Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Take It Fast, Take It Slow

kokomo As the Beach Boys once sang of Kokomo, “We’ll get there fast, and then we’ll take it slow.”  Where?  I don’t know.  Somewhere near Kokomo, I imagine.  Anyway, fast then slow is the idea this week, but in reverse.

It all starts off rather calm with the keyboard stylings of one Aleksey Chistilin.  This Russian piano player specializes in moody pieces with a strong sense of forward momentum.  To accent this, both of this week’s selections received the Steep Tag treatment, which guarantees a lively track even if you’re riding the slowest song ever.

Throttling ahead into the fast lane is Cthuchi Zamarra, a Flamenco guitarist whose first name makes me think of the Great Old Ones.  I couldn’t discern from his website if he’s got a backup band or not.  It seems likely given the liveliness of his music and the variety of instrumentation.  Buckle your seatbelts for this guy, folks.

Hit the jump to head on down to Kokomo.

The Songs

Who says soft piano has no place in Audiosurf?  (I may have at various times…)  Well, screw them.  “Childhood” engages just as well as – if not a little better than – any boiler plate techno track.  Like some kind of Internet minister, the Steep tag marries the music and traffic without much fanfare.  Blocks appear in line with the tickling of the ivories, clipping along at a pace just a hair faster than you might initially expect.  The ride’s good; however, I’m not exactly sure what to say about it musically.  It’s mostly piano, bass, and drums.  Strings occasionally glide in and out for atmosphere.  I kept waiting for the vocals to pop up, but they never did.  It was like I’d invited a particular group of friends over for a birthday party, but the one person who never misses doesn’t show.  You all spend the rest of the party trying to get in contact with her, sharing stories about the time you each were sure she’d forgotten your birthday – but, of course, she didn’t.  You tell her stories – your own personal favorites – in hopes of filling the void she’s left next to the iPod dock.  The vocals never show.  You might want to play this song.  It tugs on the heartstrings a bit.

“The Feeling of Fly” continues in the same vein as “Childhood.”  Chistilin coaxes a melancholy chord progression into motion with a clever combination of electronic percussion and strings.  Whereas most songs with the word “Fly” in the title focus on the act of soaring, Chistilin’s song more aptly suggests falling with style: a slow glide back down to Earth, gazing down at the world and its myriad problems below.  Even when the music picks up with the addition of moaning strings and warbling guitar, I don’t get a sense of lift off.  I get landing.  At most, I’m riding a tendril of the jet stream until the air currents no longer keep me afloat.  The fervent red tunnel at the end (caused by an even more fervent maraca) is no more of a challenge than simply relaxing into the current.  Again, I find myself wondering if these are tracks destined to receive vocal accompaniment.  I can hear the melody lines; there’s just no one singing them.

According to the Audiosurf site, many of Zamarra’s lyrics come from his Great Uncle’s poetry, which might explain a whole song about a beautiful mountain range (thanks, Google Translate!).  “Hermosa Sierra de Gredos” does not relent for its entire four-minute runtime.  You will steer your character mostly downhill in a generally straight line without stopping.  Flamenco guitar, toe-tapping percussion, jaunty flute: it all blends into a particular mode of joy, one that involves dancing and yelling lyrics along with the singer (if you know what they are and what they mean).  I’m not sure sitting alone at a computer is the best way to experience Zamarra’s music.  I once saw a Gipsy Kings concert, and not one of the thousands of people in attendance sat down the entire show.  I imagine Zamarra might inspire such action in his audiences.  The constant aural buzz generates rather uninteresting traffic patterns, and the track itself feels a little drab, as a result.  All the more reason to experience Zamarra away from the comfort of your keyboard.

On “Barquitos de Sentimiento,” you’ll find more musicality in the vocals and a greater sense of play in the rhythm than in “Hermosa Sierra de Gredos.”  In its chorus, “Barquitos” steps back from its jaunty, quarter-note rhythm into half time, slowing things down without actually changing the  meter.  While I’ve still no idea what he’s singing about (the only Spanish I can reliably remember involves colors), it feels a bit more introspective than the staccato, machine-gun melodies of the verses.  In the verses Zamarra quickly spits syllables out like so many empty sunflower seeds, making the more luxurious rhythms of the chorus stand out more.  His band’s unified sound still means a straight-forward ride with only a few variations in height, so be prepared to focus on the vocals while the track speeds by unnoticed.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  No winning comments this week, but a lot of discussion about Ironmode vs. Non-ironmode scores.  To tell you the truth, I’ve no idea what any of that means.

Also, I can’t imagine why you still haven’t bought Audiosurf.