Anyone in the UK chiptune scene will probably know the author of this album, if not by the name Jellyatrix then by his music blog moniker ‘Chip! Bit! Sid!’ Based in Manchester, he runs the Chip Bit Day festival as well as featuring in a couple of GameFace’s ChipBattles shows. ‘E Numbers’ marks Jellyatrix’s first formal release using LSDj, and it’s a very solid start!
The four tracks presented (plus remixes by .mpegasus, Tokyo Elvis and joshquery) are full of characteristic bounce and energy, with plenty of sweeping, synthwave-style laser effects and choppy 8-bit lead sounds. The song titles reflect this too; with names like ‘Lazer ~ Blazer’ and ‘Thunderclap.’ E Numbers aims for a high-energy feel and largely pulls it off. There’s a heavy focus on drum instrumentation at the core of each track, with pounding kicks and syncopated snares and hi-hats filling out the majority of each composition.
The stand-out track for me is, fittingly, its flagship single released ahead of the EP, ‘Through the Hyperloop.’ The tempo is ramped up a little compared to the rest of the EP and builds to a double-time hook that I can’t wait to hear live. The traditional ‘amen break’ sample features heavily to bridge high-tempo verses with heavier, bassier chorus sections. On the flip-side, Tokyo Elvis’ remix of this track is rather more mellow in tone, using the original’s arpeggiated backbone to produce a minimal, sample-driven re-work. With his extensive blog history, Jellyatrix’s selection of artists to work with is really on point. My only criticism of this track would be some slightly ‘unorthodox’ melodic choices where it feels like the song’s energy boils over slightly. The scratchy, rhythmic pulse wave hook makes it much easier to overlook that issue, though.
‘Let’s Get Ready!’ showcases a slightly different approach to LSDj composition. The heavy sawtooth bass steps aside for smoother chords that carry a simple, down-tempo melody. In between melodic sections the beat breaks down into percussion-led sections that I found a little jarring with the more relaxed nature of the verses. A sampled ‘Go!’ seems equally out of place as the chilled melody continues instead of picking up the pace. There’s a lot of opportunity for exploring melody that I feel wasn’t seized, which is a little disappointing. The simplicity of what melody there is lets it grow into a real ear-worm, and expanding on that would have made the track really great.
A similar thought occurs to me throughout the EP, too. While the majority of each track carries Jellyatrix’s signature energy, there are moments where the music can get a little carried away with itself, fitting the ‘E Numbers’ title. Samples seem to be added just for the sake of it, such as the “MLG” airhorn that comes off a bit flat when it isn’t used as a jokey meme. At times, a song’s melody can jump out of key, and as a melodic musician myself that can break the immersion of a good synth solo. The fact that three-quarters of the EP’s tracks are in the same key isn’t a negative in itself, but hearing that key for so long certainly makes you notice when even one note doesn’t fall in the right place.
Overall, I think this is a very positive first step for Jellyatrix but as with any creative project, there is always room for improvement. Rhythm and percussion are definitely a strong suite, and there are some great examples of LSDj instrument design in every track. It’s just let down slightly by melodies that didn’t have the sparkle and expression that LSDj-produced chipmusic is so great at. That said, if you’re into pounding rhythms and energetic riffs, you’ll definitely find them here in spades.
‘E Numbers’ is now available under the ‘WE ARE THE FUTURE’ netlabel.