Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – The Return of BS

What is it about this guy?  I’ve flipped out about BS before, and this week isn’t very different.

His particular blend of trance music is just that: a blend.  I like the same thing about BS that I like about the guy behind the After The Jump theme, FantomenK.  Each of them value variety over repetition – a rare virtue in a style of music dominated by repetition.  Phrases seem to change just as you begin to tire of them. 

I actually have quite a bit to say this week, so I won’t dilly-dally.  Hit the jump to find out if BS lives up to the reputation I’ve given him.

The Songs

I often kick off or close song reviews by instructing you not to be fooled.  Again, I urge you to keep your wits about you and not let this charlatan of a track graph trick you into thinking “Heaven Lights” is a ho-hum slope of a ride.  In the comfort of your web browser, it looks like fairly standard what-goes-up-must-come-down fare.  But in the trenches (or in the trench run, as it were) of Audiosurf, the song entertains and challenges without relent.  Typical techno songs are structured like a row of boiling teapots, each one rising in temperature and pressure until the eventual burst of steam that signals the next pot to begin.  In between each eruption, there’s usually boredom, a traffic-less downhill slope that takes too long to climb.  BS combats this by replacing each whistling pot with another whistling pot.  A bevy of strings surge and give way to an equally strong surge of synthesizers, which quickly begin their build to a higher plateau.  The music delivers enough variety (for trance music, anyway – you’ll still hear familiar techno sounds throughout) to overshadow the simplicity of the track’s shape.  If a perfect ride has killer music, a wild track, and loads of traffic, then “Heaven Lights” has two out of three.  And two out of three ain’t bad.

The aptly-named “Flux” will test your stamina.  You’ll ride the first minute, wondering when the lurching beat will give way to an actual drum loop.  The opening melody will kick in, sounding like an (cue textbook robot metaphor) android playing a mouth harp.  You’ll begin to notice that there are no gushing strings on this one.  It’s all electronic, all digital.  And that makes it all the more impressive when BS pulls some sleight of hand at the first major transition.  As the track crests the first major hill, he reuses a sound from earlier in the song to signal the change of pace, but the phrase after the transition is grounded in an entirely different idea.  Skillful introductions of new ideas keep the track fresh despite its length.  At one point, the track bottoms out completely.  This follows a clamoring storm of sound that swiftly subjugates everything else you can hear.  The most succinct description I can think of is “fever pitch” (no relation to that despicable movie).  I know I said in the last paragraph that bottomed-out tracks can be boring, but I hadn’t counted on how the middle movement of “Flux” would remix previous phrases into some kind of dance club dream sequence.  While the main idea coasts on, a fitful drum kicks intermittently, chopping up and delivering the beat piecemeal.  From thereon out the song continues to grow, eventually circling back on the herky-jerky rhythm of the opening – a phrase almost forgotten eight minutes later.  Imagine for a second that I knew where to find clubs that played this kind of music.  Take another second and imagine that I frequented them.  Were I caught up dancing to “Flux,” I’d probably be too busy praising it to realize it was one whole song.  Thankfully, I’ve no idea where to find such places.  Instead, I’ll just reboot Audiosurf and play this song.

Now I feel like a bit of a fool.  I spent more than half of this week’s post praising BS for his ingenuity, his predictable unpredictability.  And then “Magic Sweep” comes along.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cut above most of the techno to which I usually give a tepid thumbs-up, but it’s not what I’ve come to expect from this particular DJ.  The song takes shape around one idea, that of syncopated quarter notes, pulsating over and over.  It’s not too fast as to be strobing, not too slow to be throbbing.  It just…goes.  The traffic’s fine.  Scoreboard vets seem to be having a hell of a time figuring out just who’s the best on this one, which is always a good sign.  If you’ve got anything left in the tank after “Flux,” by all means, ride “Magic Sweep.”  Unless of course you want to tackle “Flux” again.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  Please allow me to play the role of Michael Scott for a second and point out what one Audiosurf user said of “Flux”: “intro was iffy, middle to climax good, outro still iffy.”  Need I say more?

Go buy AudiosurfIt’s on Steam.  You can get Achievements for playing Lady Gaga songs – well, for playing any songs, but she counts, too!