Crossfader’s Vaporwave Primer
Chuck Person – CHUCK PERSON’S ECCOJAMS VOL. 1
Favorite Tracks: “Eccojam A1,” “Eccojam A3,” “Eccojam A7,” “Eccojam B2,” “Eccojam B4,” “Eccojam B7”
The face that launched a thousand ships. Due to how formative of a release this is for both internet culture and music in general, there are innumerable in-depth pieces written about this album that will be far more comprehensive than this blurb, but here’s what you need to know. This is the first and the best vaporwave album that was ever recorded. Emerging out of nowhere from Daniel Lopatin’s think tank (well, not quite, but you’d have to have been keeping up with Oneohtrix Point Never’s KGB Man’s unofficial mixtapes and video compilations), CHUCK PERSON’S ECCOJAMS VOL. 1 offers up around an hour of chopped, screwed, glitched, reverbed, and otherwise aurally abused microsamples from the pop and easy listening of yesteryear. Acting as a fascinating representation of memory and recollection itself, this is pop culture looking in on itself and attempting to find a signal in the noise of a cavern of nostalgic malaise. Although it’s been well documented by this point, half the fun lies in trying to determine the sample sources, and Lopatin’s mastery at picking an otherwise banal and meaningless two-to-four second clip from something you heard on the radio a decade ago and turning it into a seemingly endless, tear-jerking anthem (my personal favorite, “Eccojam A3,” which makes use of a brief clip from the chorus of JoJo’s “Too Little Too Late”) would never again manifest itself in the genre. Much different than the sleek, mass-produced dumps that would occur a few years later, this is vaporwave that still sounds as exciting now as it did then. We can only hope one day we’ll get a second volume.
骨架的 – HOLOGRAMS
Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Sleep,” “Relax,” “Tones,” “Fountain,” “Clouds”
Undeniably fascinating, 骨架的 is one of the most mysterious artists in the vaporwave scene, having remained steadfastly anonymous in the face of internet scrutiny since the nascent days of the genre. HOLOGRAMS is certainly an oddity in the vaporwave canon, mostly because it doesn’t possess a coherent through line or “thesis,” if you would. Jumping from slowly undulating progressive electronic synthesizers to tinny, consumer grade Casio loops to ghostly wails from somewhere in the catacombs of the internet, HOLOGRAMS never manages to fully hit its stride or find its groove, but that’s exactly what makes it memorable and worthy of note. HOLOGRAMS evokes the sensation of being placed in a computer as a sensory deprivation tank, floating endlessly through data highways and dark, empty space as you suffer violent hallucinations. Whereas other vaporwave releases seem to aim to invoke feelings of halcyon reflection, 骨架的 doesn’t offer us the chance to indulge in any feelings of warmth or comfort, as it never manages to feel “human”; this is something much more subtly sinister and uneasy, something created from a place that’s not entirely friendly.
Laserdisc Visions – NEW DREAMS LTD.
Favorite Tracks: “Malls,” “Idgaf Island,” “Tingri,” “3D Wave,” “Information,” “Data Dream”
Allegedly constructed almost entirely from video game samples, NEW DREAMS LTD. is the premiere example of the segahaze subgenre (as if you thought there wouldn’t be even MORE hyper-specific classifications). The first of several releases coming from vaporwave wunderkind Ramona Andra Xavier on this list, NEW DREAMS LTD. is obsessed with, you guessed it, dreamlike interpretations of retro video game soundtracks. However, what is most successful about NEW DREAMS LTD. is how unassuming it is. Comparable to falling asleep with the PS4 on, the album never boorishly asserts itself or its aesthetic aims, content to lazily float by on rose-colored waves of vague, hazy nostalgia. While the samples of indiscriminate Japanese advertisements add the requisite layer of unfounded exotica, the album utilizes its kaleidoscopic tapestry of microsamples with distinct maturity, turning each into another component of its patchwork quilt of ambience instead of highlighting them in their own right. The result is another of vaporwave’s overlooked releases, a subtle stroll through the projected realm of an Akihabara game store in ’90s Japan.
esc 不在 – BLACK HORSE
Favorite Tracks: “3D Cliff’s Edge,” “Lay On Me,” “End of Life Consolation Scenario,” “Drive Home Thru the Stars For You,” “On a Pale Horse”
Another Ramona Andra Xavier effort, BLACK HORSE represents the genre’s computer-crowned queen at her most unabashedly populist and lowbrow, a far cry away from her preceding textured ambient work under the more unassuming Vektroid and Vektordrum monikers, and not quite imbued with the groundbreaking sense of import that would cause the forthcoming FLORAL SHOPPE to send shockwaves that are still being felt five years later. Although commonly skipped over by causal genre perusers, perhaps it is the gift of hindsight that allows the listener to realize that BLACK HORSE is the perfect primer for its astronomically more popular next-of-kin. Unapologetically presenting an eternal monolith of the warped, twisted easy listening samples the genre became popular for, BLACK HORSE is much less auteristic in its reworkings than the ECCOJAMS VOL. 1 it attempts to process and poke fun at it with the obsessive focus on Chris DeBurgh samples, presenting bite-sized earworm after bite-sized earworm and exiting stage right before you know what’s hit you. Perhaps the one essential “lazy” vaporwave album, Xavier still manages to demonstrate an infallible ear for extracting endlessly memorable soundbites, and both the extended, nearly unmediated long-form jamming of FLORAL SHOPPE’s “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” and purgatorial repetition of “[untitled]” are predicted on this album.
James Ferraro – FAR SIDE VIRTUAL
Favorite Tracks: “Global Lunch,” “Google Poeises,” “Adventures in Green Foot Printing,” “Dream On”
The vaporwave release that garnered the most intensive attention outside of the rabid internet fan base, FAR SIDE VIRTUAL is a brief genre stop over for experimental electronic wunderkind James Ferraro. Considered the original totemic vaporwave release alongside ECCOJAMS VOL. 1, although Xavier would fully double down with the sterile muzak aspirations presented on this album later on, Ferraro popularized the concept of repackaging the world’s most maligned music for the now age. However, I would argue that FAR SIDE VIRTUAL is the best introduction to the genre for the wary listener, as Ferraro’s lengthy background in progressive electronic offer a distinctly different color to his elevator fantasies than gets presented in the Ramona Andra Xavier rabbit hole. The album rides high on steadily undulating layers of naive MIDI symphonies and a wide swath of variety in terms of sounds and samples utilized, and the album as a whole is more cohesive, taking time to breathe with more ambient-oriented passages and interjecting computerized voices to provide a slight narrative framework to the proceedings. Controversial since its inception, FAR SIDE VIRTUAL is still guaranteed to act as a litmus test for both uninitiated listeners and vaporwave obsessives alike, but it demonstrates a far more nuanced construction than any other album on this list.
情報デスク VIRTUAL – 札幌コンテンポラリー
Favorite Tracks: “札幌地下鉄・・・「ENTERING FLIGHT MUSEUM],” “ODYSSEUSこう岩寺「OUTDOOR MALL ],” “PRISM CORP不可能な生き物,” “M A X I FERRARI ~ レーススラム,” “「GOODNIGHT BLESS YOU」つかの間のSPIRIT,” “☆ANGELBIRTH☆,” “HEALING 海岸で昼寝MY LAST TEARS”
Once again ladies and gentlemen, Ramona Andra Xavier. 札幌コンテンポラリー is a tricky album to put a finger on, as Xavier’s curatorial capabilities are out in full force here, deftly obscuring the line between what’s sampled and what’s original content. But that’s exactly where the album’s genius lays; no other vaporwave release so resolutely captures the glassy-eyed corporate futurism of the genre’s ideological aims as 札幌コンテンポラリー. A 74-minute moving walkway ride through a Baudrillardian orgy of simulacra and simulation, Xavier takes us on an all-encompassing and subtly ominous auditory tour through a shopping mall of the near future as the synthetic elevator funk of muzak and smooth jazz constantly blares all around us from unidentifiable sources. The reworking of each sample is slight, but this album is unique for its avoidance of the codeine-coated haze the genre’s become shallowly appropriated for. What is definitive about 札幌コンテンポラリー is that it is vaporwave at its omega station of corporate aesthetic, and even the most begrudging of vaporwave engagers have to admit that Xavier may have created an extended soundtrack to a home shopping network, but that still showcases a ruthlessly singular and comprehensive artistic vision.
MACプラス – フローラルの専門店
Favorite Tracks: The entire album
Truthfully, one of the most formative musical experiences I’ve ever had. Though the genre was well established by late 2011 when フローラルの専門店 (FLORAL SHOPPE) was released, it proved to be vaporwave’s most accessible and culturally relevant release, spreading like wildfire through online message boards and even garnering enough attention to merit a review from the internet’s busiest music nerd. Where many of the genre’s releases are purported to fail, FLORAL SHOPPE succeeds, serving as an engaging sample platter of the many manifestos the genre can entertain instead of a one-note, endlessly recycled exercise in sample-based curios. That’s not to say that sample-based curios aren’t present on FLORAL SHOPPE; as with any vaporwave release in the more eccojam vein of things, much of the reward is to be found in delineating the musical progenitors of the track in question. A hazy nostalgia is present throughout the entire length of the proceedings, and even when the samples of yesteryear are less obvious and seem cultivated from generic smooth jazz compilations, the grainy aesthetic of a late ’80s/early ’90s VHS tape is inescapable. Also inescapable is a pervading sense of uneasiness, comparable to the effects of the Uncanny Valley or Baudrillard’s simulacra, wherein slight altercations in an entity’s corporeal nature raise hackles on those who witness it. Whether you engage the music as a paranoid, anxious look towards the increasing proliferation of post-modern trains of thought, a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the functionality of the internet in terms of production and distribution and its predilection for kitsch, or an affectionate archive of the past, FLORAL SHOPPE delivers in spades. A winking sense of mischief keeps the listener on their toes, and whether Xavier is criticizing or celebrating the eclecticism of the technological platform that FLORAL SHOPPE is dependent upon is left to the listener to decide. As a culture we are continually shouting into the abyss of the internet, and Xavier proves that sometimes it shouts back.
Sacred Tapestry – SHADER
Favorite Tracks: “花こう岩Cosmorama,” “移住,” “凍傷”
Easily amongst the more challenging releases on this primer, SHADER is a reflexive Ramona Andra Xavier effort that offers a nuanced look back upon the genre she helped to perpetuate. Offering up lengthy seas of constantly repeating, myopic musical phrases, occasionally augmented by slight layers of noise and glitch, SHADER is not for the short of patience. Yet within the album’s minimalistic formal construction, the vast expanses of metonymic space that is provided cannot be ignored. This is perhaps the ultimate vaporwave album for the vaporwave fan, as 2012 was already signaling the death knells of the genre as far as purists are concerned, and there is something irrevocably depressing about the sounds contained within, as if Xavier is looking back at her child and wondering if she raised it right. I’m not going to pretend that I couldn’t personally probably do without “新たな夢Spirited Child (Color Ocean Sky),” but even at its most frustrating, SHADER is an album that forces the listener to consider the meteoric rise and subsequently meteoric crash of vaporwave in the popular consciousness. Think of how we came, and how much further we could have gone. Hell, I’ll be damned if I didn’t tear up just a little bit during “移住.”
Eco Virtual – VIRTUAL大気中分析
Favorite Tracks: “Morning Haze,” “Bermuda High,” “Gradient Winds,” “Tropical Depression”
A controversial entry, but an important one nonetheless. VIRTUAL大気中分析 is the first major vaportrap release, mixing the requisite pensive smooth jazz samples and severely stoned vocal snippets and adding in the “free SoundCloud mixtape” drum programming of internet-oriented trap. As such, it understandably angered many of those who enjoy their vapor uncut, but to a large extent, releases such as these helped get the genre out of its originally claustrophobic parameters of appeal. With regular nods to future funk and the occasional demonstration of being able to craft the early morning, washed-out sunrise palettes of his peers (“Tropical Depression”), Eco Virtual’s debut may not be as mature as many of the other albums on this list, but it’s accessible, readily consumable, and branches out the genre into more easily disseminated realms. The weather station theme is successfully held up over the course of the scant 20 minutes, and there’s nothing to suggest that this couldn’t easily be slipped into any party playlist after 2 AM.
泰合志恒 – 神秘的情人
Favorite Tracks: “没有你,” “情欲,” “神秘的情人,” “变化,” “一起”
2015 was a bit of a return to form for vaporwave, especially considering the buzzy I’LL TRY LIVING LIKE THIS coming from death’s dynamic shroud.wmv. Far more unassuming and far more skillful, however, was 神秘的情人, a release from a moniker of modern day vapor mogul t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者. Heavily indulging in the ambient leanings of early Vektroid, 神秘的情人 is an album with a tangible weight, fully submerging the listener in the aquatic environment alluded to on the album cover. What I like most about it is its construction of samples as full-blown environments, making sonic landscapes out of the most humble of slowed down, lo-fi snippets of nondescript East Asian pop. A nearly numbing effort for how hard and how long it hits the pleasure centers, 神秘的情人 is an exhaustive soundtrack to a lucid dream and nearly every track conjures a state of unadulterated melancholic ecstasy. However, whereas mixing the right pop sample to progress at glacial pace makes obvious its intent to manipulate our desires for the past, 泰合志恒 is far more insidious, painting wide swaths of twilight colors we have to carefully consider. This just may be what we hear when we die.