and in the bass, but even more concentrated are the pulse chords slowly entering and exiting the frame. Drums bursting with innovation get you moving at a faster pace. Soon you’re in a different area, exploring with the same steadiness, but with a little more work and less curiosity. Although, the intrigue remains: you’re going somewhere. Soon, you expand your field of view, seeing pretty space flora all around, blue and green. The classic chip chorus is a delight, but something about it is new and alive. The upbeat pulses’ love duet finds an interesting meaning surrounded by darker grooves exploring the unknown. The fusion of concepts in meganeko’s sound design is next level, glowing with clarity. It continues to make this track dynamic and masterfully paced up until the last second of its surprising swift runtime. This tune is endearing, complex, and much like the world it seems to journey through, its creativity is endless.
28. ‘Vega’ by Breakbeat Heartbeat
Breakbeat Heartbeat had an amazing 2018, releasing a lovely album in November as well as one of the most inspirational ChipWIN entries on Volume 7. I bring this up because it’s so interesting how different each track can sound, even when they all combine smooth chip melodies, sampled edm elements, indie guitars and atmosphere. Not often are all of these so definitively equal in a work, and Eve uses them in a way that adapts so well to any style, from chill DnB to chiptune emo. ‘Vega’ is such a good example of this flexibility, elegant, but very present. The soundscape is so pensive. I love this moment two and a half minutes in, where there’s still an F♯ that never leaves you, gently covering an entire sky above. The way it returns to calm after the more punchy meter change is so smart, keeping the whole track close to your heart. The structure and atmosphere has a courageous openness to it, comforting and vulnerable. My favorite way this piece takes its time, however, is this breathtaking quality every melody has, hitting just the right notes. It’s artistic and wonderful from the start, holding out these notes that tug at your heartstrings, moving along the trails of a shooting star. ‘Vega’ lets things land in place, right where they belong. You are here.
29. ‘Stranded’ by Watch Out For Snakes
‘Stranded’ is one of my favorites in terms of how it approaches the space theme. I really like how it’s made of smaller concepts that drone on. It’s also surprisingly the first out of the tracks I’m covering tonight that feels like videogame music. Chiptune and retrowave as genres have a lot of soundtrack influence, but in a comp like this it’s easy to be on display, full of personality. Watch Out For Snakes instead designed a much more synergistic locale, providing a splendid reprieve from all the excitement, working alongside our cosmos rather than merely depicting them. It’s emphatically relaxing, easy to just zone out and appreciate the space it takes place in, but surprisingly so once you pay attention to how much movement there is. If you listen to four minutes in, it’s a lot, but this is after four minutes of establishing where you’re at, forming blocks and lines of musical thought. I think it sounds like it belongs in a videogame because of this feeling of position, and acclimation. It’s lost in space, guiding you through a desolate environment with an understated motivation.
30. ‘Degenerate Star’ by Totality
ChipWIN space edm supergroup Totality makes their debut with ‘Degenerate Star’, an exciting, noisy symphony of crying energy,angry light, living dying flames. Comprised of Auxcide, Guérin, and Awesome Force, you can distinctly hear all three of their sounds and styles in this project, from Guérin’s punchy drum’n’bass and melodic darkness, to Auxcide’s timbral genius and arp-like catchy phrasing and repetition, to Awesome Force’s unwavering enthusiasm and innate heavy metal-like aggression. On multiple occasions Hoodie described this track as “violent” – this is such an apt description, nothing in this track is more clear. The melodies and countermelodies shine with collision. The pounding bass is a bursting propellant, and at every moment there is so much going on, aurally assailing all of your senses. This is a tempestuous masterpiece, fully deserving of every ounce of praise and attention I can give.
31. ‘Stardirge’ by Petriform
If Totality is a pressing and wild sense of havoc, Petriform is repose: intuitive, reflective, inward and inviting. We’re all familiar with Petriform’s songwriting, stories of pulses expressing themselves, human, breathing. ‘Stardirge’ is more than an emotionally intelligent heartsong, though – it’s also a remarkable case for why. Embracing a sharp and straightforward sound, the pulse parts are pure, appreciative, and solely in charge of proceeding the track onwards. The perennial plucky arpeggio is a constant, one of many in this release, that carries us through the universe. Petriform calls back to previous works, not only with direct quotes but distinct compositional elements, like the powerful suspension and release of the ending. ‘Stardirge’ demonstrates the kind of melodies and decisions that can only come out of… this. Petriform’s chip ballad is musical storytelling, but it also makes it so visible how this kind of sound can shape how we hear this form of expression, and how it touches us. I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up this compilation, than examining our own space, the world of stars and skies we’re exploring every day, with every song, and every one of you.