Hello all and welcome to the last leg of the Vol. 6 track reviews. One great thing with Chiptunes = WIN’s yearly mainline Volumes: the overall quality is so high and consistent, you’ll never feel like the compilation loses momentum at any point, even for the very last tracks. On the contrary. On this truly STELLAR Volume 6, some of my absolute favourites are actually part of the last ten! And I was lucky enough to review them. Let’s dive in! “La main à la pâte”!
Bonus ‘Volume 6’ album art by Chunderfins, twitter.com/chunderfins
Welcome back to the cavalcade of Volume 5 reviews ChipWINners! This fine Monday, I’m happy to be taking a deep-ish look at tracks 21 through 30 with you dear readers. This selection includes some of my personally favorite tracks, albeit, at the end of the day all 51 tracks are all pretty examples of raw chiptune talent. Without further digression, jump past the fold for some more slightly more focused rambling!
As I first came to know of Toni through ‘Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 3‘, his first impression was a lasting one. I can count at least on 50 different occasions showing that track specifically to friends (who were really never too keen on electronic music in general) that there’s a lot that can be done in the genre. While most just turn towards popular artists and whatever is blaring on the radio, it’s amazing what you can find with just a little research. Now, being a part of this community, I guess it eases the amount of sifting through unpleasant tracks because, by and large, this place is filled with talented musicians and amazing composers. We come here to hear new tunes but we stay for the wealth of knowledge that gets passed around. Now then, ladies and gentlemen, I present Toni Leys.
With a cover like that, you can tell at least one of two things.
Hey, ChipWINners! We’ve covered more than half of the amazing songs and artists who’ve been featured on Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 4, but we’ve still got quite a ways to go before we wrap up our track-by-track review series of this phenomenal compilation! So far, we’ve seen a venerable collective of chipmusic all-stars from around the globe, but even more talented artists have yet to step up to the challenge that is THE CHIPTUNES = WIN: VOLUME 4 TRACK-BY-TRACK REVIEW WHILE I PROBABLY EAT PIZZA OR SOME OTHER DELICACY. So let’s see what the next five tracks have in store for us!
Sup y’all? =) President Hoodie here, ready to happily introduce this multi-writer full review of our newly released chipWINter Wonderland compilation! Kicking off this collaborative writing project is none other than Mr. Viridian Forge! Do it to it, Wayne!
‘Snowball Fight Tonight’ by Aethernaut
Infused with the magic of fresh snowfall, Aethernaut’s ‘Snowball Fight Tonight’ is undeniably the correct choice to have opening this year’s ChipWINter compilation. Warm toned arps, rising riffs, and a steady beat merge together to give the piece a backdrop that belongs on a Christmas card. The authenticity comes from the vocal samples that appear throughout the track, which truly convey the feeling that you’re in the midst of an old fashioned impromptu neighborhood snowball melee.
Building on the childhood reveries Aethernaut may have left the listener with, ‘Tinsel Time’s twinkling opening hearkens, perhaps, to warm evenings decorating the old tannenbaum with loved ones. About thirty seconds in, powerful chip-based shredding slaps the sense back into them, tearing apart any preconceptions about what’s going on here. tiasu moves between these two themes skillfully, illustrating both the reverence and exuberance that imbue the spirit of the season.
Switching up the tempo and tone of the compilation, Polar Sunrise has the feel of a more ‘traditional’ holiday piece. Appropriately, the richness of the music, authenticity of the bells and reflective pacing encourage taking the time to appreciate the chance to reflect on the events of the year. Moreover, the warmth of the composition really brings home the spirit of spending time with loved ones during this time of the year.
With Cool Winds, the fluctuations in how the spirit of winter is evoked continue. Subdued compared to the previous tracks, Joshua Morse’s submission to the compilation is meditative, and space-y. With a sound palette consisting of fat sweeps, twinkling plucks, liquid droplets, and remote sleigh bells, Mr. Morse has put together an honestly evocative track. To my ear, this is the perfect soundtrack to gazing quietly out onto a frozen lake from snow covered hills, as a gentle breeze pulls snowflakes across the starry twilight.
Four tracks in, and this review is just getting started. Hold onto your hot cocoas, because Glenntai is taking the reins for the next section of the release!
‘Borealis Palace’ by Toni Leys
“Borealis Place” starts off as a smooth jazz piece accompanied by round bells and pulse leads before nearly manically-transitioning into a very bright and driven trance vibe. While the latter is the concept the song eventually focuses on, Toni Leys demonstrates a clear and exemplary knowledge and execution of not only both concepts but maintaining a tasteful amount of drama both between transitions and on the beginning and end of the song.
To break a personal rule of mine, I would genuinely compare this track to what sounds like: an experiment between fusing together the soulful and jazzy vibes of the Breath of Fire III soundtrack and (apparently a “controversial” opinion time) what the “NiGHTS Into Dreams…” OST should have sounded like.
As much as “Borealis Palace” rhymes brings on a strong smooth vibe, anyone familiar with Yoann Turpin’s music knows to prepare themselves for a soul-villed journey through a grove-filled jazz track that’s bound to make you feel good from the inside-out. “Bit’s Carol Groove” is no exception! Every chorus is impressively written, the melody from the top of the head onward is not only memorable but varies enough to where every embellishment of a note and their following solos stand out and give life to every note it plays. From legends such as Dubmood, demoscene veteran and amazingly-cool-person Ultrasyd, all the way to newcomers Please Lose Battle, France has had a variety of incredibly talented artists in the chip scene (and let’s face it, a ton of other music scenes.) That said, I’m incredibly delighted to see Metz’s Yoann Turpin finally contribute a solo track to a ChipWIN project.
Coming in from a completely different, yet equally masterfully crafted perspective, Kartmaze is a stellar example of 80’s synth aesthetic and chipmusic blending together to create an incredibly grand soundscape full of pads, reverb and melodic harmony. “Cyberia” is very much a track that has a heavier march pattern to its rhythm to give a sense of urgency to its accompanying chord progression, tasteful use of arpeggio accompaniment and a haunting but clear melody that sticks with you. Half-way through the song we get to some pizzicato solo elements with the rest of the track resting for the better part of a measure and a half. It was a very clever way to disguise the fact that Kartmaze included a change in both the rhythm and time signature, making what seemed to be a great conceptual reference to “Carol of the Bells.”
‘Pieces of Eight + Azuria Sky’ by Ave Maria (Bach, Gounod)
Of course, with me making reference to Pieces of Eight’s fantastic drum solo on Volume 3, it only fits perfectly that the last track I get to review is one made by the artist from North Carolina that I’ve had the honor of collaborating with on the “Merry Chipmas” compilation curated by MicroCollective (‘lo Sam!)
What we have here, of course, is a cover of “Ave Maria.” While normally I’m the type to shrug most covers, Pieces of Eight has solidly demonstrated in previous covers that he can take a song and accentuate it to bring a larger, more dramatic tone, resulting in some sincerely show-stopping pieces. This is no exception to that rule. Along with covering the track’s melody, bassline, and key, Adam mixed in Enya-esque backing vocals from Azuria Sky, which mix well with the barrage of what sounds like double-single-channel echo and reverb on arpeggios going over the entire scale of each section’s key.
I think, somewhere buried deep down inside all of us, is a tune or a sound font that we associate with a place or a person. The same thing goes with winter, and that’s exactly what Jredd’s ‘Snow Day’ gives us. This track sounds near identical to what I would have expected to hear in a 90’s anime for a snow day episode – if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought this track was lifted right out of Sailor Moon. It’s upbeat, it’s happy, it’s bouncy, but it’s not too saccharine as to make you roll your eyes. It is, the musical quantification of how you might feel on a snow day, walking around town, bubbling inside because you know you get to skip that test you had today. Leave the responsibilities to the adults – jam out to ‘Snow Day’ on your snow day!
‘Fun with Fractional Freezing’ by Spaceman Fantastiques
When I saw the name of this track, ‘Fun With Fractional Freezing,’ I had to look up what that meant. I knew I had heard it before. Turns out, that’s the process you use to make one of my favorite liquors, applejack – it’s used to separate out water in liquor like distillation but so, so much simpler. And it struck me, that name is actually quite appropriate. Fractional freezing, like this song, is a very relaxed process: it’s slow, it’s calm, it’s simple. Also like its namesake, you know you’re getting something done while you’re doing it and this song continuously builds: it slowly getting louder and more complex. And, like any liquory treat, you end up with an end result you really like. This song is exactly that: smooth and chill with new elements appearing until the end result is something you know you’ll enjoy going back to.
I have a firm belief that any track willing to open up with a “WOO” is either going to be amazing or horrible. The good news is, ‘I’m Better Than You’ turns out to be in that first category by a wide margin. You’ve got the super tight percussion Reckahdam is known for thrown in with beats that would seem at home in a Bare Knuckle Streets of Rage game. At the risk of sounding entirely too cheesy, this track puts the “win” in winter – while you have the high, sustained notes and the twinkly sounds from time to time, this track is all about getting down and rocking out. If ‘Snow Day’ was a group of kids walking down the road on a day off, ‘I’m Better Than You’ is the soundtrack to the inevitable snowball fight. The track wraps up with the familiar “gleamy” noise from the Sega – and I can just imagine Roger finishing banging out the final drum solo and then flashing a thumbs up and a smile while it happens.
After such an intense track, you probably need something calm to…cool down with, right? Riiiiight? Good, because ‘Cold’ is exactly what you need. This track is 89% ambiance and mood building – it’s a tune out and chill kind of track (no pun intended…this time). This song is the auditory equivalent of soaking in a Jacuzzi with the jets on low – soothing, with just a little bit going on to keep you from completely detaching from reality. Although I wouldn’t call this song trance, it will definitely put you in a trance. Just don’t listen to this song in an actual snowstorm, because none of us here at ChipWIN want you to space out while listening to the album and get hypothermia and become popsicles. Chiptune responsibly, people.
Reviewing the final 4 tracks of the compilation is R. Morgan Slade aka PixelRecall!
‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’ by Russellian
‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’ is an assault on your senses. Harnessing a winter storm as a foundation, ‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’ by Russellian shifts and changes in and out of melodies and speeds, delivering a sense of loss and bewilderment, much like one could feel on patrol in an isolated arctic complex. Russellian succeeds in creating a fluid, disconcerting attack on your perceptions and expectations, delivering an intense stream-of-consciousness with ‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’.
Delightful, minimalistic, hopeful. ‘Snowflakes Are Falling Stars’ by Matthew Squibb does a lot with very little. ‘Snowflakes Are Falling Stars’ employs what sounds like fewer than 6 channels, capitalizing on the freedom that comes with such a limitation and disregarding the urge to shoehorn unnecessary bells and whistles, resulting in a thoughtful and purposeful little chiptune-track-that-could.
Over a continuous chorus hum, Square Therapy delivers a beautiful rendition of Silent Night with ‘A Very Squarey Xmas’ that takes its time, and builds with true feeling, ultimately abandoning the serene choral sounds for a rockin’ rendition of Gloria in Excelsis Deo to bring the house down. High octane; ‘A Very Squarey Xmas’ by Square Therapy is the holiday jam you didn’t know you needed, and will no longer live without.
‘Fireplace’ by subPixel takes swing-chip to funky places to close out the album, leaning into slides and transitions with such organic timing that you could confuse it for a live set. subPixel takes an entertaining tangent away from the established melody to experiment with unexpected swinging synth alternatives and the welcome jingle jangle of bells that synch the holiday cheer together with ‘Fireplace’s funky swing in a nice chiptune bow.
Some funky chip swing winter fun going on right up in here.
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.
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 acouple 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!