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Pixeljams Volume 2 (Review)

September 17, 2016 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Pixeljams Volume 2 (Review)on Twitter


Pixeljams Volume 2 comes to us just under four years after the original album and features many of the same artists from Pixeljam and their circle of friends. While Volume 1 was simply a collection of “new and used tracks”, Volume 2 has a more focused goal in mind. As Pixeljam co-founder and musician Miles Tillmann puts it, “we’re looking to express how games have influenced our sound aesthetic… music inspired by the technology behind game development, you could say.”

That translates into an album of bouncy electronic tunes and wafting soundscapes that echo retro consoles and PCs without simply sounding like typical chiptune. With a roster of seven artists (providing solo songs and collaborations) the 10-track album is diverse but maintains a few consistent sounds that work well throughout. Click inside to find out more about this array of new pixeljams.

The album opens with the thumping track “People Without Mouths” by Datassette from his album of the same name. Amid the bassy melody and tinny electro-trills are punctuations of grungy FM synth that immediately call to mind the sounds of the Sega Genesis. The final track on the album, “The Wheel Bug” by Alex Mauer, has the same subtle shades of the Genesis. The hommage may be subtle in these tracks but in “Jump Vector” the concept of “music inspired by game development” feels quite literal.

The track, from electronic artist Ochre, opens with a back and forth battle of frantic keystrokes and a reluctant retro PC synthesizer. The song finally begins in upbeat chiptune fashion lead by a lovely and complex melody. All too soon the treble begins ducking in and out and the happy tune is finally drained by distortion. Reduced to a lumbering and twinkling glitchscape, we’re carried off to the finale by a heavy bass and snare percussion that’s surrounded by  distorted electronic sounds.

Taking over after this steady decline is “Remember Kissing Me?” from Keepalive. Slower still than “Vector Jump”, the discordant melody wafts over you, reminiscent of both Disasterpeace’s Fez and Saori Kobayashi’s Panzer Dragoon. It’s not a particularly long song but I really enjoy the melancholic feel of the distorted and drawn out sounds. Bringing the pace back to a danceable level is the next track, “A Doomed Vessel”, once again from Datassette.

It’s another track from an older album of his and like “People Without Mouths” it’s bouncy and bassy. This time the thumping back end plays accompaniment to a series of choppy mandolin and guitar melodies. The two disparate tones chop back and forth and play right into a great dub drop where the beat unexpectedly grows stronger. The three main parts then alternate focus for the remainder of the song, drifting up and down into a nice slow finale. Pixeljam also partnered with visual artist Rory Scott to create a music video to go along with the song that you can watch (and hear) above.

The last track I want to call out is “LoveSong” by Pixeljam’s own Mark DeNardo. There are plenty of unique sounds to be heard on the album but nothing stands out quite like this song. At nearly ten minutes in length, we embark on a wonderful, wandering excursion into sound guided by layers of effect-laden and distorted guitars. It really is quite an experience.

I may dwell on the darker side of the album but there’s just as much upbeat music mixed in. “Spirex” by Miles Tilmann offers a great electro-synth track laden with great choppy beats. His collaborative track with Datassette, “Things We Found in the Forest”, is an equally bouncy electronic track fronted by bassy electric guitars and some soulful synth sounds. Finally there’s “Green Mars” and “The Wheel Bug” that combine the album’s thumping beats and darker tones for a pleasant middle ground.

I’ve quite enjoyed listening to Pixeljams Volume 2 this week. It may not be to everyone’s liking but I found that the interplay of upbeat and despondent sounds kept my ears on their toes (so to speak) and didn’t overwhelm with a single mood. It’s available now on Bandcamp for $5 and sounds right at home alongside the original Pixeljams album if you find yourself hungry for more.

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