Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Soundtrack Music and French Eclecticism

Oh, the French.  They’re the butt of a thousand jokes, five hundred of which apply to their president.  They have a reputation for cowardice, snootiness, and mime.  Do they deserve all of our razzing? 

Probably not – especially when folks like djbouly are pumping out quality music.

To be fair, djbouly’s catalog is kind of scattershot.  A little trance here, a little saccharine pop there.  It’s all based in electronica, but the end result varies with each song.  And sometimes a little variety is all you need.

The Songs

audiosurf furious sky A rumbling string bass opening should cue you in to how the rest of “Furious Sky” will go.  Light, precise drumming quickly fills in beneath a rising tide of cellos.  As the strings raise in pitch, melodies emerge, but nothing takes center stage.  It’s as if the whole track’s circling around something, backup dancers swirling around a nonexistent lead.  Even a soft hip-hop vocal line fails to take charge; instead it merely adds to the mélange.  It’s perfect background music.  The little cinematographer locked up in my brain kept constructing establishing shots of an urban skyline, men in conspicuously nondescript clothes walking to or from a bank, a dichotomous montage of people fighting and making love.  In short: a movie trailer for an urban crime drama.  You should play this song.  Music this good sells tickets to undeserving Departed knockoffs.

audiosurf par dela A lot of the folks in the Audiosurf comments section namedropped Rob Dougan after riding “Par dela.”  I will yield to the community’s extensive techno knowledge and also tacitly agree having been exposed to Rob Dougan after his work on the various Matrix soundtracks.  And while I can’t speak to how Dougan handles melody, I will toss out there that the basics of the beat in “Par dela” are similar to what Dougan I’ve heard.  The low-key yet persistent pulse in the bass allows the rest of the music to just ebb and flow on top.  Something “Par dela” shares with “Furious Sky” is the somewhat disembodied vocalist that pops up midway through.  This time it’s a woman – and it may even be a sample – singing about something grindworthy.  But instead of it being her song, I get the impression I’m listening to someone listen to a song.  It’s the same voyeuristic thrill you get when you go into your friend’s house and catch them singing in the shower, but you don’t say anything you just hang out and listen, maybe even sing along.  Wait, you’ve never done that?  …Good.  Neither have I.

audiosurf rock addict I have absolutely no clue what kind of song “Rock Addict” is attempting to be.  There’s a dreamy Eastern-sounding string effect.  There are distortion-laden chunks of power chord goodness.  And then there are these choruses that feel like they were ripped straight out of the 80s.  I love it.  The whole thing sounds like some 80s record store employee’s idea of what pop music would eventually become in the new millennium: rich, Ian Curtis-emulating vocals, synth plugged in at every possible opportunity, and just a little chugging guitar to please the longhairs.  Plus, it seems to be about some dude driving around looking for his lady, or perhaps hoping she’ll come for a ride.  I’m not sure, as djbouly continues to mix his vocals down past their expected volume.  Whatever the case, go for a ride with “Rock Addict.”  I think you’ll have fun.

audiosurf give me harmony Why am I surprised that after I devote lines of text to detailing djbouly’s penchant for treating vocals like just another instrument, “Give Me Harmony” happens?  “Give Me Harmony” sounds nothing like the rest of this week’s offerings.  For a while in the middle, it shuffles as well as any jazzy pop song I’ve heard.  Then it transitions to an Sufjan-esque phrase of trumpets and harmonized vocals.  Plus, whenever she sings “harmony,” there are a bunch of voices in harmony!  Get it?  This is not the first song to do this, and it won’t be the last.  The ride is nothing to write home about (I’d make a snarky comment about writing home about Audiosurf rides, but then I realized I was writing a weekly column about Audiosurf rides).  Unless you’ve no other place to get your cooing-female-harmonies fix, you can pass on this one.

audiosurf cyclique “Cyclique” opens with the soothing sound of water lapping on a lakebed.  It’s a refreshing visit to the natural world, especially when playing a game so steeped in electronica.  When the music finally comes, it’s a delightful mix of the natural and the mechanical.  There’s something really beautiful about the relationship between the organic, bouncy guitar and the swirling electronic chirps of the synthesizer.  The vibraphone’s a nice touch, too, as it almost rides between the two worlds.  This bright world of harmony fades, of course, and gives way to the sound of water again.  It lingers on the earlier safe sounds of the lake for a moment before shifting to the cracks and roars of a thunderstorm.  Subwoofers rumble to life as the track kicks steeply downhill.  Safely through the storm front, it cycles back to nature.  Djembes and other live percussion instruments spring up, only to be overtaken by their electronic imitators.  I love the interplay between real and synthetic instruments in this piece, though I wish there had been some organic sounds in the intense thunderstorm passage – some muscular strings, perhaps.  The time reads eight minutes on this one, but I barely noticed given how swiftly and smoothly it travels.

Author’s Note

All songs were played at least twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  No crazy track restrictions this time around.

From the comments: Audiosurf vet dschallert was quick to point out that “Cyclique” may be “the first clarinet on AS radio!  And probably the first loon call too!”  He’s right.  I can’t say I’ve noticed a single loon in all my weeks on this beat.

Stop dillydallying.  Try this thing already.