In order to properly invoke nostalgia, one would have to employ certain techniques that would trigger our various senses in order to recall the feelings of memories we lived in our younger days. A familiar sound palette, album artwork of a beautiful sunset, sample choice, and the descriptive title perfectly places the listener back in time to enjoy the late summer nights of our youths. Neighborhood Afterglow by b o d y l i n e is the album for those who are soaking up the last summer nights before the turn of the season.
At its core, Neighborhood Afterglow is a nostalgia-evoking album that is reminiscent of a specific time period in vaporwave’s history. That time period is that of the early 2010’s, as the album is a textbook example of a classic vaporwave sound, down to the sample choice, speed, and amount of reverb applied to each track. The six-track album thus displays itself as a cohesive work that encapsulates feelings of mellowness and a sense of floating into the ether.
The album opens with “Traffic Light Plaza,” which features synth bell arpeggios, washed-out vocals, and reverbed percussion which sets the tone for what to expect in the album. Following tracks such as “Waterglide” and “Afterglow Waft” follow a similar format, with drawn-out chords on a rhodes piano, repeated hypnagogic guitar melodies, and a heavy low synth bassline that is reminiscent of early works of vaporwave, such as that of Luxury Elite and Cvltvre.
I believe that this album should be listened to by anyone who is a fan of the genre as there is nothing that this album presents that is particularly sonically original. While a lack of originality may sound as a negative descriptor, it reflects that the album’s sound is based on a formula that has been proven to be enjoyable to many fans of the genre, which is that a slowed and reverbed sample can prove to be sufficient enough to produce a good track. However, that also does pose the possibility that such an album in this format could be lost in the sea of the many vaporwave albums that have a similar sonic palette. In other words, if the average listener did not know that this album was released this year, one may think that this album is a classic vapor album from 2013 (which is certainly not a bad thing!).
Overall, this album is a very nice compilation of tracks that brings the listener a sense of comfort as it relies on the effective format of slowing and reverbing tracks, which eliminates a likeliness of any particular element that may not be enjoyed by all listeners that one may find in newer releases that incorporate a greater amount of experimentation. This album is definitely one that can be enjoyed by newer and older fans of the genre and one that is perfect for a listen on a late summer night.
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.
How far can you break down a video game, into its bare essence? To the point that it can be reassembled and played inside your mind with nothing more than your own imagination? That’s the concept of Equip’s 2016 debut, I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky. As mystical as a phantasmagorical lucid dream, Equip delivers us a serene, yet at times deeply ominous concept album of an RPG played within one’s mind. A mix of the halcyon, early-polygonal games of the PlayStation, and the golden age of high-quality pixel art role-playing games of the Super Nintendo, along with a playful approach to mixing and harmonies that lead us intrepid explorers down fascinating, lichen-infested groves or dark, moldy dungeons. Druids and danger lurking behind every corner.
Debuting in 2016, Equip showed the world their unique RPG-midi fusion style through this album. In that year, modern-style vaporwave was relatively young, yet one of experimentation. Artists were taking chances with heavy hitters like the fascinating and iconic News At 11 or the swirling plunderphonic NEW GAIA by the artist of the same name. Equip was not an exception to the heavy releases that year and struck with one of vaporwave’s most recognisable albums since Palm Mall, by virtue of its exceptional atmosphere and fusions of plunderphonic sound effects and original melodies.
The album starts with a track composed entirely of Final Fantasy menu sound effects. Where on a lesser album this could seem gimmicky and rote of vaporwave’s ‘unique-for-the-sake-of-it’ trappings at the time, these effects are all used with meticulous certainty, especially in setting up the album. We aren’t just hearing these sounds, these are noises of the album’s menu itself, that we navigate through simply by listening. And, for instance, notice that the next track “I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky ~Opening Credits~” uses none of the sounds? You wouldn’t hear them in an example of the track’s name; they are absent. An example of the particular use of the samples.
These effects are a cornerstone of the album and truly enhance the experience. For the listener to truly believe this game is being played in their minds, that the titular palace truly has a hold, these effects bolster that aural landscape by showing us not as passive listeners, but as players of the album, through which every crispy footstep is our own in this lonely castle.
But these are flourishes. Low-poly icing on the polygonal cake. The album must stand on its own in terms of the composition for it to be worthwhile for future spins, something that it absolutely achieves. What feels so strong about the album is the mixed layering of longer ambient harmonies with the more melodic midi synths. This expands the album’s sound to allow for a deeper listening experience. You can focus anywhere on the music and still be transported away. These sounds, too, are uniquely mixed to create a specific soundscape that shows the skill of Equip in how he understands the world he’s made.
Just the right amount of reverb on footsteps. The ever-so-slight crust on a druid’s dark laughter. These call back to memories of old midnight play sessions of our favourite RPGs. The entire concept of the album is realised in both these mixes and that of the midi instruments. Drums are just so squishy and textured as to allow for a feeling of momentum. They switch to airy synths, giving a wandering or morose sound. As seen on tracks like “Druids (Encounter)”, the lengths to which Equip has gone to master these sounds in a way that are satisfying and additive to the track’s atmosphere is impressive. It pays off wonderfully.
That said, perhaps some tracks outstay their welcome, for instance, “Cloud Generator” doesn’t need to be seven minutes long, and some tracks like “Reunited” could be cut in half. Overall, however, it’s an iconic album. Fitting for either ambient or close listening with its focus on both long harmonies and unique sampling of game sound effects. This album gets a recommended 4 out of 5 for any aspiring adventurer, daring enough to seek out that palace in the sky!
If there’s one aspect that is definitive to vaporwave, it’s nostalgia. The same goes for synthwave, future funk, and all those genres that came to be with the ‘80s revival that has been going on in the last few years. All of these genres are defined, at least partly, as being a sort of lamentation for the loss of certain aspects of culture: fashions, certain sound tropes, certain places, and the general feeling of novelty there was towards technology. But more than grieving them, these genres celebrate those aspects, presenting them with a sleek coat of varnish so as to show them in a new context.
But the fact remains that these genres were born as a way to seek familiarity. It’s not terribly unlike what one might go through after they’ve lost a close relative. One might find themselves going through their belongings, remembering the times spent together, and later, trying to re-experience their presence. A cardigan with that special scent, a wristwatch only for special occasions, the uniform worn to work for so long. The same thing happens with culture; one might find themselves looking for these “talismans,” because their absence is simply too painful. In being defined by nostalgia, all the aforementioned genres are defined by loss. Music, among all art-forms, is reproducible in ways that no other artform is, and thus, can be revived more easily
Which brings us to the album in question. What better genres to explore loss, regret, and, of course, the acceptance and optimism for the future, than these? Where else might one find this kind of respite? In a statement for UD, Strawberry Station told us:
“It’s a story of how I processed living through the pandemic and lockdown on my own in a foreign country. It covers all the emotions I’ve been through in the past two years – isolation, depression, loneliness, and regrets about missed experiences. But also acceptance, hope and optimism for the future.”
Strawberry Station presents the listener with an album that is, by his own admission, a departure from his body of work. Lowlight 2 is a multi-genre affair, notably distant (for the most part) from his usual future funk. Apropos to what inspired it, the album has a very wide range of emotions, with very distinguishable passages of melancholia. The whole project is imbued with a lingering feeling of lethargy, which at times becomes much more apparent. Certainly, a feeling that will come across as all too familiar. But, as we’ll see later in the album, this is not a permanent state of being. And that, above all things, is the most important one to take away from this project.
Now then, on to the album!
Album Art By Strawberry Station
(As the tracklist was not finalized during the review process, the final tracklist differs from what is presented below.)
“Yes, No, Maybe”
Somewhat reminiscent in form and feeling of HOME’s Resonance. It fills the listener with a sensation like looking out the window of a spaceship. The repetition of the main “phrase” of the synth creates a sensation of calm wonder, a sort of relaxed uncertainty.
“Things You Can’t Fix”
The closest in sound to Strawberry Station’s former work that the album gets. The song opens with a robust bass section, punctuating with a playful “Oh well!” It’s a very stark (yet friendly) declaration of powerlessness. It’s a call to snap out of a funk and spring into action regardless of bad circumstances, which is very appropriate. This track marks the start of an emotional high in the album, if placed a bit early. This peak is signaled not by the tune, but by the beat.
The strongest song in the album. The beat in this track is decidedly in the trap side, which is then balanced by the synths, which keep it “on topic”. Strawberry Station noted this album marks his debut on the vocal section, and he does so outstandingly. Combining soft, harmonic passages with strong rhymes, he states, in very succinct terms, what he wants this whole project to be: “I’m staying right where I am, and I’m still here, under cloudier skies.”
A combination of the first and third track. Much more emphasis is placed on the beat, similar to a french house track. The feeling of uncertainty from before is explored again, in a much more confident manner. The vocals remain soft, as they were in “Still Here”, so as to signal the stability the artist had found and which inspired the creation of the album.
With certain shades of Trevor Something and Slick Moranis, the new sound grows more and more confident, this time entering the realm of synthwave. Of particular note are the vocals, which demonstrate how in his element Strawberry Station is with the genre. The faster pace and the lyrics match the title of the song, which continues the line of thought presented in the last track.
“Stay With Me”
In a marked change of moods, the album goes from synthwave to lo-fi. The title speaks of a separation, a plea of sorts. Which is, again, very appropriate to the subject. So as to not lose unity, the synths from the first tracks are reprised, and the sweet and playful voice sample used drives the point home in an almost painfully pretty way. It’s almost as if one were hearing the voice of a loved one in their mind.
“See The Sunrise (Ft. Phaun)”
The second cheeriest track in the album by far. If the rest of the album was an exploration of present circumstances, See The Sunrise is the setting of a goal and a promise for the future: Eventually things will be better. The song states this with complete calm and conviction. It’s reminiscent of Macross 82-99’s “Aogashima Island.”
The mood changes once more rather drastically, this time into vaportrap. While not increasing speed, the song is very focused, as if made in a moment of pure inspiration. The vocals also change into something one might expect from the later works of Chester Bennington, only softer, so as to retain unity with the rest of the album. The most dramatic song in the album. While short and focused, it has a clear feeling of tension not seen throughout the rest of the album. It imbues the listener with the feeling of taking a big decision.
“My Oh My”
“My Oh My” feels like the climax of the album. It is the cheeriest track, and, in following with the themes explored throughout the album, speaks of a bright future waiting past the current hardship. In contrast with “See the Sunrise”, “My Oh My” speaks as if it were already in said future. Compared to the rest of the album, it’s relentlessly happy and playful. It would feel out of place in the album, were it not for the drums and beat, which keep the song in the context of the rest of the project.
“Filling In the Gaps”
Sounding like an early Aphex Twins track, “Filling In the Gaps” is once again a combination of the moods of two previous tracks. Here, the listener is presented with the focus of “Peace,” combined with the careful confidence of “Comeback Kid.” While one of the shortest tracks, it serves as a bridge between the earlier fantasies and real life.
We see some of the ideas explored earlier in the album revisited here. We have the vocals from “Comeback Kid”, the “call to action” feeling of “Things You Can’t Fix”, plus the addition of guitars and the fastest beat in the album. So as to cement its point, the album begins to close with this invitation to be optimistic while reminding that looking on the bright side means acting upon the things one is optimistic about.
“Bright Side (Reprieve)”
Finally, we reach the end of the album, which restates what Bright Side did, but shifts the pitch of the melody, giving it a sense of finality. But most importantly, so as to make its conclusion clear, the track restates (while lending the vocals more protagonism) what mattered most in the last track, and what is ultimately the whole point of the album: “we cannot erase the past, it’s a losing game”.
You can grab a copy of this cassette here from Business Casual Starting 9/17!
And so the album ends, in stark contrast to its hesitant opening, with complete confidence. This album shows us a more integral artist, molded by circumstances into a richer, more versatile musician. While certain passages feel slightly less confident than the others, the project manages to remain a cohesive story, and states its point loud and clear. This project, in line with the genres defined earlier, is defined by loss, but more so than loss, the will to overcome and dream of a better future.
In a semi-underground genre like vaporwave, there are plenty of chances for an artist’s creativity to shine. No pressure from major labels, no “brand” to uphold. Just pure and simple art for art’s sake, an expression of the imagination. The latest record from クリスタルKITSUNE (Crystal Kitsune), Oneiromancy and the Memories of a Past Life, is one of those fruitful moments, neatly combining vaporwave, future funk, vaporfunk & lo-fi into a theme touching on dreams, memories & nostalgia.
The album begins with “Intro” – a garbled “don’t forget me” repeats over background music before diving into the first song, “Mirage of You (あなたの蜃気楼)”. The album kicks off with a driving, bittersweet melody and a hint of that all-too-familiar future funk bubblegum pop. A good start, immediately differentiating itself from the usual carefree sounds the genre is known so well for. The next track, “Liminality (feat. matsura)”, is another speedy track that’s more in line with the future funk standard. Jazzy sax and Japanese pop vocals are chopped up and peppered throughout the song, while a driving 4/4 house beat keeps things nice and danceable. It’s not as overly sentimental as the first song, but it is more fun.
Album Art By mazamuno
“Wishing You Well” cleanses the palate from the previous tracks’ high energy with its slow, droning tempo. Chunky, 80s drums with gated reverb and pitched down vocals are at the forefront of this track and not much else. It’s not bad, but a little more going on would be nice, as by the end it gets repetitive. However, the energy level ramps back up with the next song, “One Last Night”, a soft, jazzy number that falls in line with the bittersweet tone of the album. The track has a filter throughout, which produces an interesting effect that sounds like you’re listening to it in the next room, or even underwater. Before we can call this a fully-fledged future funk record, クリスタルKITSUNE mellows out with “Drinks at Midnight”, an interesting cross between vaporwave and lo-fi hip hop. The slow-paced, smooth horns give some serious coffee shop vibes. If it weren’t for the muddy vaporwave reverb and sidechaining, this is a track one could imagine on ChilledCow’s “beats to relax/study to” stream.
Following that is “Tuxedo Miss🌹 (戻ってきた)”, a poppy, bass-heavy future funk track with yet another Japanese vocal sample utilized. It’s a bit conventional, but it’s not bad – just a fun, danceable track, with its saccharine melody contributing to the overarching theme. Continuing with the apparent pattern of “fast, slow, fast, slow”, we’re met with “Crystal💎Mainframe”, a fairly standard-sounding vaporwave track. Lots of reverb, with a very faint melancholic melody in the background. It has a surreal quality, like hearing a song in a dream, waking up, and only remembering bits and pieces of it. Before we can move on from that, クリスタルKITSUNE hits us with an interlude, “Intro 2 (Fear of Failure)”. More dreamlike qualities and sounds here, though it’s hard to make out what’s going on apart from the prominent thumping of a heartbeat.
The next track, “Who Am I”, is interesting. A haunting, wispy vocal and a synth line are chopped up over a house-influenced drum beat. It’s got a certain muddiness to it that works well, like finding a warbly cassette tape in the rain. “ドキドキのDREAMWAVE” is another track with heavy lo-fi influence. It has a gloomy, almost romantic melody that conveys a sense of longing, something that wouldn’t be out of place on aNujabes record. We take a turn with “Heart is Racing”, a fun, carefree song with a quick pace. Again, another retro Japanese pop track with a future funk kick and snare layered over top. While bereft of complexity, it really works well in its simplicity. The next two songs “Star-Crossed Lover“, and “天体SPIRIT” are standard vaporwave/vaporfunk fare. More meaty drums, pitched down vocal samples and saxophones. ““綾波Fading Light”, fittingly named, isn’t a bad way to end the album. It certainly gives off an “end credits” vibe and wraps things up nicely.
With such a wide variety of subgenres thrown into 15 songs, you would think any sort of cohesion would be out of the question. While it does linger too long (two or three tracks too many), Oneiromancy and the Memories of a Past Life has a delightfully sentimental atmosphere that is best experienced from start to finish. It’s an album we recommend you scope out via BandCamp – there are plenty of interesting comments and notes on the track pages that dive further into this, as well as some very cool artwork. Overall, a good album (dare we say concept album?) that will have at least a few tracks to satisfy, regardless of your favorite flavor of vaporwave.