April 18, 2013
Download at Bandcamp
The indie game music genre has seen a wide variety of styles throughout the years, and is quickly building up steam. Among those various styles is the chiptune, a throwback to old limited retro synths of years past. Many of these building artists have made successful musical careers out of this style, from C-jeff’s Preschtale to Anamanaguchi Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack. Here we have the first original album of artist Monomer (aka Gavin Allen), known for his soundtrack for Ranger Wars and various remixes. Entitled Quite Operational, it is meant to be a tribute to classic 80s electronic soundtracks and science fiction scores such as Blade Runner. Does newbie Monomer bring another hit to the growing ecosystem of chiptune soundtracks? Let’s find out.
Monomer stated in the liners that the album “is the result of a fascination with the sound and aesthetic of 80s electronic music and science fiction, combined with a healthy love of chipmusic and old video game sounds. ” These influences are immediately clear from the eponymously titled main theme, which opens with some atmospheric spacey sounds before introducing pulsating techno beats and the catchy 8-bit melody. The soundscaping is incredible here, combining that elating electro sound of Turrican or Perfect Dark with NES synth. Soon, each section fades away one layer at a time before fading out.
Continuing the journey, “Temple” also sounds like it belongs in some old-school sci-fi adventure. Taking on a more ambient approach with heavy industrial percussion and mysterious chiptune synths, it nevertheless carries plenty of melodic weight too; I particularly love how Monomer gives a cool jazzy, improvisatory feel to the melodic phrases at the 1:07 mark. “Better Living Through Dysgenics” is much more faster in tempo, and is primarily a jamming techno riff with dire chiptune melodies. While it could have been a jarring wall-of-sound, Monomer keeps the mix well-balanced while gripping listeners with bold chord progressions. The middle portion becomes more subdued and airy, but soon shifts back into chiptune until the end. “The Glow And The Gleam” comes off as more experimental. It really doesn’t go anywhere in favour of a much more ambient and subdued style. The track’s interesting flow and soundscaping still make it a worthwhile listen.
“Night Drive” constantly shifts from ambience to melody; and the transition is mostly flawless. The overall listening experience is surprisingly serene and tranquil. Available for free on Bandcamp, this track is a good tester as to whether you will enjoy the album. “Deletion” sounds like something one would hear from Vangelis’ classic Blade Runner score, particularly the iconic “End Titles”, if it were watered down into a more chiptune-like score and given slightly more melodic substance. Whether or not this was actually intended is hard to say; though seeing as how this album is inspired by old science fiction, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I liked the ambient atmosphere, and the piece is constantly changing things to sound interesting. “On the Brink” is an odd combination of distant sirens, ambient tones, dancing techno, and of course: chiptune. The final track, “Discontinue” sounds even more like Vangelis, with it being more or less completely ambient. Serving more for a moment of reflection than a climax to the album, the piece doesn’t seem to go anywhere and is more atmospheric than anything. If “On the Brink” was put last on the album and “Discontinue” before it, I think that it would have been a much more effective closing.
With Quite Operational, Monomer proven that he definitely has what it takes to be in the indie chiptune business. While the album is a little hit-and-miss and short, this is easily forgiven as it is the first he has ever done. With me being a big fan of retro game music and sci-fi, this album was a real treat for me. For the most part, the composition is good and I think that he could easily make a full-on album in the spirit of something like Blade Runner with something in similar vein to the ambient tracks. It’s worth sampling on Bandcamp and, if you like it, 5 USD is a reasonable price for the half hour of material. I very much look forward to hearing whatever else Monomer comes up with in the future.
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Posted on April 28, 2014 by Oliver Jia. Last modified on April 28, 2014.