Tuesday, July 7, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – 7/7 – My Ever Shifting Tastes Edition

swing dance I’ll admit it.  My tastes are mercurial.  Especially with regards to electronic music.  One week I’m praising Radio for including some upbeat trance.  The next I’m deriding it for providing more upbeat trance of a questionable quality. 

So it should come as no surprise that after last week’s dismal rides I should leave this week’s offering elated, happy to have heard some interesting music.  We’ve got more from last week’s saving grace, Serberis, who (according to his MySpace) hails from Lesser Poland.  I didn’t even know there was a Lesser Poland.  Think of all the screen-door submarine jokes we could be elaborating on!  Also, Killing Jazz brings us some jazz and blues all the way from Madrid.  It’s not electronic, but I’ve been hot and cold on American-influenced European groups, so it definitely fits the bill.

I’ve already ruined the mystery and told you that I enjoyed this week’s rides.  But you should still hit the jump for some band name-dropping and highfalutin video game talk.


Yeah, five and a half minutes is a litte long for this one.  But the individual sections are so good it makes up for the slight repetition. “Findings” scratches a similar retro itch as Rocket Riot: it evokes older material without simply ripping off ideas and repackaging them.  Don’t let me mislead you, you would never mistake this for a track off an old NES game or anything.  But the computerized melody line sounds awfully like it came from a late 80s sampler.  The subwoofer-punishing warbling on the low end is what makes it sound more modern, as well as the long, low-pitched drones that contribute to some of the best sweeping curves on the track.  It sounds like 8-bit for a new millenium.  Were Square to come out with some modern, 3D entry in the Chrono Trigger universe, this would be at home on the soundtrack.  Behind all the din, the drum machine pumps out enough snare rolls and syncopation to generate rolling tunnels and plenty of bumps along the way.  Is it probably a minute or two too long?  Yeah.  Is it better than some of the other techno I’ve recently railed against?  Certainly. 

While I still have no idea why a girl would be named Safronia, I did learn that this is a song plenty of other groups have sung, including The Manhattan Transfer. If you listened to the radio in the late 90s, you may recall the Swing Revival.  Building off the bizarre popularity of ska, bands like The Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, and The Brian Setzer Orchestra all stole time slots on top 40 and alternative rock radio.  Killing Jazz is trying to make it happen again ten years later with “Safronia B.”  Of course, they’ve got their Spanish accent to deal with.  It isn’t too much of a hindrance, however, save the one line where he sounds like he’s singing about a monkey even though I assume he isn’t.  It’s upbeat, but the backbeat vibe keeps the ride from speeding out from under you.  During the harmonica solo (don’t assume anything, it’s actually decent), the drummer rolls out some nice offbeat accompaniment, sending syncopated hills rolling through the track like shockwaves.  Look out for the hard bank during the first chorus; it accurately channels a feeling of inebriation that I’m sure pertains somehow to the song’s subject matter.  If you’ve ever enjoyed a song from the Swing Revival, even if it was just to impress a girl at a middle school dance, you should play this song.

Other Selections
Serberis’ other tunes aren’t quite as engrossing as “Findings,” especially “Nights,” which sounds like a found audio piece about computers.  With all the whirring and buzzing, it would feel right at home scoring some performance art installation where people dressed like robots mime boring, impassionate sex with one another (it’s a commentary on how technology is depriving us of our innate primal qualities - duh).  I actually liked “Digging” quite a bit, especially the Centipede-like samples that transition into a richer sound as the camera zooms in behind your car.  The song, however, leaves almost no lasting impression; I finished riding and kind of went, “Well that was a fine few minutes, but where did I go?”  Killing Jazz’s second track “I’ll Go Crazy” still evokes that 90s swing/blues revival sound, but the singer’s attempt to be Bluesy turned me off.  He drew a line in the sand with “Safronia B” only to promptly leap over it in “I’ll Go Crazy.” Have you ever heard a Brit do a New York Jewish accent?  Or get embarrassed when one of your friends tries to imitate Michael Caine and ends up sounding offensive?  Yeah, that’s kind of what the vocals in “I’ll Go Crazy” are like.

Author’s Note
Each song was played at least twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  Killing Jazz’s tracks were played a few extra times because A) “Safronia B” is a lot of fun and B) I wanted to double check that the solos in “I’ll Go Crazy” were based on an eight-bar blues pattern – which they were.