Groundislava stands apart because of an unusual penchant for fleshed-out songwriting. Where the last record that did this sound well—Dibiase's Machines Hate Me—was more like a restless beat tape of inspired melodies, Groundislava navigates songs instead of hurried two minute run-throughs. Ground Is Lava absolutely nails the classical-for-dummies beauty of early Japanese RPGs by composers like Nobuo Uematsu and Koichi Sugiyama. "A Grass Day" spirals out with teases of the ubiquitous Final Fantasy prelude themes. The album has suitably heroic overtures in "New Flesh" and "Final Impasse," which employ reverb to strengthen the synths into pseudo-orchestral grandeur, the kind of stuff that goes as nicely with timelapse photography of flowers blooming as it does with watching our hero traverse vast fields fighting assorted monsters.
Beyond all the stately pomp and circumstance, Groundislava isn't afraid to humanize the tinny machines, nor does he forget his ostensible hip-hop roots. The album's clear standout is "Panorama," which has vocalist Weary hanging above the halftime beat before falling down lazily over the regal chords and luminous shimmers (a bonus disco remix of "Panorama" from Clive Tanaka signals just how far Groundislava's pregnant musical ideas could be taken). Our hero's journey isn't without some barriers however: the rapping turn from Jon Wayne on "Shlava" feels hopelessly awkward and some tracks ("Stealth River Mission") never quite scratch beyond the surface of video game imitation.
Groundislava impossibly straddles both sides of the divide: his eponymous debut album succeeds both because it's a committed chiptune album and because of the airship flights it takes away from such restrictive origins. When these songs turn from 8-bit symphonies to full-fledged hip-hop, the effect is rarely less than spectacular, mainly because the transition sounds so natural. While in the end it's still a chiptune album—and thus, your mileage may vary over fifty minutes of the stuff—Groundislava has enough personality and compositional talent to bring it above mere stylstic exercise.
Fri / 15 Apr 2011
01. Pregaming the Rapture
03. A Grass Day
04. Young Lava
05. Final Impasse
06. The Dig
09. Stealth River Mission
10. New Flesh
11. Gravity Hoarding
12. One for Her
13. Animal (Young Montana? Remix)
14. Panorama (Clive Tanaka and Beaunoise Remix)