Creating a cohesive narrative in a listener’s head using only audio is a difficult task. Blended in that classic vapor style with slow, melancholic samples and seamless loops dripping with fuzz, Luxury Simulator has no problem with this. And the name of the record is apt, creating a feeling that some out-of-touch corporate entity is trying to recreate the idea of a luxury experience, but not quite getting it right. The kind of experience they’ve seen on TV, but not had themselves.
Each track comes in at around two minutes — the perfect length to satisfy any cravings, but to also beg for just one more spin. The reverb and subtle distortion echo off the walls of a virtual bath house, increasing with every track and culminating in a dizzying fanfare leaving one both hyped up and uneasy.
Wrung of their bass and left to dry in idle wind, the sounds used to construct Ghosts In Long Halls are strung together in a way which elicits an atmosphere that is simultaneously haunting, yet inviting. To contrast with this, an air of hesitation is brought out every few tracks through the usage of piano-based samples, the more simplistic nature of the instrumentation within them allowing each individual note to slowly guide the listener along their journey through the piece.
The atmosphere builds and releases between these periods, the tension subtle enough that even a single ripple within the sound is enough to feel like a massive change. The tone leans towards almost ambient at its most relaxing points, managing to just barely dip its hand into such a style of sound before pulling back out, returning to a more focused setting soon after. From this, it manages to carry the best of both worlds, likely to please both fans of classic and ambient vapor alike.
You’ve been driving on this road for hours. Some of these signs look familiar. Haven’t you driven by that gas station before? No clue where to go next, you refer to your map, a whirlwind of directions that loop back on themselves, making no sense — and yet exactly as much sense as the situation calls for. And what’s this music that keeps phasing in and out of the car radio? Fleeting. Soothing. Sinister? TERRA ATLANTIS delivers a calming musical experience, but it never lets you get quite comfortable enough to fully relax. While this game soundtrack may be masquerading as utopian, something ominous lurks just beneath that static. Be wary.
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.
Constructed with seamless loops and a love for the classic compositions of early vaporwave, Valet Girls’ “…Is This It?” manages to evoke a sound that feels both longing and haunting in its tone. With a mixture of subtly crushed vocals and impeccably selected chorus sections for its structure, Valet Girls manages to add another compelling addition to the recent string of releases within the second renaissance of classic vapor.
The sample selections are diverse, but are edited in a way that seamlessly connects them. Furthermore, the ways in which they are cut harken back to simpler, bridge and chorus based compositions from earlier years. However, there’s still a wide selection of sounds explored, from the simpler loop and bridge structure of “bedroom-colored glasses” to the more eccojams-reminiscent reverberation utilized within “underground pop civilization”.
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.
Strap into the red plastic driver’s seat in this seven track race to the finish. Despite the Gameboy Advance album artwork, the sound of Twisted Metal 5 gives you the experience of playing an old arcade racer with some crunchy speakers on the cabinet. The sound of synth guitars and reverb washed drums evoke the feeling of stumbling upon this old machine in an empty arcade. Incorporating unique effects as you speed through farms, beaches, and cities. For a blast back to times of Daytona USA and Cruisin’ games then give this album a listen.
Created by combining the sampling choices and ethos of a climatewave album with the type of production that one would find most commonly in a slush piece, Atmosphere Absorbency manages to create an interesting and fresh sound by combining two styles that listeners will find familiar enough to quickly ease into. While the tracks themselves are longer than one might expect coming from other weather-related albums, the use of phaser-based techniques and effects combined with rough distortion help keep the tunes relaxing, yet driving in their pace.
The image of sprawling clouds and endless skies only become more vivid as notes overlap and bleed over each other, another layer within the use of its effects that helps enhance the album’s soundscape. As notes rise and fall, it allows the sampled pieces to feel fluid and dynamic despite their repetition, allowing what is effectively a smaller segment of music to sprawl on and be expanded upon without ever feeling as if it is becoming stale. Fans of signalwave, slushwave, and experimentation between styles of vapor will certainly enjoy this.
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.