Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Chicken à la Mode Edition


I am no stranger to genre mash-ups.  I’ve listened to my fair share of acoustic covers of upbeat pop songs.  I’ve watched my zombie comedy movies.  Hell, I even cracked the spine on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

In music, of course, mash-ups mainly exist in the worlds of parody or sampling.  But there’s a way to crossbreed genres and still create a wholly new product.  I mean, how often have you heard that a hip new band “sounds like X had a baby with Y after they smoked a lot of Z”? 

Electronic music is particularly suited for this kind of smorgasbord approach.  Once a particular musical style’s been introduced, you can play around with it, add in its cousins – sort of like how all bets are off once hearts are broken.

Ben Drake combines genres like that friend everyone has who throws parties and then invites people from five different social circles, hoping they all link together like the Olympic rings.  Head on over to Ben’s page to check out his experiments or read about what made the Audiosurf cut after the jump.

The Songs

audiosurf fallA few years ago I was sitting a college dining hall, watching my friend James eat the remaining portions of a hefty meal.  He, myself, and a few others had been at the table a while, and the meal was winding down.  To amuse us –  or perhaps just himself – James decided to dip a piece of his chicken breast into the vanilla soft serve he’d gotten for dessert.  One bite later, his face screwed up into regretful surprise.  He smiled and laughed at the violence he’d wrought on his taste buds.  I immediately exclaimed, “James!  Chicken à la mode is a terrible idea.”  In “Fall,” Drake’s created a musical chicken à la mode.  He’s mashed up chiptunes with turn-of-the-millennium punk with hardcore screamo vocals.  The odd man out is definitely the screamo voice.  The chiptune melodies gain strength atop the palm-muted guitar riffs.  Unfortunately, the Spawn of Satan voice undercuts whatever vibe he’s otherwise cultivated.  When he’s not screaming, he’s singing in a nasally emo whine, which I could forgive if it were the only vocal on the track.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  Chicken à la mode is a terrible idea.

audiosurf spaceBen Drake doesn’t scream on this one.  I instantly liked it more.  Again, he opens with a chiptune passage.  Nothing overly game-y, as the genre’s prone to.  “Space” is somber despite its tempo; it’s hard to write a song about pining that doesn’t at least attempt to tug on the heartstrings.  Unfortunately for “Space,” it’s grip on those strings is a little too tight – saccharine to excess.  Lyrics repeat ad nauseam, subjected to increasing amounts of auto-tuning.  The effect is a little like Owl City (take that for what it’s worth).  Drake likes to incorporate techno elements on top of his chiptune base, which you can hear in the ambient noise and the swell of the pulsing strings.  The lines between dance club and modified game system start to blur.  I’m totally down with that, but a funkier beat might help keep me interested after each separate element is introduced.

audiosurf write it downFor someone so interested in genre, Ben Drake sure seems resistant to what’s strong about the genres he chooses.  He should lean into the strengths of the genres he’s mashing, like he does in “Write It Down.”  This is the type of song he should be writing.  The opening’s decidedly powerpop.  Punk rhythms drive the vocals and guitar, though I wish they wouldn’t drown out of his (consistently) awesome chip work.  The auto-tune vocals return, but they aren’t heinous.  Plus, there’s something bordering on poignant about a robotic voice singing, “And I would love it if I could just turn off my heart, but I know it’s not that easy.”  It’s as if love were a process that won’t stop running no matter how hard you try to Force Quit it from the Task Manager.  The inspired bridge features some stellar, frantic chiptune-and-piano keyboard work that sounds anticipatory of a boss battle – and what is love but life’s great boss battle? (Sorry.  Sorry.)  Drake approaches composition with a bit of a kitchen sink mentality, but somehow on this one, all the pieces landed in just the right way.  Play this song; it’s the best ride this week.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character.

Ben Drake certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest in the comments section this week.  The Audiosurf user base was essentially split down the middle on “Fall,” with equal parts love and hate for the inclusion of screamo (with a similar treatment of the emo-punk elements).  “Write It Down” also garnered some rather colorful responses.  ZellD said, “This is like Postal Service meets My Chemical Romance on the Nintendo 64.”  I have half a mind to go back and time and make that game.

Best comment of the week, however, goes to <MBS> Designer who, after riding “Write It Down,” wrote, “*jesus facepalm* that’s one cool track.”  When asked to explain what a “jesus facepalm” is, he replied, “A jesus facepalm is where jesus puts his palm in his face, to your ****ing face.” 

I’m not quite sure that makes sense, but I like it.