January 1, 2012
Download on Bandcamp
Preschtale might very well be the first ever chiptune music poem. Composed and produced by C-jeff (aka Dmitry Zhemkov), founder of the excellent chiptune label Ubiktune, the album is filled with creativity and inspiration. Despite limited by the (intentionally) low sound quality, it combines a wide variety of styles such as progressive rock, jazz, and classical into one masterful album that proves what the genre is really capable of. When put together, this chiptune album tells a musical story of a long journey of a travel through space. The overall experience is a 40 minute “sound novel” that succeeds in every possible way. Let’s look at this in detail.
Preschtale is divided into seven different parts, each one with their own distinct style that manages to flow together with all the other tracks. Part 1 is short, but C-jeff wastes no time in establishing the the central theme of the score. Showing completing technological mastery and profound musical sensitivity, C-jeff fully captures a dusky, bluesy feel for the track. Despite being rendered in 8-bit, the lead synth sounds incredibly expressive and has a sonorous quality. This brief track ends with the sound of a rocket taking off.
Part 2 is much more developed, providing a 10+ minute exploration of the sights and feelings of being space. It begins rather mysteriously, with the jazz influence prevalent in the introduction mixed in with some classical. After a buildup, 1:40 is when the piece shifts into full form with the style changing drastically (but somehow seamlessly) into progressive rock and eventually the sound of a live electric guitar emerges from the sea of synthpads. The track shifts throughout from conveying the sheer excitement of being in space, to sitting back to appreciate the boundless sights and eerie ambience. In perhaps the biggest highlights, Danimal Cannon’s improvises an extravagant guitar solo that could have come straight from Genesis, followed by an extended chiptune solo that somehow proves equally as heartfelt. At the eight minute mark, the sound becomes more dire; as if the ship has dangerously veered off-course, C-jeff fills the music with drastic discords and jagged drum work. The rock section is now clocked at full force, with jamming electric guitar riffs, thunderous drum work, and atmospheric keyboard work coming together to bring Part 2 to an ecstatic close. Despite being of generous length, the track never feels overly long or outstays its welcome. Its lush instrumentation and composition work well perfectly, and it’s no doubt one of C-jeff’s more ambitious works.
Part 3 is a great change of pace from the more intense, rock-based Part 2. Beginning with an ambient synth resonating at the lowest octaves, it slowly layers more forces into the mix. The slow jazz and overall mournful feeling reminds me of the traveler crash landing her ship on some desolate and barren planet. At around the halfway point, the track picks up pace and becomes more upbeat and melodic. The percussion comes in, providing excellent backing and the jamming synth returns at 4:15. The traveler seems more hopeful, vowing to escape from the planet at all costs. Of course, these are just interpretations of what the album is supposed to convey. Perhaps intentionally, C-jeff did not release full liner notes for the album. Instead, he provokes listeners to make their own journey by releasing just this single enigmatic verse:
I found my true north in the land of shining stars,
I’m moving on my way from morning Earth to evening Mars.
I’m rising through the silence of Mother Universe,
And faith in God that helps me keep my inner force.
Back to the music, Part 4 starts off by presenting a simple and beautiful melody on keyboards that brings a more serene quality to the album. However, things significantly shift at the 1:20 mark with influences from techno and industrial rock being introduces. The composition becomes strange and stagnant, likely reflecting upon the weird nature of the foreign planet. This section culminates in a series of improvisations that once again demonstrate the maturity of the musical production. At around four minutes, the rock portion becomes more prominent and continues on for about a minute. The slightly jazzy sounds of a recorded piano also help to ground the piece and restore that personal feeling. When we get to five minutes, a beautiful and slightly jazzy live piano melody (performed by C-jeff himself) joins in. The synth and rock later returns, both changing and working of each other until their section abruptly ends at the 8:10 mark. The music becomes more “cinematic” and with hints of ambient synth and a revival of the rock. The traveler rebuilds her ship, runs from the dangers behind him, and takes off into the vast cosmos. Distant piano can be heard as she leaves.
The brief Part 5 revisits the blues inspired melody that was introduced in Part 1. The difference here is that the music picks up pace and changes into a more hopeful feeling as the traveler continues his journey. After picking up pace, the piece slows down once again and fades out. The reprise of this main theme certainly restores some continuity into this ever-shifting journey and is quite an emotional highlight.
The last full-length track on the album, Part 6 features the album’s most climactic moments. It opens with static and there is quick buildup of the rock instruments. The rock is joined by 8-bit synth at the one minute mark, shifting the piece into a frenzy of fast tension and thrills. The synth and rock improvise amazing melodies for the bulk of the track, before being cut off at around 4:10. Ambient and low octave synth takes the reins here, eventually being joined by the rock, taking the track to its mysterious conclusion.
All journeys must end eventually, and Part 7 feels like it would work perfectly with the end credits of the story. In a bout of pure chiptune, C-jeff delivers a brief, but mature and inspired melodic piece that delivers the perfect finale.
This is one of the best chiptune albums I’ve ever listened to. There’s so much to like and praise in Preschtale that it’s almost difficult to explain why it’s so good. Whether you listen to it for the dream-like atmosphere/story, amazing composition, variety of musical styles, or simply to enjoy its chiptune pieces, Preschtale is a masterpiece. I enjoyed every minute of its 40 minute running time. Even people who don’t normally listen to chiptune music will no doubt find enjoyment with its album. C-jeff is a master of chiptune programming and composing and that clearly shows here. It’s no wonder why this album won a prize at the much-coveted Annual Game Music Awards. You can name-your-price on Bandcamp for an amazingly high-quality release. It gets my highest praise, and I encourage anyone who’s serious about video game music to check it out.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on March 25, 2014 by Oliver Jia. Last modified on March 25, 2014.