Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Two-Year Anniversary Edition

Can you believe Audiosurf’s been around for two years? It seems just yesterday Dylan was picking up awards and chatting with us.

I don’t have numbers to support this claim, but it feels like the community is just as strong as ever, due in no small part I’m sure to the great (relatively) new Comments feature and improved Online Stats. It also helps that Steam regularly gets all Crazy Local Car Dealer with its sales, often offering Audiosurf for a pittance.

To celebrate the occasion, Radio’s trotting out some old favorites, many of which I’ve already covered (I think it’s telling that two of the tracks received play this song nods in their respective weeks). We’ve got piano courtesy of Yunus, some Speedsound techno, political Italian ska from Talco, and Jeff Wyatt’s lovely guitar. Of the four, only Talco’s “Bella Ciao” predates my time reviewing rides. I did, however, write about some of Talco’s other tracks last February, so I’m no stranger to their particular take on that genre we all love so much.

After the jump you’ll find my original thoughts on the reprised rides (all of which hold up upon repeated riding), as well as my take on Talco’s “Bella Ciao.” Somebody cue the Wayne’s World flashback noise.

The Old

“Tsunami” sounds like a cross between Franz Schubert and Nobuo Uematsu. There’s a frantic, rolling quality to the piece that makes me think of the Schubert’s Erlkönig, but its more modern sensibilities remind me of Uematsu’s battle themes (see the bass line circa 1:10 on this FFVII track). This is not a bad thing, mind you. I think if you’re going to sound like someone, why not sound like these guys. The ride itself is a trip. Sections of a fancy piano fingerwork again coincide with spurts of red blocks, often requiring some speedy lane-changing. Don’t worry about signaling. You don’t have time. Late in the ride, while the theme gets repeated, the song’s beat breaks into a groove for a few bars, which is immediately reflected in the track surface. The super-slick downhill surface suddenly starts to bump and buck. I must say, it caught me off guard – in the good way. Also, I don’t usually play the game with the sound effects on, but it makes all the difference on this ride. Because some of the blocks match up so nicely, it’s extra satisfying to let the effects clue you in to how well you’re following the music.

I'm using the old school image of this ride, with the old colored blocks before other riders were shown. I will tell you one thing right away about Anything to Say: play this song. It’s nine minutes long and worth every second. Unlike previous nine-minute ventures on Audiosurf Radio, this one is not a medley but a singular experience, though it is not without its movements. About a third of the way in (right after that first downhill section), there’s a brief vocal interlude. There’s a hint of Zeppelin to this moment, with the tenor vocalist wailing incoherently, his voice processed and distorted. As if the song were reading my mind, an electric guitar bursts onto the scene as the tempo picks back up. You can’t tell from the image but this track is nice and curvy, with a synth tone whose pitch-bending seems to cause the curve. It’s a great effect. Late in the track, while you struggle to survive the traffic onslaught, an alarm-like noise sounds rhythmically. During one playthrough, it felt like the alarm was creating white blocks. Magic.

Thanks to the Steep tag, “Arizona Wedding March” is a great ride. It really is just Wyatt and his guitar, no vocals even. But don’t let that fool you, there’s plenty of ride here. All those bumps you see in the track are the result of an accomplished guitar player responding to the music as he plays it, pulling back the tempo on one note just to push it on the next. He alternates regularly between strumming and some intricate picking, which probably accounts for many of the shifts. Toss in the occasional slap to the instrument and you’re left thinking he’d only be hampered by a rhythm section. And with Wyatt on his own, the traffic syncs up with nothing but guitar – just what you Guitar Hero junkies want. I regularly make a case for the least obvious song worth riding, and this article’s no different. I’m definitely recommending you play this song.

The “New”

“Bella Ciao” is a ska-ass ska song. You’ve got your horns, your saxes, your group-of-dudes-yelling choruses. And for good measure, there’s an accordion thrown in. Perfect music for awkwardly flailing your limbs in a sea of people at some outdoor music festival. Is it perfect for surfing of the audio variety? Eh. It’s a fairly straight shot – nothing in the way of epic banks or corkscrews – with an adequate amount of percussion-driven traffic. The track’s yellow for 95% of the ride, meaning it’s certainly intense the entire time, just not Gary Busey intense. By the end, this lack of variety dulls the overall effect (I’m reminded of how our colored terror alert system lost any sense of scale after being stuck on “Elevated” for months and months and months). When I first wrote about Talco’s music, I commented on the primacy of the vocals and their political (sub)text. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that “Bella Ciao” is an old Italian folk song that was adopted by the Italian partisans. Given Talco’s general extremeness, I’m not surprised at all by the choice.

Author’s Note

All songs were played at least twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters. All of the write-ups for the Old tracks are from their original weekly recaps, a nostalgia round-up of sorts. The week’s variety is a testament to Audiosurf’s potential, but the songs selected highlight qualities needed for a quote-unquote good ride that have held true for, well, years now: interesting musical styles with internal shifts; tracks that play to the game’s puzzle and visual strengths; and judicious use of the Steep tag.

Oh, and if you thought my rerunning older material meant no Steam user comments, you’re wrong. Graymayre, whom I suspect may be a Charge Shot!!! reader spouting outlandish remarks to ensure getting mentioned, says this about “Bella Ciao” by Talco, “That was greater than a monkey toboganning [sic] down a river full of nuns on Christmas." Can anybody tell me what the means? And who toboggans down a river? I thought those things were for snow.