Category Archives: Music

Infinity Shred, Gnar Dream: Album Review

The general flavor of the chiptune scene is not one of innovative ideas. It’s a culture focused on what was and what could have been, a scene lost in the possibilities that never came to fruition. In many ways, even the most joyous tracks from the chiptune genre are still fraught with a certain melancholy, a hearkening to the days when games and life were simpler. It’s almost like watching a group of 40-something dads playing Def Leppard covers, trying desperately to capture the nostalgia that has all but withered away.

Infinity Shred doesn’t grasp for the-good-old-days, it reaches back in time and rips it into the future.

Formerly known as Starscream, the band gained mass notoriety with their appearance on MTV’s Skins. Using a much more listenable and and more organic feel than its genre counter parts Starscream was able to wiggle themselves into popular culture in a way most chiptunes artists may never reach. The chiptune scene is very much stuck with its demograph of nerd-based-nostalgia, whether that’s the fault of the scene or the artists is unclear. Damon Hardjiriwogo, half of the electronic duo, comments on this stigma.

“Chip music tends to be very insular with many artists too afraid to or not knowing how to branch out and get themselves booked on shows that aren’t purely chip music lineups. There are many deserving hardworking artists arising within this scene, but they deserve more than this little niche has to offer … because [Starscream] started in a high school music scene, we were playing with a bunch of local punk bands and rock bands who had nothing to do with chip music and had never really even heard of it. And um, then kind of worked our way into the chip scene.” source: Pop Matters

When thinking about the two scenes on a musical level, punk and chiptunes seem worlds apart. But culturally, they exist in the same vein. I don’t think I’ve ever met a punk that didn’t play video games growing up, or a video game nerd that doesn’t own at least one Misfits album. The two cultures come from the same wont of frustration with popular culture and feeling like an outcast. And it would make sense that these would flow together beautifully.

The punk influence can be heavily seen in Starscreams re-branding into Infinity Shred. The new sound can be compared to such projects as Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor with an ever uplifting tone and constant build-up.

Soundscapes and spaceships

In Gnar Dream, Infinity Shred creates a parallel universe with its rising soundscapes and ethereal melodies. It doesn’t grasp nostalgia, it creates a new future and lets you live in it for the duration of its five songs. Never once, even during the songs which run upwards of eight minutes does this album let you go. It constantly and creatively builds towards newer and grander heights.

I find that, thematically, Gnar Dream wavers between a dingy house-show basement and floating through the universe on a crystal palace almost seamlessly and creates such a wonderful atmosphere. The entire five song saga feels more like a journey than an album, songs don’t ever feel disjointed or singular, every one is a different world of its own, but you stay on the same ship.

The divergence from standard DMG sounds is also prevelant, and while purists of the genre may abhor it, I believe it’s a welcome advancement. Lead lines are more flowing and less, well “chipp-y” which adds a much less frantic tone than a lot of other chip tune tracks.

A slow approach to infinity

In their slow approach to their songs they give a lot of room for new elements to enter and dissipate. Each song plays like a good level in an arcade shooter.  You never fight the same enemy to often, or see the same assets over and over, but the theme of the game is persistent and always prevalent, but always innovating on its standard formula.

This is especially true in the albums longest track “Hologram”. The reason we hear so many 3-minute pop-songs isn’t that we just can’t pay attention, it’s because 3-minutes is just enough time to use and reuse all of your assets before they get boring and dull, without needing to come up with new and interesting ideas. “Hologram” constantly brings new ideas to the forefront and brings back old ones for the listener to feel attached to the journeys progression. “See how far we’ve come” the song says as it brings in a familiar arpeggio.

As the album reaches its apex in “Wayfinder” a more concise formula is implemented, but is still inventive. The song builds, drops, and kicks in the leads with full force. “Wayfinder” is a build-up to hyper speed and a cruise through the nebula. The lead never feels stale and is always welcome in the mix. An ever pushing drum beat eggs the song forwards and pushes it through galaxies and bounces off of quasars.

As the album descends the listener feels a sense of wonderment, like a journey has been completed and now you’re on your way home.   Very few albums have painted such vivid imagery in my mind as this one. I find myself unable to listen to any of the tracks on there own, and while they stand alone just fine, I find it does them a disservice to not hear them in the full experience of this album.

Infinifty Shred may be a culprit of simply pulling the nostalgia card, but I don’t see that as an inherently bad thing. Maybe those memories are meant to be cherished and framed and glorified. Why not hearken to the days when a skateboard was a space ship, or a commodore 64 was a portal to another world. But Infinity Shred doesn’t dwell on those memories, they use them to paint an idea of a brilliant new future.

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Track Review: Polish Girl, Neon Indian

Something that I’ve always thought was great about Neon Indian is their innocence and vulnerability in their music. There’s a certain purity in it that is so often lost in electronic music, a feeling of love that is thrown out in exchange for a sexy attitude or for some harder hitting beats. Neon Indian seems to abhor the idea of making “dance music” and instead writes a love ballad to their synthesizer in Polish Girl.

The track starts with the 6 note arpeggio as the lead and a warped bass line that has become one of Neon Indians signature. The lead feels like eating a piece of candy you used to eat all the time as a kid and have all but forgotten the flavor and memories attached to it, as soon as you pop it in your mouth all of your senses are flooded with summer evenings, green grass and the cool relief of night coming as the energy floods the streets. It flows through the song like an elusive smell and when you catch a sent you take it in greedily for fear it might dissipate like an unexplainable profoundly warming dream.

The lead and bass are soon joined by the sounds of electronic creatures, crickets, frogs, birds, all in a chorus of some scene on a bio-luminescent robotic lake. Seconds after the scene is set, fireworks are set off over the lake as the second lead kicks in like a dozen-dozen pre-historic tropical birds being released all at once. The spectacle continues for a while until the vocals start. The whispery style vocals of Neon Indian is a pervasive theme in a lot of electronic and indie music, often criticized, but it does have its place and serves a purpose to not burden the music with lyrics that might otherwise take away from the experience.

The song continues in a relatively predictable fashion, having set up such a wonderful framework it simply follows a standard route of Intro/ Verse/ Chorus/ Verse/ Chorus/ Bridge/ Chorus with a little synth freak-out after the first chorus being the high point of the song for me and the bridge being the lowest.

While the video for this song has a nice aesthetic, the hyper-future dark sci-fi feel just doesn’t seem to fit the song. I find it frustrating that just because something is electronic it seems to automatically mean that it is inorganic (in literal terms I guess that’s true). This song is a ride through an enchanted forest at twilight, not a dystopian cyborg future. I would love to see a switch from the standard “sound of the future” view of electronic music to a recognition of the inherent mysticism of (literally) creating sound out of thin air.

All in all, great track.

9.2