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 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.