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The Crackle Plays: ‘PRESS START’ - Grumpysnorlax

Getting into the Virginian producer’s latest project.

23rd Aug 2019

We breakdown Grumpysnorlax’s ‘PRESS START’

Grumpysnorlax has had a busy 2019. He kicked off the year with a trip to the UK, in partnership with KEAKIE, for a mini tour and some filming in the historic Bell Foundry in London. From there he went on to release ‘Safari’. A colourful album chock full of beautiful melodies and beats (check out our breakdown here). Further on in the year he was featured in the latest Futures comp by Inner Ocean Records. ‘SAFARI’ is his second major release of 2019 so far but can this project continue the run of incredible work so far this year?

‘PRESS START’ is a chronicle of Grumpysnorlax’s journey in music through game culture, with a couple special twists. Grumps created this project with some self imposed limitations. Firstly he tried to adhere as closely as possible to exclusively 8 bit sounds. Secondly he approached the album creation like a live set. When we spoke to the prouder he explained it like this:

‘Basically the concept of this one was just an idea I had in early 2018 of giving myself some hard limitations and only using 8-bit sounds. I broke away a little bit but stayed true for the most part. I went in thinking of making a live set of beats, and then one by one they came together and I started experimenting with having a heavy low end to most songs. It was my homage to Gameboy music and I hope one day I can achieve something musical through LSDJ a music tracker for the original Gameboy.’

On this project the limitations are the concept. With these confines in place Grumpsnorlax is forced to think creatively and that energy shines through. However, despite the self imposed limitations, the album doesn’t lack narrative. The beats tell individual stories of trials, tribulations and passions with great aplomb, and the true beauty comes from how Grumps uses ubiquitous video game culture to unify and contextualise these stories.The gaming meta provides a cultural touch point for the listener. You may not know the specifics of Grumps’ inspiration but the track's name and style instantly connects a feeling to the beats. Tunes like ‘Continue?’ and ‘Street Fight’ invoke images from the jump and when you connect that to the music, the blocks start falling in place like Tetris. Grumps explained this process:

‘After the first 2 were created I tried thinking of ways to make all the songs seem like different parts of a video game OST and eventually settled on this assortment of tracks that I felt matched the Grumps OST I was after. I came up with a little sketch of a kid on a gameboy and sent it to Nomadicplains and he captured exactly what I was after with the art and colour scheme. After the art, things just came together so well. The names were quite easy too. I just used common video game lingo more so as a meta decision.’

The idea of a Grumps OST elegantly and succinctly describes the concepts at play on ‘PRESS START’. This is the story of Grumpysnorlax and the limitations, meta references and solid grooves all form part of that. In a way ‘PRESS START’ is the story of Grumpysnorlax.

‘PRESS START’ also shows off Grumpysnorlax’s natural ear for melody. For any long time listener of Grumps, this will be no surprise but the melodies here are especially beautiful. The sound palette definitely sits within the realm of classic 8-bit game OSTs but the chromatic changes and depth in production express a style that is uniquely Grumps. Adding to this lustre is the sheer variety in sound and theme too. Grumpysnorlax hops from gentle, soft synthetic plucks to weighty, glitched out chip tune with ease. Never feeling forced or unwieldy, the melodies tell the whole story on ‘PRESS START’. Providing a gorgeous voice for a compelling musical narrative.

This element is even more astonishing when you consider the whole album was made on one instrument which has become synonymous with the Virginian producer. Teenage Engineering’s ubiquitous OP-1. For one producer to draw as much as Grumps does from this small but powerful machine, requires an almost masterful level of knowledge and understanding. When asked about the impact of this machine on the project Grumpysnorlax said this:

‘The OP1 was the main influence on this one as it has an 8/16bit melodic synthesiser and also a drum synthesiser which can get very gritty and sound like it's coming straight from a Gameboy. If it wasn’t for the OP1 I don’t think i would have created the same thing. Since there’s very little editing and no going back on the OP1 I developed a workflow where I put things down as fast as I can and if there’s an error or if somethings not right, I can try to recreate it or live with the mistakes. I think that’s the hardest thing to overcome in a DAW. It’s so easy to get stuck editing what you think is a flaw but others may think of it as unique. I’ve definitely changed styles a bit since my first project but I plan to incorporate the same chiptune sounds in most of my music.’

Another standout feature of the album is the characterful drums and rhythm. ‘PRESS START’ is an album steeped in retro game sounds and the backline adheres to that concept beautifully. Rather than go for bombastic, booming drums; Grumps elects to craft a crunchy, subdued sound. This is in no means a bad thing. The drums sit behind the lush melodics perfectly. Driving the tracks without interfering. That doesn’t mean there aren't a few standout rhythms though.Take ‘Water Levels’. Though the beat is primarily led by a soft, warm rhodes, the drums skitter and bounce with an incredibly natural swing. They are sparse and that’s the beauty of them. Grumps shows what impact the sounds you don’t play can have and its compelling, interesting and gorgeous.

‘PRESS START’ is a gorgeous album with incredible levels to it. In the self-restricted production environment Grumps has worked creatively and fluidly. Not only insightfully speaking his truth but, moreover, making that truth relevant to all listeners. The melodics are gold standard Grumps. Delicate but varied they are the main voice in the choir, they push the story forward with angelic quality. The drums are also stand out but not for their depth or aggression but rather than for their pitch perfect adherence to the concept. The drums crunch and glitch but keep the ship steady with understated heft.

‘PRESS START’ is a deceptively deep album. Simple on the surface but cavernous in its ambition and scope when you delve into it. This is the beauty of the project. Grumpysnorlax weaves personal stories together with experiences everyone can appreciate. This is an album that will appeal to many. Producer and music fan alike. For a real deep dive into this unique producer’s style, psyche and talent ‘PRESS START’ is the ultimate starting point.

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Listen to ‘PRESS START’ here:

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