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.
Vįr+üål Åįrßñß & h º r ¡ z º n щ ¡ r e l e s s have paired up to create a very interesting mix. While h º r ¡ z º n щ ¡ r e l e s s will prefer a more “traditional” approach (if there is such a thing within the genre), Vįr+üål Åįrßñß’s use of samples creates a contrast that is definitive to the album. He uses a variety of samples but prefers to keep the voices at their original pitch while slowing them down. This, coupled with slow backing tunes and reverbs, creates a subtle, but easily identifiable sultry mood. One can picture a couple about to have sex for the first time to ✻ ✼ ✽ L0vįng❧Y0u ✻ ✼ ✽.. There’s a clear feeling of desire, but also an intention to enjoy every moment of the experience.
This is presented in alternation with h º r ¡ z º n щ ¡ r e l e s s’s equally relaxed, but more melancholic work. The pitch shift and slowed-down samples combine to create a distinct feeling of tiredness that is prevalent in the genre. Or rather, a feeling of satisfied weariness, like one would have after a concert or after finishing a marathon. There is a certain liminality to this “half” of the album, created in part by the slow vocals, as well as a feeling of finality.
The two sides of the album are connected by a feeling of deep relaxation, even if caused by very different things. With these two moods, similar in form but so different in feeling, these two artists have created an interesting experience. Perhaps it mimics the mixed feelings one might have while enjoying the company of a certain someone one has a history with. Or perhaps the remembrance of a lost love, remembering the good times one had while remembering the current loneliness.
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.
While most mallsoft albums try to recreate the experience of visiting a mall in real life, what would happen if a release strove to recreate the experience of visiting a digital mall instead? This is the question that Merced Mall [Virtual Tour 2004] ponders. The experience remains a soothing one, with all the ethereal background noise you would want and expect out of wandering through a vaunted retail space, but the digital twist gives the release an entirely different texture. 90s games didn’t have the luxury of populating their wide-open spaces with sprites, so Merced Mall feels weirdly empty, but in a more welcoming way than you’d get from more traditional mallsoft. It doesn’t feel like a dead mall so much as a mall that happens to be empty. It allows for a genre used to sticking with the same handful of tricks to try out something new. And the result is something different, yet familiar.
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.
Imagine you’re in a record store, aimlessly flipping through the crates. Through the sea of album covers, one in particular catches your eye: a nondescript, purple-tinged picture of a faceless figure in a hazy landscape. It seems like a real photo, but you’re not quite sure. You turn the record over to find that it’s named Blissful Days, and sports utopic track titles like “Morning Dew” and “Sun Kissed Skies.” Could the music possibly be as idyllic and tranquil as the presentation suggests?
The answer is a resounding yes, and it comes to us by way of California producer days of blue. Slushwave to its core, Blissful Days is the follow-up to their 2021 LP (titled Days of Blue, conveniently), an album which adopted a more cinematic ambient approach, and which, by the artist’s description, “began its conceptualization […] amidst the wildfires that ravaged my home-state.” Blissful Days also marks their first sampled work since the 2020 full-length 虚 (Imaginary). This time around, days of blue paints a decidedly more optimistic and comforting soundscape – a natural move when following such a somber release and electing to reintroduce samples to their toolkit. This brings me to the first major strength of the album: the sample choices themselves.
As is common for slushwave, days of blue pulls snippets from a handful of sources, stretching, rearranging, and looping them repeatedly until they produce a world that could only be their own. While the origins may vary, they’re tied together by a few common threads: rich, emotionally-potent chord progressions and transcendent vocal melodies. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the second track, the 16-minute tour de slush that is “Morning Dew.”
Following the sprawling ambient opener “Dawn,” “Morning Dew” begins similarly sparse and nebulous. The introductory drone grows gradually, lulling you into a sense of ease until suddenly evaporating into harmonic bliss sprinkled with percussion. The transition is especially bold and unexpected after the free-form ambiance that comprises the record up to this point. As the song evolves and weaves between different movements, the 16-minute runtime begins to seem minuscule; the piece is so hypnotic that it could be extended into an album of its own. Thankfully however, there’s five tracks to go, and what comes next is another definite highlight.
“Blue Hue” starts as one may now expect: a slow, filtered fade-in, but the drop at 3 minutes yields yet another surprise – not only does this album have bass, but it’s groovy as hell. It’s here that days of blue solidifies their keen sense of pace, progressing from the amorphous opener, to the understated sway of “Morning Dew,” now arriving at a track you could slow dance to. It’s also during this piece that the vocal samples creep to the forefront, gliding atop the dense clouds beneath as if to serve as a guide in this surreal journey.
I could continue describing in detail the remaining four tracks in order, but in truth, the atmosphere this album conjures is somewhat beyond description and is best experienced firsthand. Instead, I would ask vaporwave fans to recall the first time they listened to a slushwave album and truly resonated with it. The intrigue of feeling alien and yet uncannily familiar. The contradiction of yearning for days long gone while also alluding to a distant future. The hazy loops pulling you under until you lose track of time. For me, it was t e l e p a t h’s cosmic lullaby, the 2015 monolith 星間性交 (Interstellar Intercourse), an album which days of blue cites as an inspiration.
Blissful Days takes me back to the wonder and mystique of experiencing 星間性交 for the first time, while still feeling like a logical step forward for the style; the mix sounds vivid and full despite an ocean of reverb and phasers, the theme is self-evident, and the visual personality oozes from every corner; from the album art, to the Bandcamp page, to the artist’s entire social media identity. Blissful Days by days of blue looks and sounds exactly like you would expect given the name: an escape into a lush, serene daydream.
Above all else, one of my favorite features of this album is just how patient it is, clocking in at 55 minutes with a mere 7 songs. The buildups are long, but never without payoff. Complementary samples relay back and forth at length to trance-like effect, never overstaying their welcome. Despite the album’s subdued nature, it boasts a quiet confidence under the surface, asking the listener to commit their time and trust, and in return offers a gorgeous aural experience that begs for another listen after completion.
The only factor that prevents Blissful Days from being utterly flawless is the closing track, “Sunset Gradient.” While an ear-worm in its own right, the song carries an easygoing mid-album groove in place of an opportunity to drive the release toward a thematic conclusion, a role which may have been better suited for the aforementioned “Morning Dew” or the flight-inducing “Sun Kissed Skies.”
In a time increasingly focused on disjointed streams of bite-sized content, the best slushwave often forces us to instead slow down and stay put for a little. Blissful Days is a cathartic respite that delivers exactly what it promises in this regard, and is sure to capture the hearts of fans of the style. The artist describes the work as “a journey of a day, from morning to sunset,” and yet it manages to feel infinite during its best moments. Fitting, given the album’s Bandcamp description, a mere 6 words:
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!
So begins the promise of Equip’s debut album, I Dreamed Of A Palace In The Sky. Thanks to 100% Electronica, we can hold that dream in our hands. The teal and white spatter variant once available through their storefront was released in 2020, the second version of the LP since the debut green transparent version. This, however, is one true beauty
The records come upon a translucent sunny sky blue, splattered with spots of white, evocative of bone-white clouds. It’s a beautiful image with fantastic physical quality. It truly is as if the pressing plant cut out a spot of the dreamiest sky and placed the resulting blue portal in a gatefold. The whole record is an invitation to a certain stratospheric palace.
The aural landscape and physical feeling of the music is so important to this album, so a high-quality splatter does wonders for accentuating the magic and atmosphere of this piece. To enter the palace we have to place a disk in a player, the same as intrepid kids placing their Final Fantasy 7 discs into their newly minted PlayStations, and for a moment, their wonder becomes ours.
The pressing itself is smooth and clean. The spongy drums and crispy sound effects have come out wonderfully in the vinyl, the full breadth of the low-poly soundscapes filling your room and ears without scratches or warps. It lives up the digital version on Bandcamp and stands toe to toe with the Spotify release as a rendition worth its cost and may become your preferred listening experience in how it transforms entire living spaces into the mystical landscapes from the album itself.
The artwork of the album is a superb surrealist piece by Keith Rankin, notable for his work with Orange Milk Records. His airy, magical style gives the album a pull, instantly standing out with a classy white border and distinct blue obi-stripe. The lettering on which is stark and unique, not your ordinary title. It does everything a vinyl obi should, accentuating the album’s aesthetic and adding a texture that would be missing on a digital storefront.
That said, the obi is noticeably tight and printed on a fragile glossy paper; it can make removing it troublesome, which is something you’d want to do to see the excellent gatefold artwork inside. Another excellent hit by Rankin.
Along with four stickers, the album comes with a ‘magazine advertisement’. It’s a great extra, showing the passion and imagination of the album’s creators, in making sure the listener can fully immerse themselves in the world of Equip. However, it is printed on a delicate, easy-to-rip paper, and is not suitable for using as a poster, or really displaying outside of a frame.
With a plethora of physical extras, a high quality obi and a splatter that’s aesthetic as hell, this release is one rare drop you’ll want to equip immediately. Even if the fragility of the merch needs to be accounted for, it’s an absolutely quality vinyl.
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.
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…