PC MUSIC VOL. 2 by Various Artists
Genre: Electropop, Bubblegum Bass
Favorite Tracks: “Fade Away (Hannah Diamond),” “Super Natural (Danny L. Harle and Carly Rae Jepsen),” “a new family (Felicita),” “Broken Flowers (Danny L. Harle),” “I.D.L. (Life Sim)”
It’s happened before and it’ll happen again: our favorite artists and musical movements eventually grow up and get older. Vaporwave, Death Grips, American Football…these are just three examples of things that I’ve personally felt the growing pains of this year, and, truthfully, we all knew that it was only a matter of time before PC Music joined the pile. If you browsed a music blog even once in 2015, you’ve heard of A.G. Cook and company by now, and you’re likely tired of hearing descriptors like “sugar-coated, pink-colored pop maximalism,” “hyper-realist,” and “overtly saccharine.” Well, luckily for you, the old rules rarely rear their heads on PC MUSIC, VOL. 2, if ever, for better and for worse. On one hand, the transcendental head-rush that occurred the first time you heard “Hey QT (QT)” or “Beautiful (A.G. Cook)” is nowhere to be found, as the kitschy aesthetic has now been made commonplace. On the other, it’s a sign of the distinct PC Music sound’s pervasiveness and prevalence that a feature from a pop icon like Jepsen feels entirely earned, while harsh, vaguely industrial tracks such as “Poison (GFOTY),” and “a new family (Felicita),” prove that the label’s still got some tricks up their sleeve.
On first listen, I couldn’t help but be disappointed, as other than “Broken Flowers,” which has been kicking around the internet in some form or another since 2013, there is no definitive single from VOL. 2 to compete with VOL. 1’s aforementioned “Beautiful,” “Keri Baby (A.G. Cook and Hannah Diamond),” or “Laplander (easyFun).” VOL. 2 is a much more consistent compilation than its predecessor, but it does lose a certain amount of volatility in the process. The reason why duds such as “Wannabe (Lipgloss Twins)” and “Don’t Wanna / Let’s Do It (GFOTY)” didn’t bring down the overall experience of the first installment was the fact that that they were gleefully parodic and perverse, practically flipping the bird at the listener for daring to take this whole thing so seriously. At first a rather scathing tongue-in-cheek finger-wag at “aesthetic” consumers of music hailing from the blogosphere, VOL. 2 now feels like PC Music is giving us almost exactly what we want and expect.
As such, it’s a rare critique to lobby against an album, but it’s almost a letdown how there are no fundamentally bad tracks. A.G. Cook’s stabs at balladeering on “Superstar” don’t exactly hit the singing sweet spot, but aren’t bad enough to be intriguing on sheer tastelessness alone, and while “Hi (Hannah Diamond)” is by far the weakest track on VOL. 2, it’s only because we’ve long grown accustomed to the off-kilter deadpan of her heavily accented and robotic delivery. The listener is sure to be thrown for a loop by the fact that they’re expected to process this as a mostly straitlaced electropop album, a bona fide peer to fare such as Nite Jewel, Negative Gemini, or Jessy Lanza. And to its credit, it can’t be said that it fails. “Monopoly (easyFun and Noonie Bao)” makes use of some squelching industrial synth blasts, but juxtaposes them with a triumphant Ibiza counter-melody and a radio-friendly vocal chorus. “Only You (Li Yunchu)” is readymade for a smoky nightclub montage or sorority venue party. Hell, even Hannah Diamond rears it in for a silky smooth outing on the slick, polished opener “Fade Away,” which tempers the more ragged peaks of her usual presence. That’s not even to mention the unquestionable accessibility of the instrumental closer (which brings to mind the long retired DJ Warlord project), or the buzz-worthy pairing of Danny L. Harle and Carly Rae on what’s sure to be the track that gets the most mileage, despite being one of the more milquetoast.
The standout here in terms of sound and innovation is the one-two punch of “Poison” and “a new family,” the former of which falls somewhere in the middle of Sleigh Bells, glitch, and 8-bit, and the latter of which is an entirely surprising dabbling in what can almost be considered digital hardcore. While an undeniable sore thumb in terms of album cohesion, it’s also the freshest breath of air we get, walking away as the most memorable segment of the album by a long shot. Producer SOPHIE, unfortunately entirely absent here, used to be the wild card of PC Music, but with the menace and aggression exhibited on these two tracks and these two tracks only, there’s just a hint of what could prove to be a very dark and twisted future offshoot of PC Music, perhaps as a sort of parallel to the current development of hardvapour.
All in all, PC MUSIC, VOL. 2 is an enjoyable little compilation that shows that the label is here to stay, and will continue to make progressively larger strides into the layman’s cultural palette. As a collection of the label’s sounds and manifestos it errs on the side of being one-note, but perhaps a trajectory ending in commercial viability is the cherry on top that A.G. Cook always envisioned. That being said, there is certainly something absent here. It may be less memetic, but VOL. 2 makes it less transgressive to say you’re a fan of the label, and maybe, somewhere deep down, that’s what attracted all of us to it in the first place.