THIS IS IT. We’ve come up to the last ten tracks of Volume 7, and I can’t begin to express the rollercoaster of emotion that was experiencing this album without being able to share the hype with everyone in our Discord channel during the release party.
Fortunately, I have a platform where I can have opinions regardless of how right or wrong I can be (thanks, Internet! <3), so without further ado, it’s time to jump into the first track on my list to cover!
Pixel Syndrome’s ultra fun entry to the V.7 art contest.
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.
As time goes on, I find myself being less and less hyped up on new albums. Perhaps it just comes with having too much to do as an adult, or being over-saturated with great music means it takes a lot more to “wow” me these days. Maybe I’ve gotten used to the familiar names and faces, and am waiting for something new. Or, it’s because nothing else has been Kartmaze’s ‘The Lighthouse.’ Some of you may recall my previous interview with Mads Aasvik, our Norwegian friend who put out ‘Seven Journeys to a New Home’ last year. Mads swore that a pre-Christmas release of his new album was extremely unlikely, but it looks like he secretly kicked his butt in gear and got this thing churned out.
It’s difficult to find words to describe this album without sounding trite and cliche. I’m one of those people who, when someone comes to me about something and says “OH my G~~~O~~~D, THIS ____ISTHEGREEEEAAAAAAAATEST,” I immediately lose all desire to partake of whatever this thing is and it is forever dead to me. So what I have to say about The Lighthouse is simply the measured truth:
This album is a wild ride from start to finish.
If you think you’re prepared for this album, you are wrong. I’m going to go ahead and call this the sleeper hit of 2014, because I don’t think ANYONE (except, perhaps, Mads himself) had any inkling as to how good this album is.
Weighing in with 9 tracks and just under an hour’s worth of music, this album is simply impressive.The first track starts, and the only thing I could think was “This is what Danny Elfman would sound like if he did chipmusic.” You’re immediately hit with a slow, sweeping, cinematic introduction, without any hint of “chippyness” to it, and already you know you’re miles away from anything you could have guessed.
By the way, I hope you packed a lunch, because this is going to be one hell of a trip.
‘The Waves’ opens up with the more familiar synth sounds one might expect. It’s start is still incredibly calm and peaceful, as though easing us into something more exciting. As the pace starts picking up, it still sounds like you’re in some sort of fantasy story – until the drum breakdown, and then you realize you’ve been led into a prog-rock ballad, only to crash back into calm, slow jams. The album is playing with you. You are a ship on the waves, catching bare glimpses of light (or in this case, pulsing rock) as the sea rolls you ever forwards.
Sweeping you into the third track, appropriately named ‘Storm’. Between driving leads and speedy, urgent drums, you can tell that the game has changed and you’re getting somewhere. This is the Kartmaze we know and love, and he is fully aware of it. The ‘Storm’ passes, and we’re left with a brief piano interlude before realizing what lays before us.
As we get into ‘The Reef’, the mood changes. Everything is mysterious. There are big space synth sounds and echo effects. The melody sounds hopeful, but the clashing chords it is up against instill a sense of worry. Being the longest track on the album (which is saying something, given that they’re all quite lengthy), you really get taken on an emotional rollercoaster as the track goes from curious, to hopeful and upbeat, to urgently driving forward, only to lull you into a false sense of security hits with the slow portion because the last movement of the track is higher energy than anything else we’ve seen. This is my favorite track, and for good reason.
As we fade into the next track, all becomes calm again. ‘The Sunrise’ has come, and whatever urgency that the night may have pressed upon us has passed.While this song is calm, it also has an air of desolateness. It invokes the feeling of being the sole survivor of a rough night at sea; the only one left to see the sun come up.
Then, something crests the horizon, and we have cool violin parts and an angelic choir – have ‘The Ships’ come to save our stranded listener? This track goes back and forth between the tight “real” instrumentation we heard in the opening track with violins and slick percussion and woodwinds into the dirty prog rock we all know and love.
As the album continues, and we go into ‘The Light’ and the listener knows that here we are – this is what we’ve been waiting for. This is the behemoth of a track we knew was inevitable, the epic prog ballad the likes of which would make C-Jeff proud. This track, as the kids say, “goes hard, y’all.” It’s rough, it’s punchy, it’s like a shot of espresso driven right into your eye. As it goes, there is a building fervor that happens not only within the track but within the listener as well, and Kartmaze plays around with that, slowing down the track at key points to tease you, to slow down the process and to hold off the inevitable climax…of the album, I mean. What did YOU think I meant?
Finally, the end comes with’The Sunset’. With this sad little refrain and the sound of rushing waves, we know that the journey has come to an end.
I said it above, and I’ll say it here in summation: This album is what would happen if Danny Elfman and C-Jeff collaborated on an album. I don’t think I can pay it any higher compliment. If by some stretch of the imagination you haven’t gotten this album yet, you done goofed – but while the consequences may never be the same, you can fix your error by following the links below. I can’t wait to see what Mads has in store for us next year. You might say that I expect his work to rock progressively harder?
Alright, I’ll take the sound of the angry mob forming outside as my cue to leave.
Contrary to popular belief, I DO actually listen to compilations other than ours, and in doing so I occasionally run across someone amazing. In this case, I’m referring to Mads Aasvik, better known as Kartmaze. I first heard him on the Project Chipmusic Heroes compilation last year, and his intense prog rock chiptunes melted my face. After grabbing a prosthetic face out of the stock I keep on hand for just such an occasion, I found out that he had actually released a full album. Three more prosthetic faces later, I knew this guy was someone I couldn’t wait to hear more from. With rumors on the Internet saying that we may be getting a new album from him sometime soon, I took it upon myself to hunt him down and question him, for your pleasure and mine. Enjoy!
Adam: Alright, preliminary barrage – what’s your name, how old are you, and how long have you been making chiptunes? What’s your preferred compositional set up?
Kartmaze: I’m Mads Aasvik, I’m 27 and I’ve been doing chiptune for a year and a half (since December 2012). My favorite setup for making music: MIDI programming in Reaper, note by note, using a wide array of VST-plugins with my acoustic guitar on my lap.
A: Now THAT’S interesting! You’re much more a fan of the VST method of doing chiptunes, as opposed to trackers or anything like that? That puts you in quite the minority, from what I’ve seen. What made you pick going that route as opposed to anything else?
K: That’s a really good question, actually! Ever since I (finally!) stopped writing music in the guitar tab software Guitar Pro around 8 years ago and was introduced to proper DAWs, I have exclusively utilized MIDI with VSTs in either Cubase or Reaper. To be honest, I have never touched a tracker in my life, and I wasn’t even aware of the concept until after I started lurking around in the chiptune community last year. After I’ve become aware of its existence, I have never considered trying it out as I’m more than happy with my current workflow. I’ve never cared about (or involved myself in) the chiptune vs. fakebit discussion either, which often comes along together with the VST/tracker subject. I just make music and let people think whatever they want in the process.
A: Right on! And speaking of making music, I remember first hearing you on the Project Chipmusic Heroes compilation last year. How’d you get involved with that?
K: I was approached by Travis, AKA __twc, who had this idea of gathering a few less established chiptune artists and making a collaborative album together. He asked me if I was interested, and I was.
A: A few months later, you dropped your first full length album, ‘Seven Journeys to a New Home.’ How long did it take you to put all that together? Did you know you were going to do a full album when you got The Rise of Zeus on PCH?
K: The thing with Seven Journeys was that only a couple of the tracks were written for the album explicitly. The rest of the tracks had actually been written during a time span of several years in advance. A few years prior to Seven Journeys I played guitar in a prog rock band where I did most of the writing myself, and some of the tracks on Seven Journeys were actually written to be played in that band. We never got to start playing most of them, hence they remained unused. During December 2012 I “converted” one of these tracks (‘Brownout,’ which was actually just a working title I didn’t bother to change) to chiptune after being challenged by a friend to make a chiptune track and posting it on r/chiptunes on Reddit. I got some good feedback from it, and from then on I used some of my old material as a base for some of the tracks that ended up on the album. Everything was ready for mixing at the end of February 2013. I knew I was going to do a full album when we released the first PCH album, however when we started planning PCH, ‘The Rise of Zeus’ wasn’t anything but bits and pieces of old material I had lying around, so the track was made as it is today during the time leading up to the first PCH release.
A: Other than filling out your Soundcloud, what have you been up to musically in the past year? Have you been doing any live shows?
K: Besides what you can find on Soundcloud, I haven’t been doing a lot except working on my next album. I have been working a bit with three talented guys from the US (two from Buffalo, NY and one from Houston, TX). [Adam Note: Mads lives in Norway! The more you know.] We call ourselvesMegalixir and are mainly doing SNES covers (I have posted one of our tunes on my Soundcloud, but more will come). I have also started experementing with a synthwave-like genre for use in promotional videos (I have also posted one of these on my Soundcloud, and more will come on this front as well). Last, but not least, I’m currently doing a small collaboration with a fellow Ubiktune artist. We’re quite early in the process, but you definitely have something to look forward to! Regarding live shows, I’ve actually never even considered doing one. If I was to perform some of my own material live, it would have to be with a full live band with me playing my electric guitar, I think.
A: Okay, so, the real reason we’re getting down and dirty here: You’ve got a new album coming out! What can we expect from it? Are you branching out, trying anything new? Is it going to be as facemelting as Seven Journeys? Can we expect more heavy prog rock, or are you switching genres on us? When should we expect it out?
K: Yes, I have! You can expect an epic progressive concept album, musically not too far from Seven Journeys. It will be packed with heavy riffs, catchy themes and melodies, plenty of odd time signature changes, swirling arpeggios, polyrhythms and face melting synth solos! However, it will not be a pure chiptune album. It will have a more hi-fi synth feel to it with more acoustic sounding drums and more complex synth sounds. Regarding the release date, I’m very uncertain. It all comes down to me and my productivity (which is highly irregular nowadays), as I still lack about 1/4 of my planned album length. Last year I hoped to release it this summer, but that’s not going to happen. If I’m going to look realistically at it, a release before christmas is unlikely, I’m afraid. But I’ll assure you that it will be worth the wait!
A: I can’t wait! And thanks a bunch for your time!
So there you have it! If you need some proggy brain obliterating funtimes, look no further than Kartmaze! And you can join with me in counting the days until he makes an official album announcement. In the meantime, keep your eyes glued here while we continue to YELL AT YOU ABOUT CHIPTUNES because the ONLY WAY you can truly learn more is if we YELL AT YOU ABOUT CHIPTUNES.