by Brian J. Audette
On Sleeper Hearts, Chalkboards offer up seven short, but sweet pop tracks that blur the lines separating traditional chiptune music from more standard electro-instrumental fare. It’s a curious excursion that’s both refreshing and familiar, but in the end leaves me wanting.
In a way I’ve always been a fan of chiptune and as a young gamer in the early 80’s I even used to record my favorite game accompanying songs onto cassette directly from the TV so that I could play them anywhere on my Walkman. As an adult, the development of what we now call chiptune as an aesthetic choice in the realm of electronic music (instead of a technical limitation) has always been hit or miss with me however. I’ll still listen to old 8-bit tracks every now and then, though I find that a lot of modern, original chiptunes compositions end up sounding samey. On Sleeper Hearts, Chalkboards seem to be making a concerted effort to remedy this in their own way, though I find that the results are varied.
The album opens with an almost wholly organic sound as a quiet concerto of guitars and twinkling chimes slowly peel back the layers of sleep at the dawning of a new day in “Sun.” This quickly gives way to lullaby chimes and a subtle build reminiscent of typical post-rock landscape pieces in “Postcure,” before bursting forth with a mixture of analog and digital instrumentation. This synergy continues through “Whitewash,” building on established themes and introducing a heavier emphasis on distorted chiptune arpeggios and twinkling beeps amid washes of reverby guitar.
Separately these opening tracks leave something to be desired, but as a suite they have a lot of strength and showcase Chalkboard’s most enduring achievement: a singularity of analog and digital sound similar to Austin electro post-rockers Octopus Project. As the album continues I find that the promise of this trio of tracks remains unfulfilled however. Somewhere around the halfway mark of Sleeper Hearts, Chalkboards lose the synergy of the opening. While the several short, self-contained tracks that follow rely more heavily on typical chiptunes pop riffs, there are still interesting flourishes and analog moments interspersed throughout. It’s the brevity and solitary nature of these songs that ultimately loses the thread for me however and I end up feeling that if the songs had been given another minute or two to evolve, that they would have ended up feeling more complete.
In the end Sleeper Hearts is a decent collection of songs, but one that seems unfinished to me and leaves me feeling teased rather than satisfied. There’s promise in these tracks though, especially the opening trio. Given more time to breathe and ultimately evolve, I’d be very interested to hear where Chalkboards can take their sound.
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bjaudette.