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!
When people think about vaporwave, they often think about neon lights, busy malls, and city streets filled with rushing cars. The sounds of vaporwave often reflect our feelings about industrialism and commercialism, but this album stands polar opposite, bringing you to a secluded place outside the city limits on a small, rural farm. The name prairiewave may suggest it would fit into the somewhat obscure tumblewave genre (a vaporwave subgenre that focuses more heavily on sampling country music,) but this album is much deeper in meaning and quality than typical tumblewave albums.
According to FREECULTR.API’s album notes, the story of prairiewave is based on the artist’s memories of visiting his Ukrainian grandparents in Alberta, Canada. He describes his memories of sitting in their grandparents house with a radio constantly playing in another room as relatives visited during the day. All the songs sampled on the album are Ukrainian folk songs, lending the audio a sense of longing for a simpler farm life. FREECULTURE further stated in the album notes that tracks 1-9 comprise the moments of staying in the small town while track 10 is his reflections on the drive back home.
Most of the early tracks on this album feel like old country songs you’d hear played in a small bar until track 7, “church sunday,” which has a more mellow, almost melancholy sound. From there it returns to the familiar sounds of folk tunes for tracks “дідусевий касетофон” and “cheater” to then make a complete genre shift on the track “cross province // return home”. This track makes the most of stretched samples, thick reverb, and ethereal sound mixing to evoke the feeling of thoughts washing over on the drive back home. While the first few tracks on this album may be more simple than later tracks, they lay down the important groundwork of contrast in complexity and tonality that enrich the listening experience.
The last track is the most unique one on the album in both length and style. It is the only song to have lyrics, sung by the Ukrainian duo Mickey and Bunny, which slowly transitions into the somber sounds of crickets chirping in a grassy field under the starlit sky. FREECULTURE commented that this last song was made to show the feelings of the people who lived in the small town he visited, a much more serious reality not clouded by nostalgia. For me, this album has a special place in my personal collection due to its vastly different approach to vaporwave. I still remember finding the album the day it came out because of its odd title and cover art. At first, I shrugged it off as some gimmick album, but after I began listening to it I realized how much love and creativity was infused into it. By the end of the day, I had probably listened through 3 times, finding more enjoyment with each listen. My favorite track would have to be the final track, “voices of the land”, because of its intense atmospheric shift to natural sounds of the land. This album is certainly worth a listen for anyone looking for something fresh or unique within the realm of vaporwave music.
Carpenter Brut mentioned in an interview with Synthspiria that his music doesn’t have an insane number of fans, and the reason he gave for this was:
“People need to be ‘in on the prank’ to enjoy what [he does]”.
At first glance, this could be chalked up to a common behavior with some music fans, where the listener is expected to “dig deeper” about the artist in question, and enjoy the works more often for their background than for the work itself. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Leather Teeth is an fascinating album because, when compared to the artist’s previous work, some might feel it’s Brut’s worst so far. Too far departed from the last albums, too cynical, too different. And that impression could remain.. until the listener sees the videos that go along with each song. The videos present the audience with a unique story in a format very seldom seen in synthwave. The classic story of the bullied nerd, turned to darkness and out for revenge.. Presented through the lens of everything and everyone else,a complete outsider perspective. It created context for the album. And then it all makes sense. It’s what brings it all together.
First up, the slowest song in the album. “Leather Teeth” is very grandiose, very over the top, and is the closest to CB’s older work. The inclusion of the choir is especially notable as it establishes a leitmotif of sorts. It’s as if the song was heralding the coming of a great calamity, and the video shows this perfectly. It serves you different pieces of footage of different dead jocks and cheerleaders, paired with flashes of newspapers reporting on these mysterious killings. And then at the very end, just to completely drive the point home, the video lays it very clearly for you: No one is safe from the Midwich Monster.
Here, the beat picks up the pace slightly; “Cheerleader Effect” shows the “descent to hell” of our main character, Bret Halford. The song itself has this rock ballad feel to it, as if to try to show Bret’s sensitivity, or loss thereof. The video shows parts of Bret’s life, how he gets beat up by bullies, how he’s in love with Kendra McCornish, the cheerleader, who, in keeping with genre tradition, wouldn’t even fart in his general direction. But here’s the interesting spin, the video makes a point of showing Kendra being slutty and all, partly to show what hurt Bret so much, and partly to show, with some moderation so as to not blow its load too early, the excess of the era, a common theme throughout the album.
The next song, “Monday Hunt,” picks up the pace again. The galloping beat, super common in metal and rock, suits the theme perfectly — as if to put you in Bret’s place, charging a horde of enemies and mowing them down. Regarding the video: Suffice it to say that YT had a choice between the original and a version in which brand logos and dismembered limbs crudely cover everything, and it chose the latter (Be sure to read the apology letter at the beginning, written with utmost sincerity and regret.) It shows how Bret kills, one by one, all the jocks that tormented him, including Kendra herself. The interesting thing here is, Bret kills everyone in his list here. The crux of his story isn’t his revenge; that gets dealt with as fast as possible. By the end, we see Bret fully embracing his persona, by completely tearing off his burnt skin (warning: Utopia District does not endorse removing scar tissue or damaged skin for dramatic purposes or otherwise. Seriously, don’t.)
“Inferno Galore” is also very much like CB’s former work, very fast, very heavy on the synth. Again, picking up the pace, as if to show everything coming to a boil, slowly but surely. The video hits the nail millimetrically on the head. Now we see a much bigger interest in showing the environment in which Bret and everyone else was in. And, once more, the decadence of the era, now much more intensely. There is a hard shift from kinda light-hearted to full dark near the end of the song. This is, again, so you don’t forget the looming threat of Leather Teeth who, even if he already has embraced being a rockstar, still engages in being able to do whatever he wants and will just kill for pleasure.
Songs keep getting faster still, we’re coming close to an end. We now see the second time vocals are used. Pure 80’s hair metal tropes here, as expected from Bret’s band, “Leather Patrol.” Everything from the lyrics to the beat of the song and the instrumentation screams hair metal. Except, perhaps, for the drums in certain parts, where they sound decidedly synthesized, so as to stay “in-genre” and not just make a hair metal song. We’re treated to some insight into the life of excess that Leather Patrol lives, from crowded concerts to steamy exchanges with fans.
A well-deserved break, a much more calm and much more cynically comical song. We’re fully on keytar territory here, and the beat is casual like a month’s end Friday at the office. It oozes of sleaze, like a Cocaine Cowboy. Pure 80’s sound tropes all around. The song is a shameless tribute to synthpop and the video keeps up by being a full tribute to 80s commercials. We have scantily clad girls with guns, mascots, and a nice news report on Rev. Godshyne’s fall from grace and eventual grisly death. It’s not very clear whether Leather Teeth killed him or if he just drunkenly stumbled into the plane’s turbine, but it doesn’t matter, as the idea here is to show how he was punished for his excesses and scams.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time. Time to open this pit up.
The climax of the album. Everything reaches a boil as we’re treated to the peak of the high. The fastest song, where we see the logical conclusion to the whole album’s overstatement of things. The guitar delves almost into power metal, with its hard but energetic sound. The synth’s arpeggios make the song sound almost like a classical piece; The whole song has an intense vibe of not-so-faux sophistication the artist is known for. It shows us how Leather Patrol, which is Leather Teeth’s band, wins every award at the HTV awards, and we’re treated to all the “music videos” of the award-winning hits (Once again, YT chooses crude censorship of nudity, and not violent murder. How admirable!). Almost as if to show you Bret is pretty much invincible now, he interrupts the video and shows his face, taunting people, daring them to stop him. The ending is very much the climax of the album, punctuated by lightning and all.
The album ends with a song that goes into Miami Vice territory of synths, initially trying to ease the audience. Like it was trying to say “Relax, man, it’s just a tv show, not real!”. After the album reaches its highest point speed-wise, coming down to almost the same speed as the first song is a logical step. But then, almost at the end, the song reiterates the album’s overstatements, to finish with a choir reminiscent of the first song. The album finishes with a threat/promise that Bret Halford will return for the movie’s sequel, which, when presented simultaneously with the song’s ominous ending, continues the statement presented before with a “…or is it?”, like it was trying to tell the audience it may escape Bret, but not for long. He’s too powerful now. So now, all that is left is to await the punishment, the real scourge that is Bret in Leather Terror.
Leather Terror, the follow-up album, is scheduled to release in early 2022. Be sure to stay tuned!
As the days get cool and the nights get longer, the spooky season is upon us. What better way to enjoy the season than with a Halloween vaporwave tape. The third offering in the Satanic Panic series by Vacation Bible School is just the tape to scratch that Autumnal itch. The story continues where Revenge of the Satanic Panic! left off. Things are not what they seem at the haunted house your church is putting on. Evil lurks among the decorations and haunted displays. I feel this album creates a wonderful atmosphere to convey its tale. The album plays out like an 80’s horror movie. The first track is a mix of calming tunes with sinister undertones that come in and out and intensify as the story unfolds. The use of stereo effects really puts the listener in the story. I listened to this album start to finish in a dark room with headphones, and felt like this amplified the listening experience.
Vacation Bible School
Get The Album!
Favorite Track: s h o p p i n g _ f o r _ d e c o r a t i o n s
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.
Ahh, fall. The best time of the year. Autumn foliage, spooky movies, and the…looming threat of Satan taking over the world? That’s right, back in the ‘80s (hell, even today in some parts) there was a growing fear that Satan would engender himself into every house throughout the world thanks to horrifying rituals and depraved sexual acts. Which begs a much more important question: what would the music of a real satanic panic sound like? Well, thanks to Vacation Bible School, we have an answer.
As the name of this “review” might send some into a spiral of rather tiresome and nonconstructive thoughts about popular music (not in any particular genre, but the kinda thing that gets put in the radio and constantly repeated would come to mind first), it shall be prefaced with this: This review has nothing to say about the commercial appeal of one genre or song over the other, or the reasons for it. The discerning listener already knows what those may be, and the vices of the industry that engender that situation to a greater or lesser degree. And a non-discerning listener might find that the topic mentioned before is too big to fit completely here. Furthermore, the same goes for the validity of transformative works. It’s a somewhat outdated debate, too broad for this space.
Some time ago, I was on a train ride with some acquaintances. I had only discovered future funk and some of the genres with similar interests a few months before, and I was completely sold on them. So much that I even tried making a song! (which, sadly, led nowhere but frustration and an unused Fruity Loops .exe). One of those acquaintances was a digital artist like me, but came from a more musical background. His dad was a musician, and his mom was a producer. And he was telling us about a new album that had come out, which reminded me of my most recent discovery, which happened to be Groovy Godzilla’s Godzilla’s Summer Vacation. I started telling him about it, and I played “Beach Vibes” from my phone for him to listen to.
There are a few albums that may come to mind when thinking of future funk “staples”: Yung Bae’s BAE, Desired’s self-titled record and Night Tempo’s Pure Present to name a few. However, if there was a record I’d recommend to someone who asked me “what is future funk?” without a doubt it would be CHAM! by マクロスMACROSS 82-99 (now known as MACROSS 82-99).
The album keeps your attention from start to finish, and manages to take risks while still remaining true to the roots of the genre. Wispy, bubblegum 80s pop melodies, trap beats and even catchy synth leads make it into 14 tracks of vaporwave (and vaporwave adjacent) fun.
Those expecting a typical “by the numbers” future funk might be surprised, as house, future bass and even remnants of lofi hip-hop show their face on the album. It was a breath of fresh air during a time where every future funk artist seemed to have another remix of Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love.”
From the very start of the album, it’s obvious MACROSS 82-99 was trying to break out of the future funk cliché. You have to remember, this album came out in 2015, what one might consider a make-or-break point for future funk. Many artists were starting to shift away from the plunderphonics roots of the genre and beginning to form their own sounds. Tracks such as “Rainbow Roads (feat. Timid Soul)”, “Peach (feat. Diana Shroomy)”, and “Whispy Woods/Game Over (feat. Strider Kun)” would fit better on a future bass record rather than future funk. Cutesy melodies and video game samples layered over trap beats capture MACROSS 82-99’s bubbly anime aesthetic very well. Though not the expected sort of stuff, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.
CHAM! includes plenty of traditional future funk fare for those looking to groove. “Miss Macross” is a fun, bouncy track that’ll have you dancing and singing along for its entirety – lots of feel-good bass, horns and vocals. “I Miss You (w ローマンRoman)” and “Perfect Blue” show a more sentimental, bittersweet and melodic side of future funk, with lots of interesting chops on the latter. “Fun Tonight”, one of the most recognizable songs in the whole of the genre, perfectly encapsulates the essence of future funk: an unforgettable melody, a fantastic singalong, and plenty of retro influence to distinguish it from its french house cousin.
If there was a downside to this album, it would be that CHAM! isn’t exactly cohesive. There are a few outliers on the record: “Dark City”, while good, is a jarringly ominous track considering the rest of the album is so damn upbeat and fun. “Lost Without You”, is an interesting nod to lo-fi hip-hop, but it’s short and seems unfinished. However, while there are a couple duds, the good tracks are great, and more than make up for it. CHAM! is a must-listen for any vaporwave fan. It represents an interesting time for future funk. Producers were learning as they went along, finding out what does and doesn’t work for the genre and CHAM! is a prime example of that in the best way possible.
Taking an old piece of music and reworking it to become something new and exciting again is a beautiful thing – art within art. That’s where much of the appeal for future funk and vaporwave in general lies; Its ability to conjure up nostalgic feelings, thoughts and perhaps even memories that didn’t exist in the first place. While CHAM! might be unpredictable in its overall sound, it’s a testament to this weird and wonderful thing we call internet music — an ode to the producer. If you have even a passing interest in future funk, vaporwave, or french house, give CHAM! from MACROSS 82-99 a spin.
For each of us, there is an album of noticeably lower notoriety within the community which we cherish closely and revisit sparingly, only to find ourselves learning more about how much there is to it each time. From these pieces, we remind ourselves about just what makes vapor special, both in the design of its sound and the ways it evokes emotion from us. On just about every level, both Kevin and 사치CORP (Luxury Corp) strike each note that one could want from such an album in a different way, delivering a strong sense of isolation and loneliness that grows into hope through a minimal set of tools.
Just from the beginning two tracks, it can be very easy for the listener to find themselves questioning whether the album is even truly sampled at all, as the integration of very simple riffs and chords create an environment in which everything seems wholly original. There are clearly sampled vocal sections over top of certain tracks which may break this illusion, though they are mixed into the environment well enough that they end up adding to it in their own way.
Sonically, the two sides of 海で孤立した are very distinct from each other, each artist presenting a different vision of an endless ocean within their mind. The texture presented on the first side from Kevin, for example, makes heavier use of rougher sound texture, almost making the instruments being played sound of low, cheap fidelity. From this however, the notes also drawl along perfectly to create a sense of dread, easing the listener along as if they were cast to sea with only the ocean to greet their vision for miles.
Notes also bleed into each other because of these effects, creating a fluid journey in which one can relax despite all the turmoil about them, an odd sense of peace coming from the clash of both chaos and the calmness which isolation brings. The ambience is perfectly mixed into the background to add to this effect, the crashing of waves idle enough that the listener may only hear it once they truly find themselves easing into the environment that is presented.
On the opposite side, 사치CORP presents a much more traditionally composed section of ambient vapor, the notes muddied into each other, but not crushed to bits by the effects being used. From this, the calmness of the ocean is drawn out much more than the previous chaos, a feeling that is only heightened by the general sense of dread presented through some of Kevin’s compositions.
In addition to this, the range of moods presented on this side of the album is much more diverse. While the beginning half is much more somber and reflective, the latter half of the album uses its positioning to create a much more impactful climax by growing in hopefulness towards the end. All of the work put into this slow crawl comes to a climax in “Questions For A Masochist,” in which the music explodes into a percussive, energetic beat before fading out as quickly as it came.
Overall, these artists meshed very well together in creating an album, the tonal consistency of Kevin’s work matched by the more explosive and varied pieces that were brought to the table by 사치CORP. With a shorter runtime and list of songs, there is not one that quite stands out as being of significantly lower quality than the rest, with each of them serving their purpose in building a full mood.
While this was touched on somewhat in the previous section, it is important to look at how well this album manages to evoke its scene through using each of its elements. While many artists may have chosen in this situation to create unease within their listener through use of the backing ambience, only the calmer sounds of the ocean are present there; instead, such emotions are created solely through the music that is laid perfectly over top.
Keeping the melody more central in this way allows a much more pleasant listening experience, as the focus is on the music rather than the more directly sampled sounds, with the rolling of ocean waves providing a context rather than a focal point for the creation of a mood. Since these sounds are constant in tone as well, it becomes much less obvious once they disappear, creating a fluid transition into the last two tracks without taking away the focus of the listener once the music itself takes the stage fully.
The choice of mostly classical and piano compositions as sources for building the world around the album was excellent, as well, the simplicity of each tone hammering in the sense of isolation with both punchiness, when the notes are struck, and seamlessness as they fade into the background and their fellow notes.
Listened from front to back, 海で孤立した provides a succinct yet full-bodied experience for any of those who are looking to dive into the more directly expressive side of ambient vapor. Clocking in at only a little over 20 minutes long, meaty yet minimal compositions give the listener an experience comparable to an album three times its length.
If you are a fan of albums with themes that evoke the ocean, isolation, loneliness, dread, or you generally find yourself looking for a more relaxing experience from your vapor, you will certainly enjoy this one.