Chip Music, Reviews

Autumntunes: A Little Chip Goes a Long Way on a Cold and Windy Day (Review)

December 13, 2009 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Autumntunes: A Little Chip Goes a Long Way on a Cold and Windy Day (Review)on Twitter

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand autumn. I’m not a big weather guy at the best of times, but autumn is easily my least favorite season of the year. It’s windy and cold but not cold enough for skating or snow (or to warrant moaning about it). The leaves may change color but they also fall off the trees and become a soggy mush that you wade through. And, just to make things worse, as a European we don’t even get a proper Halloween or any Thanksgiving, so it’s a solid tromp from summer to Christmas with hardly anything to look forward to. I hate autumn.

But at least there was one thing to look forward to this year: Autumntunes. A few years back, a new chiptune netlabel initiative called Ubiktune was started by progressive chiptune artist C-Jeff. But recently they have been making a name for themselves with releases for each season, featuring a group of chiptune artists from all over the world, using all manner of tools.

So will this release liven up my dreary autumn, or does it get dragged down by my all-consuming autumn depression? Find out after the jump!

The artists on this album are a collective with names you may not have heard before, but they are some of the freshest chiptune trackers around, with the exception of virt, who is fairly well-known even outside the chiptune scene (hell, he even got an interview on OSV!), and alex mauer, whose was recently featured on Penny Arcade’s PATV. One distinction between this and most other chiptune sites nowadays is that C-Jeff actually personally goes out and establishes personal contact with these guys, and gets them to join up. This of course means that the quality remains high.

Let’s start with one small critique: the tracks are fairly incoherent. The theme doesn’t help, of course: autumn is a fairly vague theme that doesn’t really conjure up any specific feelings, not the way winter, spring or summer do. This seems to be reflected in the songs, which jump from style to style quite erratically.

But what could be seen as a bad thing is also a strength at the same time. This album is a great example of why the title “chiptune,” as a genre, makes no sense. It’s like that old saying of the countryside being “all green,” there’s every kind of music contained within the chiptune universe. From cutesy tracks like Kulor’s “Doorbellsplosion,” to warm, almost melancholy melodies from Malmen in “Flirt Talk,” to huge progressive epics like Coda’s “Harvest Moon,” these tracks do not let themselves be defined by the “chiptune” label.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and start from the beginning. Incidentally, I’ll try to link to each artist’s homepage or at least a page where you can find more of their music as I go, so if you particularly liked a song, just click through from here!

Megus kicks off the album with “Five Minutes of Autumn,” a melancholy track that combines samples with chips in a modern way. The track is very diverse, changing constantly, and giving a great introduction to the album. It’s probably the song that comes the closest to feeling “autumny” with its slow arps and pads, and deceptively simple-sounding melodies. It even includes some guitar, although I have to admit I felt like it was slightly out of place in the track.

Alex Mauer follows. As per his usual style, “Gentle With the Hand” is an infectiously cute track with very original ideas interspersed with familiar-sounding passages. The man truly has his own style, and this is reflected in this track.  “Ashen Emotion” by Zinger, on the other hand, is a track that’s heavy on the saws and arpeggios. I feel like the mix of the track could’ve emphasized the lead a bit more, and perhaps would’ve benefited from a slightly less sharp, high-end sound. Still good, but the bass especially could stand out a bit more for me.

Joule brings a very happy, carefree sound in his track “Bursting Bubble Boy,” with a funky bassline and a bright, simple melody leading over it.  “Doorbellsplosion” by kulor is crazy and awesome. Kulor is one of the most shockingly different guys in the chiptune scene these days, and I heartily recommend checking out some of his stuff on 8bitcollective. This track, a ZX spectrum track, which is incredible in itself, is incredibly cute and adorable; I absolutely love it.

Following such a smashing track is always tricky, but Malmen is more than up to the task with “Flirt Talk,” a warm track in the style of Beek and Radix (now known as mosaik, who we also recently featured, making great ambient and atmospheric stuff). Really great funky stuff.  Lunar follows with “Heavenly Spores,” a kick ass NES track, showing off the amazing tricks that Famitracker can pull off nowadays, and also creating a very cool, crazy song. Check out those crazy pads in the middle!

Next is Shnabubula‘s absolutely insane “Use A Rake,” which is a bit like Tim Follin on crack. That’s a good thing, incidentally. Fantastic production and absolutely batshit crazy song.  And the last track in the NES middle is virt‘s “Mecha-Kukai Travels to Chang’An,” and it is a change of pace–virt’s well known for his progressive NES stuff, and this track fits right in with that, but with a slight Asian tint. What’s wonderful about his stuff is that while it goes all over the place, it never fails to include a catchy melody that you can easily whistle. Lots of guitary leads and arps all over the place, really great stuff. (Oh and if you’re wondering, virt defends the fact that his song is about autumn here).

After virt’s musical onslaught, something calm is more than welcome, and Manwe provides with an Adlib track called “Rotagilla.” With funky bells and a groovin’ bassline, this is a significant change of pace, but man, it sure sounds good. Too bad it’s kinda short!  Syphus completely throws the switch over again, with a crazy highpaced IDM type track. The contrast between the drums and the melodic content really works well here, and it really comes together in the end. The part with the drill bass is my favorite and it’s unfortunate that it’s only so short. It seems like that was meant to be longer.

Coda follows with “Harvest Moon,” an immaculately constructed progressive metal track, with guitar-style chipleads leads and lots of different parts. The buildup to the chorus is absolutely fantastic, and the chorus itself is just great.  It really is a wonderful payoff to all the tension put together with different parts and solos. This is a brilliantly built up piece that really needs a couple listens to really absorb everything.

nq\skrju follows with a track that I can relate to when it comes to autumn: “The Whiskey Has Been Drinking, Not Me.” This track doesn’t quite connect with me, although it is well-built. The sound of it is just a bit too light for me, and it seems like it’s missing some kind of midrange, like some chords or something.  Next up is Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia with “Fixt Path”, another NES track which uses the system to its full extent, especially on the drums. The track is a bit light on melody but gives a really odd but satisfying slow groove.

“Phrt” by Temp Sound Solutions is a really dark track, with a slow eerie groove and almost random sounding bells. It’s dark and eerie, and slowly builds to a strange, haunting climax before slowly falling apart again. Expertly constructed, and another huge change of pace, showing the diversity of styles that can be achieved.  Finally, C-Jeff himself plays us out with “Last Minutes of Autumn.” As always, C-Jeff shows himself to be the undisputed master of guitar leads, but this track is not as crazy as most of his work, setting a slow groove, and having a very catchy main phrase. This is a great way to end the album, not quite upbeat, but dark and moody.

In conclusion, this album is a great introduction into what the modern chiptune scene has to offer, and free too. And even if you’re into chiptunes, there’s a good chance you don’t know a lot of these guys–I sure didn’t know all of them. And I think a lot of them are people you will be hearing a lot from in the near future! Picking favorites out of this album is a tricky business, since the quality is so universally high and the diversity of the tracks makes them hard to compare, but I personally have to say Coda’s track is my favorite, followed by Manwe’s and kulor’s tracks.

Let us know what you think of this release and chiptunes in general. Do you enjoy chiptunes, and do you think they can appeal to more people than just nerds? Leave us a comment!

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