The Austin Chronicle

Hex Dispensers + Chip Tunes = Espectrostatic

By Kevin Curtin, April 4, 2014, 3:15pm, Earache!

On Tuesday, without warning, Hex Dispensers frontman Alex Cuervo – under his solo moniker of Espectrostatic – released a new EP curiously titled Phantominom VGS. In his typical sci-fi fashion, Cuervo gave the project an imaginative back-story:

“Based on the urban legend of a video game console no one had ever seen or heard of, purchased at a mysterious garage sale. The peculiar electrical and television hookups weren’t compatible with any existing or historical connections, leading some to speculate that this console was not of our world, but from a nearby parallel universe.”

The release marks Cuervo’s foray into chip tunes – a genre utilizing the monophonic, arpeggiated sounds of vintage videos. The guitarist, a serious gamer since the Nineties, says Phantominom VGS was inspired by the soundtracks to Super Metroid, Castlevania, and Blackthorne from the 32-bit era.

“I’m a tourist, just passing through the chip tunes community,” chuckles Cuervo, noting that he used a synthesizer while chip tune devotees limit their instrumentation to era-specific circuitry. “I don’t think this will connect with that hardcore audience because I didn’t stick to the criteria.”

Nevertheless, Phantominom VGS reveals video game nostalgia as interpreted through the dark, spooky lens of Cuervo. The EP, his third release since launching Espectrostatic in 2012, includes three original songs and three “PVGS remixes” of Espectrostatic and Hex Dispensers tunes. A chip tune remix of the latter band’s “Parallel” evokes a Nintendo-era driving game.

“That song’s about string theory and parallel universes,” explains its author. “I was in a terrible car accident in high school that, somehow, I walked away from with only scratches. I’ve always had this romantic notion that I died that day, but then a parallel reality splintered off.”

While Phantominom VGS was unveiled on April Fools Day, Cuervo’s intent remains serious. One hundred percent of the EP sales go to Hex Dispensers guitarist Rebecca Whitley, who incurred eye-bugging medical debt when she had a 23-pound ovarian cyst removed in October. Since Tuesday, the new Espectrostatic release has raised over $500 for Whitley. The digital-only EP costs $4.99 on Bandcamp, but buyers can donate extra.

While the Hex Dispensers had to cancel a short tour last year because of Whitley’s operation, Cuervo says the band remains active.

“We’re not going at it full force anymore, because all the band members have a lot going on personally,” he says. “But we aren’t on hiatus either.”

In recent years, Cuervo began a career making soundtrack music, while guitarist Tom Micklethwait quit the band to focus on his popular Micklethwait Craft Meats food trailer. The Hex Dispensers play next on April 18 at Red Eyed Fly with Annex for death rock event Funeral Parade, which is free, 9pm. A benefit for Rebecca Whitley follows at Red 7 on June 28 and reunites Houston garage punk heroes Sugar Shack.

Purchase Phantominom VGS here.

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