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Miscellaneous

The Music of The FitnessGram Pacer Test

In 2011, the Cooper Institute dropped an eight track instrumental mixtape of back to back bangers. However, after seeing that the market for instrumental mixtapes was oversaturated, they overlaid a recording of a tired sounding man counting from 1 to 247. They then marketed their mixtape as an “exercise program” and it was distributed to elementary, middle, and high schools all over the United States.

This was the birth of the FitnessGram Pacer Test as we know it today. The test is simple. Run the length of 20 meters in less time than it takes for a chime to ring out. After your second time of coming shy of the 20 meter mark, you’ve finished the test, and you can go sit on the bleachers.

When most people think back on the FitnessGram Pacer Test, it draws to mind memories of pain, sorrow, and harsh blows to self-esteem. For some, the standout memory of the test is the spiel of instructions at the beginning. But why do people forget the most important aspect of this sweaty school gym gauntlet? Why do people always forget about the music? Let’s go through each and every song in the FitnessGram Pacer Test and look at the best, the worst, and those that shouldn’t exist.

Song 1: Level 1-2

The nice relaxed groove that everybody knows. The electric wah-d out guitar funkily shreds up the track. It also throws in a sound byte of a person coolly saying “feel it” on occasion. It’s laid back, and encourages listeners to pace themselves. This track sounds like it could be a water level in Mick And Mack Global Gladiators for the Sega Genesis.

Man with a beard, glasses, and hat holds up a copy of Mick and Mack Global Gladiators for the Sega Genesis. On the cover, there is a cartoon of a big green goop monster in the background with two adolescents standing in front of it. The title of the game is in big letters at the top of the box.
Average Mick & Mack Global Gladiators connoisseur. Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart, under Creative Commons.

Song 2: Level 3-4

The instrumentation, the beat, the everything. The drums are so crisp. It’s all so groovy. The flow matches beautifully with the pace of the test. This is also where the challenge starts to pick up. If you’re scouring for a runners high, this is where it’ll be found. There’s a great sense of depth to the track. It retains the cool-ness of the first track and expands on it. It’s hard to hear over the deafening squeak of sneakers against the gymnasium floor, but there’s a lot of detail going into this song. This is without a doubt the best track you will hear in the FitnessGram Pacer Test. 

Song 3: Level 5-7

Very synth oriented, but the brass isn’t to be counted out. There’s subtle arpeggiation in the “chorus” of the track, when mixed with the high up string really pushes you forward. The keyboard solo around lap 54 is also a neat highlight. Unfortunately, much of this track feels flat, especially when compared to the last track. The drums are weak, and the whole mix feels cheap. It’s still a mildly catchy melody though. Certainly not the worst track.

Song 4: Level 8-9

Bringing back the funk in a big way. Huge emphasis on the slap bass, with guitar highlights and a lead coming from the horns. Total fanfare for the tuckered out prepubescent soldiers still trooping through the middle school gymnasium. There’s also a nice sax solo tucked away in the song that deserves a shoutout. Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 (2007) would dance to this.

Song 5: Level 10-14

Intimidating and minimalist. This is some Terminator music. If you are still in the running at this point, your gym teacher is going to turn into the Terminator and you will have to fight them to the death. It sounds like if Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack for Donkey Kong Country. It does a weird little switch up and turns into a total rip off of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Even the music sounds bored at this point. It’s no longer trying to push anyone forward. It’s now speaking to the classmates of the one person still left going. “Look at this guy go,” it says, “you’re just going to have to wait this one out.” 

Song 6: Level 15-16

I guarantee you’ve never heard this song before, because this song is the start of part 2 of the FitnessGram Pacer Test, which no gym teacher has ever felt the need to put on. Regardless, it exists. The highlight here is this bizarrely stilted saxophone which winds up sounding like a quartet of clowns honking their noses. Aside from that, this track is pretty forgettable. No components of this track make an effort to stand out. I’d say it’s towards the bottom of the tracks in the FitnessGram Pacer Test.

Song 7: Level 17-19

This music should not exist. It is too upbeat. Between the fast paced organ and the midi piano, it’s just too much. Other elements come into the song to round it out a little better, but it’s not enough to save it. It’s cheap, awkward, and doesn’t properly hype up whatever superhuman This is the worst song in the whole thing.

Song 8: Level 20-21

This music should really not exist, but I’m sure glad it does. It’s a four-on-the-floor banger with nice chimes ringing out in the background. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the music we’ve gotten before. The beat is simple, but the sheen on the production is more than welcome after the rough quality of the last track. The synths fade out nicely as the final lap is called, and the test ends.

Conclusion

The pace at which you’re running by the time you’ve gotten to the final 247th lap of the FitnessGram Pacer Test is roughly 6 meters per second. This is about three times faster than the pace from the first lap. After running just over three miles at an average pace of 7 minutes and 26 seconds per mile, this is an astonishing feat.

I could only find evidence of one person completing the FitnessGram Pacer Test. I have to wonder if they even acknowledged the music as they were chugging along. Did they bob up and down to the beat? Did they match their strides with the notes? Or did the music remain banished to the background, with not so much as a thought passing through the champion’s mind?

Whatever the case, I’ll always be thankful for the musical highs and lows of the FitnessGram Pacer Test. While the tracks were oftentimes cheesy and antiquated, they kept me company. It made the whole ordeal bearable. Thanks Cooper Institute.

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Blog

“αριθμός τέσσερα” by Culprate – Album Review

“αριθμός τέσσερα” means “Number Four” in Greek to signify Culprate’s 4th album release. It also means I must give this album ★★★★☆

This album has a ton of variety despite only being seven tracks long. Throughout the entire album, natural instrumentation blends with electronic sound to create a wide variety of musical landscapes. Much of the sound mixes western music ideas with non-western music, making for something unique.

“Koloni (MaiTai)” offers a more traditional drum and bass sound that’s easier to categorize, but still sounds incredibly strange. The first half of the track has super heavy percussion. It feels very cold, like being swept through a rushing river under a solid sheet of ice. There are synthetic electronics working alongside live recorded sounds, but what makes this section interesting is how the recorded sounds are even more alien than the electronic sounds.

The second half of the track morphs into something warmer and more soulful with a kalimba taking center stage. The melody it plays and the strings fading in and out of the mix feel bittersweet. For decades, electronic music has grappled with the contrast between the foreign and the concrete. Here, it is executed masterfully.

The next track, “Fly,” takes a completely different turn. This track is why I’m hesitant to call “αριθμός τέσσερα” an electronic music album. “Fly” begins with several layers of beautiful acoustic guitar. It’s a complex and fantastical composition. Piano and strings enter, turning up the grandiosity before approaching a musical edge, staring out into the abyss, and doing the only thing that should be done: a stunning guitar solo. After hearing two drum and bass songs, the last thing I expected was a (mostly) acoustic instrumental movement. Even more unexpected, is just how good it was.

“The Psychology of James Berland” is a fine piece of fusion sandwiched between more DnB. There are great instrumental sections from slap bass, electric piano, guitar, which move from different flavors of jazz while relentlessly hurrying forward.

“जलाना (Jalaana),” meaning “to burn” in Hindi, is an incredibly interesting track. Immediately, the Indian musical influences are apparent. The sitar and powerful vocal chants waste no time in evoking a huge landscape. In the background, electronic sound lurks, but they never show their full form until the full drop into bass. The vocals are chopped, and the Indian folk drums are incorporated into complex, stuttering rhythmic patterns that change pulse at a whim.

After hearing this track, the accomplishment of this album became clear to me: a multitude of mashed up musical styles and flavors baked into something totally new.

“Muerte De La Dama” is a classical guitar piece with a woodwind finish, and “Nammu” is a drum and bass track with a saxophone solo. By the end of the album the surprises keep on coming. It never stays in one place, and always has a fresh new idea around the corner.

“αριθμός τέσσερα” is the most delicious musical buffet I’ve been to in a while. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year. I recommend it to any adventurous music listener looking for something new. Strong ★★★★☆ – Great Album.

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Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “Geogaddi” by Boards of Canada (But Backwards)

In 2002, Boards of Canada became a part of the G.O.A.T conversation for electronic artists. Their work in the tail-end of the 90’s left them with loads of widespread critical acclaim. They already made one of the greatest electronic music albums there is. They didn’t have to do it again, but they chose to anyways.

You can read a hundred reviews for “Geogaddi”, but this is a track by track review for the entire album in reverse. The reversed instrumentation, as well as the numerous hidden messages littered throughout the album suggest that the album was meant to be heard in reverse, so I intend to hear it this way.

THE END

The thick waves on “Corsair” start the album by grazing the coastline of your mind, inviting you to wade into the foamy folds of dark nostalgia presented on this album. It’s an incredible opening track, walling you off from the outside world, leaving nothing but you and whatever you used to be.

What’s incredible is that the tracks on here unfold in similar ways to their straightforward counterparts. Throughout each song, sounds are added in a symmetrical pyramid rather than a slope. Many songs contain unique portions at the beginning and end with a common element connecting them, making them cohesive even when reversed.

The transition from “You Could Feel The Sky” to “Diving Station” is almost seamless, as the sudden sound of the rubber band stretching leaves behind faint industrial oscillations. A feeling of being stuck takes over, suppressed by forces mechanical or otherwise. There is a light somewhere up there, but you know you’ll never be able to reach it.

The serine bells on “Over The Horizon Radar” are another excellent highlight. It sounds exactly like closing your eyes in a garden, feeling the wind pass over your skin, and letting the last of the days sunlight touch you as the sun lowers behind the trees.

This track fades into a repeated message: “We love you all,” a message made unsettling by television static and vocal distortion before being followed up with a far more uncanny message: “If you go down in the woods today, you’d better not go alone.”

Danger looms over this album. Everyone has felt scared before, and Boards of Canada knows this.

“Alpha and Omega” opens with an incredible synth and static combination, slowly introducing flute patterns, while a bubbly beat rages on in the foreground. The static subsides, and is replaced by a sea of of synth harmonies.

The wind, flutes, and whispers of “Opening The Mouth,” suggest the presence of something otherworldly- something that wants you to know it’s watching, but means no harm. Maybe its just your imagination.

Each “mini” track woven into Geogaddi is a microcosm for the overall feeling that the album explores. Each one a new angle examining the intersection of innocence and evil, of curiosity and regret, of youth and what it leaves behind. Everything you need to know about Geogaddi is right there on the cover: the pure happiness of a child becoming kaleidoscopically refracted and tinged until it’s something cold, sterile, and geometric.

“In The Annex” is a good example of this. It doesn’t need to be played forward for this to be conveyed either. It’s all in the music. It’s terrifying.

The main weakness of “Geogaddi” as a reversed album is the percussive elements. Every drum melts into a squashy squibble, losing entrancement along the way. The drums should be grimy and grainy. This is noticeable on tracks like “Dawn Chorus”, “Alpha And Omega,” and especially “Julie And Candy,” which has one of the strongest openings of any reversed track until the drums enter the mix.

There are also vocal sections that don’t work well backwards, like the “Energy Warning” segment that becomes unintelligible garble. It doesn’t help that it’s followed up by the most vocal intensive track on the album, “1969.”

In one case though, the backwards drums and vocals did make for an interesting addition. The track “Sunshine Recorder” has a slightly off-kilter rhythm when played forward, but backwards it’s even more bizarre. When this comes together with “ecalp lufituaeb A,” you can stand on the sky and watch the cars pass by on the road above you. Walking along the clouds brings you to “Dandelion,” a beautiful piece on the synth.

You were meant to hear “Dandelion” backwards.

The penultimate track “Music Is Math” slowly unfurls and furls its bright electric coat before concluding with “Ready Let’s Go,” a track that functions far better as a starting track than an ending track. We’re left with a single snuffed out buzz.

THE BEGINNING

Is it as good as “Geogaddi” forwards? No. There’s a reason they didn’t release it this way. Does it still convey the same abstract feelings as “Geogaddi” forwards? Absolutely, and how many albums can claim the same?

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New Album Review

“White Tiger” by 2hollis – Album Review

2hollis is making a name for himself in the zone between cloud rap and hyperpop. Autotune and floaty flowy vocals on his earlier albums “THE JARL” and “FINALLY LOST” call to mind the same aesthetics as artists operating in the same space as Drain Gang.

The production on these projects is just varied enough to set it apart from the rest of the pack, with some witch house influences surfacing from time to time. On 2hollis’ newest album, he leans further into this noisy witch house sound, delivering something truly unique.

Right out of the gate, the track “gate” opens with heavy oscillating noise juxtaposed with high vocals. This sets the tone for the type of production littering this album.

The electronic backings swell and clip, flooding into the distorted vocals. A healthy dose of reverb gives most of the tracks an organic feeling of space. The result is a sound that feedbacks and folds back onto itself.

Over the past decade or so, several hip hop artists have used vocals primarily as a way of adding to the texture of the music rather than as a means of communicating information. There are several spots on “White Tiger” where this is the case. In the track “raise,” the vocals are completely buried under a pile of reverb, and yet, they still add to the track.

The production is absolutely the highlight of this album- a blend of trap, witch house, industrial, and hyperpop. At times this sounds ethereal, like on the wordy track “the light upon the surface that beckoned deep into the moment and the tiger stepped forth”, and at other times it sounds dark and looming like on “actor.” However, this album operates best when it achieves both, like on “king of the darkness.”

“White Tiger” can feel a bit repetitive at times, and if you’re looking for something really substantive, you might want to look elsewhere. Some lyrics drift into cliché, and when mixed with a thick coat of autotune, it sometimes results in discomfort.

Overall though, if you’re looking for something bigger and more grand than your average cloud rap offerings, or something several shades darker than your average hyperpop album, this is definitely something worth checking out. It’s a standout album in the field.

I give 2hollis’ “White Tiger” a strong ★★★☆☆. Good Album.

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Miscellaneous

Every ULTRAKILL Level Ranked By Music

The ULTRAKILL soundtrack by Heaven Pierce Her is awesome. It’s fast, it’s hard, and it pushes you to go absolutely nuts with the game. Here is my ranking of every level based on their music. I will not be covering any secret levels or Prime Sanctums, but all other levels are here. Also, if you haven’t played ULTRAKILL yet, there will be minor spoilers in this blog.

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25. Court of The Corpse King

Title image for the Court of the Corpse King. Features the giant boss, King Minos, peering down at you.

The only real music in this level is the ambience leading up to the boss fight, which sets the tone well, but once the boss fight starts, there is only more ambient noise. Maybe if there was some more substance, I would rank it higher, but there isn’t enough music in this music.

24. Cerberus

Cover image for the level: Cerberus. Features a hallway with a pool of lava.

The first major boss fight of the game has a disappointing score. There is a nice rumbling ambient buildup leading up to it, but the music during the fight itself is a bombastic intro set on a roughly 30 second loop. It sounds cool the first time, but it gets old very fast.

23. Waves of The Starless Sea

Cover image for the level: Waves of the Starless Sea. Features a boardwalk with a storming sea around it.

Despite being one of my favorite levels, I have to rank it low on this list due to a complete absence of music for the first half of the level. Even as the level progresses, the music is kept to a minimum, with a single violin accompanying the sound of rain and crashing water. As the Ferryman boss fight at the end of the level unfolds, it’s too little too late. The Ferryman’s theme gets too repetitive, even for the short time it’s there.

22. Sheer Heart Attack

Cover image for the level: Sheer Heart Attack. Features a heart shaped pool of water.

This level is fast and confusing and stressful, and the music perfectly reflects this. The main melody is harsh, but not in a particularly interesting way. There are some great guitar riffs sprinkled in here, but it is mostly forgettable among the better parts of ULTRAKILL’s soundtrack.

21. Bridgeburner

Cover image for the level: Bridgeburner. Features a dark pink sky with a tower looming in the distance.

The best quality of this track is the layering of synths that ease you into the digital lust realm of Layer 2. The first thirty seconds or so of the song meshes well with the gritty dystopian cityscape. After that though, the music becomes pretty forgettable, as you move on to something a little more intense.

20. Death At 20000 Volts

Cover image for the level: Death at 20000 volts. Features a city courtyard at night.

This level adapts the melodies of Bridgeburner and gives them a stronger backbone. The music feels sleazy, as a realm of lust should be, but again, compared to most of the music in this game, it becomes fairly forgettable.

19. A One-Machine Army

Cover image for the level: One Machine Army. Features a hexagonal hallway.

By the time you get to this level, you will be sick of the song. It is used in the first four levels of the game, with this level being the last of them, thus its ranking below the others.

18. Double Down

Cover image for the level: Double Down. Features four orange pillars of light.

The music is a little more fresh on this level, as this is only the third time in a row that you’ve heard it.

17. The Meatgrinder

Cover image for the level: The Meatgrinder. Features a room with a statue in it.

The theme from Into The Fire continues onto this track with slight variations to keep it fresh. There’s an extra bassline or two, and the drum breaks are a bit different. Unfortunately, as the levels continue, that freshness starts to go away, but the track has enough substance to push the player forward through the mechanical halls of the prelude levels.

16. Into The Fire

Cover image for the level: Into the Fire. Features a room with two statues in it.

Here we are. The music from the very beginning of the game. Not only is this the first time you hear the breakcore take on DOOM-like music that ULTRAKILL is known for, but there is also a nice buildup, adding to the anticipation, before being thrust right into the action.

15. In The Flesh

Cover image for the level: In The Flesh. Features a room with a giant heart suspended in midair.

As you approach the end of Act I, an organ starts to ring out through the organs that surround you. As it turns out, this is actually a piece written by Johann Sebastian Bach called, “I Call To You, Lord Jesus Christ.” Tunneling through the fleshy walls of King Mino’s insides leads you to a giant open chamber where guitars ring out in epic baroque fashion. It’s very fitting for a boss fight, but it loops a touch too quickly.

14. God Damn The Sun

Cover image for the level: God damn the sun. Features Egyptian ruins covered in sand. In the background the Big Ben clock pokes out of the sand.

The heat of the desert sun beating down on you introduces a super heavy sludgy sound that fits the level well. There is more of a reliance on drum breaks to carry the intensity of the song forward than the other heavy desert level music, but the unique elements of this track still stand out.

13. Belly of The Beast

Cover image for the level: Belly of the Beast. Features twisting staircases.

The music on this level starts out slowed and disoriented as you try to gather your surroundings, but once it picks up, you can’t help but feel inspired by the violins and pianos doing runs up and down and the sick drum beats urging you on.

12. Leviathan

Cover image for the level: Leviathan. Featuring an underwater path of lamps.

Perhaps I may be a bit hypocritical here with my comments about ambient music in this game, because I adore the ambient beginning of this stage. There are chimes mixed with reversed chimes to create this super haunting effect as you bound across the bottom of the sea. It’s a warning. A premonition of things to come. The boss theme itself is pretty average. It has enough scope to make it work, but it’s definitely not a standout. The music in the beginning of this level though, makes it one of my favorite moments in the game.

11. Heart of The Sunrise

Cover image for the level: Heart of the sunrise. Features a small pavilion with a fountain in the middle.

After going through the intensity of the first major boss battle, you might be caught off guard by what comes next: sunny blue skies, a scattering of trees, and a cute little wishing well. With this confusing sight comes a relaxing piano tune that rings out with a harp-like cadence. But as you poke around, you start to realize that something is wrong. None of this is real. This is when the music ramps up and enemies start to appear. Fast drum breaks and tense melodies played on high pitched piano keys turn Limbo’s relaxing façade into an arena for battle.

10. Slaves To Power

Cover image for the level: Slave to power. Features a pyramid with a sun behind it.

Slaves to Power features a mix of a stereotypical videogame desert level sounds and sludgy metal riffs. Double kicks and grimy guitars will get your head banging while traversing the sands of greed. There is also a healthy does of drum breaks to keep the breakcore theme of the soundtrack tied together, with layered vocals also helping to widen out the track.

9. Hall Of Sacred Remains

Cover image for the level: Hall of sacred remains. Features a giant door with two statues on either side of it.

Who would have thought that harpsichord and guitar distortion would go so well together? This track moves at breakneck pace, introducing more harpsichord layers and guitar distortion as it progresses. The main melody has a nice chromatic decent making for a perfect cinematic backdrop to a level with lots to explore. It also helps that this tune is super catchy.

8. Aesthetics of Hate

Cover image for the level: Aesthetics of hate. Features the boss Gabriel playing at an organ.

Bach once again marks the beginning of the end. The final level of Act II opens with a different rendition of “I Call To You, Lord Jesus Christ,” but this time in a far more sinister tone, with some chimes ringing in first as a prelude. The archangel Gabriel turns to face you, and a beefier stronger theme from In The Flesh rings out over a pool of blood. A great way to end the current levels in the game and leave people waiting for what’s coming next.

7. Clair De Lune

Cover image for the level: Clair de lune. Features a room with stained glass windows.

This level starts fittingly with Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” setting a romantic nighttime mood. Then the acoustic guitar comes in. An intense multi-part boss theme fills the room as you fight V2, a twin version of yourself. This fight is hard. You will hear this song over and over again. Unlike some other boss themes however, it’s hard to get tired of this one. The theme is diverse, which keeps things fresh dozens of deaths in.

6. Clair De Soleil

Cover image for the level: Clair de solil. Features the boss V2 sliding down a pyramid.

The V2 battle theme from Clair De Lune carries over to Clair De Soleil, but much like V2 itself, the soundtrack is stronger this time. It’s more intense and fits the faster pace of the boss battle. It also ranks higher than Clair De Lune due to the music leading up to the fight using the same motifs and contributing to the atmosphere of the pyramid, without relying on a preexisting song to build atmosphere.

5. The Burning World

Cover image for the level: The burning world. Features a stone tower surrounded by trees.

This level uses the same music as Heart of The Sunrise, building the expectation that this will be a nice tame level just like the last one. Then, everything is on fire. The pretty polygonal trees are burning to a crisp, the earth is scorching. Pained industrial squealing drowns out any sense of safety you thought you might have had, which is why it lands so high on this list. This is the level that says to you, “Be ready for anything in this game.”

4. In The Wake of Poseidon

Cover image for the level: In the wake of Poseidon. Features an underwater ruins.

They say that water levels always have the best music, and this level certainly makes a strong case. The music remains a sloshed haze while under the water, with percussive elements poking through. But where the music on this level really shines is when you’re out of the water. The tone is both tranquil and sinister, highlighted by a smooth saxophone section. The music takes the traditionally calm aesthetics of water music in other games and mixes them with intense drum breaks to make something truly unique.

3. A Shot In The Dark

Cover image for the level: A shot in the dark. Features a large dark room with green lights lighting up platforms.

The music in A Shot In The Dark is a perfect example of the music of the level evolving with the atmosphere of the level. It starts out with only a small vocal chorus and an eerie marimba. As you explore the pitch black insides of an ancient pyramid, the chorus slowly starts to expand. Percussive elements are introduced, adding to the intensity. Its reserved in its use of percussive elements, which makes it stand out in a soundtrack where fast drum breaks are common. Even a harpsichord joins in at one point. It all comes to a head in the final room, which is a huge disorienting arena with spinning merry-go-round lights. An organ cuts through the track, spinning a dizzying melody that perfectly fits with the grandiose nature of the surroundings.

2. Cry For The Weeper

Cover image for the level: Cry for the weeper. Features a headless corpse hanging upside down, dripping blood into a pool.

Cry For The Weeper starts out with super intense industrial noise that sounds absolutely crushing. It shifts and evolves, and if you listen to the music carefully, it sounds like it’s breathing. What makes this level special though isn’t the beginning. After the noise starts to fade away, you’re dropped into the rest of the stage, where a brand new version of the Belly of The Beast (#13) music starts to play. The instrumentation is turned up several notches, and there are motifs and nods to the music from the very beginning of the game as well! The shredding guitar and the double kick drum only make things more epic, and to top it off, the final battle on this stage is yet another remake of previous music, this time from Hall of Sacred Remains (#9). It’s a musical reminder of how far you’ve come while also being an epic musical peak. This is probably the single best song in the game, but there is one level that has this one beat for music.

Honorable Mention: Cybergrind

Cover image for the endless cybergrind mode. Features a giant floating cube.

The music for Cybergrind, ULTRAKILL’s endless arena mode, had to have been made in a government lab as an experiment to see how well a person could be kept in a flow state. It’s not technically a level, but you can’t talk about ULTRAKILL music without bringing up the Cybergrind music.

1. Ship of Fools

Cover image for the level: Ship of Fools. Features an upside down winding staircase.

Ship of Fools is a masterclass in how to build atmosphere with music. Right out of the gate, you’re met with a violin that immediately screams “pirate ship.” Before your eyes have even registered what you’re looking at, you already know from the swing of the tune, that this is a boat level. The main tune could easily be the theme of the deadliest pirate gang in the seven seas. The guitars and piano are intense, but accessible and catchy. There is also a neat horn section that appears from time to time to add an extra layer to the track that makes it less “pirate-y” and a bit more smooth. There’s even a bridge that features an accordion. What is more pirate ship than an accordion? The track is so much fun, and always feels fresh.

But then, the boat is flipped over. The level is upside down. Water floods the halls, and the lights are dim, and the music reflects this change perfectly. The track slows down, keeping the same melodies, but with an entirely different rhythm and instrumentation. The harp is really what shines on this track. It sent shivers down my spine when I first heard it. This track creates an eerie and somber mood, perfect for trekking back through the wreckage of a massive ship. The music in Ship of Fools is an excellent reminder of why video games have music in the first place: to make the places you explore feel alive.

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New Album Review

“The Last Spa On Earth” by Divino Niño – Album Review

You’re trudging through a crumbling wastescape, your legs dragging you forward step by step. Every muscle in your body is sore beyond belief. You’re tired and hopeless. In the distance, below the biting wind, you hear the sound of moving water. You move towards the sound, parting some bushes and peer into a clearing. You’ve found it. Among the wreckage that litters the rest of the world, a world merely getting by, there is still a place dedicated to pleasure. The keys are yours. Have fun. That’s how “The Last Spa On Earth” feels.

Divino Niño’s previous work has stayed within the dream-pop-psych-rock realm (think Mild High Club), but with their latest release they’ve leaned much harder into the dreampop side of things, sprinkling a smattering of other influences into their music as well.

You don’t have to listen very far to hear the electronic influences presenting themselves. Fast drum break samples build up on “Tu Tonto.” Elements of bass are mixed into “Ecstasy,” sandwiched between an electro-house groove. “Miami” cheekily references the Will Smith track of the same name while backed by a club sound. “I Am Nobody” ends with a quick techno beat, while “Especial” has more of a house-y finish.

In terms of lyrical substance, it’s pretty hard for me to gauge. Most of the lyrics are in Spanish, and unfortunately, my rudimentary high school Spanish chops aren’t cutting it. From what I can gather, the lyrics are casual comments on love and lust, but I can’t say for sure.

Each song flows nicely into the next, never breaking the train of bliss from track to track, but the crowning achievement here is the variety in each track. When it comes to the variety in a song, there is a fine balancing act between novelty and coherence. Throw too many new ideas at the listener, and it becomes too easy to get lost. Don’t introduce enough ideas, and the song gets too stale.

Every track on “The Last Spa On Earth” manages to carry out this balancing act with grace. Let’s take the song “Ecstasy” for example, which starts out with a peppy four-on-the floor dance beat and ends with a slowed chorus of bittersweet guitars and spacey synths. The ending of “XO” enters full reggae territory after two and a half minutes of dream pop. These changes aren’t abrupt though. They bleed enough elements into each other to sound natural.

When you go to a spa, you aren’t just getting your back rubbed the whole time. That would be silly. At the spa, they’re gonna slather you with mud, put hot stones on you, guide you to the sauna, and perhaps perform a microdermabrasion or two. You’re getting relaxed and spoiled in a variety of different ways, and that’s exactly what you can expect going into this album.

Divino Niño has done the impressive; making an album that is extremely accessible without sacrificing depth. It’s a treat for the ears. All of my chips are on this album.

I give Divino Niño’s “The Last Spa On Earth” a strong ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆. Great album.

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New Album Review

“Flood Format” by Bird’s Eye Batang – Album Review

If you’ve never heard of Bird’s Eye Batang, then you may be familiar with the South Korean artist’s other moniker, Mid-Air Thief, who’s 2018 album “Crumbling” has been getting more and more attention as of late. If you aren’t familiar with either of them, then get ready for a folktronica sound you’ve never heard before.

“Flood Format,” which released earlier this year, is far less folk- and far more -tronica, but still sits within the outskirts of the genre. It doesn’t reach the deeply organic and transcendent breadths of “Crumbling,” but it succeeds in exploring darker, more alien territory, with a signature maximalist sound.

The first track, “Slippery Smile”, has these jubilant, joyous and bouncy chimes that remind me of the vibrant buildups you’d hear in a Stevie Wonder song. It then slips into something more fluid and abstract as it transitions to the second track, where the melodies are still bright, but harsher. It leads into sections of experimental noise before circling back around to the lead melody.

The third track, “Spin and Stone”, feels mysterious and curious, and as it starts to pick up it, feels like you’re being swept into an entirely different world. The picture below is the closest image I can find that looks like how this song feels.

Two streams merging into one in the middle of the woods. Pebbles cover the ground, and lush greenery and moss surround tree trunks. Sunlight pokes through, illuminating the mostly shadowed woods.
Imagine you’re a tiny little woodland elf going out here to gather pebbles. That’s what the song feels like. Photo courtesy of Toburke, under Creative Commons.

“Ripplippling” is a sort of chillwave track with its wide, filtering synths and echoing bells, but with far more texture and character than most chillwave I’ve come across. On its own, “Ripplippling” is the most digestible track on this album.

Unfortunately it’s cut a bit short by an interlude, which showcases some brilliant sound design and noises that are most likely from a bird. This is the worst track on the album for me but it’s less than a minute long.

The album then transitions to its darkest portion. “Brux Batang” features discordant sounds layered over a techno beat before suddenly enveloping the listener in a suffocating symphony of dying machines, noise being stretched and warped around you, a complete storm, pulled and worn like taffy, ending in a crumpled heap.

“The Wider The Wheel” feels like a rush, a need to escape, hurrying past all these sights and sounds, not able to fully process any of them, letting them penetrate your conscious before promptly leaving. You escape. You are faced with an enormous empty void.

And the final song, with a light samba swing, is a much needed breath of comfortable relief.

“Flood Format” is a journey. Bird Eye Batang continues the legacy of one of the most intricate musicians working today, and hopefully now people will shut up and stop comparing him to Grizzly Bear.

I give Bird Eye Batang’s “Flood Format” ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆. Great Album.

– Spencer Grattan