Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Week On Audiosurf Radio – High School Stories and Tags Abound

This never happened in my school.  ...why don't you believe me? Ever listen to a song and become besieged by memories?  Not particularly good or bad ones, just thoughts of days past, behaviors and tastes you once had.  Things you really really liked, but maybe now you don’t so much.

Any hard rock does this to me.  Lay down a fat guitar riff and I’m in the ninth grade again, banging my head and playing air guitar until my fingers air bleed.  Somehow, this week’s songs – like some kind of dream-thieving Leonardo DiCaprio – called forth all sorts of craziness from my subconscious.

Also, the Audiosurf crew decided to outfit each and every song with unique tag combinations.  For those of you new to Audiosurf and/or this column, tags are special little pieces of code that modify how the game behaves during a particular song.  They’re a great way to add an extra layer of difficulty or spice up a song you may have already mastered.  For further explanation of the tagging system, visit this page on the Audiosurf forums.

I wrote about Kämmerer a few months ago, declaring him a purveyor of the Best Headaches Ever.  He’s an electronic artist from Sweden.  Check him out.  Then there’s How2Start, a bizarre hardcore punk band with an equally bizarre name.  According to their website, they are “about stagedives, high 5’s and a good time.”  I suppose I can get behind that sentiment.

The Songs

“My City” cracked into my memory bank, found the dusty safety deposit box marked “High School Music Whims,” and brought all of its contents to the fore.  In between marching/jazz band rehearsals and before my Garden State-scored college years, I listened to a lot of hard rock/metal, all based on a solid foundation of Metallica.  I bought one – as in a singular – Slipknot record.  I then remember that causing me to find this crazy screaming band called Vision of Disorder.  How2Start reminds me of V.O.D.  They lack the Rob Zombie’s Haunted House theatrics of Slipknot (not to mention their “Dude, your eye got in a fight with a kettle drum and lost” brand of live performance) and instead chooses to channel leaner punk influence. Let it be known that “leaner” has less to do with the volume and intensity of the music than it does with the unfettered instrumentation.  Also, can anyone tell me what this song’s about?  I’m not sure what goes on in How2Start’s city, but they are awful serious about it – it’s straight-up screamworthy.  Should you find yourself turned off by the music (I definitely was at first, having long outgrown my patience for most music bearing the “-core” suffix), you can amuse yourself with the ludicrous tags attached.  On this track, each column has room for only five blocks, white blocks appear much more frequently, and matches take longer to collect.  Adjust your game (and I mean “game” in the streetest way possible) accordingly.

audiosurf chasing butterflies You won’t be able to play your favorite character on “Chasing Butterflies” -  unless your favorite character is Mono.  The tag applied to this track limits character choice to the Mono mode, which changes the game entirely.  Only two types of blocks are available: good ones and stony bad ones.  Avoid the grays that clog up your columns.  Collect the colorful ones to score points.  No matching involved.  Easy as pie, right?  Sort of.  I generally find Mono mode quite difficult, but “Chasing Butterflies” barely gave me any problems – as a ride, anyways.  As a song?  Yeesh.  Remember when I said How2Start bore punk influences?  Yeah, well…take that with a grain of salt.  “Chasing Butterflies” sounds like they listened to a lot of super early Metallica, tried to spruce up perfectly good riffs with a dash of mid-90s punk, and started screaming.  It’s almost uncanny how much their guitars (amps, distortion, etc.) resemble that of pre-Kirk Hammett Metallica.  Rather than meditate on this mess of a song anymore, I think I’ll just go find my copy of Kill ‘Em All and call it a day.

It’s appropriate that this track’s titled “Broken Windshield” because it reminds me of an experiment my friend and I played in his car one day.  For no reason other than that the road was empty and we were idiots, I challenged him to drive me home by slapping the wheel of his car – no actual steering, just bitchslapping the steering wheel as he saw fit.  A higher power smiled on us that evening, as we didn’t crash or get pulled over for several counts of Karate Chopping A Steering Wheel.  But we very well could have.  And this is relevant how?, you’re wondering.  The Sidewinder tag on “Broken Windshield” makes it feel like I’m back in that car, experiencing the torrent of tiny zigzags that resulted from my friend’s wheel-slapping.  This particular tag flips the track onto its side, turning would-be hills and valleys into sharp left and right turns.  It’s disorienting, it’s challenging, it’s awesome.  The track is also manipulated by a zoot-suit-slick drum beat ricocheting effortlessly underneath acid jazz piano.  So each and every collision between the sticks and the snare causes a jolt left or right on an extremely windy road.  Play this song.  Its novelty and excellence will reignite any flagging passions for Audiosurf.

The minimalist funk stylings of “Outside Help” suggest something larger.  It’s the skeleton crew of a bigger, brassier dance floor groove.  Or maybe it’s a collage of the half-remembered elements of a song you heard last night – or in 1977.  A scritchy-scratchy guitar whittles away the time under piano doused in reverb.  Verses ended with a vocalist cooing “Oooh, yeah” and a single tone sounding from an ethereal horn section.  Unfortunately, my favorite part of the song – a gruff, lusty synthesizer that sounds ready to toss you down on the bed, use you for five minutes, and leaf through your wallet for cab fare on the way out – only appears in a brief interlude halfway through.  That’s the drawback of such a scaled-back piece.  The relaxed vibe is great, but it can’t really develop while retaining said vibe, can it?  The tags aren’t anything special on this one.  We all know the Steep tag, and the Everybody Mono changes the traffic pattern to mono without changing your character.  It’s weird and just ends up feeling like a mono track.  They can’t all be Sidewinder, I suppose.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice using the Eraser and Vegas characters (when the songs would let me, anyway).  Again, those looking for more information on Audiosurf’s tag system should go here.

I feel vindicated that a lot of the other riders also didn’t care for How2Start.  coolgirl even went so far as to say, “I thought only good songs were supposed to be on Audiosurf Radio.”  Ouch.

I’m running out of ways to tell you to buy Audiosurf.