Happy March to everyone in the ChipWINation! For this month’s Stokin’ the Forge, I have the sublime pleasure of reviewing Hon’in Myo Audio’s recently released album, ‘Traveler’.
‘Traveler’ is easily one of the most atmospherically engrossing works of art I have experienced since I began writing for Chiptunes=WIN. If you consider yourself anything of a music lover, just head on over to Honin Myo Audio’s bandcamp page and enjoy it. (more…)
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.
Let me begin by cutting straight to the point. If you’ve not had much experience in the wide world of bourbon whiskey, I have one singular piece of advice for you. Find your most reputable liquor proprietor, politely ask an employee, “Excuse me, can you recommend a good bourbon for someone who is just starting to explore?
and prepare your mind for an educational conversation.
Sup y’all! It’s your homeboy Kuma comin’ at ya with something a little different this time around! Quick Shots is my new review column that focuses primarily on lesser-known and up & coming talent, a handful at a time! Here’s how it works: each album listed is given a paragraph or two of breakdown, emphasizing their strengths and weaknesses. These paragraphs are then followed up with a couple stats, such as cost, replay value, and an overall grade that reflects the thoughts expressed in the breakdown. All that info is designed to help you determine if an album is worth your time and your money, because while all the artists I’ll review deserve some recognition, I know damn well that #thestruggleisreal and #timeismoney! So let’s not waste any more time! Come join me as I review work by Tommy TSW, Toni Leys, Jonocade, MissingN0 and Yerzmyey!
Tommy TSW’s ‘TSW’
TSW’s self-titled debut album is a surprisingly enjoyable ride. An LP composed of 17 songs, most of which are 2 minutes long, the album comes across as Tommy’s attempts to catch fireflies in a mason jar and share the nostalgia-inducing luminescence with everyone, and he succeeds in doing so! Many of the songs on the album mimic that special magic lightning bugs have: their glow enchanting those who witness them briefly, only to fade away, leaving you in awe. Similarly, each melody triggers its intended emotional response successfully, but all these moments pass quickly, so as not to be overwhelming. This allows TSW to use the album as a sort of portfolio, allowing him to showcase his various talents so that he can pursue his dream of making a game soundtrack. From the playful opening track ‘Back Again’ to the very Adult Swim sounding ‘Pop Pop Game Start!’, TSW is an astoundingly diverse producer who’s definitely worth a listen, even if he himself feels that he has a lot more hurdles to overcome.
Fave song/s: Pop Pop Game Start!, Xvenus, Moving on
Price: $2 AU ($1.85 USA)
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor: 4/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
What’s presented as a concept album about an ancient and powerful ship via a dramatic intro track is actually a deceptive cover for Toni and his numerous friends featured on the album (a solid two thirds of the album feature guest artists!) to have fun making the kind of chiptune I’m a sucker for: chiptune you can fucking party to! The album does this by blending traditional fare many of us grew up with in our vgm, such as r&b and new jack swing, with more modern offerings such as trap, electro and trance. The result is an EP that’s highly reminiscent of releases like Joshua Morse’s Lunch Bug and Ben Briggs’ Mystery Gift. You can just as easily groove to this awesome album on the dancefloor as you can just chill and bob your head to it on the train ride back home from work! That said, this album purposefully (to my chagrin) suffers the shortcoming of brevity, mirroring the tragic, mysterious fate of The Thunder Launcher! It’s a shame too, because there’s clearly an awesome world looking to be more fleshed out via Toni’s music, but you won’t be getting any more of it from the last remaining artifact of that legendary ship: the mysterious AI known as Thiele.
Fave song/s: Seventh Town
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay Factor: 4.5/5
Overall Grade: 4/5
Jonocade is an artist who, by his own admission, has only been producing chiptune for about a year. While I don’t know if he has any prior musical experience, what is apparent is that Jonocade has talent. Building on his first EP of the same name, this LP features strong melodies that are complimented by very solid, basic bass lines, subdued rhythms and stunningly restrained drums. The result is an album that shows off Jonocade’s versatility, but also reveals that his talents lend themselves to crafting pop rock chiptune that’s reminiscent of Square Therapy’s work: a truly pleasant revelation that helps separate the album from other recent offerings the scene has produced! That said, with the exception of the final track on the album (a remix of Eagle Flyer), production value isn’t very high on this release. The sound is grainy, and while not disturbingly so, it is noticeable enough that it may turn some people away. Despite that complaint, this album is a very fun ride, and I would encourage fans of Square Therapy to give ‘Our Last Trip’ a listen. Jonocade has clearly put a lot of sweat into making it, and I look forward to hearing more from him.
Fave song/s: Let’s Find a World, Punch It
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay factor: 3.5/5
Overall Grade: 3.8/5
I first heard of MissingN0 after a member of the band named Bailley responded enthusiastically to an encouragement thread I started in the ChipWIN facebook group. Having been inspired and surprised by Bailley’s energy and some solo work he shared, I sought out more from him, eager to see what his band had put out thus far. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with what I heard. ‘Fallen DMG’ shows that MissingN0 has potential, and it’s obvious throughout the course of the EP how much they’ve grown. However, while there are some tasty offerings, the songs of note are too brief to truly enjoy. This is primarily because, conversely to TSW’s short ditties, these brief tunes suffer from a lack of refinement, variety and polish. Furthermore, while TSW feels like it’s meant to be a musical smorgasbord, ‘Fallen DMG’ feels like it is trying to be a solid, definitive statement about what the band is and what they’re about, but it can’t be what it wants to be as it was released prematurely. MissingN0 has a great deal of spunk, and it makes me happy to see such young upstarts helping the scene thrive, but they need to be patient and nurture their babies more before letting them into the wild if they want to make a mark in the scene. If they can do that, I’m almost certain they’ll be able to be part of a large scale chip festival within the next year or two. Keep your chin up, MissingN0, Kuma believes in you.
Fave Song/s: Pluto Frost, Echo Off, Unfinished Date
Price: £4 ($6.75)
Bang for Buck: 2/5
Replay factor: 3/5
Overall Grade: 2.5/5
Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with Yerzmyey prior to hearing this album, but when I saw Vince Kaichan say he’s been waiting for this album for a long time, I knew I had to check it out, and God am I glad I did, ’cause jeebus freaking dickbutts made out of ice cream cones is it amazing! Combining foot work, heavy bass, cheesy fun synths, and orchestra hits (OMG SO MANY ORCHESTRA HITS!), over a constant theme of simple piano chords reminiscent of stage 1-1 of Streets of Rage 2, this snappy EP is an example of brevity done right! Each song flows into one another seamlessly allowing for all 20 minutes of the release to be full of party! I’m honestly kicking myself for not being familiar with Yerzmyey sooner, because if this EP is any indication, he alone is worth a trip to see Europe’s chiptune/demoscene crews in action on stage. I just hope he cranks out something more like this soon, because I am in dire need of this 90s style goodness, which honestly may be the album’s only shortcoming: it’s so classically 90s and early 00s in its approach to music that it may alienate some younger audiences who aren’t familiar or comfortable with the EDM scene of yesteryear. But even if you are a youngin who’s used to wubs and electro over heavy DnB, breakbeat, and chillout, I implore you to give this album a listen. It’s just that amazing and refreshing. (note: Yerzmyey has only put a sample song–the one listed above– of the album on soundcloud. If you wanna listen to the full thing, you can download the zip at the link listed in his soundcloud).
Fave Song/s: I honestly can’t pick
Bang for Buck: 5/5
Replay Factor. 4.5/5
Overall grade: Misfit Chris/5
And just like that, Quick Shots is done as quickly as it started! If you liked what you read and are looking forward to more, check back next month as I review several other albums! I also encourage you to read my other column, Raw Cuts, in which I interview artists in the scene and get inside their heads and comfort zones! Or you can just as easily follow my colleagues here on the blog! Prof. Oakes, Viridian Forge, Pixel Recall, bAby f@ce, and all the others are pretty awesome too, and if you not showing them love, you’re doing it wrong!
Thanks again for tuning in to Quick Shots, and remember: Kuma Loves You!