Posts Tagged ‘Alex’

Jredd’s Jewel Case: ‘Hard Reset [EP]’ by General Offensive and Mrsonic699

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Hello, and welcome to the first ever installment of “Jredd’s Jewel Case”. Much like my Hidden Gems series, here we take a look at some up and coming talent. However, instead of looking at a few songs by different artists, this time we will focus on a single album entitled ‘Hard Reset‘ by General Offensive and Mrsonic699.

hard reset ep

Before we get started, I’d like to direct your attention to an interview of these guys featured on this episode of Retro Obscura Podcast. You’ll note that their experiences growing up with consoles in Romania is quite different from most, and yet the appeal of chip music for them is surprisingly quite similar to any one of us. Now that you have had the chance to get to know them a little better, let us discuss why I have chosen to highlight them.

You see, I’ve been friends with Mr.Sonic699 A.K.A “Teodor” for a couple of years now. As such, I’ve watched him grow and mature as an artist. We instantly clicked musically due to the fact that we both have a strong love for the Sega Genesis sound chip and I had the pleasure of helping him get acquainted with VGMM tracker. So naturally, when he came to me with a demo of an album that he and his guitar shredding buddy Alex were creating together, I was instantly sold.

If the idea of combining gritty Sega Genesis FM with screaming guitars and progressively powerful drums sounds awesome to you, that’s because it is! Imagine influences from iconic titles such as Sonic The Hedgehog 3, Comix Zone, and Shinobi fused with the heavier side of Progressive/Grunge Metal from bands like Alice In Chains, Kyuss, and maybe even a splash of Dream Theater and you’ve got yourself one heck of a combination.

Even in it’s demo stages the album was so good that when I heard a sample of it I just had to jump into the mix and help with a track as a special guest so that I could say I had a small part in this wonderful masterpiece. I mean come on, Sega Genesis and metal? It’s got me written all over it.

Right from the start the album opens up with the beautiful “Insert Cartridge”. It is a short but powerful intro that sets the bar rather high, but that’s okay because it only gets better from here and leads perfectly into the next track appropriately titled “Turbo Computing”. Something about those aggressive guitars paired with that classic Sonic 3 “Go” sample makes me smile bigger than should be humanly possible. If the combination of chugging guitars and FM Synth stabs don’t draw you in, the menacing Sega Master System PSG sirens will. Pair that with drums that cut through the mix and really sound live despite being programed in, it is easy to see you’re in for a real treat.

Speaking of Sonic, the next track ‘Dimension’ feels like the perfect melding of classic Genesis music and something akin to the rock motifs of the Sonic Adventure series, and I am totally fine with that. This track somehow manages to be gritty and lighthearted at the same time. In fact, I would say the entire album pulls this off beautifully. It has a hard hitting yet hopeful sound to it. It is empowering! As if you are facing impossible odds, yet you have the skills to conquer them! I get vivid mental images of racing down a snowy mountain, while explosions melt the ice behind me and cause an avalanche. Rather than screaming in terror, I just flash a cocky 90’s kid smirk and manage to pull off a few tricks while running for my life.

Following that, ‘We Rock These Streets’ is exactly what it sounds like. If I were to pick a tune that screams rock anthem it would be this one. The first half sounds like someone walking into a dusty bar with a self-assured air. Tall boots step fearlessly inside, and all attention is on the stranger ordering the strongest drink on the menu. He’s minding his own business, but his confidence offends the resident drunk, and all hell breaks loose. 

By the time we reach about the minute and a half mark, we have our fight scene. Guns blazing, bottles shattering, and a sucker punch or two round out the action. Of course, our hero walks away without a scratch. He sets a bag of gold on what’s left of the counter top,  as he’s leaving the place to continue his journey. It’s just another day for him. The bartender looks on in shock as he struggles to assess what just happened. Fortunately for him, most of his customers had bounties on their heads, so he stands to collect a hefty reward once the fuzz shows up to clean up the mess.

Next, we have ‘Whiskey Gloves’, a tune that Teodor and I worked on together and I can say it’s just like old times. Our collaborations have always been a blast. Look through either of our Soundclouds and you’ll see we feature each other quite a bit. This time it’s even cooler because now we have a guitar player which is kind of like adding bacon to bacon, It only makes a good thing even better.

What’s really impressive to me here is that I thought I had pulled out all the stops: weird time signature shifts, sound design tricks, and of course solos in every place I could fit them. Yet, not only did Tudd blend with me perfectly (as he always does), but he managed to improve my sound design and continue my solos as if they were an extension of himself. Not to be outdone, Alex proceeded to lay down solid guitar tracks that sound as if they had always been there. In the end, the collaboration couldn’t have gone smoother and I can’t help but grin every time I listen to it.

Finally, ‘Resolution’ is also exactly what it sounds like in that it’s the perfect way to end an amazing album. This one here is a bit of a ballad. The phase “Peace is restored” comes to mind. A warm feeling of accomplishment swells within the listener as the credits to an epic adventure roll by.

Swapping out the grittier rhythm guitar for a cleaner acoustic style, it really pairs wonderfully with the serine FM bells. Now, there is an electric lead guitar that comes in but this time it has some hauntingly beautiful reverb that melds with the atmosphere of the track effortlessly. What can I say? This is a solid album that I by all means highly recommend.

Oh right, you guys probably want to know about the secret songs too huh? Well, I guess you’ll just have to donate and support these guys to listen to the hidden bonus tracks! Why? Here’s the deal, not only do you get 2 extra unreleased tracks but you also get the tracker file for ‘Whiskey Gloves’ by Tudd and I. You can feel free to study our work and go on to make your very own Sega Genesis music!

So, are you excited yet? What are you waiting for, grab this album! Go, go, go!

-Jredd

MRSONIC699 (Teodor Dumitrache)
soundcloud | facebook

GENERAL OFFENSIVE (Alexandru Ungureanu)
soundcloud | facebook

JREDD (Trevin Hughes)
soundcloud | facebook

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Office Hours #3 – Zackery Wilson

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Welcome back to the first Office Hours session after last month’s Chiptunes = WIN Volume 3 release! This month I am reviewing a recent release titled ‘SNESQUE’ by fellow Longhorn and ChipWIN alum Zackery Wilson.

ZW logo
In addition to his talents as a pianist, Zackery Wilson has extensive formal training in composition and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also one of only a few composers combining contemporary classical music with chiptune elements, intended for a more formal concert setting than most live chip music.

My first exposure to Zackery Wilson’s unique musical style was his track ‘Ain’t Got Time to Bleep’ from last year’s Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 2. Clocking in at a blistering 1:39, this track packs a lot of punch in a short amount of time. In retrospect, ‘Ain’t Got Time to Bleep’ feels like a precursor to this year’s ‘SNESQUE’ release; each track on the album is a brief musical landscape exploring a variety of sounds and textures.


SNESQUE Cover
Released in partnership with netlabel Ubiktune, ‘SNESQUE’ was created using original soundfonts from a variety of Super Nintendo games and composed inside FL Studio. Each track is restricted to samples from one specific SNES game, which are noted in the titles. A further compositional guideline for each track is brevity – the longest is just under 3 minutes in length. Like most level-based video game music, the tracks loop seamlessly one time before ending. Combining authentic retro sounds with modern DAW effects is a hallmark of Zackery Wilson’s style, and it is masterfully done on each track of this album. My review separates various elements of composition into their own category, focusing on how they interact within each track of the album.

Earworms Served Au jus [Melody]
Each track on ‘SNESQUE’ is a smorgasbord of delicious melodic tidbits, full of interesting timbres and cool ornaments – I love all those pitch bends, especially in the third track. One of the striking things about Zack’s style is his use of very high registers for his melodies. The melodies on this album seem to be structured similarly to a big band trading solos between players, and you can definitely hear the influence of screaming lead trumpets and altissimo alto sax lines.

Although each track is individually a beautiful and well-crafted miniature model of perfection, my biggest complaint about this album as a whole is the over-reliance on the “freestyle solo” melodic style. I realize that I have spent significant lines talking about the uniqueness of ZW’s style, so it feels a bit like complaining that John Fogerty sounds too much like Creedence Clearwater Revival when I then complain that the melodies aren’t all memorable. However, after listening to the album several times, one does start to get a sense of repetition and melodic coherence – listen to the solos in ‘Snowball’s Chance in ‘L’ for an example of a track that sounds on the surface like one long solo, but there are definite repetitions and similarities between the individual melodies.

Grade: 9/10

We’re In This Together [Harmony]
I have to tip my hat to Zack for this category, as writing in a jazz/fusion harmonic style is incredibly difficult to pull off with any amount of sincerity and he does it with absolute skill and conviction. Going far beyond an amateurish “add diatonic sevenths to every triad” harmonic approach, this album is a textbook in jazz voicings and harmonic progressions. Zackery’s piano chops almost certainly include woodshedding Chick Corea solos, Thelonious Monk’s harmonic language, and the understated beauty of Oscar Peterson. Every single track does something unique, but my favorite harmonic moments are in the keyboard and organ comping in ‘Y So Secretive?’ – that major/minor shift in the first section is really cool.

Grade: 10/10

On the Down Low [Bass Line]
As a bass player I am very appreciative of a hip bass line, and chip music usually has its fair share of neat bass licks. Although the listener’s attention is mainly drawn to the melody and chordal accompaniment patterns in each track, there are a few moments where the bass is allowed to stand out in the texture. Honorable mention goes to the delightfully quirky synth-slap sounds in ‘Earthbound and DOWN,’ but my favorite bass moments happen in ‘Have A Nice Flight.’ Some of the little bass fills in this track and the solo that starts at 1:08 just beg for a pixelated Victor Wooten thumping along in the background of an accompanying music video.

Grade: 9.5/10

Girl, you decide how HTML elements render in a browser cuz you got STYLE [Musical Styles]
Zack describes the styles of the album as “[f]rom progressive rock to jazz fusion, samba to swing,” which is quite a wide range of disparate elements to pull together! Although I mentioned this next comment as a slight negative in the melodic design, each track flows together quite well when listening to the album from start to finish. No one track sticks out of the texture in a negative way, and there is not single sample that sounds out of place. The cohesiveness of extended tertian harmonies in each track help the music form a single sonic landscape, where electric guitars and slap bass can coexist with flutes and string pads. I don’t quite hear the prog rock influence – perhaps more Rick Wakeman than Dream Theater – but that is quite alright. The textures and repetitious melodies of ‘Suck ‘R Punch’ make this track unique on the album, but it does not sound out of place since the harmonies and occasional screaming lead lines are found elsewhere on the album.

Grade: 10/10

Studio_Magic.dll [Production]
The production value throughout ‘SNESQUE’ is incredibly high. Each instrument is balanced well in the overall mix, and the highs, mids, and lows all sound good. I really enjoy the subtle effects that are sprinkled throughout the album; reverb is not overused, and both pitch shifting and echo help bring a humanizing element to the vintage soundfonts. Perhaps the best way I can compliment the production in each track is that, to me, the post-processing is never obvious or overbearing throughout the album. No, this is not a strict use of SNES samples as it was done in 1991, but at the same time these tracks never stray too far into the uncanny valley of modern-versus-retro audio production.

Grade: 10/10

Insert Coin to Continue [Replay Factor]
While Zack uses repetition as one of his compositional constraints for each track, it never gets in the way of enjoying any given moment throughout the album. Like the best examples of looping in video game music, the loops here are seamless and completely unobtrusive to the listening experience. Essentially, when listening straight through this album you have heard each track twice, although it never feels that way! I have listened straight through the album many times for the purposes of this review, and I still do not feel as if I am tired of any particular track. The track embedded here is a collaboration with Player 2, Zack’s brother Jay who is also a member of the Volume 3 roster. I would be interested in hearing more about their collaborative writing process and if it was a peaceful Mario/Luigi experience or closer to Mario/Wario antagonism.

Grade: 10/10

Zackery Wilson’s ‘SNESQUE’ is an album of tunes that are short in length but absolutely filled with quality from start to finish. The energy of each track remains high until the final note, and there is a seamless progression from track to track. Combining original SNES soundfonts with modern production techniques is a delightfully fresh take on modern chip music and gives this album a unique sound.

Final Grade: 58.5/60 (97%)

That wraps up Office Hours for today – the professor has a lot of grading and midterm exams to copy… Until next time!

Zackery Wilson:
Website | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

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Office Hours #1 – Alex Lane

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Greetings chip enthusiasts and welcome to the first installment of the Office Hours review session! My name is Joseph Eidson and I am a composer living in Pennsylvania whilst dreaming of Fiji. These entries will be structured a bit like my “other” life as a music educator: each track will receive a grade out of 10 and the sum of these will determine the final percentage grade for the album / EP in question. First up is Alex Lane’s recent release ‘Phase Locked Life’ – the red pen* is uncapped and ready to go!

Alex Lane

Alex Lane is a chip artist from Newcastle, Australia whose bio simply reads “Standard nerd.” Alex happens to be the very first artist I discovered two years ago when I started working with chip music, so I was very excited to learn that he released new music this past May. Each track on ‘Phase Locked Life’ was created on the Game Boy running a single copy of Little Sound DJ. His style is definitely apparent after listening to this EP and there were only two things I could take issue with in these six tunes. Here’s the track-by-track breakdown:

‘Cosmic Latte’ – I really like how this track begins with arps and a gradual build to the main melody. When the bass really kicks in after the first thirty seconds, you’ll find yourself nodding along with the beat. This track contains the essential elements of Alex’s style: melodies shaped by short pitch bends and register changes, fast arp accompaniment figures, and a strong, insistent bass line. Those arps on the off-beat are mad bashment riddim, mon. ♪ ♫ ♪

Track Grade: 9/10

‘Zero Sequence’ – A short intro gives way to a delicious saw bass at the lowest depths of the LSDJ wave channel. The slight swing applied to the groove is a welcome change that helps this track stand out on the EP. At 2:17 the harmonized melody is glorious, and this track is bumpin’ in the speakerboxx to the very end.

Track Grade: 9.5/10

‘Counter-Revolutionary Activity’ – One of the best things about this track is Alex’s deviation from his usual introduction using arp figures. The tempo is a bit slower and there are a lot of spaces between beats in the bass line, which helps the track breathe. I think this is great track positioning in terms of album pacing after a previous high-intensity jam. The lead in the last third of the song is great!

Track Grade: 9/10

‘Phase Locked Life’ – High vibrato arps are back with a nasty bass line underneath for the EP title track. This track is similar in structure to the first; the bass that kicks in 48 seconds into the tune hits you right in the gut. One interesting thing that we have not heard yet on the EP is the surprising tempo shift that occurs near the end of the song, which adds something unique to the general ingredients of Alex’s style.

Track Grade: 9/10

‘Flux Destiny’ – Remember my opening sentence about the first track? At this point in the album I am starting to tire of the “building arp figures” introduction formula. They sound beautiful on an individual basis, but the fact that there are only six tracks on this collection (the longest being 3:44) makes me too aware of the similarities. Who knows, though – intro formulas work for Pharrell! Despite that criticism, the rest of this track is a pure joy. Wave channel manipulation, four-on-the-floor dance beats, and a killer lead make this the stand-out track on the EP. The ending is also abrupt, which I absolutely LOVE. Good endings are hard to write and some end up being a bit too “precious,” so the sudden stop is very effective.

Track Grade: 10/10

‘Postcards from a Fast Train’ – This is a tough one for me. The introduction is totally different from any previous track, but there is something about the sound that I really do not like. I can’t pin down if it’s the direct repetition of the slow arpeggio figure or just the instrument patch itself. If I were remixing this tune I would probably copy the cool texture that starts at 2:34 for the second time the figure repeats. The track as a whole is a welcome departure from the rest of the album, as the mood is generally dreamy and floating rather than fast and aggressive. Alex’s finessing of the melodic line with different textures and ornamentation are top-notch – the harmony at 0:52 is beautiful, and I like how the bass moves into the upper register for a brief moment before returning to the opening idea.

Track Grade: 8.5/10

Alex Lane’s EP ‘Phase Locked Life’ contributes a refreshingly unique voice to the 1xLSDJ chip catalog. Catchy melodies that are filled with ornamentation combine with fast arp figures and pounding bass lines to create a pleasing mix of moods and textures. The forced economy of channels on the Game Boy is never a problem for Alex, as he is able to get a very full and rich sound in every track on this EP. Despite a few minor quibbles, I would highly recommend this EP to anyone looking for high quality chip music and am looking forward to hearing what Alex does in the future.

Final Grade: 55/60 (91%)

Office Hours are officially over for the first edition, so study hard and join me back here next time for another session!

* – Studies show that red pen hurts your inner child, so I tend to grade in blue or purple.

Alex Lane:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter | Soundcloud  | Last.fm

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