Archive for October, 2009

She – “Orion” – New Album Review

It’s been a few weeks since the release of the latest album from she.  You’ll have to excuse me for taking so long over it, but there’s been a lot of thought, deliberation and re-listens gone into it.

As you may have read on my artist review of Lain Trzaska, the music of she is often more than meats the eye, or rather the ear.  There is an ongoing story told through the medium of music which links several songs, EPs and albums together. Notably Days, Coloris and now Orion.   This makes a review quite a tricky task as I think it’s only fair to review the technical and musical aspects as well as the underlying story (as I see it).

she-orion-coverMany of she’s albums have dramatic introduction tracks and this is no exception. The album opens with the escape of our heroine Sarah from her research lab prison, sirens blare as we hear her gasp to catch her breath as she escapes from the security drones.  The opening synth line let’s us know we are listening to a she album, the guitar-like screech and echoing piano are unmistakable she trademarks.

Onto the opening track Atomic. This is a banging track with a great melody, but I felt instantly let down when first listening. Lain has used the sidechain compression effect to emphasize the thumping kick drum.  I’ve never been a fan of this effect and most people got bored of it a year or two ago and it’s thankfully died away, yet Lain has chosen to use it here.  What is worse, the compression has been set far, far to harsh meaning that you can’t even hear the underlying music most of the time.  It’s a real shame as this would have been the best track on the album if the effects hadn’t been so badly done. I’d love to hear this track without the rediculous compression.

coloris-dancing-girlRant over, it’s on to Moonlight. This is a great downtempo house track and you really feel like you’re in a european nightclub, some nicely filtered piano and strings give a bright edge to the music. There’s more sidechain (or a limiter) here, but it’s been done properly and doesn’t assault my already offended ears. I’m beginning to forgive Lain and get back into the feel of this album. In this track we are reintroduced to the “Dancing Girl” from Coloris.

Computer Music is loaded with 8-bit pulsewave synthlines and sampled guitars, a cracking track which reveals she’s chiptune roots.  However, more sidechain compression…*sigh*.   Our two heroines meet and escape together.

The two take a Ride together.  You get a real feeling of movement and even catch the occasional bit of futuristic traffic whizzing by.  The 303 lead line is really catchy and again reveals Lain’s heritage and wide range of musical skills.

Their journey leads them Home and onto a more relaxed vibe.  Pianos, drifting pads and tinkling lead on to an instrumental guitar piece.  I still can’t decide if this is sampled and sequenced, or played live and multitracked, or a mixture of both. But it doesn’t matter, this is a nice relaxing instrumental.  The keychange and chord sequence in the middle bring out a dark edge, but we’re back into a lighter note before then end of the song.  A clever piece of work.

The next track is a real confusion, it’s a remix of the introduction to the Chiptek album so I’m not sure why it’s here.  The compression is once again set ridiculously high, but compression speed has been set incorrectly so that the percussion and drums loose all their punch. It’s a very flat sound.  I’m sorry for getting so technical, but I’m despairing with the overproduction.

she-cityBack on track again with See You Again. Clearly this is the point in our story where the girls part ways and go on their separate journeys. No doubt the Dancing Girl is off to a new and exciting club and Sarah continues her evasion of the forces who would have her re-incarcerated. It’s a very jolly track with very cute sounding Japanese vocal.  I’m still waiting for a translation of the lyrics and will be sure to post them up as soon as I have them. Let’s hope it’s some clues and insights into the ongoing she storyline!  The final half of this track is a powerful and driving rhythm which really uplifts you, this is what I love about Lain’s music.

As I see the next song title appear, I’m once again confused and slightly disappointed.  Generic Eric is a track released some time ago as an April Fool surrounding the non-release of the upcoming Nights album.  Lain himself declared this is a song he quickly knocked up in 3 hours for a radio show. It plays no part in the storyline.  That said, if you didn’t know that, the song fits in well and you’d probably be wondering who Eric is and how does he help Sarah?

Elemental Nights is another chilled out number which leads us on to the end of the album, the title track : Orion.

She - Orion

Again, this track has Lain’s trademarks all over.  It has the real feel of the end of a Hollywood blockbuster. Some snippets of Japanese speech again tease the listener…what’s being said?   Is it part of the story? A final clue as to Sarah’s fate?  Did she get away or meet a sticky end?  I could listen to this song over and over (in fact, I hit rewind a few times).  Some lovely 8 bit sounds and a glistening bright and emotional edge to this closing track.

This may have been a harsh review, but it’s only because I’m such a fan of Lain and know all of his work well. Before I listened to Orion, I familiarised myself with the previous album release Coloris.  A review of Coloris will follow, but to be brief, it’s a album which has more instant appeal and on the face of it is a superior album to Orion.

So, Orion is a flop then?  NO, not at all.  I’ve re-listened to Orion more times than I can count and once you get past the glaring production and mastering errors (did I forget to mention the annoying -2 second gap between each CD track?) and the use of some filler tracks, this is a great, great album in it’s own right.  Although there’s not the instant appeal of Coloris, Orion has perhaps more of a lasting appeal and is a great showcase of Lain’s work.

If you’re into Bitpop, Chiptune or just a fan of electronica, this is essential listening.  Coloris sold out very quickly, so be sure to get over to YesAsia and order your copy now!  (or download from iTunes or Amazon if that’s your bag).

The next release from she will be the long anticipated Nights album. The name suggests a further continuation of the ongoing storyline which started with Days.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do to pass the time….oh, what the hell, I’ll put Orion on again!

Boy Meets Computer – New EP – “Late Night”

bmc-Dan-TalA new Bitpop band have entered the fold, going by the name of “Boy Meets Computer“, they combine classic beeps and bloops with male and female vocal duets to great effect. Vocals are provided by Dan Mehlhose and Tal Wilner. Both are clasically trained pianists with Dan providing the instrumental performance, mixing and mastering on the EP. They hail from Detroit, so what’s the new Motown sound? Let’s find out!

The new EP “Late Night” is a three track introduction to the bands sound. Opening with the “Underage Drinking Song”, we are treated to some opening squidgy synths before the band’s trademark vocal exchanges and harmonies which have me thinking of the B-52s, The Vaselines and maybe even a bit of early REM.

bmc-frontNext on into SALTTS or judging by the lyrics, Sing Along To This Song. A dictatory journey into synth music production which is just so annoyingly catchy. The out of tune synth solo harkens back to a Cobain solo (and I don’t think I can pay a bigger compliment than that!) giving me a feeling of just what post-grunge means (or should have been). Again at the final chorus I find myself thinking of the Vaselines.

Finally onto the little gem of the EP. “My Best Friend (is dead)”. More of the same beeps, bloops with some simply devine harmonies which have you rewinding back for a second listen.  I was that taken in by the arrangement and organic production that I barely noticed the lyrical content, but maybe we can assume that someone died…and they were perhaps someone’s friend?  My only possible criticism of the EP is that

  1. I’m not sure they’re acutally using any genuine 8-bit kit and are perhaps mimicing the sound using vintage synths
  2. This last song is far too jolly for the subject matter

But I don’t care, I’m already hitting rewind and synching the MP3s to my generic portable media player.

An accomplished first EP from this bitpop Detroit band which you can download from their website : www.boymeetscomputer.com

Bit Shifter performs on The Engadget Show

Thanks to Bakey for the heads up (where’s my She review?)

Enjoy some bouncy happy chiptune vibes from Bit Shifter care of The Engadget Show

8bit visuals provided by Paris & outpt

Gameboy to MIDI converter – LSDJMC^2 from Low-Gain Audio

LSDJMC^2 - Gameboy To MIDI syncThe LSDJMC^2 finally arrived from Low-Gain Audio.  This little box of tricks allows you to sync your Gameboy (Classic DMG, Lite or Color) to your MIDI rig to expand your chipmusic horizon.  It has MIDI In, Out and a Thru.   It follows the FirestARTer protocols as used in Littlesound DJ, so this means you can do MIDI Sync, or simply use the Gameboy as a MIDI sound module.  SWEET!

I’ve not had chance to play with this one yet, but here’s a sexy pic of it among it’s siblings.    I will be testing the unit with MIDI sync from Cubase SX and VST5/32, as well as sound module mode.   I also plan to test it in a live rig using the Yamaha RM1X as a MIDI sync source, then passing through to the Access Virus Classic for timecode sync for arpeggiators, synced effects etc.  This should prove to be a formidable live rig for chiptune.    Stay tuned for updates and video clips of the LSDJMC^2 in action.

she (Lain Trzaska)

She aka Lain Trzaska

Lain Trzaska - she

she is the project of Lain Trzaska. She…he, presents a fusion of many styles, electronica, house, ambient and industrial, all with a chiptune edge. she is the perfect example of Bitpop : using 8-bit retro gear to produce new music.

she is deliberately spelled with a lower case s.

Lain lives in Sweden but was born in Poland where he learned from an early age to play the piano. He started to turn his skills to electronic music, like many musicians (myself included) he used “trackers” like FastTracker, producing Nine Inch Nails covers as well as original works. Lain’s early work includes some pure chiptune music, as well more modern bitpop fusions with an ambient, dance or industrial edge.  Lain still uses tracking software to this day, his latest album Orion was produced using Renoise Tracker.

It’s a common misconception that Lain is Japanese, an assumption many make from the Japanese dialogue in his music and anime characters in his artwork. He is now also signed to Japanese label PonyCanyon and distributes through HMV Japan and YesAsia. No wonder everyone is so confused!  Also, the she character is always illustrated as an anime character, or Japanese girl.

She - Orion

Orion

Many of she’s EPs and albums are based around a story background, illustrated by the music.  It’s a bit like Jeff Wayne’s War Of the Worlds, but without the narrator.  Occasionally “clues” are to be found on the Shemusic.org site, or via Lain’s Twitter feed which give some insight into the story.   Three of the albums are clearly linked : Days, Coloris and Orion are all based in the same “universe” linked via their characters and back story.  Have a dig through the site, you’ll see what I mean. Hint : there is a old/hidden Days site and a Orion site.  Sadly, I’ve not found much on Coloris, but there is a mention of the “dancing girl” on the Orion minisite.

Clearly, this talented musician, composer and producer (and story teller!) is a popular choice in Japan and has a growing fanbase in the west.

If you’re already into electronic music, she is a good way to get into chipmusic. Just find the genre you’re into, download one of his free EPs, and get listening.

Recommended Listening

Mainstream release via Ponycanyon

  • Orion – Dance/House/Electronica
  • Coloris – Dance/House/Electronica
she - Digital Ambient Designs

Digital Ambient Designs

Free release via Creative Commons

  • DaysAmbient
  • PioneerDance/House
  • Chiptek Chiptune/Elecro
  • Digital Ambient DesignsAmbient/Glitch
  • Emit and ExudeElectro/Industrial

All can be downloaded for FREE from the Shemusic MP3 page

    Other URLs

http://www.shemusic.org – Official Website
http://myspace.com/sheofficial – Myspace
http://last.fm/music/she – Last.fm
http://twitter.com/shemusic – Twitter
http://ilike.com/artist/she – iLike