Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Sounds Like… Edition

listening20earWhat to do when the best way to describe a group/song/act is by namedropping its artistic neighbors?  “Band X is great, if you like Band Y.”  “Fans of the genre will enjoy Band Z because they hearken back to the good old days, when groups like Bands A, B, and C were still playing clubs.”

Sometimes it’s unavoidable, even when you’re speaking cross-genre.  A folk group can have Freddie Mercury-like ambition.  A jazz act can strive to mimic Fifties rock.  Since much of how we listen to music is governed by what we’ve listened to (thanks Daniel Levitin), it seems only fair to speak in relatable terms – even if that means just laying on the analogies until the point becomes clear.

Groovy Star requires some non-techno comparisons (the artist calls his music “Bionic Rock”) on the merits of its eclectic style.  It isn’t kitchen sink eclectic, but the musical stories told borrow tropes from acts the average pop fan might know.  Sneaking in a fourth track at the end is Hunter Van Brocklin, whose name is simply awesome.  Aside from making music, he also plays Audiosurf, which is also pretty awesome.

The Songs

audiosurf digital droidsThe first ten seconds of “Digital Droids” set me up for an entirely different song than what the following three minutes delivered.  A few opening tones, resembling synthesized sitars or some otherworldly string instrument, ring ominously before giving way to an expansive, progressive beat.  The sound palette is dominated by heavily processed guitar mimicry.  It may actually be guitars, but they must be run through a compressor and a weird Pod effects unit or something.  Or they’re just highly evolved MIDI noises.  I use “expansive” how you might use it to describe a U2 song.  The space created by the notes feels large, and the rapid, rhythmic chords make the sense of forward motion almost tangible.  It’s not arena rock by any means, but it also doesn’t sound like it’s being pumped directly into my ears via Firewire cables running from a DJ’s laptop.  It is a tad repetitive, and the wall of sound doesn’t change its composition much.  Still, the ride’s pleasant.  Nothing extraordinary, nothing exceedingly dull – the right mix of relaxing and challenging.

audiosurf fusion riderIf Zack Braff made a mix tape of Audiosurf techno, “Fusion Rider” would be Track One.  The backbeat is deliciously poppy, the trickling bells (if that’s what they are) decidedly indie.  The bass is warm, and the tenor range swells with a soulful, vocal-less melody.  I’ve enjoyed tracks like this before: songs built around an absent vocalist.  The melody’s designed for simple, universal lyrics, the kind that break your heart in the car but sound hollow read plainly in your English class.  “Fusion Rider” is a joy because I can fill those words in myself.  In fact, I don’t even the need the lyrics; it’s full of hummable emotion.  The Space Age sound effects come on too strong at times, but that’s really the only complaint I have about a smooth little ride.  Play this song and sing along in your own words.

audiosurf juggernautOddly, “Juggernaut” begins an end with snippets of concrete sound.  By that I mean the audio equivalent to found text in creative writing.  Heels click-clack on a marble floor.  A truck horn honks and bellows.  Then the music starts.  Why?  I have no clue.  The music, also infectiously poppy, bears no trace of these noises.  It’s filled with the same laser sound effects that plagued “Fusion Rider.”  Futurist .wav files and lots of guitar from the Pop/Rock section at Tower Records (pour one out).  Honestly, ignoring the Styx-like synth handling the melody and the UFO sounds, this could be a Jimmy Eat World song (that’s not a dig).  The track bops so consistently and energetically with the tune I had to move my head in sync to stay focused on the traffic.  Whatever I said about the melody in “Fusion Rider” being good enough to not need vocals doesn’t apply to “Juggernaut.”  The synth simply doesn’t cut it.  But there’s a creative seed in the melody begging to be watered by a dude in a trendy t-shirt singing about that girl he saw at that concert once and just can’t get out of his mind.  P.S. Again, why the truck noises?

audiosurf nothing says i love you“Nothing Says I Love You Like A Minor 4 Chord” is an awesome song title, just as Hunter Van Brocklin is an awesome name.  The song itself, however, falls short of awesome.  As Hunter explained in the Comments section on Audiosurf (that’s right, he plays), the lyrics are from “Love Guppy,” a poem by Sam Jones.  According to the poet, it’s an entry in a “Can you bottom that?” love poem contest.  I can see how that would be the case.  It’s really a shame Hunter decided to use such awful lyrics because the music isn’t half bad.  His use of piano is elegant and timely, and the beat gradually moves away from a harder techno beat to fall in line with the general 80s vibe going on.  The vocals have a modern indie mumble to them, one of the few things anchoring this ship in the present so it doesn’t drift back to the decade of Miami Vice and Members Only.  If none of this has turned you away, you’ll find a fun ride with frenetic bursts of traffic.  Paints, whites, twists, and turns.  It’s all there.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser characters.  Thankfully, the scoreboard servers are back up so comments could be pulled and I could confirm my dominance in my region.

It may not be the best comment of the week, but bearing witness to a songwriter discuss his work in the game is worth noting.  Hunter Van Brocklin addressed opinions on his song, as well as admitted that his own scores may have been inflated by his riding an earlier (perhaps less challenging) version of the same song with similar metadata.  _UnLeaded_ likens this advantage to “when the Deathmatch mapmaker plays his own map, and mysteriously wins the match because he’s placed an invisible teleporter in the map that only he knows about that gives him full armor and health.”

God, I hate it when that happens.