Friday, 21 June 2013

Whilst I Was Gone, Part 1

I've been away for a few weeks! As such, in an attempt to stay relevant, I've decided to review 10 releases that came out since I've been away. Below are the first five, from DESUMATE, Smiletron, Dark Oyster, xyce and EGR, and over the weekend I'll be bringing you another five. Hope you've all been well, and enjoy!


Having started releasing EPs January of this year, DESUMATE is a bit late to the chipthrash party. Moreover, as the genre has surpassed its peak of popularity, the releases of last year from titans such as Kool Skull and shitbird have long cemented a certain bar of quality to be aspired to and judged against.

DESUMATE is, overall, almost a definition of chipthrash. Focus on drums, dissonant warbling melodies, glissandos into the deepest recesses of pitch and capital letters. However, whilst DESUMATE does get a lot right, for instance the drums are frequently brilliant, especially on ‘COMBO BREAKER’, he’s yet to achieve full effectiveness through his apparent inability to sense when boredom might set in. The three tracks total nine minutes, but the release would be far harder hitting if it were cut down to five. ‘MAXIMUM THRASH’ and ‘GRANNY BASHER’ just never seem to end, made further painful by the truly disgusting melodic instruments.

Overall, whilst the drums are outstanding (the beats on ‘GRANNY BASHER’ are truly remarkable too), the release falls flat due to a trait all too familiar for new chip composers; a lack of eclecticism. Some focus and meticulous attention to detail and DESUMATE’s next release could quite easily reach the bar of quality set by his forefathers, or, if the quality of track ‘COMBO BREAKER’ is anything to go by, even surpass them.

Favourite track: COMBO BREAKER

SMILETRON- APOLLO - [01/06/2013]

Prolific rarely holds as much meaning as it does when being applied to Smiletron. Known as much for his frequent and quality output as the chilled EDM expanses within these expulsions, Smiletron has become a staple figure in the chip scene. With so many releases under his belt and the recent announcement of dissolution, is this a fitting tribute, as one of his last exports, to his vibrant career?

Apollo’ is nothing revolutionary, though that never felt like the point of his work. The first thing you’ll notice is familiarity. ‘High quality chilled chip-tinged EDM jams are the manifesto, and it’s one he’s been preaching for years. As such, by now not a second feels forced; it’s like music flows from Smiletron’s fingertips at the will of his psyche. He manages the ludicrous task of making electronic music sound genuinely organic.

The title track is gorgeous; the familiar mixture of memorable micro-melodies and huge beats over warm analog tones settles the atmosphere quickly. ‘Eclipse’ follows a familiar pattern, and ‘Yours’ mixes an 80s vibe with modern day EDM and some relaxed breakbeats. The three tracks coast along without force; sometimes with too little force in fact (moments of ‘Eclipse’ are SO dynamically flat the song almost disappears if you’re not paying attention). That tiny qualm aside, this is another fantastic Smiletron, another notch in his great discography. At least when he leaves us there’ll be a surplus of tracks to remember him by.

Favourite track: Yours

Dark Oyster-Wizard EP - [15/06/2013]

The words ‘LSDJ’ and ‘debut release’, when put together, strike fear into my heart. With that dangerous combination usually comes an excess of connotations; badly produced, blandly written, and weakly melodic, all wrapped together in a sound as thin as a squashed cracker. Luckily Dark Oyster raised a middle finger to this norm.

Relief washed over me within the first seconds of ‘Something is Amiss Pt. 1’. The melodies throughout this entire release are, honestly, gorgeous. ‘Something is…’ creeps along like a cut from Infinity Shred, ‘Short Break’ has so much melodic swagger KODEK would be jealous and ‘Let’s Go To The Graffiti Festival’, mixes beautiful croons with Russian melodies to form what the offspring of a Solarbear and Dorothy’s Magic Bag collaboration would sound like.

It’s not all plain sailing of course. Final track ‘The Machine’ is expendable, some of the instrument choices, most of note the sliding instrument in the opening track, are weakly conceived, and sometimes staccato is used in such abundance the pace slows to a stuttering halt. That being said, if this is a debut, there can only be bigger on the horizon. I predict we have another Auxcide on our hands.

xyce- papillions - [08/06/2013]

Cheapbeats, the Tokyo based label/ event organiser, recently released their third offering, xyce’s ‘papillions’. Xyce are an amalgamation of Dutch chiptuners xylo and cerror, and this is their 5th release to date. Picking up where their previous works left off, ‘papillons’ continues the xyce tradition of using Atari, Amiga and old PC sounds to create demoscene styled chiptune with a huge focus on melody, whilst delving slightly into multiple other genres.

The first thing that jumps out from ‘papillions’ is the melodies throughout are absolutely fantastic. ‘avonture au japon’ sounds like a beach personified in audio, the motif for ‘ombres’ is pure sublime, as are the arps that speak it, and ‘grecque’ sounds like hyperactive plush; marshmallow dripping from speakers.  Also, the demoscene theme expands to include collaborations with demosceners Radix and Malmen. Malmen’s contribution takes place on the title track, with twinkling instruments and melancholy in abundance. The Radix collaboration ‘rainbow dash!’  is the albums real highlight however, towering over surrounding tracks with a ferocious sense of dynamics and melodies, dipping into modern house and EDM with unrepentant ease.

Such a focus on melody comes at a price however. The notion of dynamics and timbre are often glazed over, and as such a few tracks, like ‘samedi’, ‘bequille’ and ‘feuilles’, stumble by inoffensively and forgettably. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t bad tracks, they just get lost in the crowd. Less a detriment on xyce’s composing as on their awareness of effective album structure.

That being said, with tracks like the aforementioned ‘rainbow dash!’ and the Miami-house and polka swag-rife ‘subsonique deux’, xyce have another hugely successful release under their belt. Whilst it doesn’t sound like their definitive statement quite yet, it is still another example of chiptune’s continuing statements of quality. And when their definitive statement does come, and it will, we can be assured we’ll have the European 4mat fully realised.

Favourite track: rainbow dash! 

EGR- DeathMurderGo - [04/06/2013]

EGR, aka Arnie Holder, is the owner of Datathrash Recordings, THE home of chipthrash. When he releases something the chipscene should take notice; this man played a huge part in shaping one of the scenes most recent stylistic explosions. He’s chipthrash’s godfather, if you will. He also doesn’t release much, so his few expulsions should be lapped up with haste, and his most recent, ‘DeathMurderGo’, is by far his most destructively brutal.

‘DeathMurderGo’ was recorded through a microphoned practice amp and sounds as such. Raw as fuck. If Kurt Ballou produced a chiptune album, this is what it would sound like, a bludgeoning mixture of aggression, understated groove and noise-distorting walls of sound. ‘Death’s beats hit like a charging bison, ‘Go’ sounds like the death of an albatross and ‘Murder’ blends the two atmospheres into a forebodingly swaggering cement mixer of noise and violence.

The production really is perfect for this release. Whilst it may not be for everyone, anyone even remotely interested in noise or chipthrash genres will find themselves captivated by the concrete slabs of produced perfection (through nonchalance). Whilst moments of ‘Murder’ and ‘Go’ could do with being opened up a bit (they tend to dissipate into pure sound experiments, but that might be a bad thing), this is still a fantastic release. I think, for the good of chiptune, we should collectively sign a petition stating EGR must write a full-length. We deserve it, and he has clearly got the talent for it.

Favourite track: Death