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 It’s a somewhat outdated debate, too broad for this space.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, 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.
Similar in its sound to many of the litany of aliases that DMT Tapes head Vito James has stashed under his belt, Pleasure of Conformity contains a choice selection of loops paired with a heavy use of distortion techniques, making the sound feel as if it were crushed on the roughest, toughest setting of an extra dull blender. This sort of sound is exceedingly rough in the most charming ways, its use helping to bring out a heavy rumbling from the background riffs used in each track to add a deep warmth to each track. While the use of these distortion techniques occasionally borders on drowning out more interesting parts of the samples used, the arrangement of each track is skilled enough to create loops that feel seamless.
The effects applied also help the vocals sound haunting in the most perfect manner, harkening back to earlier techniques of vapor that brought out a haunting drawl from every word spoken. Anyone unfamiliar with the sound of this artist’s projects should check this album out, as his style and approach towards music is certainly experimental at the very least.
Similar in prose to the more exuberant, rhythm-driven ethos of mid-2010s vapor, Sunsets is a short run of tracks that run akin to the type of sound that 猫 シ Corp. (Cat System Corp) presented in the earlier stages of his career. Each track is filled with bustling energy created by well-cut loops, the sources primarily seeming to be from uptempo funk and disco tracks. By using this style of composition, Paradise of Yesterday manages to evoke both nostalgia for the era of the samples and the time in which albums of this style were more prominently released.
The samples picked to build this short experience feel both cohesive and tonally similar enough to deliver an experience which focuses much more on the sound of the music itself rather than building a story or scenario, an aspect that also feels reminiscent of these older pieces. Overall, this album is excellent for those looking to get a hit of the older sound paired with a more modern sense of production. Its cleaner cuts and slightly longer track durations allow it to focus on really working out the meat from the samples used.
Twilight, by nature, is a transitional state. For many in our extended community, change is often met with anxiety – either mourning what it has taken or dreading what it may bring. But considering that each of life’s lived moments are themselves transitions between the past and the future, one could also say that change is to be cherished. In their inimitable SNES-dripped style, Gavriel seems to share this sentiment. Like getting a head start before a promising day to come or resting after a day well spent, the in-between moment of Red Twilight is celebrated with a sense of relaxed joy and serene gratitude.
Lit up with a heavy layer of static and simple tunes illuminating its foreground, Forgotten Signals presents a collection of tunes that feel extremely relaxing to listen to. Just a single track is enough to make one lean back into their chair and shut their eyes, a broad scape of stars flashing through their eyes as they drift across an endless, blue sky. While the compositions aren’t complex, they manage to squeeze every last bit of emotion out of the segments chosen to build the EP, creating a scene that feels wistful, yet content at the same time.
A short, repetitive signalwave-style section drags the listener back in halfway through, reminding them to wake back up for more tracks that are to come. Each one manages to feel unique from the last while still having the same sort of downtempo, laid-back mood, helped by the backing of cassette static littering the background. As a whole, it serves as an excellent quick listen and a nice EP to wind down the day with. Check it out if you have the time.
A sprawling, meditative excursion to Tallon IV, the famed planet Samus Aran explores in Metroid: Prime. With music that brilliantly mixes the familiarity of one of Nintendo’s greatest series with that of a relaxing ambient album, Prime is a hypnotic aural excursion across an alien landscape. Alternating between twinkling, relaxing pieces, and frantic driving polyrhythms, the release is a must for anyone fond of the Metroid series. While it offers a compelling mix of the new and the familiar, as the wait for Metroid Prime 4 grows ever longer, this release couldn’t be more welcome.
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.