After Shnabubula raised the bar for chiptune composers everywhere with his recent release, out of nowhere Jay Tholen comes and reaches that same inhumanly high standard with his newest album release Epidemic! The artwork is amazing, the songs evoke all the right feelings, and the news reports help build the atmosphere beautifully! You can purchase the album at Jay Tholen's myspace blog, and I highly suggest you do so!
So let's start with the first track, which, isn't really a track at all. another amazing artist, Glomag, appears in a new capacity, as Michael Helman, radio news reporter. the album kicks off with News Bulletin - 5:34 PM, which sets up the story line for the whole album. I won't get into the news report tracks too much, but will say that Glomag plays the reporter part brilliantly. and the sound effects used during the reports are amazingly done. bringing back the spirit of classic radio dramas. The first news bulletin fades right into the first track proper. Twilight Invasion, this track evokes memories of games like Castlevania, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but also classic horror films like Night of the Living Dead, and radio dramas like War of the Worlds. This track sets up beautifully the feeling of an epidemic suddenly bursting forth as one night is drawing to a close. He uses sound effects to good use, but doesn't overdo it, in fact, if not paying attention, you might even miss the sound effects as they transition so seamlessly with the music. The track ends with an eerie fadeout, as if the scene was left unfinished. which leads to the next News Bulletin, News Bulletin - 7:42 PM, this time, with reports of a more dire situation.
The beat on the following song, Suburban Sprawl, is grittier and less foreboding than the song that preceded it. It conveys a sound as if, it's time the humans band together and fight back. This song certainly seems to have a bit more fight in it, which contrasts very well with the opening track. This leads to the third song, Metropolis Down, which seems to be a song about the zombies hitting the first heavily populated area. The intro effects are very amazing for this track, and really make the track feel full. This track is another one filled with dread and panic. With a great riff running through the track, this one stands out as one of my favorites on the album. This song filters out with radio static, until we find ourselves once again with our faithful news reporter for News Bulletin - 12:05 AM.
Now we are at what I like to consider the rescue song. It is named Rooftop Prayer, and like the other songs which can evoke feelings of loss and fear, this one is able to evoke emotions of hope. This song feels a little slower, and sans sound effects gives a simpler feeling as well. The riff that comes in just after two minutes, is also beautiful, and stands out as one of my favorite parts of the album. Once again we dive right into the next track, which starts with some helicopters, indicating that those rooftop prayers have been answered for now. This song, Escape, seems to be filled with more tension, as if the fight against this epidemic continues, but with much lost hope. As if fighting a battle you may be doomed to lose. This track ends with a pretty tough and quick ending, finished off with more helicopter effects, News Bulletin - 8:20 AM explains why. This is the final news bulletin on the album, and with this one, they are able to really show how the radio drama style can be done to great effect. You can really feel for the news reporter in his final farewell.
This brings us to our final song. Also my favorite song on the album. Drift Downstream is a very somber song, as if looking back on all the events of this one terrible night for humanity. At around the two minute mark, the track starts to build up with a riff that grows stronger as the song progresses. Then we hit a beautiful build which helps put more power into the song. This breaks back down into more of the looking back feel that the track started with. This slowly fades out, while an amazingly used sound effect is brought in to end the track. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say this is possibly the best ending to any chiptune album I have ever heard.
One person survived.
This album needs to be purchased to understand the full range of abilities and emotions that can be revealed through the art of chiptune music. I feel kind of weird going on and on about Pixelh8's album, then Shnabubula's EP, and now this highly brilliant piece of work by Jay Tholen. But what can I say? this year is already seen chiptunes step up their game to an insane degree, and there is no denying that.
I feel like this album, with it's concept, it's art, and it's execution, should definitely be a cult classic of chiptunes. With a release like this, I can only see Jay Tholen become a common name to chiptune fans VERY soon.