Sup, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I break down the finer aspects of an album, then give a quick and dirtyTL;DR at the end to help you decide if a new record is worth your time. This month, I’ve got two albums up on the chopping block. One of them is from an artist I’ve reviewed previously whose work has taken a very drastic shift, the other is from a well respected name in the scene who’s decided to do something a little different from their usual fair. Let’s not waste anymore time. Sit back, relax, and turn up the volume as I take the time to review the latest from Slothfella and Ovenrake’s side project: Boys Club!
Ahoy, ChipMateys! It be time for the next batch of album writeups. Yarr.
“Don’t ye go grabbing me booty!” – Bikke, pirate captain
In case you forgot, we’re doing these in chunks like this now so that we can prepare for the glory that is Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 2! So here goes!
ChipWin Track 24: Nebulae by KymAz
So first up we’ve got KymAz, another one of those guys like Vince Kaichan and Frostbyte that have done more musically before graduating highschool than most of us have at all (dang whippersnappers!). Based in Malaysia, he has a tendency to do some tunes that sound slightly detuned to most Western audiences, but if my music minor has taught me anything (it probably hasn’t), it’s probably using a different scale set. Which is cool! Musical diversity = win! And this track is really neat, since I feel like it does a very good job of musically conveying the sort of swirly blobby cloudness associated with nebulae.
ChipWin Track 25: No Particular Reason by MONODEER
Oh heeeey. You guys remember MONODEER right? I talked about him a little while back. It’s still that fat, punchy sound we heard in Glitch Pop, and quite honestly, much of what I said before still holds true – this makes me think of something like Shadowrun, or maybe the big city clubs in Samurai Jack (I can’t find a picture, but I know you watched Samurai Jack, we all did). This song makes me want to punch things – definitely in a good way, mind you, but punching things nonetheless. According to his Facebook page, MONODEER has some tour dates lined up, but nothing posted officially, so keep an eye out!
ChipWin Track 26: Africa by Decktonic
No, not THAT Africa, silly. This is a super cool track that isn’t TOO low energy, but not so energetic you’re bouncing around the room. It’s got a nice balance, good music to just bob your head to. And you know, I almost forgot Decktonic had a track on here? He’s a totally cool guy, though – I got phở with him at PAX, in the roughly twelve seconds he wasn’t doing crazy DJ stuff in the Jamspace. But anyway, the man, the myth, the legend Christian Montoya, AKA Decktonic AKA Miami Slice AKA the guy behind Love & Tonic Record, this guy’s been busy lately. In addition to PAX, he was at the POW POW Bonus Round in California, and his been mixing until his hands bleed (probably). He also holds the title of “only other person to be as excited for me about the Daft Punk’s Get Lucky single dropping.”
(Special bonus note: This track was composed with the Korg DS-10 software! It might be the only one on the compilation, I’m not terribly sure, but it’s still an underrepresented software in a world where LSDJ reigns supreme.)
ChipWin Track 27: Assault At The Front Door by Iron Curtain
I actually really enjoy this track – it’s like Galaga and Punch Out!! had a musical baby. Our buddy Sam here has been quite busy, having just dropped an album about a month ago. Apparently, he’s also been out and about, having performed at a live thing featuring comedian Janeane Garofalo of all people, so that’s pretty neat. And finally, it turns out that if “The Ultimate Chipmusic Weekend” gets funded, you can see Iron Curtain live! (Seriously though, go fund that shiz. KEEP THE SCENE GROWING.)
ChipWin Track 28: On Stolen Time by Jay Tholen
And finally we’ve got this piece by Jay Tholen. Look at him, being all fancy, bringing “real instruments” into the chipmusic scene. And vocals? Who does he think he is, anyway? (Answer: He thinks he’s Jay Tholen, and he does what he gorram wants.) This is a really neat track, compositionally-speaking, since you’ve got the mashup of surf guitar and lighthearted happiness up next to a progressively rougher guitar and chip sound. If you happen to be in Orlando, Florida today, you can catch Jay live! If not…well, I guess you’re probably out of luck aren’t you?
That’s it for this week! Relevant artist links below.
What’s good, Chipwinners? Sorry to keep you guys waiting on this weeks edition. A change in schedule on my end threw things off and delayed me a bit, but I still managed to pull through for you! As I mentioned at the end of last week’s interview with Compy Core, this week’s interview is with Jay Tholen, an artist and musician of considerable talent who’s taken the time to talk to me about his music, art, a few upcoming projects, and even a few of the things that have come to inspire him over the years, like Earthbound.
Kuma: Let’s start with something simple. Of the many people in chip I’ve seen and interacted with, you’re one of the few that doesn’t have a stage name. Everywhere you go, you are Jay Tholen. Why is that, my friend?
Jay Tholen: Oh man, I think there’s a reason I formulated a long time ago but don’t really remember. I generally don’t like it when fellas use their real names. I always think it’s going to be some boring acoustic singer/songwriter thing. At least it isn’t “The Jay Tholen Band”!
That said, I think it had a lot to do with not wanting to present some kind of concocted image. It annoys me when musicians in bands take up a gimmicky theme and it defines them more than the actual music does. I don’t want anyone to like my music because it makes them feel like part of some exclusive club. Like the Juggalos or whoever. If they’re doing it in a self-aware way, that’s fine. Peter Gabriel was really theatrical in early Genesis, but he had humor about it.
These guys take themselves seriously? O.o
Kuma: Very true. Calling yourself that would make you sound very pretentious, and I have to admit, for all your talent, you’ve managed to avoid arrogance. You’ve been quite humble, and I admire that. That being said, your statement brings me to my next question, and that is to your “band” so to speak. Or rather, more precisely, your sister, Christine. I feel that for as much as people know you, people don’t know quite as much about her. Talk to me a bit about your relationship with her, both as a sibling and as a fellow artist.
Jay: Ha! My sister is an enormous influence on me, and I on her. We always moved around a lot as youngins, so we became each other’s best friends in lieu of having consistent peers to hang out with. We’re very alike in our tastes as a result. Both of us inherited our dad’s love for prog-rock (not subpar Dad-rock like Journey or Foreigner, I mean 70’s prog rock like King Crimson or Magma or Gong) and other wanky showoff stuff.
We also inherited his spirituality and have an unreasonable amount of incredibly strange continual in-jokes, some of which evolved their own characters in a bizarre concocted universe. We’re working on a heavily 90’s influenced cartoon right now to bring some of those things to the public. Probably a huge mistake.
Also, thanks for the compliment regarding my humility, but I’ve gotta say that you’re probably falling for my nice guy ruse. My sister and me are pretty snobby and are jerks about just about any aspect of culture you can think of. Especially big box Christianity, of which we’re constantly faced with.
Kuma: Well remind me never to talk to you again after this interview!
Kuma: But in all seriousness, you did just touch on a few other things I did want to ask you about, so lets go in order. First off, I take it a lot of our readers know you moreso for your musical talents than your visual skill. As such, I’d definitely like to hear more about your visual art for a bit and this cartoon, in particular. Elaborate, please.
Jay: Ahh, yeah. Visual art was my first love. I drew constantly as a kid, and did it instead of school work – which eventually led to my early release from high school. (That’s right, I’m the proud owner of a bona fide General Education Diploma). In 1997, when I was 10, my parents purchased our first home computer. It had nothing but default Windows 95 stuff (SkiFree, heck yes) because my dad refused to pay for the internet, so MS Paint became an early fascination. I was pushing pixels before I even know what pixel-art was.
Shortly after I found a copy of Klik & Play packaged with a copy of Sim Tower, which provided a useful purpose for my little MS Paint creations. When we finally got hooked up with some crappy dial-up, I joined the Klik community online, and began sharing my games. That community was the first place I heard about both chip music AND pixel art.
Jay Tholen makes some very nice pixel art.
In regards to the cartoon, it’s going to be a slight departure for me. The art is all hand drawn and scanned in. It reeks of 90’s MTV animation and has a really loose colorful DIY aesthetic. The ‘scenarios’ will be recorded live, edited only slightly (with accidental laughter kept in) and then animated over. Very quick and chilled out and fun. Some of the characters in the show have been around for fifteen years. Definitely us trying to return to our childhood.
Kuma: Very nice. I can’t wait to see that cartoon when it comes out, as your description of it already has piqued my curiosity both as a geek and an erstwhile animator. While you already answered what was to be another question (as to whether your art came before your music), you have led me to another one. Your description of the art style you’re going to be incorporating into your cartoon reminds me very much of the music video you did for the teaser track you released off you newest album, The Low Drone of the Earth.
In your music video for “Voice of the West”, you manage to combine simple, serene washes of color and the occasional subdued, monochromatic town portraits to create-along with the music – something that becomes a very spiritual, almost meditative experience. I’d like to hear more about your creative process with this video and what was going through your mind when you were making the video.
Jay: Ahh yeah. I hope I don’t desecrate my own work here too much – but that video was supposed to have a lot more detail in it. I wanted to branch out from the pixels and make something a bit more organic, so I grabbed this ancient set of watercolors we had laying around and painted a few pretty little sunrise/set scenes. Just swaths of color. I then doodled a few little town buildings with a grey/purple marker, scanned everything, turned the white to transparent, and slapped it all in a video compositing program. It only took one night to make. Maybe six or so hours total. I do like it, though. I was definitely going for that serene atmosphere. In regards to the song, I was heavily influenced by a few cuts on [Brian] Eno’s Before and After Science and wanted to evoke the same emotion.
Kuma: You can definitely hear it. Songs like “Here He Comes” and “Julie With” definitely come to mind when I think of that track. That being said, while your prog rock influences are very strong and very apparent, your newest album seems to be reminiscent also of some more geeky influences, as well. In particular, I must say, this album as a whole invokes musically an experience similar to Earthbound’s music, in how incredibly introspective it is. Aside from your spirituality, did you by some chance have any games or memories in mind when making this album?
Jay: Yes! Spot on with Earthbound. I just recently played through it again after being obsessed with Ubiktune’s little tribute album, and fell in love with the universe. It’s rare when all the elements in a game can come together and provide a cohesive otherworldly experience. I almost feel like Eagleland is a place I’ve lived before rather than a fabricated location. Is that pathetic? Oh well.
Monster Party has always been a big influence for me as well. It didn’t have a fleshed out world, but nothing beats fighting fried shrimp or bosses that say “Sorry, I’m Dead,” and perish before you’re even able to face them. I like stuff that wanders and jumps around and leaves you bewildered at why someone thought an Eggplant boss that tells you “Hello baby,” would be a good idea. Trying to be intentionally wacky and random doesn’t work either. It has to be unintentional. Not sure how that influences my music, but it probably seeps in somehow.
Kuma: I’m sure it does somehow. Hell, you’ve been doing this music thing for a while now, so its definitely bound to stick out somehow. I’d be almost a little worried if it didn’t. That being said, because it has been some time since you’ve started releasing music and art, I’m curious as to what you see yourself doing over the course of the next year or so.
Is artistic expression something you see as always being a part of your life, or do you think you might set it aside at one point – even if only for a bit-to pursue other goals, as well?
Jay: In December I’ll be releasing my first full length game,Dropsy. It’s a surreal exploration based adventure game that started out as a little Choose Your Own Adventure thread on Something Awful. In 2011 I ran a successful Kickstarter for it, and will probably be throwing up another one soon as I’m beginning to feel it necessary to hire an additional animator, among other things. I’ll be working a lot on that over the course of the next year.
And yes, art/music will always be a part of my life. It doesn’t define me, but it’s how I prefer to interact with the world. It communicates things more effectively than words ever could.
Kuma: Sir, if art and music could substitute every day speech and communication, let it be said that you are a grand orator. That being said, I’m greatly looking forward to hearing more from you in the future, and seeing the fruits of your labor when Dropsy is released. Before we end this interview, when can we expect to see Dropsy and The Low Drone of the Earth released, and do you have any final words or thoughts you’d like to express to your fans and friends in the chiptune, gaming and vgm communities?
Jay: The Low Drone of Earth will hopefully be out March 5 or 6, depending on when they get things together. All I can say for Dropsy is December at the moment. And as for final words, yes: I wanted to talk a little bit about My Lord and Savio – oh wait, no, that wasn’t it. I seriously just want to thank everyone who puts up with me and sinks time into listening to my stuff. I used to worry about being too ‘Christian’ for the creative types and too ‘avant-garde’ for the Christians. While that’s still definitely a thing, folks in the Chip and VGM communities have been overwhelmingly accepting. It surprises me all the time. So, yeah, thanks! And thanks for the interview, Adam.
I hope this is the lord and savior Jay was talking about
Kuma: I definitely have to agree with you there: whether it be religious differences, disparaging political views or differences in lifestyle or sexuality, the chip and vgm communities are surprisingly accepting and understanding of everyone’s differences. It’s that sense of community that drew me to it in the first place.
That being said, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me and to all your fans, by proxy, for this interview. It was a pleasure. Although I’m still never going to speak to you again after this.
Jay: Hah. FINE JERK. Ciao.
Well that’s it for this week’s edition of Raw Cuts. Although I’m maintaining my vow of never talking to Jay Tholen again, don’t you forget to check out Jay’s Bandcamp for his upcoming album, The Low Drone of the Earth, as well as his homepage for updates on his other projects like Dropsy and his yet unnamed 90s cartoon.
Speaking of unnamed, tune in next week as I interview an as of yet unnamed artist! Seriously, even I’m not sure who I’ll be interviewing next. You’ll just have to tune in next week to find out.
Ho-Ho-Holy Shit. If the holiday season wasn’t exciting enough, the wonderful/not-workshy/probably mentally unstable people over at Chiptunes = WIN have graced the world with the first in a series of promised themed compilations, starting with the theme of winter. Sounding like a condensed audio personification of Christmas, if this doesn’t get you in the mood for mince pies, roast dinners and eggnog (is that actually a thing or have years of US Sitcoms been lying to me?), then nothing will. You utter Grinch. So without further ado, here is where we break it down:
BR1GHT PR1MATE – Linux and Lucy
Returning for their second bout on a Chiptunes = WIN comp, James and Lydia start proceedings with a sweet and sour swirl. Delicate melodies and jazz/funk fm influences swamp the track, and coupled with sampled voices which narrate, the track jumps between sugar and spice repeatedly; the sugar hook will stay with you for eons.
Having appeared on Fox News, released the acclaimed ‘Night Animals’ earlier this year and been credited for countless game OST’s, the Br1ght Pr1mate freight train appears to be doing the very opposite of slowing. Frequent live performances and an e-performance on the upcoming uber-web-show ‘WWCW 12’, keep a look out for this duet’s fantastic live show too.
Vince Kaichan – Midnight Snowflake
Soft and subtle seem to be the thematic qualities of this compilation, and if so then ‘Midnight Snowflake’ is the template. No jarring dynamic shifts or unannounced jolts, just blissful frolicking through winter tundra and the feeling the melodies could be icicle tendrils. Harmonically robust and beautiful, this track can be added straight to Vince’s long catalogue of fantastic tracks.
With releases as VCMG on Pxl-Bot and others on Noisechannel, Vince has shed his newcomer badge long ago and has since become a well-established name in the chiptune scene. If this is your first experience of Mr. Kaichan’s work, you’re in for an early Christmas treat.
Professor Shyguy – We Three Kings
Convention frequenter and pedlar of pop rock chiptune, Professor Shyguy brings his rather nice (trying not to sound emphatically romanticised here) to a cover of ‘We Three Kings’. How Christmassy does this sound? All of the Christmas.
Not one to do things simply, the climax breaks from the mould to provide a darker and far more Pink Floyd take on the classic carol, with screeching distorted guitars and acoustic fiddling aplenty.
With a full length and a new single both released this year, you’re more than spoiled for material to keep you happy(er than you would otherwise be) over the Christmas period.
Mark ‘TDK’ Knight – Sunrise
The prolific game music composer and BAFTA winner (!) TDK is returning to grace the chip world with his masterful compositions. With a single coming out soon on the deity house that is BleepStreet Records, Mark reintroduces himself here with a chilled and icy jam that melds eastern melodies and jazz elements into a consistently surprising and enjoyable track, with frequent nods to his previous soundtrack work.
With more skills, projects and awards than I can ever hope to cover in this short passage of text, it’d be wise of you to check out the huge repertoire of this brilliant composer and sound wizard. 20 pounds if you don’t see a game you recognise.
Storm Blooper – The Stellar Dendrite
Having been around originally as Sub-Woofer Special since 2008, the reincarnation as Storm Blooper has thus far brought with it two full lengths, a single earlier this year and plenty of live performances, morphing to a more standard chiptune affair to his present day dub inspired grooveathon. And here we arrive and Blooper’s magnum opus, The Stellar Dendrite.
You’ll have noticed the emission of anything even slightly wobble-influenced (now that I’ve pointed it out) and not one to displease, Storm Blooper handles the job solo and with gusto. Whilst not a wobble track per se, the grooves and dub flirts will have you chomping at his hyper sweet bit through the pieces duration and beyond.
Glenntai – Snowfall and Snowballs
With the fondly remembered EP ‘Silly Hats Only’ from 2010 and a new EP in the works and his hands full with the planning and leader of the newly formed and already respected ‘Clipstream’, a monthly online chip festival (it is as brilliant as it sounds), seeing Glenntai’s name appear on this compilation will likely have excited many.
And here is why: complex and experimental melodic tinkering laced into an upbeat and wintery socket, carefully crafted to the smallest degree. Feeling fuller and longer than its mere four minute play time, this masterfully conceived track is a refreshing take on the hyper-happy chiptune of ye olde.
ABSRDST – Let Me Freeze
Since July ABSRDST has released the mammoth-sized ‘Home Sweet Home’, the brilliantly received and diverse ‘Sugar Blossom and the Space Cadets’ and most recently his albumette ‘Rigby Wearing Shades’. Definitely a busy fellow.
Lending his expert meanderings to chipWINter, ‘Let Me Freeze’ takes six minutes of your time to lead you through multiple genres and styles, coaxing out memorable and tightly constructed melodies at every intersection, giving the track an unparalleled flow. Building to an incredible climax with one final violently adrenaline-coaxing twist, ABSRDST sure knows how to do ‘epic’ as well if not better than most.
Daniel Capo – Frosted Over
Featured on multiple compilations including a past Chiptunes = WIN and the fantastic Perelandra Records compilation ‘Tide’, Daniel, has been carving himself a name for professional sounding and presented chilled chiptune. ‘Frosted Over’ is no different.
Mixing EQ manipulation with subtle breakbeats and sporadic melodies, ‘Frosted Over’ has an almost glitch-like quality to its wintery demeanour. The rising a falling of the backing synth’s pitch and volume help add the dreamlike qualities of the understated piano and unimposing harmonies, creating a track that truly embodies the term ethereal.
Jay Tholen – Justice Delivers Its Death
There is a lot to say about Mr. Tholen. The prolific progressive rock and chiptune connoisseur has graced labels as respected as Pause and Ubiktune, with plenty, and I mean plenty, of self-released pieces in between. With his game Dropsy in development under the Tendershoot studio name, Tholen is truly a man of many talents.
And creating catchy chipfolk is one of said talents. Backed by female vocalist(s), the slow crescendo of chiptune and acoustic builds to a tightly woven and emotional end. The lyrics, whilst at times slightly unsettling in an obviously deliberate way, work cohesively with the music to create Tholen’s truly unique and remarkable atmosphere and style.
Vegas Diamond – The Ghost Of Christmas Dance
Featured on the Spanish equivalent of 8bitpeoples, LowToy, Vegas Diamond’s bittersweet jams having begun to tease the ears of chiptune fans everywhere, and here is no different.
Scales flow over each other jumping from major to minor to create that bittersweet tinge of sweet and sour. Starscream (Infinity Shred/Whatever) influenced chords rain from this, sending astral snow into your speakers (I’ve always said the line between space and ice themed is only a contextual one). Featuring one of the most memorable melody and chord progression dualities on this compilation, Vegas Diamond has continued their thus far unblemished record for great music.
The Bitman – Next Stop, Detroit
Visitor on the release pages of Noisechannel and with two other Eps under his belt, Bitman’s dance LSDJ boogies this time go for winter’s thorax. Pulsating drums and scales carry the first half of the track gracefully, before the mid-break switches up the formula into a wide-eyed melodic call and response as scales dance around each other in a hypnotic cycle. Memorable 3/4 hooks and dragging drums help the track stand out from the LSDJ pack, and dissonant bleeps help create and uneasily sub-zero atmosphere. Apparently Detroit is cold this time of year.
shanebro – A Chipwinter Stroll
Winter drum pumps fill the space left between the rising and falling scales of the tracks beginning. Flowering into a melodic to and fro with the beats, Shanebro spends the rest of the track experimenting with constantly shifting melodies and brief motif reprisals. The mid-drum break has a real 80s ad-vibe about it, primed to tug at the nostalgia toggles on anyone’s hearts.
With the release ‘The Sky Is Ours’ over on Noisechannel and a full length in the works, look out for this up-and-comer taking over this place.
an0va – Christmas Time Is Here
Frequenting stages in the US and teasing the general populace with only one released EP thus far, the fantastic ‘The Teaching Machine’, an0va is already a well-known name and unique talent in the chiptune field.
‘Christmas Time Is Here’ starts, sounding eerily similar to a lost song from The Snowman soundtrack, an0va uses a blend of chiptune, guitar and expert atmospheric control to create an audio personification of the festive season. Even before the jazz guitar begins, the track’s slow lounge croon carries the listener, only heightened by the presence of lucid and fluid guitar playing.
Kubbi – Polar Bear Rides
Chiptunes = WIN’s very own Master Of The Tracklisteh provides another track for another compilation in the wake of his fourth full length release, ‘ Circuithead’. With a progressive twist to the melodically founded chiptune, these 80’s-esque synths bring to mind Drive during the winter months, snow drifting and cold stares. Melancholic and with the spirit of the festive months etched into its psyche with great force, this winter paradise stands out starkly in Kubbi’s extensively eclectic as another choice cut.
If you enjoyed this track, definitely check out his other release from this year, ‘Sleet’, and last year’s full length ‘Transmittance’.