This week’s Monday Mixes features a collection of chiptunes curated by Soundcloud user and chipmusician Dualtrax.
The J. Arthur Keenes band continues to impress me. Their previous abum, Computer Savvy has what I consider to be the finest piece of chip/ska ever written, a bouncy little 2 minute piece called Cluck, which I’ve listened to on repeat while jogging over 20 times straight without noticing. I’d have been happy to have a whole album of nothing less than these great ska and reggae influenced chiptune tracks. But you get so much more from a J. Arthur Keenes album.
On trying to describe their latest album, The Social Lion, I find myself referring to bands that are the furthest thing from chiptune; M. Ward, Pedro the Lion, Beck, early-Wilco come to mind, mixed in with bits of swing, cowboy music and of course more ska and reggae. The chiptune influences are still there, little reggae upstroke ARPstabs, occasionally swirly bending notes and most prominently a low, crunchy bass, however they are a lot less prominent than they were on Computer Savvy. It sounds as if someone took the instruments away from half M. Ward’s backing band and replaced them with Gameboys.
The most distinctive thing about Social Lion is the vocals. The lyrics are clever and memorable and you’ll find lots of memorable choruses and melodies. This album is a lot more cohesive than Computer Savvy. You can get a digital copy for $8 and for just $2 more, an awesome hard copy album. It may be the first chip/folk/reggae thing in your collection!
When we think of what sounds make up quality, memorable chiptune albums and songs, the SNES is probably one of the last systems we think about. However, when you think of the most memorable songs from the 16-bit era, the SNES, at least for me, is near the top of the list.
Sleepytimejesse aims to close that discrepancy with Spacious Anxious, which he describes as a “first-person space odyssey; episodes of awe and agoraphobia.” If you recently picked up Chiptune = Win vol 2, you heard his stand-out track, Riparian Woodlands, arguably the quietest song on the entire compilation, this delicate track recalled the mystical feeling of every 16-bit RPG you ever played. He’s also the author of the massive, Earthbound Soundfont. To my knowledge, it’s the most extensive SNES soundfont out there.
With Spacious Anxious, we get an album that’s both beautiful and menacing, spacious and claustrophobic, it all depends on the track. Using sounds from the SNES, N64 and GameCube, sleepytimejesse constructs an album that mostly sounds like boss battle music from Super Metroid interspersed with slower, soaring pieces that give you rest from the action and make me think of exploring some sort of foreboding alien temple.
What also sets this album about is the composition influences, it’s not a dance album, so don’t expect that. It’s clear that Radiohead is an influence with the track, “Anthem For A Plutoid”, which sort of sounds like Massive Attack remixed “National Anthem” on an SNES. The heavier tracks also have a bit of chugging Djent converted to 16-bit guitar samples. It’s great to see someone taking a fresh approach to chiptune music, not only with their platform choice but also with their style. Support this excellent effort and pick up a copy.
Monday night, the world got to hear 51 brand new chiptune songs for the first time on the 8bitX 8-bit Power Hour. Out of 146 different artist submissions, these colorful tracks made the cut. The listening party was well attended, not only by fans but by a huge collection of the artists as well. This review is actually going to talk about EVERY SINGLE TRACK!
It was clear by the reaction in the chat to every new track that there was not a bad song on this compilation. They’re all incredible upbeat and unique. Obviously a lot of time went into each and every one of them.
There is a huge amount of variety on this release. Talkboy, SubPixel and Apoc all contributed excellent Famitracker songs. There are also some great Genesis-styled FM Synth tracks from Snooglebum, Jameson Sutton and The Flight Away really bring back some Sonic the Hedgehog nostalgia for me.
What I was really impressed with are the LSDJ tracks. The Gameboy has become the most common chiptune instrument. That’s not a bad thing, but on some compilation tracks, the LSDJ tracks are often the weak links. That’s not the case here. Every LSDJ track stands out and holds its own. Auxcide and Zef both contribute totally epic LSDJx2 songs as well.
The slower tracks really stand out as well, sleepytimejesse’s SNES inspired Riparian Woodland, Viciosul SID’s and Foil Variant’s tracks also provide a nice break from the constant thump of awesomeness without sacrificing a moment of quality.
I really like how a lot of people are using new tools to create the classic sounds. I know some won’t agree, but I see this as a good thing. It keeps things fresh. No new synth is going to exactly match the NES or the DMG, but this adds new dimensions to the classic elements we all know and love. There is nothing here that suffers due to the fact it was created in a DAWs and not on hardware or a tracker.
I normally highlight just a few tracks when I review a compilation, and usually when I buy one, I end up deleting a few songs that just don’t do it for me. This is not the case with Chiptunes = Win Vol 2. There really is not a bad track on this entire album.
So I’m going to do something crazy and write a small review of every song on the whole thing (except my own, because that’s just tacky). Read on to get a quick look at each track!