Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This Week On Audiosurf Radio – Best Headache Ever Edition

honee-not-now-i-has-headache Sometimes even the best stuff can give you a headache: alcohol, coffee, sugar, Spider-Man 2.  Usually, it’s the absence or aftermath of these things that lead to the brain cramps.  I remember this time I drank a pot of sugary Irish coffee while trying to explain why Spider-Man lost his powers simply by doubting himself…actually, I don’t remember that at all. I think I blacked out from the intense cranial pressure.

Other things can hurt the old noggin during their consumption. Brain freeze midway through a bowl of ice cream is a classic example.  Music, especially music supplemented with electrifying visuals, is another. 

The songs on Radio this week were chosen for their ambient, laid-back qualities, but a trio of Steep tags upped the ante traffic-wise.  The two smoother tracks come courtesy of Kämmerer, a Swedish electronica artist who likes “solid beats and nice groovy harmonies.”  Spisfire is another electronic musician who hails from France.

Find out which songs are worth the crossed-eyes after the jump.

The Songs

I don’t always enjoy the atmospheric ambience of songs 00like “Under Water,” but I must admit when a song invokes that “Zen and the Art of Collecting Colored Blocks” feeling. If Alexey Pajitnov had composed this track to go along with his world-renowned puzzler, office places would be even less productive than they are now. People would be enslaved by the allure of completing another tetris, foregoing work, play, and bodily functions until they died. If the jittery “Under Water” track didn’t induce such an eye-crossing, I-Just-Watched-Too-Many-Anime-Fight-Scenes headache, it might have such a transformative effect on Audiosurf. Soothing piano plays over electronic whirs and a subdued (by electronica standards) drum track. While only a few of the sound effects actively invoke a sense of being underwater, the general mood reminds me of taking laps in an empty pool – a serene sense of working hard without the stress of the outside world. The water is choppy in parts. I occasionally had to come up desperate for air and grab a quick paint to clear my lanes. Take a deep breath, steel yourself against the threat of epileptic seizure, and play this song.

“When Clouds Roll In” starts off silky smooth, with faint strings and keyboard ringing out before – get this – a soft thunder crack leads the bass in. From thereon out, piano tones float about a fuzzy 8-bit bass. The chip-processed sound of the rhythm section reminds me of every imitation of a dusky jazz club tune that ever made it into a Super Nintendo game. Kämmerer makes it work, though, evoking a very specific dreary, rainy city evening that I’ve walked through numerous times. Without the Steep tag, the traffic probably would’ve been near-nonexistent on this one. But with the tag on, it’s almost too crazy. Because of how tightly the camera followed my character, I regularly had difficulty seeing the next block or two if my lanes were close to full (I’ll admit this is a minor flaw based on my own ineptitude). The comforting tone of “Under Water” slipped me into a state of glassy-eyed readiness, but there was still a driving musical current to push me forward. “When Clouds Roll In” got me all moody and in need of an emotional umbrella; I had no urge to meet the difficult task the track presented.

The elusive downbeat in the beginning of “Illuminated Rain” threw me off for the first ten seconds or so. Thankfully, the stripped down percussion instrumentation allowed me to adjust to the unique triple meter taking place. A lone djembe (or perhaps bongos) loops throughout the piece, and in the opening everything else is so soft you can almost hear the individual fingers rapping against the skin. Everything shifts as shimmering electronic string chords swell to usher in the jarring downhill drop. A more traditional electronic beat rises as the organic instruments fade. It’s a nice effect, but I was too busy trying not to crash to pay much attention. As on the other two songs this week, the Steep tag makes a mountain out of the molehill of traffic “Illuminated Rain” surely started with. Before the huge drop, a shaker joins the djembe, and the track attempts to match the shaker rattle for rattle with blocks. It only gets crazier from there. It was all I could do to keep my eyes focused. If you’re looking for a challenge (or a reason to take some ibuprofen), “Illuminated Rain” is the ride for you.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters. Honestly, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try all three tracks. They aren’t eight-minute epics or anything. Also, I’d like to share the craziest Audiosurf comment I found while riding. I simply couldn’t find a graceful way to squeeze it into my write-up proper. In reference to traffic in “Illuminated Rain,” user derkojote23 said, “wow i haven’t seen red like that since my GF dumped my truck in the water at the boat launc [sic]. Varry sweet ride WTG on the tunes.” I can’t find the words to even respond to that.