I saw a comment on the Chiptunes = WIN Facebook group this week that really got me thinking; it was a thread discussing people “ditching” chiptune and moving on to other ways of making music. Somebody noted that lately, LSDj seems to be a contest of technical skill and worried that pushing the software’s limits was taking priority over writing great music. This week, I’ve been listening to an artist who very deliberately keeps a ‘less is more’ attitude towards her music. Released on July 20th, ‘Zenzoo Pop’ is a 5-track EP that fuses cutesy pop melodies with a hint of punk and even industrial flavours.
I didn’t even think about it until I heard Cyanide Dansen’s new EP and talked a little with her about it, but I haven’t heard much new chiptune lately that keeps things simple. Flashy, technical works have their place, but it’s refreshing to hear Zenzoo Pop’s more stripped-back sound design. It doesn’t try to get away from the fact that this is Game Boy music and embraces the simple pulse wave with only as much technicality as is needed. There’s a charm to that amount of focus on certain sounds so they aren’t forgotten in a scene that’s rapidly shifting towards modernization.
That isn’t to say Zenzoo Pop is dull in any way. It’s still musically creative but with a lighter touch than many recent releases. The opening track ‘Step In’ introduces that design decision perfectly. With heavy-hitting kick drums and lightly distorted lead sounds over a catchy, rhythmic blip, it feels far from empty. Its relative simplicity makes it easy to listen to and I’ve found it creeping into my regular gaming playlist.
Cyanide Dansen’s musicality is explored a little more deeply in ‘Blood Boba’, which is the main contender for my favourite track of this release. It has an air of industrial influence, with atmospheric buzz in the percussion and rich minor harmonies as well as the signature pounding kicks. It was great to hear this track live at Chip Bit Day 2017, complete with Cyanide Dansen herself providing a human fog machine with her vape! The main hook, while it may be a simple 4-bar riff, is catchy and memorable. While the idea behind this EP is to forgo technicality, there is clearly plenty of technical skill here. It’s just being used in a neat, understated way.
The darker tone of Blood Boba is scaled back slightly in ‘The_Sugar_Rush’ which really suits Cyanide Dansen’s “Electrocute” artistry. There’s a sweet/savoury combination of heavy rhythms and lighter melodies, and once again the hook is super strong! The_Sugar_Rush seems to pull inspiration from a range of genres, including an EDM-style buildup to a half-tempo drop that filters easily back into the main body of the song. It’s all very danceable and makes me look forward to seeing another live performance!
‘Marble Eye’ is the longest track on Zenzoo Pop at just over 6 minutes, mainly owing to an atmospheric introduction that builds to a solid four-to-the-floor hook. While the instrument design is intentionally simple, it works effectively by using LSDj’s pulse duty cycle to keep the bassy lows and bright melodies without complicating the process too much. The atmospheric touches build throughout the entire EP and Marble Eye has some real soundscape qualities. A drone-esque lead loops over shifting chords to build tension, only to release it with a burst of dance floor energy!
Closing the EP, ‘Reverie Rocket’ feels much more relaxed, like now that the atmospheric tension has been released you can melt into a little cutesy melody to cleanse your sonic palate. It’s a little lower in tempo than the rest of Zenzoo Pop, choosing to bring the listener back down to Earth gently which is an aspect of composing that a lot of artists overlook in chasing the dream of explosive EDM finishers. The deliberate simplicity of the music works in its favour as light harmonies evolve into a similar lead sound to Marble Eye, though it takes on a different feel in its new, more relaxed surroundings.
Zenzoo Pop is a real victory in the fight against overcomplicated design, proving that simple can be just as listenable and then some! It strikes a fine balance between creating an atmospheric experience and not taking itself too seriously. Its simplicity might not suit everybody’s taste, but for me it’s a very refreshing change of pace and well worth a listen.
You can buy Zenzoo Pop by Cyanide Dansen on her Bandcamp profile, or if you like your music in a form that you can touch it’s also available as a CD from PantyPop! The physical package comes with a mini-zine created by Cyanide Dansen herself! Take a listen below, then go ahead and pick up a copy!