Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Polish Players and French Children

You'd be yelling too if you were wearing one of those vests. I can’t find a clear connection between Polish indie rock and French children’s choirs singing spirituals.  I just can’t.  The indie rock is simultaneously spare and sprawling.  The spiritual is dense and bouncy.  Maybe I’ll just give up and brief you on each act.

Plug and Play (who I hope took their name from computing) have been around since 2007.  Babel Fish refuses to translate Polish to English, so I can’t really glean any information from their MySpace page.  Allow me to say upfront that later in this post I’ll refer to their drummer as a “he.”  I don’t want to offend anyone, but I can’t confirm that “gary” is Polish for drums (I hope it is) or if Maciek is a guy’s name or not.  Let’s just move on.

A surprise entry this week is Les Petits Chanteurs de Montigny.  They are a children’s choir from France, if you couldn’t guess.  And they hail from Montigny les Metz, a suburb of Metz, the city over which the first international space handshake took place.  And they’ve recorded a spiritual.  Why?  No clue.

The Songs

“Enemy” secures Plug and Play as a descendant of Joy Division and their various offspring like The Cure.  The somewhat disaffected vocals mutely deliver lyrics that forebode a deep emotional undercurrent.  Something about lovers.  Something about enemies.  It’s very guarded in its melancholy.  Suburban Goths could definitely rally around this – and by rally I mean loiter apathetically outside of Hot Topic.  Gentle mocking aside, the ride’s plenty engaging.  There’s great interplay between the song’s pace and the rolling slopes of the track.  In the second verse, the track dips into brief valleys during the bars between lyrics.  In a later passage, there’s a subtle shift each time the drums step forward.  In my year+ playing Audiosurf, I’ve yet to figure out all of the track-building algorithm’s tricks, but I’m guessing that the spaciousness in the verses contributes to a stronger relationship between the song and the ride.  When there’s less for it to pull from, the correlation between the individual elements feels stronger.  That’s not saying there aren’t where this back-and-forth takes a back seat to traffic-heavy downhill slopes; there are.  But they aren’t what sets this ride apart.

“Stop Me” proves that Plug and Play’s drummer is more than just a timekeeper.  Initially, he lets the song press forward blandly on a relentless quarter-note pulse, before unexpectedly shoving it into double time.  The lengthy instrumental break in the middle has him relaxing the beat a bit, riding his cymbals a bit more and easing up on some of the song’s urgency.  He then reverses his way to the end, starting with the double time and concluding with the quarter-note drive.  It’s nothing fancy but suggests more than just competence and felt worth mentioning.  Vocally, the lead continues in the subdued-yet-emotional near-monotone, while sometimes another vocalist yells the same lyrics in the background.  The song appears to be about a breakup, and the backup shouting almost sounds like an inner monologue.  The id screaming underneath the cool, wounded exterior.  I could be reading way too much into this.  Maybe they just didn’t know how else to support their hard-edge guitars and double-time drums.  But if it so happens that you’re a psych student looking for any opportunity whatsoever to apply stuff you’ve learned in class, I suggest you play this song.

“Go Tell It On The Mountain” is a spiritual.  You’ve probably heard it before.  You may have even sung it before.  I know I have.  But I’ve never sung it (or heard it, for that matter) with a thick French accent.  Be prepared to do some syllable-deciphering.  When the kids sing “Jesus Christ is born,” it kind of sounds like they’re saying “Jesus is a boy,” as if there were any doubt.  Just because this is a choral song with no instrumental accompaniment does not mean it’s an easy ride.  The spare traffic coupled with an intense track speed and vicious hills makes achieving a high score quite difficult.  (Pro Tip: yellow blocks rarely appear, so netting a few will ensure you the Butter Ninja score bonus.)  I’ve loved riding choral music since I first discovered Audiosurf, playing it on college choir tour.  Don’t expect a driving beat or a rich panoply of electronic bells and whistles.  Enjoy the dulcet tones and hold on to your butts because the rides are windy and more difficult than you think.

Author’s Note

All songs were played at least twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters. 

Anyone interested in a little Internet religion-griping should check out the comments on “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”  A pleasant, joyous spiritual becomes a launching pad for sarcastic Jesus-praising, odd Atheist-bashing, and (thankfully) even-keeled rebukes of Internet extremism.  Usually the debates rage around the merits of indie rock or a metal band’s scream quotient, so it’s interesting to see religion crop up, even if the discussion isn’t entirely original.