Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Joyous Expansion Edition

wee! In the pre-game notes this week, Lebeth stresses that she’s digging electronica with an element of “expansive joy.” The idea is a bit abstract for easy classification: expansive in what way? how joyous? A Google search for the phrase pulls a clunky set of results, few of which actually line up with her usage (except, of course, the ones that are just links to the Audiosurf website).

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel free to wield this term like it had a more concrete definition. It’s kind of perfect for discussing music. Notes can grow. Songs can fill our heart with gladness. And it connotes a certain je ne sais quoi that usually makes the difference between a good song and a great song. I’m for “expansive joy.” Glad that’s settled.

The person responsible for all of this week’s positive energy is GroovyVoxx. He hails from Russia, and – according to a Chrome-translated version of his website – hates “TV, envy, and evil” among other things.

Sounds like the perfect person to generate some joy.

The Songs

“We Are Alive” contains one of the weirdest sounds I’ve heard in a song yet. It’s not unlike the resetting of an old, chunky typewriter. It also conjured an image of a robot beatboxing. Why? Who knows? Now onto the music. HasturHasturHastur thinks “it would be better with lyrics.” That’s possible, but the dreaminess of the echo effect might have been squandered on subpar words by a stereotypical female techno dub. Something floaty with an overwrought sense of etherealness. I’m happy to live in this buoyant world of clean, rich bass and warm melodies. In fact, one of the more unique aspects of the song is its lack of a domineering high-pitched melody. Most of the lines reside in the tenor/alto neighborhood, which, consequently, may be what drove Hastur³ to think lyrics would be appropriate. (Fun fact: the tenor sax and cello are two instruments whose musical wheelhouse falls right into the range of the human voice.) Anything in the upper registers hangs benignly in the background, informing your ears, not assailing them. The ride’s generally smooth, as well, with a lovely latter half that picks up the pace and difficulty as the music unfolds (I suppose that’s what the algorithm’s supposed to do). If you didn’t need them to see, I’d recommend you close your eyes, let the music wash over you, and play this song.

The contrast between muffled strings and tinny percussion in “Casanova” lend an odd air to the opening. Perhaps without the lo-fi percussion the strings wouldn’t sound so deep and classy, but I’m not sure I love the gulf in sound quality between the two: the drums are Hilary Swank, the strings are the Nutty Professor. I also dig how, with my headphones in, it almost sounds like the muted strings keep sneaking behind me or into the room next door. I hear them loud and clear, but the perceived change in distance keeps the loop from inspiring boredom. I realize I just spent a short paragraph discussing the first few passages of the song, but it really only opens up from there. Once the song starts remixing itself (when the funky dance loops comes in under another creatively mixed melody), I can no longer resist its charms. I try my best to ignore the flute interlude toward the end (did a Ren Faire wander through the studio?) and to concentrate what “Casanova” is doing right, which is pretty much everything else.

Inevitably, there’s an outlier in every completely sweet week. “Take Off!” simply lacks the positive punch of GroovyVoxx’s other two cuts. And if – bear with me – this were baseball, he’d be batting .667 on the week. I’d take that on my fantasy team (hell, I could seriously use it). The first knock against the track is the presence of lyrics. The singer – perhaps one GroovyVoxx himself – sounds a tad sleepy, a bit distant, and a hair too computer processed. It doesn’t jive with how remarkably alive and present his music usually feels. Unfortunately, “Take Off!” feels the least inspired of the three, with a heavier reliance on pop tropes like ancillary piano lines. I don’t need a clavier lingering in the wings of your sound. Give me more hot dance beats and freshly-mixed strings. It’s a simple request, really. I don’t know why people insist on complicating things.

Author’s Note

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

Most of the comment feedback was positive, save Hastur’s above thoughts on lyrics. So no funny snippets to pull for you there. Again, anyone who’s reading this without having played Audiosurf should totally check it out.