Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Frozen Synapse Edition

frozensynapse2Indie game developers love to show other indie game developers love. The community thrives because of its collective will and desire to get good games into the hands of people who want to play them. So I’m excited this week that an indie game I play a lot of is pimping a game I’ve heard of more than once.

Frozen Synapse is a game worth looking into. It also is going into its preorder beta period (a stage that’s all the rage in the indie world these days). To celebrate, this week’s tracks are all from _ensnare_, the musical side project of one of Frozen Synapse’s creators.

Oh, and did I mention it was all chiptune?

The Songs

audiosurf singles and doubles“Singles and Doubles” kicks off this week with a bang. It takes but a second to send you slaloming downhill, matching three to a jaunty chiptune beat. A spritely melody is kept aloft by a syncopated bass rhythm that only changes pitch once every few measures – that is, until the chorus. I can’t get enough of it. There’s an outside (far, far, like extra-universal outside) chance I could get tired of this song’s chorus. The world might end before I get sick of its poppy melody and rollicking bass line. Perhaps I wouldn’t love it so much were it not juxtaposed to the stately one-noted bass of the verses, but for the time being I’m just going to focus on how much I love it. What I like about chiptune music is how – despite being electronically manufactured – it still retains a sense of the analog, of actual performance. I can almost picture a guy rocking out as he plays this stuff. Play this song if only for its kickass chorus.

audiosurf 7 cyclesIn the Comments section for “7 Cycles,” user hpLEMON said, “Sounds rather upbeat compared to the others.” I disagree. There’s something surprisingly mournful about it, or if not mournful than at least pensive. Sure, the chorus is uptempo, but I hear it as a rally more than a celebration. Were it a movie score, it would match the story beat where our hero, having defeated his enemy’s minions, realizes he’s still not strong enough to defeat his foe. It’s the hero’s moment of resolve. He plants a flag in his destiny. I will soldier on. It’s Luke leaving his second trip to Dagobah – minus all of the “You have a sister” stuff. How does _ensnare_ do it? With a warm melody tone and a driving beat. The athletic bass of “Singles and Doubles” has been traded in for a more traditional, floor-rumbling oom-pah. Damn, this song makes me want to go out and accomplish something I know will be difficult.

audiosurf gold expansion“Gold Expansion” is no slouch. It’s aggressive, moody, and a bit schizophrenic. The lurching middle section approximates some sort of electronic failure, dust on the cartridge or the like. Once the beat slides in under it, the record-skipping effect becomes jarring syncopation. Depending on how you treat the song’s frantic drum work, the beat can be felt in a fast four or a bizarre loping two. I prefer the latter. Keep an eye out for the bounding hills near the end of the track. They’re timed in two. There’s room to roll around between the pulses of the bass. Take it at the fast four and you’ll wear yourself out. It feels almost too aggressive. Mindlessly so. Bobbing to every other beat feels more menacing, more deliberate. When was the last time a chiptune felt ‘menacing’?

audiosurf sensibleMore so than any of this week’s other offerings, “Sensible” sounds like a chiptune version of a non-chiptune song. I noticed it as the main verse kicked in. The interplay between the melody and the backing “instruments” is so specifically poppy it’s hard not to start humming along as if you knew the lyrics. The dance beat briefly summoned Lady Gaga to my mind’s eye. Also unlike the rest of this week’s songs, I could stand to lose a sliver of this one: the bridge. It feels too much like a soundboard for me. Absent from it was the witty arranging of noise to create music out of electronic signals. Taken on its own, “Sensible” is a fine song with a cool ride. Taken as part of this week’s stellar set, it’s merely sensible.

Author’s Note

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

I already alluded to the Comments section in my discussion of “7 Cycles,” but I wanted to point out just one more. Astiahl said of the Frozen Synapse folks, “I’m sure if they released this game’s soundtrack they could retire comfortably.” If it were all this good, I would wholeheartedly agree.