‘Stardust’ (released through ‘Madmilky Records’) is the latest album from musician ‘Skybox’ (formerly ‘Shoujo Kiss‘) and has been creating chiptune music for the over 3 years. Hailing from Kansas City, Skybox’s weapon of choice is the lowly Game Boy, relying on LSDJ to produce love stricken powerpop songs. Here’s the synopsis of ‘Stardust’ and a good look at some of tracks off the album.
Sup, ChipWINners, and welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column where I break down the highs and lows of an album, then give you a numerical tl;dr to help you determine if something’s worth the bang for your buck. This time around, I have two very unique albums for you coming from opposite ends of the artistic spectrum. One is an experimental noise album that shifts between groovy, funky, and haunting. The other is a highly polished concept album that aims to soothe, please and inspire as it constructs a vision of a progressive not-too-distant future. If both of those sound intriguing, hop on in and take a ride with the big bear, as we explore music from Corkscrew No. 4453556 and 01100001 S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. Subsidiary.
“Outer space, Is a mystery. And I know, That we will solve it.”
Chipzel’s ‘Spectra’. crashfaster’s ‘Further’. Auxcide’s ‘Pixel’ and ‘Speck’. These are all amazing albums that have been reviewed on this very blog over the last few months. And while they vary in their musical approach, they share a common theme, that being a style of chipmusic I’ve heard fondly referred to as “spacechip”. Moreso than any other musical genre, chipmusic exhibits a remarkable ability of creating astral soundscapes. It’s a style that I’ll never grow tired of, and since my review of his album ‘Insert Coin’, PICE has been hard at work crafting his first fully space-themed album, ‘Space Trip’. It’s a beautiful trip that I encourage you take, and it deserves a place in your library amongst the aforementioned greats.
While some spacechip compositions have taken a breakneck approach, PICE employs a calm and contemplative atmosphere here. Think less warp speed and more cosmic cruise control. That being said, the journey begins with a brilliant liftoff sequence in the opening track, ‘Houston’. There is a steadily rising tension throughout the track which contains the perfect mix of wonder and trepidation. Audio samples from the moon landing are used to heighten the experience even further, and it is made clear to the listener by the end of the track that we have left Earth’s exosphere.
Having arrived at the final frontier, the music opens up and adopts a fantastically chilled-out vibe. From the upbeat ‘Vega’ to the subdued ‘Chill Bits & Space Bits’, we are given room to drift and contemplate the universe while being carried by warm basslines and soothing pads. This leads right into the album’s sumptuous single, ‘Outer Space is a Mystery’. It’s my personal favorite track from the album, and is a luscious mix of french house, chiptune and chillout all into one track, while still keeping that spacey feel to it. Accentuated with a cool vocoder-infused robot voice, there have been many times when I’d put this single on repeat while anticipating the release of ‘Space Trip’.
Descending back to Earth, ‘Discovery’ and ‘Please Tellus’ round out the tail end of the album. In ‘Discovery’, PICE attacks all of my weaknesses at once with a peaceful mixture of chiptune and 80’s drums, synth, and pads. This track in particular, as well as the full album, is best experienced with eyes closed and headphones on. ‘Please Tellus’ ends the album on a sad, melancholic note as we are reluctantly grounded back to Earth. All good things must come to an end at some point or another.
PICE has outdone himself with the release of ‘Space Trip’ and it is definitely his finest work to date. I encourage all of our readers to experience this journey as well and also to support him in all of his endeavors. Every subsequent release of his keeps getting better and better, and ‘Space Trip’ in particular speaks directly to the stardust within us all.
PICE was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself and his work, and here’s what he had to say:
Chris: Thanks for taking the time to talk about your latest album, ‘Space Trip’! First of all, tell us about yourself.
PICE: Hi! My name is Pontus Andersson, also known as PICE. I’m 19 years old and I live in Sweden. I got into chiptune at a very early age, I think I was around 5-7 years old. I loved what I was hearing coming out of my television’s speakers, but it wasn’t until I was 15 or so that I actually got a hang onto what chiptune really was. From there I listened to it a lot, but at the time I was making other weird music, not using the name “PICE”.
But just about 2 years ago, I figured I could start writing the kind of music that I truly enjoyed the most, chiptune! Or “fakebit”, if you will. Since then, I’ve been working hard not just to improve my sound, but to get my music out there for the masses to enjoy.
Chris: I think that all of us at the blog here would agree that the more artists that come to embrace chiptune, the better! There have been some spacey tracks in your previous albums, but ‘Space Trip’ is your first fully space-themed album. What inspired you to do this, and was this something that you’ve always had in mind?
PICE: Outer space has always fascinated me. I find it to be very interesting, beautiful, but also terrifying. I’ve always wanted to travel there. That’s pretty much my main inspiration. I wanted to tell a story with music about a trip to space and back. And that was actually just something that popped up in my head a couple of weeks before I started working on the album.
Chris: I share this fascination as well, and I really appreciate the informational tidbits that you put within each individual track on bandcamp. I really love the idea of telling a story through music. Is there any particular formula or method that you adhere to when trying to capture that “spacey” feel to a track?
PICE: For me, it’s about being in the right mood. A calm mind and a bunch of inspiration. I spent a lot of time looking at videos about space, pictures of space, reading about space. If I’m in the right mood, I get the right sound. It’s something I can’t really explain.
Chris: I definitely get that sense while listening to ‘Space Trip’. One of the things that I really enjoy about it is that while some “spacechip” style chipmusic can be pretty intense, this album has a more relaxed feel to it and evokes a strong sense of solitude and the vastness of space. Was this a goal of yours from the start or was this just how the album happened to turn out due to your state of mind while creating it?
PICE: That was actually a goal of mine. The way you described it pretty much describes what I was aiming for.
Chris: Well then allow me to say mission accomplished, sir! Technically speaking, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share with our readers some of the tools that you used in creating ‘Space Trip’, and if there were any particular difficulties or setbacks that you had to overcome while creating this album?
PICE: Sure! I used my PC with FL Studio 10 and a lot of mixed plug-ins. I don’t know if I should list all of them, but the main ones are: Chipsounds VST, ymVST, Magical8bitplugin, CMT Bitcrusher, TB Peach, and a lot of different drum sample packs that I added a bunch of effects to.
The only setback I can think of is that my PC is pretty old and worn out so it doesn’t always do things the way I want it to. There’s also the issue with getting the music out to the masses. Other than that, nothing really!
Chris: Are there any particular artists within the chiptune community or beyond, and even films, that you draw inspiration from?
PICE: Indeed! Some of my biggest inspirations when it comes to music based around games at all are Grant Kirkhope, David Wise and Koji Kondo. I grew up listening to their music while playing some of my favorite games. If I never heard the Zelda theme, the Mario music, the music in Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie or the music from DKC, I might never have started creating music at all.
When it comes to chiptune, I think that Anamanaguchi might have been the first proper chiptune group that really got me into creating chipmusic. Shirobon, Trash80, Dubmood and Zabutom are some of my biggest inspirations in chiptune as well, but there are so many good composers out there that I can’t possibly count all of them. I take inspiration from movies as well, Hans Zimmer and John Williams are well known and for good reason. Also, Disastepeace is someone I recently discovered and his music is truly amazing.
Chris: You’ve listed some incredible talent, and I agree there are too many to count! It’s tough keeping up with all of the great artists just within the chiptune scene, but I’m glad that I had the chance to catch up with you today! Finally, is there anything that you’d like our readers to know about what to expect from PICE in the future?
PICE: Ah yes, I’m working on a SNES-themed album. The idea is to “re-create” the soundtrack of a RPG game, but all original songs from me instead of covers and all that. It will take some time but I might get it done before the end of this year (hopefully earlier).
And I will also release a “Collection” album with some of my older chiptune/fakebit songs that I feel deserve to be on an album. Free, of course. It will probably be out sometime soon!
Also, I will improve my music as much as possible. This year will be great, I know it.
Chris: Wow, there’s a lot to be excited about in 2014! We’re definitely looking forward to it at Chiptunes = WIN, and thank you once again for speaking with us!