Installation Disk is an album about installing an OS goddamn it, and I dare you to find a music genre besides vaporwave that would even entertain the idea. Actually, there is a lot more to it than that. “Our goal was to comment on the pros and cons of the advancement of technology within one cohesive work.” So says Vivi Vulture. “We wanted to bring about a piece that flowed and glitched, got you comfortable, then ripped off the blanket.” L a z u l i _ y e l l o w echoed his partner’s statement on the sinister undertone of this album; “I had this idea of a Windows 95 startup disk that slowly brainwashed the user.” The theming of this concept album is great. From front to back, they absolutely nail the feeling of some malevolent bit of software being installed in on your computer. The album also has an impressive variety of tunes from our silly little genre. From the more traditional sounds of slowed down samples that can be found in “Formatting… DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR DEVICE” to the more upbeat trappy sounds of “PCI Bus Scan,” this is an album that does a whole lot. And yet it still feels like one complete piece of work thanks to its overarching theme. As promised above, the album, ends on some rather disturbing notes, as it ventures into more experimental sounds that will leave you feeling more than a bit unsettled. This one gets a thumbs up.
There is no easier way for an album to piss me off than to use a sample, slow it down, and call it a new piece of music that is now yours. Luckily, Penthouse Pleasures by Crystal Eternal does not do that. (I pulled a sneaky on you.) You can tell they really put the work in. Painting a picture of a highrise penthouse in New York City (Hey, I know that place!) the album primarily uses ‘80s disco, jazz, and funk to give it a very urban feel, not too dissimilar from the likes of Saint Pepsi (Hey, I know that guy!) Admittedly, Penthouse Pleasures does start to sound very “samey” as it goes on. Instead of each song feeling unique from one another, I found myself sort of compartmentalizing them and going, “this one is a jazz song and this one is a disco song and this one is another jazz song.” This could have been prevented by cutting down the number of tracks on the album or mixing sounds up a bit more, but other than that, it is a skillful album and will likely scratch that itch you got for vaporwave with a big city feel and a high living sound.
Ah, 1997. I was at the tender, innocent age of five, discovering the things that would influence me for the rest of my life, such as Power Rangers and mimosas. It was also the final year that the original Sailor Moon anime was aired on American television sets. Back then, I didn’t really care, but it appears that for one vaporwave artist, this was nothing short of a tragedy.
Eric Gordon — aka Darien Shields — has been in the vaporwave game since 2017 and told me that he had a goal in mind when creating this alias: to create a total of seven unique albums, themed according to the years that Sailor Moon (the show he takes his name from) aired on television, so from 1991 to the aforementioned 1997. Platinum Phantom is the last in this series of albums, and as such, every sample from the album is from the far-off year of 1997. Besides the theming, he stated this time that he, in his own words, wanted to lean more into vaporwave cliches.
“This time I focused a lot more on MIDI composing than on any previous albums though. Some songs are wholly original compositions made from the samples I lifted. Some parts are just straight up slow-downs, but I tried to do that as sparingly as possible this time so I could really explore more and invest more of myself into the music.”
I like vaporwave albums with themes as it helps in the artist’s grand quest to make the listener feel something. Walking through a rainy Japanese mega-city or shopping in an eerily empty indoor mall or just making you feel sad as !@#$ are all popular themes in vaporwave. The question is; what is this album trying to make you feel? And the answer is: Well I’m not quite sure. Yes, nearly all of the samples are from 1997, but at no point did the album feel like this is something that was from or paying homage to that year. The album seems to lack a coherent vision or goal, not just overall, but in the individual songs as well.
So let us get right into it with… a slowed-down voice clip from Austin Powers? With that rather curious introduction, “Backstreet” continues. It begins intriguingly enough — Austin Powers sample aside — with an interesting melody, but instead of adding variation to that melody or having the song ramp up, it does the opposite and slams on the brakes. The music stops and what replaces it is some ultra lofi drum work and what sounds like someone banging on a pot with a metal spoon. This goes on for a bit before the melody from earlier fades back in. However, by this time my “groove,” as it were, was broken, leaving me rather unsatisfied. Vaporwave is no stranger to change-ups, however, there is usually an overarching feeling the artist is trying to convey when this is done. With this track, and many others on the album, it almost feels as though it is two different tracks and ideas unharmoniously meshed together.
“Comrade Chad” begins with a few scattered sound effects. Blowing wind, the sound of shoes squeaking on gym floors, and a tambourine. These sounds start to come together to create an interesting beat, but it just straight up stops before anything can come of it. What follows is a vaporwave tune with some pan flute thrown in which lasts for all of 47 seconds (I counted) before it again turns into something else that does not at all resemble what came before. A simple tambourine and drum-filled rhythm that can be described as rather plain. There never feels like there is a reason for these change-ups to take place and there isn’t enough time for each piece to develop before it goes on to the next one.
“Tux” is a classic vaporwave affair with a slowed-down sample and some sexual undertones. It is minimally edited, but this harkens back to the vaporwave “cliches” that Darien mentioned earlier, so it appears this was very much on purpose. It does not sound bad, just rather plain, though it is undoubtedly vaporwave, and likely will scratch an itch for those who are a fan of the classic style.
“Cosplay” is a faster tune that sounds like it should be blasted at a fashion show. This is to say, that while it plays like it ought to be turned up nice and loud, it is not what your attention and focus should be on, leaving it in a bit of an odd position. I know that is not exactly helpful for what the music actually sounds like though, so I will say that it has a lot of electronic sounds and sirens and such. It is not poorly composed or made, but it is simply not something I can see myself listening to outside of a Zoolander film.
The uncomfortably named “Daddy” is in the same vein as “Tux.” We get a slowed-down sample that ups the groove factor, and has served as the base of vaporwave for over a decade now. This one is a bit more edited than “Tux,” which puts more of Darien’s personal touch on it. Reverbed, mixed, and tuned down with some impressive sound engineering towards the end with how the song fades out.
“Novartis” is a nice little tune that kicks things down a notch and conjures up images of running down a beach in slow motion, or at the very least watching a commercial for a Sandles Resort. It is a very light track and the one I think most has the “vibe” of 1997 that I think Darien is trying to convey throughout the entire album.
It leads into “Daisuki,” which has very little to say about itself, as the song appears to be two minutes of a nine-second melody on repeat with only minimal variation. The sound itself is very “mallsoft” and the right amount of echo is put on the track to make it feel the part, but it sounds like it should be a piece of something larger. If this was a track on a mallsoft album, I would excuse it as simply there to set the tone, but I am unsure of how to feel about it on an album like this. As with change-ups, repetitiveness is something that is no stranger to vaporwave. For some artists, it has even become their go-to technique, but when one does this, you had best make sure those nine seconds resonate with the listener. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t.
I liked the next track, “Outrun.” However, this may be only because I am on a chiptune kick as of late. Just over two minutes of classic arcade-sounding goodness, and though it feels out of place on the album, as a stand-alone track, it is a catchy piece and is an example of repetitiveness done the right way. It conveys a clear feeling of “retro-ness” and has the clearest intentions of all the songs on the album. It isn’t complex, but in this instance and with what the song is trying to make you feel, it doesn’t need to be.
Sampling a scene from the 1997 box-office bomb B.A.P.S is “Pimpsqueak.” Following the sample is a short tune in the classic vaporwave style, with a slightly tropical feel, before “Main Drag (Feat. Donor Lens)” takes us back to the throbbing beat of a dance club. It is slightly minimalistic in its sound, but I feel like it does what it sets out to do. A track that sounds like it is meant to be played as a generic dance tune in an action movie, with the main character moving his way through a club, on his way to confront the drug lord that distributes his product in the basement of the place. The song is meant to inform you that, yes, this is indeed a place where young people go to boogie and do drugs, but that is it. It is one of those rare dance tracks that is not actually meant to be played too loud. A bit repetitive yes, but I dare you to find a dance track that is not.
The longest track on the album is the finale, “Deep Blue/Orange Julius.” It begins with a 1:40 piano piece before suddenly transitioning into a slowed-down version of Amy Grant’s pop hit, “Good for Me.” A great choice for a sample, however, there are some issues. It appears to only be minimally edited, save for being slowed down. I also fail to see the significance of pairing it up with the initial piano solo. I feel like the artist was trying to get across a message to me that I simply did not understand, and I really tried. I thought perhaps there was some significance in the name, with the piano being Deep Blue and the Amy Grant part being Orange Julius, but a google search revealed no correlation. And finally, though it is a small issue, “Good for Me” was released in 1992. Just sayin’
Looking at the info on the Bandcamp page for this album reveals that there are a wide and impressive variety of samples used in the making of this album, but for such variety, it seems that there is very minimal usage of them in meaningful ways. So much so that I was fooled into thinking that a track that used multiple samples, had only one source. The love is just spread too thin. The talent is there (Shields’ previous albums attest to that) and you can tell it’s there, just not the sound. If I had to sum up the album with a single phrase, it would be: missed opportunity. There are plenty of instances where the album hints at something great, but then switches to something… not as great. The jumping around of tones and styles is jarring and the theme of 1997 just does not excuse this. Platinum Phantom feels like three completely different incomplete albums rolled up into one, only sort of complete album.
My doctor says that I need to stop getting so bothered by the little things. He says it is bad for my health, but all I feel when looking at the cover of Sev’s latest album Zero-G is FURY. The cover depicts the instantly recognizable Blue Falcon F-Zero Machine, presumably piloted by legendary racer/bounty hunter Captain Falcon, but flying through space! F-Zeros were not meant to operate in the cold vacuum of space and low gravity environments, which is why Captain Falcon uses his Falcon Flyer Space Cruiser to navigate the stars! Everyone knows that! Such a lack of respect for a universally beloved franchise is tough to forgive, but I will admit that the music within the album in question may allow Sev a pass, but only just barely!
Zero-G was released late April on the ever-reputable Pacific Plaza Records, with the artist stating that this was his most challenging project to date in his six years of making music. The main inspiration for the concept of this album likely will not surprise you. Sev credits the well-known vaporwave producer Equip and specifically, his CURSBREAKER X album.
“The idea of making an OST for a game that doesn’t exist was so interesting to me. The authenticity to the style he was aiming for and the incredible world-building and musical storytelling he was able to accomplish immediately inspired me to undertake Zero-G.”
Vaporwave and video games go together like me and Chipotle so I was eager to give this album a listen. The tracks are named things like “Title_Screen.wav” and “Combat Tutorial,” which I am a big fan of, not only because they go with the theme of course, but because it gives a plain description of what it is you -ought- to be feeling when listening to the track and what the creator had in mind when producing it.
So naturally the first track on the album, entitled “START UP” is a charming little tune, but only 15 seconds in length. It can be forgiven for this though, as all you have done so far is turn on your game console. You have not actually begun to play the game. Be patient.
The first taste of the actual “game” itself is in “Title_Screen.wav,” which paints the picture of a futuristic starfighter action game. The track has a slow start, as one can imagine the title of the game slowly coming into view before the song really takes off with some synthy goodness and a bass line that serves to up the groove factor. It does a great job at setting the tone for the rest of the album and establishes the first brush strokes in the video game that you should be picturing in your mind as the rest of the album plays.
But slow the hell down Space Cowboy, you aren’t ready for takeoff just yet. “Worldmap” is next and is one of the slower tracks on the album. The tune is a calming one, but is made unique by its use of various sound effects that continue to play into the album’s theming. Retro blips and confirmation sounds signal that the player of this game is likely scrolling through menus, possibly looking for where they can invert the analog stick.
“Homeworld Departure” is the fourth track on the album and it signals that it is time to blast off, with the help of Soul▲Craft, who has a guest spot on the song. The song is more upbeat and faster than the ones that came before and allows Sev’s roots as a trap artist to shine through. The song makes sure to set the right tone though. You are taking off and blasting through space, but the enemy has yet to reveal themselves and as such, you do not get a feeling of high-intensity combat with this one.
“MissingNo. #1 [Forest Planet]” is a style of vaporwave that I have really begun to enjoy recently thanks to an album I had reviewed previously. It’s a track that is undoubtedly futuristic in tone but heavily leans into nature and the natural world. It hits the breaks on the trap-style percussion and tones down the synths a tad, allowing instruments like the wood block to give the track a much more down-to-Earth sound. This in addition to the sounds of birds chipping and flowing water makes this track stand out in a special way even if the synth is still front and center.
Much like previews before a movie, the tutorial is the best part of a video game, and track six on this album, “Combat Tutorial,” is a banger and the track where the entire album really starts to get going. This, along with the following two tracks, “MissingNo. #2 [City Planet – ft Chrom ’47]” and “Escort Mission” are where Sev’s skills as a producer shine. Percussion, synth, and 8-bit chiptune all come together to create three great tracks which nail the retro game tone the album is going for.
“MissingNo. #3 [Ice Planet]” starts out as a relatively chill affair (heh) but in a good way, sounding exactly like how ice would sound if you know what I mean. (Note: My editor wanted me to explain how exactly ice sounds, but we all know what I mean right? Right. Don’t be such a dick Gban.) The track doesn’t stay that way for long though, as it breaks off into a trap beat that would feel right at home on a Blank Banshee album, but doesn’t get too carried away so as to not break the mood of the piece.
Hey, a title track on a vaporwave album! Pretty novel! “Zero-G” is good, but it is not great. It is heavy on the synth and an easy enough listen, but I cannot help but feel that this was a track for Sev to show off something that is uniquely his sound, and what we get instead is a relatively tame synthwave song. It does accomplish what it sets out to do and continues to build upon this retro virtual world of galactic starfighters, but still winds up feeling like a missed opportunity.
A quick breather with “Prelude.” The calm before the storm, until at last, the climax in “Boss Battle [ft. Prismer].” This is the heaviest, heart-poundingest track on the album, and as well it should be. It comes out swinging, but still leaves room for things to escalate. Furthermore, Sev includes plenty of switch-ups allowing other instruments to take the lead at different times, masterfully switching between retro chiptune and synth that is an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Sadly, there is a slight problem in that the song ends rather abruptly. Furthermore, as slamming as this track is, it feels like it belongs in the cocaine and dream-fueled world of Kirby rather than something like a Star Fox or Metroid game. With that said though, the track is one of the stars of the album and a great listen.
A winner is you on the last track of the album, “Mission Complete.” One final breather and a congratulations, the first half of the song paints a picture of you landing back at home base and receiving a medal for your valor. The second half, though, is led by a repetitive baseline that I sort of see as the credits rolling. It’s a somewhat less active song than the other tracks on the album, but does serve its purpose as a good closer. It ends on an almost sinister note though as if the camera zooms in on the corpse of the defeated boss and you swear you see it twitch. The End?
Zero-G was an ultra-fun listen and the highest compliment that I can give is that it most definitely accomplishes its goal in painting the picture of a retro starfighter that you can be fooled into thinking actually existed. On top of that, the tracks are wonderfully and neatly composed with only a few minor complaints in regards to risks not taken. The question is, does it excuse the insult on the cover as mentioned in the first paragraph? The answer is a resounding maybe…
There is a certain sub-genre of vaporwave that you play in the bedroom for when you want to set the right mood before you make sweet, sweet love to your significant other. These tracks usually use samples from the 80’s whose lyrical contents include themes of romance, love and baby making. The style has become a staple sound for many big time vaporwave artists like Waterfront Dining and Trademarks & Copyrights, but as with any track that samples other music, a big effort needs to be made to turn the songs into something completely new — and mitsuki ep by Cat Barbers does not quite make the cut. There are glimpses of something interesting in various parts of the album and the sample choices are on point, but there is simply not enough here to make the album stand out from many others like it. This is not to say the album is bad and it absolutely succeeds in setting the mood I mentioned above, however thanks to minimal edits and a lack of variety, I can’t imagine listening to this album unless I need some mood music for when I am getting down and dirty with some fine foxy mama, which means I am not going to be putting this one on very often…
I have been in a bit of a rut recently. Every so often, I get in these moods where the fire in my heart that keeps my love of vaporwave alive begins to flicker. Albums that used to stir my soul and strike a chord with me start to feel the same and the genre falls into a bland spiral of “meh” ness. Indy (the boss man) knows I get into these moods, so he approaches me with this album to review with a simple message attached: “You are gonna like this one.”
Bathroom Plants is a utopian virtual vaporwave producer who calls himself a “PhotoSynthesizer” (I see what you did there). He broke into the scene back in April of 2019 with Installing Symbiotopia 2.0.1, an album that apparently caught the attention of vapor-veteran Golden Living Room. The two collaborated with one another on Bathroom Plants’ second album 9 Reflections (which infuriatingly has 13 tracks on it) released on Halloween of 2020. Both albums are really solid and provide an almost religiously hopeful soundscape that seems to have become the artist’s MO. Thus we come to December of 2021 with his new release, Garden of Accrescent Vistas.
The themes of the album— and in fact, the entire Bathroom Plants project — cannot be ignored. “I consider Bathroom Plants as a project focused towards creating a positive vision of the future, something to hope for and work towards. Basically an antidote to the dystopian cyberpunk visions that have become our present reality.” The album, much like his previous ones, is filled with images of a perfect utopian future. All the tracks are dripping with hope and optimism of a world that could be. One of understanding, cooperation, and harmony with nature.
Right off the bat, Bathroom Plants sticks to the sound I mentioned above with the first track “Expedition of Earthly Healing” but mixes it up with impressive synth use and what sounds to be a sitar, an instrument which probably ought to be used more in vaporwave. I was quite impressed with this one as the track could have easily looped the first minute and a half together and it would have been more than enough for many producers, but Bathroom Plants continues to add to it, ensuring the song never gets boring.
“Building Together on Toppled Pyramids” continues to make use of the old school instruments by tossing in a pan flute to the tune of a lovingly melodic synth that expertly mixes up old with new, with the pan flute going in HARD towards the end, but in a good way.
In keeping with the long and optimistic-sounding names, “New Heights that we may all Soar” shows off Bathroom Plants’ lovingly gentle touch in regards to the synth, showing that you do not need to go crazy to produce great vaporwave that relies on a synthesizer.
Track four, “Telepathic Pathways of Love,” gives off a more retro-futuristic vibe, with a wonderful climax towards the end, piling on some heavy synth sounds that make you feel like you have arrived in a far-off future time where everything is just amazing and no pain exists. Kind of like walking into the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland.
If there is any part on this album where it slips a bit, it would likely be “Recalibrating the Cosmic Scale.” This is not to say that this is a bad track by any means, but compared to the other songs on Garden of Accrescent Vistas, it seems a tad simple. Halfway through the song, a futuristic choir rings out in harmony which got my hopes up, but he does not stick with it which is disappointing.
“Ancient Spirits in the Infinite Forest” (loving these track names) is a nice, slightly more atmospheric track. It is an airy and more ethereal piece that does not overstay its welcome at two minutes and thirty-three seconds, making it the shortest of the album. A smart move on Bathroom Plants’ part as it prevents the track from getting repetitive and shows that sometimes, less is better.
The second to last track, “Digital Organics Beyond the Horizon of Time” is the one “simple song” that many vaporwave artists have on their albums. By this I mean the song is not too complex, but what separates this simple track from others is that it manages to come off as not being lazy. Like the other tracks on the album, it does not rely upon repetitiveness, which is something that not too many similar tracks of this kind can say.
The grande finale comes in the form of “An Ever-Growing Future.” It is the proverbial cherry atop this treat of an album and paints a picture of a utopia where technology and nature have finally found harmony. The track is uplifting and sounds almost classically composed as though it were made by someone who had been doing this their entire lives.
I once told a fellow Utopia District member that I prided myself on being a tough person to please. When asked about what it would take for me to give an album a five-star review, I told them that I had no idea, but that I would know when I heard it. This is an album that is filled with hope and optimism and may have very well reignited my love of the genre. And yet I am filled with rage, because now I have to go to Indy, hat in hand, and say the words that I swore that I would never say to him:
I don’t mind going on record here and saying that I am a big fan of Satan. You can quote me on this. I’m a huge fan of his work, but the creation of Halloween is by far his magnum opus. A day dedicated to goblins, ghosts, and ritualistic sacrifices? What is not to love? But those pesky televangelists keep on foiling the plans of my cult to convert today’s youth into the service of my dark lord. In an effort to find out how they always remain one step ahead of my plans, I have decided to do a review of Revenge of the Satanic Panic! by Vacation Bible School, the sequel to his 2019 album Fall Festivals and the Satanic Panic, the review for which can be found here.
Anyone that frequents the Utopia District Discord server will know that I am the video game boy. I am the one who plays video games. Me. So it is with some embarrassment that I confess that I never played SimCity 2000. This is primarily because it seems really really boring. With that said, I cannot deny that from a vaporwave perspective, the game is on point. The graphics are a prime example of that 90’s management game aesthetic and some of the music in the game would easily pass as vaporwave here in the far-off year of 2021. Combined with the fact that the game is responsible for creating the city building/management game genre, it is no wonder that someone went and made an album in tribute to it.
SimCity.wave is a product of ako — real name Simeon Soden of Newcastle — and it was picked up by Halcyon Tapes, Wizard of Loneliness’ label. In ako’s own words, the album is “a celebration of world building and the iconic game SimCity 2000, as well as a homage to FM synthesis.” The album reimagines the music of the 1995 city builder — and while I am rather skeptical of the word “reimagines,” ako does a great job of producing tracks that pay homage to the original sound track while still making something that is completely his own.
As the artist seems so fond of it, I feel I owe it to the readers to explain in very simple terms what FM synthesis is. FM — which stands for frequency modulation — refers to the art of modulating soundwaves with other soundwaves. In doing so, the original sound is minutely sped up and slowed down according to the frequency of the modulating wave. Going further, you can actually modulate the modulating wave with yet another sound, and so on and so on. The result is often a retro laser beam sound effect. In the hands of a master, though, it can create some really unique sounds. The actual sound is hard to explain, but you would know it if you heard it, as it played a big part in creating the sound tracks to some of our favorite childhood computer games. I encourage you to watch a youtube video about FM synthesis as someone else (anyone else) could probably explain it a lot better than I just did.
The album kicks off with SimCity.wave I (Skyscrapers) (the tracks are listed as SimCity.wave I through IV, but they have subtitle names. From here, I will only be using the subtitle names for simplicity) and it starts things right. While the other tracks conjure up images of managing your city, “Skyscrapers” instead focuses on actually building it. One can imagine towers being constructed in a sped-up time lapse by men in yellow hard hats, thanks to the upbeat tone and faster tempo. The harmony of the song is on point thanks to heavy synth use that really utilizes that FM synthesis sound mentioned above. It makes for some really cool beats and is expertly produced.
Album Art By ako
With your city now built, it is time to start the day! It is up and running now with cars moving like ants through the streets, and only through your careful management will this metropolis thrive. That is the scene that “Tax and Money/Dawn of the City” sets. The rhythm of the song is a tad boring, however the track is saved by the synth as it busts in with a groovy solo.
Time to micromanage! This thing more or less runs itself now, but damn it, you are still the mayor and it is your duty to make this city run as efficiently as possible! The album takes a groovier tone with “Melancholic Mayor” coming in as the third track. This track is a display of amazing harmonic work, as no one sound takes center stage. The percussion, the bass, and the synth all come together to form one complete piece that is wonderfully produced. Furthermore, the song mixes itself up just enough to keep things interesting without losing that harmony that makes it special.
As the sun sets, you gaze out upon your virtual creation. It is perfect. All that’s left to do is to save and start a new game. Or summon a giant monster to destroy it. This song assumes you pick the first option. “Buildings” is a much slower-paced song than the others. It has an end-of-day feel to it, with long and hopeful sounding synth notes. There is also the cute addition of music box notes which adds to that aura of hope and fulfillment that this last track summons. The song ends rather suddenly however, which seems odd for a tune like this. One would expect such a song to have a gentle fading away of the music rather than such an abrupt end, but I suppose that one could interpret it as representing you quitting the game.
If the album’s goal was to pay homage to a classic computer game and show off what a synth can do in the hands of someone that knows how to use it, then it definitely succeeds. Each track paints a picture in the listener’s mind and brings us back to a more innocent time. I would not say that the sounds that SimCity.wave plays with are groundbreaking or astounding as much as they are cool and neat, but with that in mind, the album is absolutely worth a listen.
You can grab a copy of this cassette / VHS here from Halcyon Tapes Now!
It is hard to say whether or not walking simulators should be considered games. After all, there is no such thing as losing or winning in these sorts of games and most of your time will be spent holding down the W key on your keyboard to move forward. As such, they need to make up for their lack of actual gameplay with striking visuals, a proper mood-setting soundtrack, and an engaging story that has the player coming back for more. The question is, does Argent Games’ “Self-Checkout Unlimited” tick off all the right boxes?
The game starts off with your faceless and silent protagonist waking up in an empty, mid-90’s indoor mall with no obvious way of getting out. It is up to you to explore this strange embodiment of American consumer culture and to find your way out, though the game makes it very clear that not all is as it seems with posters telling you “Rapture is giving up the need to control” and reminding you “Nothing that you see here was, is, or ever will be real.” Directed by the friendly voices coming from intercoms above head, you go on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection to find out who you really are and exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing in this big scary world of ours.
If it sounds deep, that is because it is, but also it is not. It is like looking down into the depths of a giant pool that seems to have no bottom… only to jump in and discover that what you thought was an endless abyss was actually only about two feet deep and now your legs are broken. Throughout the game you go to various stores, each with its own purpose in helping you discover your true self, but the game never seems to get to any kind of point. It tosses around a lot of deep sounding words and phrases, but at no point did I feel like they had any kind of meaning to them.
Furthermore, there is very little interactivity in the game. There are a couple of very minor puzzles, but most of the time your tasks involve walking from point A to point B and occasionally placing object C into spot D, and the above is only done in the context of progressing the game forward. It seems like such a waste to have an entire (albeit rather small) mall at your disposal and for there to be so little to do. There are only five outlet stores which are open to you in this place which exist solely for the purpose of progressing the story forward. The others are closed off and kept in darkness so you cannot even go inside to have a look around.
What the game does get right, though, are the visuals and sound design. Clean and polished tile floors reflect the lights that shine overhead, the constant babbling of the grand fountain in the middle of the shopping center, the barely audible Muzak that plays from unseen speakers. The soundtrack is completely original to the game and was produced by Mr. Zunino, along with beloved vaporwave producer desert sand feels warm at night, who provided the music for the more abstract parts of the game. The Stores and small size aside, this place feels like the proper abandoned mall that fans of 猫 シ Corp. keep dreaming about. Furthermore, as you go along your quest you will be transported to other settings that are staples of the vaporwave genre such as an indoor swimming pool and a seemingly endless parking lot.
All in all, “Self-Checkout Unlimited” really nails the aesthetics, but with a price tag of eight bucks and a shallow experience that only lasts for around an hour, it is a damn shame that the developers could not do more with i
When we think of vaportrap, we all know the first artist that comes to mind. Ever since he emerged on the scene back in 2012, Blank Banshee has reigned over the microgenre with three damn fine albums and is hoping to keep the vaportrap train going with his newest album, Gaia.
The album begins with “Primordial” which gives you a taste of things to come. You are going to hear a lot of familiar sounds on this track if you have listened to Banshee’s previous albums, but among these beats lay new, acoustic-styled instrumentation, which hints at the artist taking a step outside of his comfort zone.
The appropriately named “Mind Trap” comes at you next with a fast and thumping rave-like beat, along with some interesting punkish vocals. This one is light on the vapor and heavy on the trap with some heavy pounding, hard thumping beats that are just a tad on the aggressive side for a vaporwave album.
The plucking string acoustics return in “Tetralix” and while it is still undeniably a vaportrap song, they take center stage in this track creating an upbeat and less electronic sounding treat that is rather enjoyable.
The fourth track on the album, “Blue Marble” was a bit all over the place, but in a good way. At one point you are listening to a rather standard trap beat, the next you are hearing some guy go to town on a pair of bongos. All of it though has that Banshee touch to it which acts as a glue to ensure that it sounds like one whole and complete piece of music rather than various parts of different songs haphazardly taped together.
“Green Ray” follows it which was a rather average Blank Banshee track. The track had a great beat, cool electronic sounds, spot on percussion, but all in all was rather plain for the king of vaportrap. What follows is “Teknofossil” and “Mythril”, two tracks that are slightly slower in pace, but the instruments on “Teknofossil” did not seem like they ever came together in any way and “Mythril” sounds like it is preparing for a drop that never comes, which leaves the listener wanting.
Things improve with “Chlorine”, though — a percussion heavy song, but one that should make fans of his previous albums feel more at home. The fast rhythm of the song goes great with the dubstep-like electronics that are stacked on it, and makes for a fun listen that can still reasonably be called vaporwave.
The album stumbles again with “Aquaduct” which was a strange song, if only for the typewriter sound effect that plays throughout. Usually Blank Banshee is a master of turning mundane sounds into musical genius, but this one simply does not pan out because of how non-musical the inclusion of the typewriter sounds in the song.
Things slow down a bit with “Enso”, a relaxing track that borrows sounds from Blank Banshee 1 and is the return of the motivational tape woman from “Visualisation” off Blank Banshee 0, seemingly a favorite sample of the artist.
“Neo Geo” follows, and while it is not a bad track by any means, it may sound somewhat plain for the first one or two listens. I admit though that as I listened to it on repeat, it has a bit of an earworm to it. It has an infectious hook in what, at first glance, appears to be an unassuming song. Great melodies can do that to you.
While “Sentinel” may sound like another relatively simple tune, I grew to admire it for the hang drum sound that Blank Banshee is known for using. The beat, while slow, is varied and keeps things entertaining.
“Fund my Death” is a strange one. It is another track on the album that includes vocals, but this time both sung and spoken. While it is interesting, it feels like two separate songs. Soft vocals sing over the gentler slower parts of the track— then out of the blue, a man aggressively tells you to “fund his death” while dubstep sounds blare and “wub wub”.
“Uncanny Valley” is in the same zone as “Neo Geo”, interesting simplicity. There is only a small variety of instruments used in the track with not a lot of variety in how they are used, but it is nonetheless skillfully created and makes for an enjoyable song.
Blank Banshee meets cyberpunk in this banging track with the fitting title of “Escape.” It is a song like no other on the album so it feels a bit out of place, but I would love to hear more experimentation with sounds like this. The intensity is not too overwhelming and makes for a heart-racing thrill ride that leads up to the mildest track on the album, “Batteries,” a series of very slow and calming tones, wrapping up the album on a gentler note.
I am gonna come clean and say that I had some bias for this review. Blank Banshee is one of the artists that got me into vaporwave and his first album Blank Banshee 0 has got to be up there as far as some of my favorite albums go. After listening to this album though, I had to have a looooooong think about what I was going to rate it and decided that it would not be right to rate this album solely based on Banshee’s previous releases. My conclusion is this: Gaia is a solid vaportrap album. There are some stumbles, but if you take the album as it is, it is more than worthy of being enjoyed and listened to as a good addition to the Blank Banshee discography.