Revisiting Audiosurf reminds me that no one owns music in 2019

This article was originally published in PC Gamer UK 327 back in January. Consider subscribing to get our long-running magazine sent to your door. 

I had not considered that in this, the sixth Year of Luigi, finding music to play in Audiosurf would be a problem. Turns out I stream everything. The only CD I actually own is Bette Midler’s It’s The Girls album and even then I’d need to stream the tracks from that via Spotify because I don’t have a disc drive on my PC anymore.    

After exhausting the sole track included with the game (Audiosurf Overture by Pedro Macedo Camacho) I decide to stream Audiosurf Online Radio, which is basically just a Soundcloud playlist. The only song on the playlist is Audiosurf Overture by Pedro Macedo Camacho. 

I only discover this later when Phil looks it up, as trying to connect to Audiosurf Online Radio by clicking a very 2008-looking button marked ‘www’ causes the entire game to crash. Even Windows’ task manager can’t help me fix it, so I have to reboot my whole PC. 

Rather than risk the World Wide Web again, I’ll need to feed Audiosurf some MP3s directly. This is how I end up on the Free Music Archive downloading songs like ‘Happy Birthday’ by Eric Rogers (a celebration of the birthdays of people called Eric and Shelly) and ‘i love you’ by Catherine Pancake (a woman who says the words ‘olive juice’ over and over until they gradually turn into ‘I love you’). 

Making a point

Audiosurf takes these files and turns them into futuristic racecourses, each spackled with coloured blocks. Collecting groups of matching coloured blocks in each lane of the track is how you earn points. Warmer colours are worth more points, so red is the most desirable pickup and blue is chump change. If you clog up a lane with non-matching colours you can’t pick anything up for a while. 

'Happy Birthday' is too short to be an enjoyable course, and 'i love you' is slightly too weird. The Freak Fandango Orchestra’s Requiem for a Fish works surprisingly well. The latter has a jaunty folk rock thing going on which means there are plenty of blocks on the screen to maintain your attention, but after that I was struggling for mp3 options. Ambient electronica makes for absolutely tedious racing, while punk started giving me a headache, because I’m a million years old and deeply uncool. 

This is when I took my problem to the rest of the PC Gamer team.  

“No can do on the Reinstall, Phil,” I say. “No one actually owns any music nowadays.” 

This is how I come to learn that Phil paid money for an album called Monster Halloween Hits (full track listings here). He is very keen to distance himself from his purchase of Monster Halloween Hits, insisting that it was ‘necessary’ for a party his stepfather’s pub was hosting back in 2010. I don’t remember anything I bought in 2010 so it seems unlikely that Phil would recall this album so easily if he wasn’t still listening to it regularly. 

Regular haunts

The track listing of Monster Halloween Hits reads like an exercise in Halloween keyword searches. Sure, there are classic tunes like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Monster Mash, but the rest are just songs with vaguely spooky words in the title. And where the hell is the sublime Things That Go Bump In The Night by allSTARS* (a band which no one seems to remember except me, and whose members included a woman who played an Australian housemate in the eighth season of UK version of Big Brother and the guy who plays Darren Osborne in Hollyoaks)? 

While I listen to Things That Go Bump In The Night via a terribly low-quality YouTube video, I decide the biggest stumbling block with Monster Halloween Hits is that tonally it’s all over the place. 

Picture the scene: you go to the pub (the one which Phil may or may not have made up) expecting cheesy over-the-top cobwebstravaganza realness, and as you walk through the door the CD spits out Radiohead’s Creep. You go to the loo to try to get over your sudden waves of angst and alienation and by the time you get back it’s barrelled on towards Iron Maiden (The Number of the Beast, since you asked). 

You try to order a snakebite and black because memories of some metal club night at university are stirring and while you shout your order Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead pops up. You don’t know how to deal with this change in mood so you slide a quid onto the side of the pool table. You know pool. You like pool. Pool is pretty low-stress for you. Then O Fortuna from Carmina Burana starts up. Your pool game is now the most dramatic event of your life. You throw the pool cue onto the floor and run to the taxi rank. It’s all too much. You never attend another Halloween party as long as you live. 

I mean, Ghost Town by The Specials in on there. I assume it’s because it namechecks ghosts. Ghost Town is a song about unemployment and the decay of once-thriving areas. There’s a creeping horror there, sure, but not in the kind of campy over-the-top Halloween way. More in the way of political unrest and a loss of faith in governance. There’s also Black Night by Deep Purple, maybe because dark, gothy colour palettes and night are spooky? 

Shakira’s She Wolf is more interesting. It is ostensibly about werewolves, but, look, the werewolf is a metaphor for sexual agency and freedom. It’s a lot like Dracula, but instead of trying to put an end to all the sucking and seducing, Shakira’s like, “Mate, I’ve got a radar to track down eligible dudes and the emergency services on speed dial in case it gets so hot it catches fire.” She Wolf is also a total CHOON. 

Further complaints

I suspect that embracing a playful riff on folklore was less important to the selection process for Monster Halloween Hits than the fact it has the word ‘Wolf’ in the title. It is on the same CD as Creep and the only reason I can see for choosing Creep as a Monster Halloween Hit is that creep is part of the word ‘creepy’. This logic also would help explain Poison by Alice Cooper. Actually, it wouldn’t. 

My beef with Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead is a little more nuanced. Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead is about a witch, and witches are a Halloween staple. So far, so logical. But Ding Dong! is from The Wizard of Oz. It’s about a very specific witch being killed in extremely specific circumstances, i.e. being crushed to death under a gallivanting house. The commercial and party-focused strands of Halloween are not so much about eradicating witches as plastering them over everything. 

The only thing I can think of here is that in the movie, the singing of the song is overseen by Glinda the Good Witch so maybe there’s an ambient non-squashed witch in the song’s general orbit. I will, however, point out that Glinda dresses more like a tooth fairy or the kind of doll with a massive skirt your grandparents might use in the bathroom to hide spare rolls of toilet paper, and is not anything remotely Halloweeny. 

What it all comes down to is that there doesn’t seem to be any form of curation here. A compilation done right feels coherent. It feels like it’s either worth listening to the songs in order, or that it offers a comprehensible tone which can withstand being put on shuffle. Monster Halloween Hits avoids both. If one were to, for example, crack it out for use at some definitely non-fictional Halloween party at one’s stepdad’s pub, you’d be signing up to spend the entire evening with a finger hovering over the skip button. 

This is why no one owns music nowadays. We saw Monster Halloween Hits and decided that life was too short for these shenanigans. Well, everyone except Phil. Phil decided that this was exactly the lifestyle he was going to embrace. A life with Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead and no Things That Go Bump In The Night. 

I guess what I am trying to say here is that this Reinstall of Monster Halloween Hits was a complete disaster. 

Audiosurf is fine.