Monday, 25 April 2011

The Sound of Speed - An Album by OverClocked Remix Review

The first Sonic the Hedgehog is the last to be formally tackled by OCRemix, and it’s the tightest of the three albums so far weighing in at a paltry thirteen tracks. Led by one of the rising masters of chiptunes style remixing, halc, this album may take some people by surprise with its very interpretative approach to the source material but it certainly ticks many of the required boxes that launch it to stellar status. However this albums central hook, dividing into three separate acts and using the Special Theme as an omnipresent chorus, may prove to be divisive.

Act 1

‘A, B, C, Start!’ may be a little bit of a non track, that barely qualifies as a full remix being only a quick reimagining of the title’s introductory music, inspired probably by a similar remix on the ‘Project Chaos’ album. Both scene setting and nostalgic, but ultimately unnecessary.

The real meat comes soon enough with the titular ‘The Sound of Speed’ by OA and Scaredism, an excellent take on the all too familiar Green Hill music. Sections of this song were trailed long in advance of the albums release and when I heard the guitar leads then I was a little concerned because what I heard followed the original fairly closely. Of course for advertisement purposes I suppose it makes sense, entice people in with something recognisable that they know... However when the song hit for real I was blown away. This truly could be the definite take on this song, which I'm amazed to be saying in 2011 after it's already seen so many different iterations already. At first the guitar (at first) follows the melody fairly closely whilst some great things are going on in the background.

For the first half of ‘Shifting Islands’ by halc, Insixfour and Protodome follows the source of Marble Garden almost to the letter, although thrusting as much mellow jazzy sauce in there as possible. Things wander a little in the middle with some cool synthesisers but by and large this is a fairly faithful retread of some admittedly excellent source material.

‘Subsonic Sparkle’ is the welcome return of GaMeBoX, adding some welcome continuity between this album and its predecessors. A little sparse and interperative those who dug the artists previous instalments will be more than happy; this is a bright and funky song that’ll bring a smile to your face, even if it does abandon any attempt of a coherent melody in favour of an excellent soundscape.

Act 2

‘Spring Junkie’ comes from album director halc, and I know that it’s come into criticism from some sources for nearly abandoning the original song. In fact that’s not true, Spring Yard is here in abundance, but halc takes his own sweet time getting to it as he slowly layers up his soundscapes. One of the most impressive parts is the intelligent use of sound effects throughout. Admittedly I thought it was a difficult one to love at first but by half way though I was tapping along with a massive smile on my face. And I'm sure it'll grow on me more with further listens.

‘Bubble Junkie’ comes from another master of the chiptunes style ‘Benjamin Briggs’ who also contributed to Project Chaos’s impressive roster. It’s a very classy version of the original with a leading ‘wahh’ guitar that just screams out at you. The backing soundtrack is sweet, with vibrant underwater sounds and some sound effect sampling reminiscent of the previous track. This is definitely one of the poster childs of the album.

‘Fifty Rings to Ride’ returns us to the ambient Special Stage music with Joshua Morse adopting a very different approach to GaMeBoX. Piano heavy this rhythm and blues version feels light and sexy, albeit a little repetitive, more from the fact we’ve already heard the source before than that the song itself outstays its welcome, although when the vocals started I was taken completely by surprise.

Act 3

‘Under Construction’ just edges out the preceding track for slowest on the album, being an interesting and unexpected take on the Starlight Zone. DrumUltimA and Harmony present a very relaxed, emotive jam that nearly runs its course for two and a half minutes, when suddenly the artists repeat a trick Harmony previous pulled on a prevous ‘Spring Yard’ remix. This blatant self referencing may potentially be in slightly poor taste however despite the vocals-vibraphone duel coming a little left field I thoroughly enjoyed it, however coming it at five and a half minutes this is the second longest piece on the album which may be to its detriment.

Fortunately just as the album was getting a little slow Brandon Strader and Rexy (another stalwart of Project Chaos) present ‘Hogtied’, a light heavy metal take on the many Sonic 1 Robotnik themes, both from the mega drive and interestingly the game gear/master system version as well. The guitar wails are a little high pitched but for anyone expecting a rock mix in the spirit of ‘Project Chaos’ this is as close as the album will get to delivering.

‘Caos’ by José the Bronx Rican the third and final take on the Special Zone music, and unfortunately due to repetition the song has become reduced to little more than lounge music. It’s saved by some amazing cameos that pop up intermittently throughout the tune, and whilst I don’t doubt the technical feat this mix represents it feels relaxed and completely believable throughout.

‘Clockwork Criminal’ by WillRock takes the underloved source music of the Scrap Brain Zone and spices it up with energetic use of sound effects to compliment the drums. It’s a nostalgic arrangement that highlights the simple but tension arousing main melody whilst building some wicked solos around it.

‘Final Progression’ by ‘Jewbie’ is a great attempt to drive the final boss’s theme into the realms of trance. It retains the menace of the source tune whilst taking the beat into entirely different places. It’s a little sparse for a climactic ending but fits with the rest of the album perfectly.

The final track of this collaborative effort is a collaboration between Brandon Strader (who apparently suggested using the Special Stage as a chorus), halc and some drums and synths from WillRock. It itself is an excellent track but by constant repetition I was growing tired of the special stage music, which has permeated not just this track but the entire collection. ‘A Hog in His Prime’ is a slow building ditty, gently walking you through slightly different takes of each of the previous songs, and some of the small excerpts are so good you wish you could hear them expanded on to become full arrangements of their own, which speaks highly of the time and effort invested in the whole production. It ends on the slightly shocking note of the ever fearful drowning music rather than a crowd-appleasing crescendo, however for a piece that wants to be noticed that’s probably no bad thing.

All in all the ‘Speed of Sound’ is a very tight album, although with so few songs to play with many of the pieces will leave you wanting more. Many of the tracks are not approached how you would expect them to be, and may listeners will be annoyed that a better opportunity wasn’t taken for their favourite songs.

However that’s the interesting thing about this album. Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most covered series in video game remixing, all of these songs have been covered before hundreds of times, the crowd appeasing ‘obvious’ routes have all been done before. So technically this albums greatest achievement is that it actually managed to be entirely original, whilst still retaining clearly the source that its derived from and delivering a consistently high level of quality throughout.

So what if your Spring Yard here isn’t the rock epic you wanted it to be? That song has already been made a hundred times. This probably isn't your dream album, but it is wild and ethereal enough to have floated out of one of your more pleasant nights sleep.

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