Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Guest Review| Auxcide - Omnia

With Andrew Kilpatrick gallivanting across Europe, Bertrand Guérin-Williams has stepped up to review the upcoming double album release by Auxcide (the first part of which comes out later today). Taking the position flawlessly, TWG are very grateful and excited to introduce our first guest review (in what will hopefully be a long line!)
Auxcide has been busy since December. For Omnia, his latest release, he’s written two albums’ worth of fairly consistent material acting as a soundtrack for a fictional video game. Within, Bryan Dobbins, aka Auxcide, throws his hat in the already overflowing chip/VGM ring with as much flair as he can muster.
The clear focus on thematic melodies, leitmotifs, and a healthy dosage of grandeur lends itself to this album’s structure due to its positioning as a soundtrack. As with past releases, Auxcide utilizes a narrative-grouping structure to order tracks. For instance, the smooth transitions between the first three and last two tracks allow for some awe-inspiring moments in the songs they lead into. The sweeping, introductory duo of 'Past Beginnings' and 'The Not So Distant Memory' crash into the bass and percussion hits of 'Deep Space Drifting' to create a powerful opener. It works as a reminder that, though Omnia is a 'soundtrack,' Auxcide is still writing the music with all the typically lavish trappings his style usually employs. 'Starship Nova' and follow-up 'Horizon Line' both exemplify this; they’re thematically tied to the songs around them, but retain the danceable-yet-intense nature of Auxcide's previous work. The rhythms and memorable solos draw the listener in; most notable are the slow, steady melodies in 'Spectrum' that soar above pulsating backgrounds or the searing main synth that counterbalance the cathartic rise and fall of chords in 'Omnia' in hypnotic fashion.
Omnia's striking melodies show Auxcide's progress from his previous double release SPECK/PIXEL, and EP [Dimensions]. Whereas his original songs there sounded relatively similar, many on Omnia have distinct melodic and stylistic differences. Nowhere is this contrast more obvious than in the format change between discs. For the first disc, Dobbins uses three copies of LSDJ on GBA SPs MIDI-synced with synths, a drum machine, and an effects pad. However, the second disc brings the power of LSDJ and his composition skills to the fore. Stripping out the synths in Gameboy-only tracks on the second disc like “Horizon Line” show off effective use of LSDJ’s limited track economy and the wide variety of textures and sounds he can pull out of LSDJ.
The frenzied nature of his music has drawbacks, though. Like SPECK and PIXEL, after listening to this album for a while, the distorted sounds Dobbins often uses begin to grate. While he does allow respite in songs like 'Nihil,' the abrasive noise and WAV channel instruments characteristic of his sound, doubled with the album length, eventually wear. So too does the somewhat repetitive nature of his sound; reliance on danceable, recursive styles in rhythms and thematic 16th-note arpeggios becomes glaringly apparent after a while. Since this is a faux-soundtrack, similarities between some songs are inevitable, but the fact that Dobbins isn’t more eclectic with his track listing is becoming a trend following the release of two double albums in a row.
This problem is particularly evident in his choice to leave in the middling song 'Second Strike'. The song is short enough to be inoffensive, but it doesn’t fit in the album's context, and is especially out of place being surrounded by 'Horizon Line' and 'Nihil', two songs that follow the echoic, vast themes seen in almost every other song on this album. 'Star-Crossed Stars' is another questionable inclusion. The intro and bridge —though reminiscent of older VGM’s simplicity—don’t follow the trend of the rest of Omnia which is built on taking old VGM tropes and fusing them with modern dance conventions.
Omnia moves away from these problems by experimenting with comparatively unique sounds. 'Heavy Cannons' takes a deeper stab at hardcore and progressive trance styles briefly flirted with on SPECK's 'Varia'. While the emotive intro mimics piano, the bulk of the song churns and roars like an army en route. In contrast, the 80s sci-fi noir, Infinity Shred style of 'Starship Nova (Infinity Mix)' is an example of where Auxcide could go next. Though not the album's best, it's an interesting filter to hear Auxcide's typically chaotic style through.
Auxcide does alleviate some of the repetition within songs with solos during and melodic breakdowns between “looped” sections. Overall, however, Omnia sometimes falls into the same traps as his previous releases, becoming repetitive over time. Don’t let the negatives scare you away, though: a clearer focus on memorable, melodic songs and the interesting new directions dabbled with carry this release. Everyone will find more of what makes Auxcide great, and VGM composers should take note of Omnia as a varied and unique approach to the field.

Favourite track: Heavy Cannons
Grab part one of the release here.