Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sleep ∞ Over's Casual Diamond, and Boy Friend's EP

As an earlier blog post shows, I'm a big fan of the three-piece dreamy musical group Sleep ∞ Over. Having only an EP, a single, and a place on a compilation, they crafted some of my favorite dream pop tunes of 2010. I recently heard some good and bad news dealing with group. Let me start with the downer: two of the gals in the band, Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown, left the group. BUT... there a couple of good things because of this: The remaining member, Stefanie Franciotti, will still carry the name, released a single recently, and is planning on an album release later this year. Also, Palazzolo and Brown have already formed a new group called Boy Friend and released a self-titled EP.

So, how do the new releases stack up with Sleep ∞ Over's previous work? I'll start with the new Sleep ∞ Over single titled Casual Diamond. It opens with a familiar crunch of the drum machine, and the nearly monolithic picks of an electric guitar.The track does end up dissolving into lighter guitar tones and Franciotti's soothing vocal hook.  This isn't exactly the dream pop beauty found on the Outer Limits single; the murky, uneasiness found on the group's older tracks has been revived. Yet, there is more energy here previously missing from older tracks, and the song resonates with a certain urgency instead of a droning whirling synth soundscape. The sound is still lo-fi as ever... it's Franciotti's voice and her choice in the overall instrumental texture that bring quite a different take on the Sleep ∞ Over sound. It's a promising track, and I am looking forward to seeing what she can do on a full-length release later this year.

I was quite excited to hear the sound of Boy Friend's self-titled EP. To my delight, the sound is straight from the Outer Limits single: warm synths, heavenly vocals, a nice cushioned, slightly melancholic, atmosphere. The only contrast I feel worth mentioning is the frail drum sound; while I prefer the thick drum beats in the forefront on the Outer Limits single, the drop in prominence only brings more attention to the other angelic layers of sound. The EP is only four tracks, and like any dream pop release, you basically know what you are gonna get by the end of the first song. Not the most perplexing or challenging music, but it does have a consistent sound. I'm looking forward to their full-length, too.

2011 in music is just looking more and more awesome as I consider all the releases on their way. That, and the few surprises that will hopefully be surfacing over the following months. I'm interested to see where these upcoming Sleep ∞ Over and Boy Friend albums will rank on my year-end favorites. For those interested, here's Casual Diamond and D'Arrest (first track on Boy Friend's EP):

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Adding Your Own Audio Style To Gaming

Anyone here like the Ridge Racer series? The original game, simply titled Ridge Racer, had a great arcade port on the Playstation. Not only did the game arrive very early into the Playstation's life, it was also one of the first 3D racing games to make it to the home console. It had a formidable rival in the form of Sega's Daytona USA, which was also given its own arcade port on the Sega Saturn. Both games featured ridiculous and infectious dance music, smooth gameplay, and only a handful of cars and tracks; it's the simplicity you would expect from early 3D console gaming.

Ridge Racer and Daytona USA both make for a fun racing experience, but Ridge Racer had a kicker: a customizable soundtrack. By the time you boot the game up and make it to the title screen, the entire game, apart from the audio tracks, has been loaded. This allows you to switch out the game disc with any Audio CD. Doing so will play those audio tracks during the races and replay video. I found myself accelerating to high speeds in my blocky polygonal car while jamming to alternative rock tunes of yesteryear. Sure, the tracks were choses at random (and sometimes they would just start playing in the middle of the song, oddly enough), but it was a neat feature that made for fun audio experimentation.

I encountered a similar feature on the Xbox's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Uploading music onto your Xbox's hard drive will allow you to play them while in automobiles in Vice City. My high speed police chases and drive-by's were soon featuring the likes of Rush, Lightning Bolt, Steely Dan, and Tortoise, to name a few. It was a simple idea that added countless hours of replay value to the audio lover in me. I wonder if any other Xbox game utilized the idea...

Nowadays, audio tracks can easily be uploaded and incorporated to any Xbox 360 (and probably PS3, not sure) game. You can even plug in your mp3 player and play your tunes through that if you don't feel like putting music on your system's hard drive. Playing Stravinsky over a zombie apocalypse or sludge metal set to a Middle Eastern war zone is now relatively simple to pull off!

Not that hardware limitations would stop me; I've been playing Bach's Brandenburg Concertos over Final Fantasy V for the past week now. I guess I'm just a fan of the atmosphere and synchronization audio can bring to the art of video games. And of course, I am still all for the delicate and intricate work put into the sound design and soundtrack of any video game (Silent Hill 2's soundtrack comes to mind).

I have one more thing I wanna try with my copy of Ridge Racer... and that is Twisted Metal's music. The game turns into a bloodthirsty demolition derby. Holly crap I gotta go find my copy.