C418 – Volume Beta
On his new album Minecraft Volume Beta, C418 updates Minecraft volume Alpha by replacing the endearing innocence of his previous melodies with a mixture of piano and symphonic synthesizers as well as more hard edged saw synth effects. I have a deep nostalgia for Minecraft volume Alpha having fallen asleep or written while listening to it a number of times, so the evocation of the old melodies already puts every song in good standing for me. I played the game a year ago and loved it, but have am nowhere near into it as I am into C418’s music. So I will not be reviewing how the music fits into the game, but instead will try to look at the album as it’s a stand alone piece.
Electronic artist’s knack for musical design likes to carry over into their album design making it so damn clean. Minecraft – Volume Alpha’s cover is a variation on the classic Minecraft dirt pixel that you learn to love so much when you first play the game. It is a sort of deconstruction of the first cover. Just as the entire album is a little less innocent, the cover is darker and more artificial.
The album definitely requires patience as many of the tracks (Such as Alpha, clocking in at 10:04 with layers added and removed throughout) can take some time to build up. But once the melodies get going, it feels like coming out of a tunnel on a bullet train. One moment you see repeated flashing lights in darkness, the next you are outside in the sunlight.
And then the track Mutation plays and you get that breath of the old theme from Alpha (particularly the track Minecraft). The notes worked before and they still do, but they left me wanting C418 to do more with them. He delivers with The End, the longest track on the album.
The End is a theme expanded and slowed until everything that makes a song a song begins to fray at the edges and collapse under its own weight. C418 isn’t the first one to play with record skips and abrasive noises like this, but he certainly does it right. The End is a truly eery piece that despite it’s slow pace, never lost me or made me want to skip ahead.
And then right after, out comes booming Chirp. The combination of The End and Chirp in fact create the center of the album and the general feeling of tension and release. You are caught in a bizarre and unsettling claustrophobia and then receive a shot of innocence and openness. The dissonance between the two tracks works very well.
Mellohi stands out among the next few tracks as being somewhat of an electronic instrumental version of a Tom Waits song, with its creepy vaudevillian tone. Stal continues Mellohi’s odd instrumentation, breaking you out of the previous motif of the album. They honestly don’t quite fit.
For that matter the whole last third after The End is much more rhythm heavy. This isn’t exactly get up and dance kind of rhythm heavy, more like Aphex Twin’s 4 rhythm heavy. It creates some incongruity with the album that could have easily been fixed with a few omissions.
And finally the album ends with Intro. A heavenly piano heavy piece that lifts you right out of the album like you’re floating.
Between the slow drones and the 30 track list, it’s easy to get lost in this album. If you’ve listened to C418 before then you know it’s not party music. It’s not even hang out with a friend music. It’s fall asleep or finish your term paper or just stare at the wall and smile music. Headphones are recommended.
I am looking forward to C418 in the future as all of his work brims with potential, that being said, Volume Beta doesn’t seem to work quite as well as One or Volume Alpha. He chose to slow and expand for this beginning of the album, which as I said before, brings out some beautiful moments in songs like The End, but I am still waiting for his movement in the opposite direction. That album in the future where he tightens everything up and produces only the key tracks. Right now C418 is comparable to reading someone’s published letters – expressive, pure, and sprawling. I just can’t wait for when he writes a short story instead.