Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This Week on Audiosurf Radio - 12/29 - Bo-ring Edition

If you like downtempo, acoustic, folky stuff, this is your week!

This week Audiosurf Radio mixes it up with songs from four different artists. Spain's MISERY is a pop/rock group with world music influences that reminds me of U2 and Stevie Nicks at the same time. Abscondo is a Seattle solo artist living in Eastern Europe who (as his weblog states) "hope[s] to help you lose yourself and forget your cares, if just for a moment, in [his] music and writings." Vavrek's another acoustic guitar crooner whose musical influences range from Beethoven to David Byrne to Freezepop. And the Dada Weatherman is a third singer/songwriter indie type who Bob Dylan, too. Read on for my thoughts on how well these songs fare in Audiosurf.

Perhaps I was spoiled by last week's smashing Jonathan Coulton success, but I must say I'm a little underwhelmed. I have nothing against singer/songwriters (Nick Drake and Damien Rice get routine plays on my iPod) but I don't think their work translates well into rhythm-puzzler action. Before I get too negative, let's take a look at what I do think is worthy of your playtime.

Ready - MISERY - Time: 3:17 Traffic: 241
I don't know that I'd listen to this song on its own. The Spanish female vocalist reminds me of Stevie Nicks and Dar Williams in their lesser moments, and her awkward navigation of the English language made the vocals a little muddy - unfortunate considering how prominently she's featured in the mix. Ready's ride is all downhill and well-populated with red and yellow blocks. The drums ride the hi-hat for most of the songs that - combined with some uptempo folk-style strumming on guitar - create an irresistible sense of forward motion.

You Never Know What the Future Might Bring - MISERY - Time: 4:57 Traffic: 243
This song's best quality is its sine wave of a roller-coaster track. The verses crawl uphill comfortably, offset by more challenging downhill choruses. It's a fine song, but I initially wasn't going to recommend it because of its similarities to Ready. It features the same awkward English, the same persistent hi-hat, and the same upbeat guitar. Not that it's bad, but it doesn't provide much in the way of variety. And at just under five minutes, it feels a little repetitive.

Other Selections
As for the other three, I just didn't enjoy playing them. I don't mean to rail against slower songs, but these don't do enough for me musically to offset the simplicity and blandness of their rides.

Were I pressed to choose the least boring, I'd nominate Vavrek's World That You Know. His voice is pretty whiny, but the choruses contain some decent traffic and the track winds a little bit to mix things up. Abscondo's Midnight Snow is uphill for the entire song, which means you're in for four minutes of relax. The mix is a rather spare, with the vocals popping over the guitar and percussion. This makes for one of the few rides in which you'll hit blocks almost exclusively in sync with vocals. Too bad the vocals aren't too exciting. I'd rather Audiosurf Radio had picked one of his other songs. I checked out Abscondo's blog and a few of his other songs feature more creative percussion with shakers, etc. - plus they don't put me to sleep.

What about the third song? Worldwide Sight by The Dada Weatherman? Boring. The traffic is at a mind-numbingly low 52. It's nigh impossible to match blocks when they only come once every ten seconds. Don't bother with this one.

Unimpressed by this week's selection, I've decided to offer my own suggestion for this week's
play this song.

Birdflu - M.I.A. - Time: 3:24 Traffic 219
Not only is Birdflu fascinating musically- the song's a blast to ride.
It's incredibly intense, with lots of tunnels and large swathes of traffic. M.I.A. mixes aggressive, clever rap vocals with Tamil Folk Music, even going so far as to recruit native percussionists to record on their own urmi drums. The result is a glorious bastardization of 4/4 time that feels like its in 12/8 but the stresses do something much different. The in-game effect is a constant feeling of shifting tempo, as if you were on a roller coaster and the track regularly stretched and contracted like a rubber band. The end of the track takes this to an extreme, doing something I've yet to experience in Audiosurf. It actually stops for a beat, right at the crest of a hill, full of tension, before releasing you to end the ride. Unbelievable.

Author's Note
As usual, all of the songs were played on the Pro difficulty using Eraser. The Radio songs were also tagged with a point modifier for Mono play, which I experimented with on the MISERY songs. Meh.