Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Guitar Comparisons Edition

eguitarsInstrumental guitar rock.  You don’t hear it every day.  Sometimes, you might even go weeks without it – unless it’s Christmastime

Dick Dale, Eric Johnson, Buckethead, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani: they’re all practitioners of the genre.  Amateur and professional guitar players alike love these guys for their virtuosity and their glorification of the instrument, and since eight out of every ten rock fans are amateur guitarists, they have a pretty large audience.

With such an audience will come plenty of imitators and emulators.  Russian guitarist Oleg Serkov is one such musician, though I’d say his talent and skill raise him above the level of mere mimic.  His eye shadow, however, is a cause for concern.

How much can one man sound like Joe Satriani and still sound original?  Find out after the jump.

The Songs

audiosurf leoThere’s really no dancing around the Joe Satriani comparisons on “L.E.O.”  They shouldn’t be held against Serkov, but they shouldn’t be ignored either.  My first exposure to Satriani was his album Engines of Creation, which featured heavy amounts of synth and electronic percussion to back his fretwork.  The later album Strange Beautiful Music eschewed the digital for an actual in-studio band, musicians off and with whom Satriani could bounce his melodies and share his licks.  I found this to be an overall more satisfying, less indulgent listening experience, and I’m glad “L.E.O.” follows in that mold.  The loose drum beat rings out effortlessly, creating the illusion of space even when Serkov’s grinding through swift palm-muted chords.  I can’t speak for the authenticity of his backing band (for all I know it’s a well-programmed ProTools beat), but the organic vibe succeeds regardless.  Towards the song’s conclusion, the drums stumble into half-time, and it’s an abrupt yet entirely welcome surprise.  I could’ve used more tempo shifts to help accentuate the tonal changes being made with chord selection.  But then, I suppose, the end wouldn’t have been such a surprise.

audiosurf way of warriorBecause Serkov continues to sound like he plugged his guitar directly into Joe Satriani’s exact amplifier and pedal rig, I’m going to continue to discuss the latter guitarist to discuss the former.  A guy I used to work with once criticized Satriani’s music for sounding soulless.  The guy was a jazz saxophonist, who creates every note he plays with the very organs he uses to live: his lungs.  I can see how he might compare his style of play to that of a dude dedicated to the art of moving his fingers real fast on electric guitar strings as soulless; I think it’s a gross overstatement that does Satriani’s music a disservice, but I can’t disagree that some songs feel less concerned with mood and tone and more with notes per second and a perfect, liquid sound.  That’s a very long introduction for this one simple point: Serkov does not ignore tone.  “Way of Warrior” bops between a few moods – how he gets from spooky to stately in the last third of the piece is a kind of impressive – but never does it feel devoid of feeling or without intent to elicit a genuine emotional response from the listener.  Unlike “L.E.O.,” “Way of Warrior” does incorporate some synth and ambient noise.  They create an air of oddness – a sense that something’s not quite right – through which pounding metal riffs come storming and demanding you bang your head.  The solos on this one are particularly blistering.  I’m reminded of how a tennis player, midway through an excruciatingly long point, catches a second rush of adrenaline as he realizes just how awesomely he’s performing.  Serkov weaves through each lick with determination, the inertia continually pushing him through to the next one.  Get carried away and  play this song.

Extracurricular Riding

For those baffled by all of my Satriani references, please see the following videos.  They also happen to make pretty epic rides should you find yourself aching for more guitar to surf.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character.  The Comments section this week was pretty slim at the time of my playing, though it may be worth noting SurfinOnBeatzzz assessment of “L.E.O.”: “Sounds like Buckethead in a romantic mood.”  I still facepalm every time I think of Buckethead.  He just looks so silly.

Assuming you’re one of the handful of people reading this without playing Audiosurf regularly, allow me to pimp it once again.  Thanks for Steam’s crazy holiday sale, Audiosurf’s currently selling for a mere $4.99.  It’s also part of the awesome Indie Heavy Hitters Pack – featuring other games we like such as Braid and World of Goo – which is only $19.99 for eight games.  Own them now.