Sabrepulse is, arguably, one of the greatest pioneers of chipmusic. Two of his earliest albums, 2005’s ‘Famicom Connection‘ and 2006’s ‘Chipbreak Wars‘, can be considered as two of the foundational pillars for the chipbreak subgenre. Over the years, Sabrepulse’s style shifted slowly to a more drum ‘n bass influenced vibe, and with the release of ‘First Crush‘ in 2011, a much more modern influence could be heard in his music. Now, with ‘Blood Eagle’, his first of two releases in a three-and-a-quarter year hiatus, Sabrepulse shows us yet again just how well he can adapt to the modern music scene while showcasing his roots as a chipmusician. (more…)
Hello fellow ChipWINners! I hope that all of you who were able to attend 8static Fest over the weekend are recovering nicely. (I’m so jealous.) To aid in the recovery from your 8static hangover, how about a heaping helping of ‘The Coffee Zone’ from none other than the Famitracker wizard, Fearofdark?!
Damn good coffee.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then it’s highly likely that you’re already familiar with Fearofdark and his incredible album, ‘Motorway’. (Check out DjjD’s awesome review of it published to this blog earlier this year.) ‘Motorway’ made an indelible mark on the chiptune scene, and for years it has remained a preeminent source of enjoyment and inspiration. As phenomenal of an album as it is, ‘The Coffee Zone’, a collection of Famitracker songs both old and new composed over the last 4 years, just may supplant ‘Motorway’ as your new favorite Fearofdark album.
One thing that I really love about ‘The Coffee Zone’ is its structure. The first 5 tracks utilize the trusty 2a03, while subsequent tracks utilize various expansion chips increasing in their complexity and multi-channel capabilities. The expansion chips used range from Nintendo’s MMC5 and Famicom Disc System chips, to Konami’s VRC6 and VRC7, and even an overclocked Namco 163! What results is a melodic masterpiece that doubles as a guided tour which showcases what these chips are capable of by a true master of his craft.
The opening track, ‘Lovesickness’, starts with a sleepy pre-coffee square wave supported by ascending bass scales. 30 seconds in, percussion is introduced to the mix and incrementally, the caffeine rush sets in! Suddenly, the listener is awash in all manner of auditory excellence. Once the track settles into its main groove, what strikes me is the way in which the percussion is used in conjunction with the lead melody to make a strong impact on the listener, rather than merely keeping the beat. Every channel is used to its utmost potential in new and interesting ways, which is a recurring theme that you’ll find throughout ‘The Coffee Zone’. From the jaw-droppingly frantic climax of ‘Gastly’, to the steely-eyed determination of the Follin-esque ‘Scaling the Dragon Fortress’, it’s made clear that Fearofdark puts 110% of his passion and expertise into every single one of his compositions.
‘Pancake Department’ is a song about making pancakes in space and the unwieldy proposition of trying to flip them while in zero gravity. It’s an amusing image when juxtaposed against the stellar backdrop to this playfully funky track. The melody that kicks in at 1:06 is absolutely delightful and one hell of an earworm.
Moving into expansion chip territory, we have what is currently my favorite track on the album, ‘Zoning Residential’. Using the MMC5 expansion, Fearofdark has stated that this track is about a guy who wants to build a city and watches as his humble suburban homes grow into towering skyscrapers. However, when I listen to this track’s sumptuously soothing melody, I’m taken to a place completely removed from urban life such as a seaside town with nary a care in the world. Regardless of the imagery that this track evokes for you, the tranquil and humble beauty of ‘Zoning Residential’ is undeniable.
‘Zoning Residential’ takes me here again.
Elsewhere, ‘Dandelion Ride’ starts out light and airy with rolling arpeggios as its backdrop before rushing in with a very upbeat slice of jazz fusion. There is an intangible, dreamlike quality to this track that fascinates me, especially the section beginning at 2:44 which feels as if the ride we’re taking is slipping further into deep levels of the subconscious. Transitioning from the serene to the energetic, Fearofdark knocks it out of the park again in ‘Penguins of the Apocalypse’, a maniacally joyful VRC6-fueled track of controlled chaos.
‘Flame Repellant’ is an astounding and intense composition with a driving beat and focused dynamics that wouldn’t be out of place as the background music to a high-speed chase. A brisk staccato bassline kicks things off to form the backbone of the song, which is then joined by a remarkably head-bobbing lead that makes excellent use of the VRC6’s sawtooth channel. Sprinkled with lots of killer effects throughout, ‘Flame Repellant’ is a fantastic and rousing composition. The fact that this was the first thing that Fearofdark wrote in Famitracker absolutely boggles the mind.
‘There’ll Always be Next Year’ is a fist-pumping inspiration of a track that takes many twists and turns. The timbre of the lead melody ranges from strong and determined at the beginning to a fragile whisper at 2:16. ‘Hopeless Romantic’ uses the 6-channel N163 chip overclocked to 224 Hz, creating a rare and exciting chiptune experience. The lead melody undergoes fierce vibrato before the entire soundscape’s intensity is turned up to 11 before dropping a beat that would set any dance floor ablaze.
Closing out the album is the title track, ‘The Coffee Zone’. It’s a suitably smooth jam with a lead voice that changes over time, backed by some deliciously Rhodes-like chords. This track contains multiple mini-solos and flourishes over its near 5 minute running time before fading away and leaving the listener wanting to start the whole experience over again.
Bear in mind that I’ve only scratched the surface of ‘The Coffee Zone’; the levels of WIN contained within this album are just too astronomical to capture within a single blog post. What I can say without hesitation is that this is one of the finest chiptune releases of 2014, and is absolutely worth your time and money.
I feel that the mark of a great chiptune musician is that rather than giving the impression that they are executing a carefully crafted composition, it feels that they are actually breathing life into these wonderful chips of old, speaking through each of their unique personalities. Fearofdark accomplishes this in spades in ‘The Coffee Zone’, so expect this to be a regular on your playlist for quite some time. While you’re at it, keep your heart and hands held high!
It always astounds me how much one can do with older software. Originally called ModPlug Tracker in 1997, it allowed users to listen to several music modules from file extensions such as .it, .s3m, and .mod. For its time, it was one of the most unique and well optimized audio trackers released. In 2004, the source code for the ModPlug was released and maintained under an open license; eventually, paved the way for OpenMPT: a newly designed, Windows interfaced tracker with VST plugin compatibility and ASIO support.
From the first track, you imagine a vivid sunrise from the deck of your futuristic Corvette. Top down, you stare at the glare in the rear view mirror and look forward to see the city approaching, hundreds of miles ahead. The road is long, but your mind is clear. The city moves closer. What this composer does, he does incredibly well. and every song gives you a calm uncertainty. Just know that every melody is filled with a unique complexity that will challenge the headphones of even the most high-tech audiophile listener. It has that power.
You might say that the album qualifies as dated but, I say it’s a just a damn good album. Before this review was even written, Hoodie and I discussed if it was too late to talk about; it ultimately came down to: it’s never been reviewed here at ChipWIN HQ. As confident as I am to say you’ve probably all heard it, this album is worth discussing again and again. Fortunately, we were able to contact the man himself and ask a few questions!
DjjD: I think I first heard your tune, “Pancake Department” back in 2012, but how long have you been composing and producing for?
FoD: I guess there’s technically more than one answer to this question. I started sharing and releasing my own compositions in public as “Fearofdark” in 2009; nearly 5 years ago! However, I’ve actually been making music on trackers since 2004 or so, tho I never shared them over the internet. In addition, I’ve been studying the piano on and off for longer than I remember.
DjjD: I’m really quite impressed how much you get out of trackers, what do you normally use?
FoD: My first and most common tool of choice is OpenMPT, in addition to several sample packs and things I can find. I’ve also been using Famitracker a lot since 2010. Other than Those, I use things like Beepola for making 1-bit Beeper tunes, and occasionally dabble in other things like Raster Tracker.
DjjD: About the album, I remember hearing a couple of tunes before ‘Motorway’ was released, such as “Surfing on a Sine Wave” or “Rolling Down The Street, In My Katamari”, were they always meant to be part of the release?
FoD: Yeah, pretty much. I made “Surfing on a Sine Wave” initially as a stand-alone track, but then once I started planning the album I decided to include it. “Rolling down the Street” was going to be an opening track but once I got really stuck into the album, the track order went through several changes, things got cut and so on.
DjjD: ‘Motorway’. These tunes certainly are the driving type but did you have any sort of theme in mind when writing these?
FoD: Not particularly. To me, as a whole, “Motorway” will always remind me of the idea of leaving home and traveling. Some songs were written with that idea in mind; “Fast City” was inspired by a trip to New York, for instance, and the final track itself. Others really weren’t, like “An Age of Planetary Pride.”
DjjD: Sort of an odd one but I’ve always wondered, why the name fearofdark?
FoD: It’s a username I came up with when I was really young. Since then, I’ve kinda stuck with it. It has nothing to do with Iron Maiden, as some people might be disappointed to know.
DjjD: To switch things up, I was kinda curious about the S3XMODIT Mania Entries. How did those all come to be?
FoD: S3XMODIT Mania was a weekly knock-out competition held by the Battle of the Bits community, which I took part in. Samples were provided by the members of Botb and each week we’d be given a random (and often ridiculous) sample pack, and then we’d be given about 4 days to submit an it/xm/mod/s3m. It was a pretty fun thing to take part in.
DjjD: Simple one: What are your influences?
FoD: Aha, a lot of things.. too many things probably. I suppose in chipmusic terms, I’ve been heavily influenced by the likes of Kulor, Blitz Lunar, virt, a lot of the regular Famicompo Mini entrants, a lot of the people from Botb and who were on 8bc before its demise (in other words, too many to name). As far as non-chipmusic is concerned, I like listening to and studying a fair amount of classical music – my favourites are J.S Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Beethoven. I also used to listen to a lot of Funk and Prog-Rock (Tower of Power, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, ELP, Funkadelic and so on), but I’ve started looking at electronic music a lot more as well (again, far too many to name). I also get sidetracked by pop music from time to time too.
DjjD: Do you have anything planned for the future of fearofdark? Exciting new projects?
FoD: Hmm, maybe ;) I’m working on a couple of solo projects, which are slowly getting there and might not see their release until late 2014. I’m also working on a couple of things for compilations too. That’s really all I can say.
DjjD: If you had one bit of advice to give to future composers/producers aspiring to use trackers, what would it be?
FoD: Keep practicing, don’t be afraid to take part in competitions and community projects and most importantly, throw love, flair and passion into whatever you make.
DjjD: If you were a genie and a person asked you this wish, “I wish you would not grant me this wish” what would you do?
FoD: Divide by zero… or give them a cat; who doesn’t love cats?
Steve manages to keep my attention throughout this whole album with little effort, but there’s more than meets the ear. You can listen to this album casually no problem, but listen a little closer and it will seem as if the song is yielding more notes than before. Layers upon layers, verses upon choruses ensures that this album never gets boring. Two weeks ago, I was on a trip that took me from here in Arizona, to Alaska (by flight), to Indiana (by car) and FoD was a most popular choice among the 3 MP3 players my friend, Jesse and I had.
This is an amazing album. By far, my favorite track was: ‘Funknitium-99’.
First off, I’m all about the journey tracks. If it’s longer than six minutes and sets you on an adventure, that to me equals perfect. I can’t speak highly enough of this one, guys. It’s super good ‘n funky.
Sure this album is a couple of years old, but why not give it some more attention. I love you, Ubiktune. Yes, that’s a personal statement of love. I come to you, looking for music and you kindly in return deliver things of the highest quality I couldn’t have possibly imagined.
Fearofdark is one hell of an artist, and if you’ve already heard ‘Motorway’, check out his latest creations on Bandcamp which include his S3XMODIT Mania Entries hosted by Battle of the Bits. A little different than ‘Motorway’ but equally as awesome. So diverse. I can only stand by and watch this guy perfect his craft. Highly recommended. All of it.