Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review| Auxcide- Pixel & Speck

Earlier today, Auxcide released a double album, Pixel and Speck, on 8static’s label. At his request I’ve taken on the task of reviewing the 22 track behemoth, though first some background info. My working relationship with Bryan (Auxcide) spreads back to before his debut, where we worked with him through Pxl-Bot to release and promote ‘of Atoms and Stardust’. Following this we released another EP and a remix album of the aforementioned debut on Pxl-Bot by him, as well as signing him up for various compilations and projects (WeeklyTreats to name but one) during the time I’ve known him. None of this is a secret to anyone, but such a lengthy partnership (though it was always a fairly passive undertaking for Alex and I; whatever Bryan brought to us was instantly releasable, infectious and easily sellable) could potentially result in bias. Hopefully my emphasising of this point, along with the subsequent paragraph where I slag off all that is wrong with this release, will go to some way in proving my later gushing to be disconnected from enamoured hyperbole.

So; my main bone of contention. Out of the 22 tracks here, most of which are stylistically mono-tonal, half are covers and half are new tracks, though they are dispersed evenly throughout the two albums. Whilst this works to an extent on the far superior ‘Pixel’, on ‘Speck’ where the quality overall is lop-sided, what results is a disjointed and confusing mess of often disposable tracks mixed in with higher quality, often original, compositions, which on the whole serve only to highlight how tedious the lesser tracks actually are. The cover of Signalrunners’ ‘Corrupted’ is ruined by weak drums, causing a track that would otherwise have flourished fall flat. Elsewhere, ‘Theme of Everything’ and ‘The Moon’ (covers from Street Fighter and Duck Tales respectively) breach the threshold of stomachable cheese by some margin, only bested in biliousness by the album’s Skrillex knock-off ‘Speck’, a track that whilst having extremely impressive programming, suffers from a dangerous mixture of being a tedious and an instantly forgettable cheap thrill, a situation repeated in ‘Yung Lyfe’, though in a far more repetitive and grating manner. Speck doesn’t feel like a fully formed album as much as it does a collection of B-Sides.

Pixel, however, is everything Speck is not. Beginning with the huge ‘Creation’, where hauntingly pretty melodies overlap and swoon, the album moves on to the equally breath-taking ‘Morphine’ and ‘Source’, forming a trifecta of some of the best Auxcide in existence. Later, Auxcide’s take on Roboctopus’ ‘Your Stars at Dawn’ and Pacific Rim cover ‘Restart The Clock!’ froth at the bit with adrenaline and epic space thematics, and whilst the album dips a bit with the Game of Thrones and RoccoW covers, the final four tracks (‘Cherry’ through to ‘The Planet is Asleep’) are among, if not the, best in Auxcide’s discography.

All this praised directed at Pixel is unfair however. Speck does have its high points: Metroid cover ‘Varia’ makes use of eclectic piano and slowly evolving melodies to emotionally overwhelm, album opener ‘The Universe Fights Back’ mixes the ‘Auxcide’ sound with Ubik-esque melodic play, ‘Catalyst’, when its hooks are finally revealed, spits J-Pop/anime theme phrases to make one of the most uplifting tracks around. Also, Speck's crowning piece, ‘Nitrous’, shows up all that precedes, filled with intoxicatingly memorable melodies and grooves the size of pylons, the type of track that proves any naysayers that Auxcide is one of chiptune’s greatest and most affective artists around today.

Overall, then, Pixel and Speck are a slightly uneven duo hampered by a few irrelevant or uninteresting tracks, but mostly comprised of incredible, mind-bogglingly expert offerings. In my opinion either one album of covers and one of originals, or the cutting of 8 or so unnecessaries to form one bulkier full length, would have framed the quality content more effectively.

Saying that, with tracks as throat-catchingly euphoric as Pixel’s title track, which is even more emotive than anything from [Dimensions] (or any of his work before that, in fact) the few qualitative discrepancies should be ignored and all gut emotions favoured. Pixel is an incredible piece of work, and unrestrained by Speck’s lesser appeal, is easily in the top five of the year’s best releases. No question. For those that enjoy Pixel’s charms I would, of course, also recommend a cautious exploration of Speck, but the real star of the show, and Auxcide’s best and most definitive work to date, is certainly the former.

Favourite track: Pixel
Pixel is available here, and Speck here.