13/05/2022

๐Ÿ’ฟ Shatter Vinyl Review | Composer – Module (Jeremiah Ross) ๐Ÿ’ฟ @jeramiahrossnz @PikPokGames

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I had been previously unaware of Shatter, a physics-based puzzle game released on Steam and the PSN store back in 2009 by developer PikPok- and I certainly wasn’t aware of the quality of the soundtrack.

Following a news article that I posted on Twitter – regarding the games’ soundtrack now being available on streaming services – the original composer, Module – mentioned that there had been a limited vinyl release in 2011 through New Zealand-based label Mushroom Records…and there were actually a few records still available. Fast forward several weeks and the Shatter soundtrack arrived here in (not so) sunny Wales - and thus my love affair began.

A single record on transparent blue vinyl, the minimalist cover artwork calls to mind the style used in weapon icons for the Wipeout games; lightly embossed, glossy white peaks etched into the cover act as background to a ricocheting orange arrow; simple, striking – and also reflective of one of Shatter’s main gameplay mechanics. The rear of the cover continues the path of the arrow, as well as featuring the ten songs of the album across the top, also in an orange font. The overall impression is one of clean starkness, with no other information such as the label, album title, composer or even a barcode – again, this is a 2011 release and so, very early on in the vinyl renaissance, if it had even started at that point!

The inner sleeve is white, to match the artwork – and is also anti-static (good) and the record itself, is a deep blue, with natural swirls created during the pressing process that show up when held up to the light. The inner-circle contains a circular orange arrow on a white background – as on the cover – whereas the opposing side has the colours reversed (white arrow/orange background) and it’s only here, on that inner circle, where we can see more information about the record, such as the game that the music is taken from, copyright information and the label behind it. Visually, it makes quite a statement, as you’d have no idea what the record was if it was sealed and you saw this out and about – you’d have to get a look at the vinyl itself to see any recognisable markings.

Before I go into the tracklisting and breakdown, I just wanted to say that this album was instantly a hit for me, the mix of organic musicianship with samples and electronic beats really brings it to life and there’s a real groove and clarity to the tracks. The production is crisp, chunky and the pressing itself, flawless. Also, from the conversations I’ve had with folks at PikPok (the developers behind Shatter) as well as with Jeremiah Ross himself, it’s clear that all involved are shining examples of awesome people, which is always good to know - and somehow makes me enjoy this release even more. 

I’ve listened to Shatter a LOT, it has quickly become a record in casual heavy rotation in our household. It’s also worth noting that the songs on the record are shorter than their streaming counterparts, often fading out around a minute or so before the full track length on Spotify, for example – for time constraint reasons, I’d presume. They feel like full songs, and I really wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t listened to both for comparison and so it really doesn’t feel an issue to me, but worth mentioning for those looking to pick this up on vinyl who are perhaps more familiar with the digital version of the soundtrack.

Side A:

Kinetic HarvestThe throaty, growling bassline and snappy, single-beat drums that kick in to announce the opening of the album are instant trouser-removers. There’s a toe-tapping swagger to the instancy of it that grabbed me. Some twinkling, rising lines come in and are soon joined by some seriously big synth-action that all work together to create a groovy dance beat. The organic playing of the bass adds feel and nuance to the track.

Aurora A softer opening now - this has glassy, ambient notes and a sort of distant cyberpunk siren touch that echoes over another solid, more reverb-laden snare sound with an exploratory bass-drum in some parts of the track. The keyboard runs and riffs are much more punchy and light here. As it reaches the bridge, it drops to half-speed and really opens up to some more emotive, downscale notes with an almost choral effect. The more airy work is still underpinned by a grooving kit and great melodic sensibility in the layering of synth. Two awesome and quite individual tracks so far!

Granular Extractor A much more gutsy track, this kicks off with some ‘in your face’ fat synth action, with more cymbal (hi-hat) rich percussion and an energetic synth line over the top, the kick and snare now feeling tighter and more robotic. There’s a really tasty, ‘tube-y’ distortion in the bridge and chorus parts that leads to a more open sound, reminiscent of a touch of ‘90s dance music. Certainly, one of the more aggressive tracks, although not over the top with it. I love the distorted, fuzzy, and nasty bass outro!

Krypton Garden Another track with organically played bass, those moments of fret buzz really add character and a human touch. It’s a cleaner, indie-band riff that quickly gets joined by some milky, guitar ensconced in rich sustain for a lovely, melodic lead line. Riffing along in the background is a swift electronic ditty keeping the track pulsing, another stormer with a more mellow moment towards the end that also involves light waves of static building over cool synth, before ending with that glorious guitar line sailing back in. Good.

Freon World Some single-coil guitar action* in the form of chiming, clean chords and a callback to the opening bass line of the album coming back in; albeit with a lighter, woollier, and cleaner sound. The drums also feel slightly more restrained, taking a backseat and this allows the strings to take centre stage, along with that whipping, rising and falling synth that again echoes the first track. Be prepared for some gorgeous bass and guitar runs that lead up to a full-on dance moment, a great nod to Kinetic Harvest in the musicianship that again, feels imperative. As far as I’m concerned, so far the album feels like a greatest hits compilation, and the bell-like nifty guitar runs here only add to that, tasteful and beautiful.

Side B:

Amethyst Caverns The second side of the record kicks off with that familiar 4/4 beat, accompanied by a bouncy synth line and a female vocoder sound that has an Asian ring to it. As the song moves through, synth lines and - eventually - that wonderfully milky guitar echo the vocoder line, thickening the layers and jamming around that central melody, the naturalistic playing of the guitar acting as a great counterpoint to the electronic heart of the track, ending with a funky glitch outro.

Neon Mines A great fuzzy, boxy bass riff, awesome keyboard bends and a more natural-sounding electronic drumbeat are the order of the day here. This feels like a band made up of robots jamming out. I love the shimmering synth punctuating the end of the riff in this one and egg-shaker drops in and out, adding colour. It’s not long before there’s a ‘90s-style, slow middle-eight that’s brought back into the fold via…yes… electric guitar with sustain for days! Good. Handclaps come in to see the song out alongside some tom drum rolls. A great and uplifting party track that straddles the line between seeming retro in the structure but futuristic in the playing and choice of instrumentation, very cool.

Argon Refinery Finally…. Slap bass. And a great riff, at that! Swirling synth notes and biting, punchy stabs of distortion work around that main ascending melody, soon being joined by dual-layered electric guitar. This carries on the good-time vibe that bleeds through this side of the record, and I can very much imagine this pumping out of a car as the driver slaps the outside door (in 4/4, natch), whilst booming down the motorway. It also ends with some saucy, layered guitar bends.

Xenon Home World A bold intro! What sounds like a down-tuned, distorted bass playing a descending slide riff, punctuated by what I can only describe as a robotic frog croaking. Good. The wavery synth and electronic bass and drums still keeping up that party atmosphere, but this time in a weirder, more experimental take on things. Heavily treated guitar cuts through as well as cascading keyboard runs; a heavier, moodier and more esoteric track than most of the others on the album, one full of character.

The End of the World The final track kicks off with a busy percussive start before the guitars and synth kick in, this time in a more straightforward riff. The pace is still here, courtesy of the ever-present beat. There’s a section a minute or so in that feels very ‘Amiga’ in how it drops out and comes back in with some 16-bit vibes. One of the shorter tracks on the album, this riffs around the main melody and continues the thread of smooth guitars laying down some nice lines over a rock-solid groove. It’s quite an understated ending that feels perhaps a touch too abrupt as it fades out…but heck, maybe I just wanted more.

I’ve listened to this album many times over the last couple of weeks and it always feels fresh when I listen, the production is like biting into a shiny, crunchy apple and that heady mix of ‘live’ and sampled instruments – as well as the type of distortion and mixing used - remind me a lot of Chris Christodoulou’s work on Deadbolt, albeit with a far ‘dancier’ sensibility here. It’s a great summer record as the steady beat throughout keeps the pace up and the album never shifts gears too extremely into intense weirdness, ambience or intensity – and that gives it a groove and sense of familiarity. 

As I mentioned at the start of the article, I hadn’t heard of Shatter or Module prior to covering this and it has absolutely put Jeremiah Ross on the map for me, I look forward to hearing his other releases, as this made a hell of an impact. It’s a tough record to get a hold of, but a real recommendation if you can. Whilst there’s always the hope of a second pressing, the music is widely available and streaming on all services, so I suggest tucking in right now, however, you can.

Module also let me know that the soundtrack has recently had a 5.1 surround sound mix as well as a new, updated stereo mix. Shatter (the game) is also available through Netflix games, so dive in!

*I contacted Module in regard to the guitar sound, and he stated “It was an Ashton fender clone, a cheapy from the 2nd hand shop. I grabbed it for its tone and feel, there’s a video around of me playing it in my studio years ago”  

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