Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – 7/28 – Zen and the Art of Electro-Pop

Zen in Tokyo I know it’s going to be a fun week when I have to look up what someone from Luxembourg is called before I can do my write-up (it’s Luxembourgers, by the way).

If this week’s songs truly represent the genre, then Electro-Pop can most likely be defined as electronica with lyrics that fit a pop sensibility (love, heartache, existential crises, you know the drill).  I’m obviously making blanket statements just for the fun of it.  You should feel free to actually ride the songs and create your own definition.  Aren’t interactive dictionaries fun?

The aforementioned Luxembourgers make up the group Avastar, who proudly declare themselves an “Electro/Pop” act.  Their stuff sometimes sounds a little videogame-y; it might make good background music for a Mega Man speed run or a masochistic Ikaruga session.  Should you get bored of all this computer-generated noise, move on to CalmaNiño, a horror-ska band from Argentina.  I’m sure some people think ska is horrible enough as is.  These guys obviously disagree.

Read on for my thoughts on the hypnotic effects of Electro-Pop and the spine-chilling results of combining heavy metal with lighthearted ska.


Over the months I've been doing this, I've come to recognize tracks like this as worth my time. “Under My Skin” begins with abrupt industrial noises, perfect for robot busking or the time on Sprockets ven ve danse.  It then moves on to a more conventional electronica beat, replete with panning soundscapes and synth instrumentation.  Like Avastar’s other stuff, the vocals are at a near whisper (or otherwise mixed very softly).  I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the result of a DJ not being confident in his singing abilities?  From what I could hear, the lyrics were about someone you can’t get our of your head, which might sound complimentary if they were sung not creepily subvocalized.  My whining aside, “Under My Skin” presents a great opportunity to zen out.  The track is more varied than some of the other selections (thus earning a recommendation), with a few hills and curves to break things up.  And the traffic, while substantial, never flows in overwhelming patterns.  It’s possible to rack up a massive score (just check the leaderboards), but you don’t have to be superhuman to navigate the throngs of blue and yellow.

1024 floors...that's a tall-ass building. If you’re looking for the best of what this week has to offer, look no further than “1024th Floor.”  I could tell immediately I was in for something different.  The audio effects sound like they came from an entirely different library than Avastar’s other songs – they sound more organic, closer to real instruments.  And for the whole first uphill section, I thought (and hoped) it might be an instrumental.  Alas, the vocals kick in at the peak.  I’m not sure what he’s mumbling about, however.  Sometimes it sounds like counting, as if he’s tallying each floor as we climb to the 1024th.  At one point, I thought I heard screen resolutions (“1024 by 768” being particularly apropos).  And during the final downhill I began to wonder if it was chanting, if I was helping him to summon a Great Old One (reason why I think this may be it: when Cthulu came to mind, the track started corkscrewing).  Regardless, it’s mixed so low that I was able to push it to the back of my mind while riding.  What makes the track for me is the constant sense of growth, even the subtle additions of guitar toward the end.  Despite the Audiosurf sensation of going downhill, the song feels like it’s trying to lift me upward, perhaps into some gaping wormhole just past Saturn.  “1024th Floor” may have programmed me to say this, but you should play this song.

Other selections
If you come away from “Under My Skin” and “1024th Floor” really enjoying Avastar, go ahead and give “Illusive” and “It’s Your Life” a try.  Both strike that slightly creepy vibe, mostly due to the whispered vocals.  “Illusive,” a word I’d thought was a typo of “Elusive,” is about dreams being more desirable than real-life – I think.  And “It’s Your Life” sounds like it wants to be about empowerment, but comes off like an invitation to a seedy underground party.  As rides, neither one is too exciting, but if you like to zen out to some electronica at the end of the day, be my guest.  CalmaNino’s “Los Muertos” is…odd.  If you have some ska (preferably some of The Aquabats), turn it on.  Then crank up some Slipknot or Rob Zombie.  That’s kind of like what listening to the CalmaNino is like.  Oh, and the ride is boring, snare-drum-only type of stuff.

Recommended Riding
When I was listening to Avastar’s noncommittal, sparingly-harmonized vocals, I couldn’t help but think of RJD2 and his album The Third Hand.  Here’s another case of a DJ branching out to include some vocals, but RJD2 goes whole hog with it and actually carries a tune.  I’m a big fan of “Just When” and “Reality,” though both could probably use a Steep tag to make the ride challenging.  “Get It” is a great percussion-heavy instrumental with some slick downhill sections.

Author’s Note
All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice, using the Vegas and Eraser characters.  I’m still a little worried about the possible link between “1024th Floor” and Cthulu.  Any Massachusetts readers would do well to alert authorities should any squid people begin rising from the ocean.