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 It’s a somewhat outdated debate, too broad for this space.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.
Is The Greatest Vaporwave Project of All Time Secretly a Rock Band?
Rebirth in Reprise
There are certain defining traits we can look to when trying to qualify the sound of vaporwave. Samples, appropriation of recognizable brands, great loops, pastel-based color palettes, hard to come by physical releases, and a Bandcamp presence are just a few of vaporwave’s core components. What if we told you there was a rock band that had all of these?
The Dear Hunter – not to be confused with Deerhunter— are a rock band originally from Providence, Rhode Island – now based out of Port Angeles, Washington — renowned for their ambitious album concepts, as well as the ability to seemingly mix genres at will to great success. Founded by former The Receiving End of Sirens vocalist/guitarist, Casey Crescenzo, the group has churned out an incredible array of inspired music, creating some of the best tunes, well, ever. The most well-known of their projects is The Acts, a five-album story spanning the life of a young man as he repeatedly makes poor decisions. There is also The Color Spectrum, an “album” consisting of 9 separate EP’s each covering a color on the visible spectrum, as well as black and white, with the intent of pairing a specific sound to a specific color.
That’s all well and good, they’re a very talented band. So what? What’s all this got to do with vaporwave? Well, it just so happens that the band adheres to many of the same principles as those artists that create vaporwave. Let’s dive in.
One of most commonly cited tenets of vaporwave is that of sampling. While it may play less of a role these days than it did in the movement’s infancy, it’s still very much a part of the scene. And this happens to be a practice The Dear Hunter adheres to. Honestly, we could come up with hundreds of examples, but we’ll just cherry-pick a couple. Let’s start with a track off of the closing album in their Acts story, Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional. The closing track of the album, “A Beginning” is both a narrative and musical crescendo. A somber, retrospective on every track that led to this point in the story, the song concludes with a beautiful piano melody that runs from the 5:26 mark to the track’s conclusion. But what if we told you this piano piece was STOLEN. That’s right, you can find the very same piano piece on a completely different song by a completely diff…well, by a band. The melody can be heard in the song “Vital Vessels Vindicate” by a rock band called The Dear Hunter.
Starting at 5:43, you will hear the same piano track. Coincidence? Unlikely. And that’s to say nothing of some melodies that show up on Act V that are slightly changed from where they might be in their original form. A song titled “The March” on Act V has an eerily familiar vocal piece to it. Starting at 2:32 you hear the lyrics:
Was that there’s far too many ways to die
Far too many ways to die
Now those lyrics on their own could describe any number of songs, but if you compare it next to the sample of the source material, it sounds like it might be completely lifted from a track that existed prior to Act V. It’s eerily similar to a segment of the song “The Old Haunt,” (starting at the 1:01 mark) which as it turns out it sampled from the same band that made “Vital Vessel Vindicate.” That’s right, that track also comes from The Dear Hunter. Clearly, this band has a particular group they like to lift samples from.
Loops are another mainstay of the vaporwave movement. Look no further than some of the earliest pieces, like “Nobody Here” to get a feel for it. And that’s a feature of vapor music that, much like sampling, may not be as essential as it once was, but it’s still very much a part of things. For a perfect example of this let’s look at the track “A Night on the Town” off of The Dear Hunter’s Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise. The track opens with a blaring, in-your-face guitar riff. But here’s the thing, once the riff concludes, they play it again. I mean, do we even need to say anymore?
This one’s a little trickier and took some exhaustive investigative journalism on our part. There are certain brands intimately associated both with vaporwave music, as well as its general aesthetic. Brands such as Arizona Iced Tea, or the example we’ll be talking about now: Fiji Water. The iconic square packaging is the defining trait of the brand, but you know what the next most important thing about it is? Water. And there are multiple references to water strewn throughout the band’s discography. Let’s look at the album art for the Blue EP off of their Color Spectrum project.
Sure looks an awful lot like water to us. Just like what you can find inside of a coveted bottle of Fiji. What’s more, for anyone familiar with the geography of Fiji, it’s an island. And the above picture appears to be of a coastal region. A coastal region that might itself be an island.
But not so fast, we’re not done with that artwork. If you notice there are also quite a few shades of blue present in that artwork, some of them even look pastel. And as we know, pastel blues and pinks play a huge role in the vaporwave aesthetic. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve also used pastel pinks before. Recently, a vinyl box set of all of The Acts was released, which included newly redesigned artwork for the first three albums. And on the album art for Act I: The Lake South, The River North, if you look hard enough you can find some pastel pink. We’ve taken the liberty of blowing up the image for you and circling the suspect area, don’t thank us.
Now, of course, not every vaporwave artist is required, nor are they necessarily expected to have a Bandcamp page. But having one doesn’t hurt. And wouldn’t you know it, The Dear Hunter has a Bandcamp page. Sure seems suspicious to us if they’re not a vaporwave group.
We think it’s safe to say we’ve provided ample reasons why you could make the argument that the greatest vaporwave act of all time is actually, secretly, The Dear Hunter. If you can’t arrive at the same conclusion that we have after this much irrefutable evidence, it’s out of our hands, but we hope you arrive at the same conclusion that we have.
Happy April 1st to all of our dear readers here at Utopia District! What’d you think? Did you fall for this for even a second? No?
Well, if you’re interested in digging a little deeper into what The Dear Hunter is really about, we’ll include some helpful links below. They’re a pretty incredible band -this writer’s favorite music group of all time in fact- and they deserve as much attention as they can get!
Into Dreams is the latest album by Epson, an artist who has released hit after hit in the late-night lo-fi scene. With vaporwave like this, you want the entire album to be an experience, one track blending seamlessly into another. The smooth jazz and R&B beats create the feeling of walking downtown after a long party. You’re tired from the night’s festivities, but you have a spring in your step.
Right off the bat, we have what is easily the strongest track in the album, “VCR Melt”. As the title suggests, this song is a melty, ooey-gooey slope of slow R&B beats that open up to a ballad of beautiful synths, all while sampled vocals phase in and out. They are recognizable, but just before you can fully recall the song it fades away like a long-forgotten memory. VCR Melt effortlessly guides the listener into the rest of this album.
This is not to say that this opening track does all the heavy lifting. The sampling and consistent production throughout gives the listener a great transition into songs like “Space Jeep” and “Epson 93-95”. What this album is, above all, is an experience reminiscent of classic vaporwave — capital “V” vaporwave if you will.
At the end of the night, that’s where Into Dreams is trying to take you. Tracks like “Captain Midnight” are reminiscent of classic artists like Infinity Frequencies and Mindspring Memories while tracks like “ⓡⓔⓛⓐⓧ ⓡⓔⓜⓘⓧ” feel almost like Lux Elite B-Sides. With Into Dreams, the listener is transported into this world of hazy, smooth synths and distant drums. What Into Dreams is trying to sell you on is the holistic experience of late-night delights. Pun absolutely intended.
However, some might find the thematic cohesion of this album a negative. People love singles, and aside from VRC Melt and the album’s closing track “Deja Vu”, the album can’t really be picked apart. With most of the tracks being under two minutes, listeners might find it hard to tell the difference between tracks like “Which Way” and “Memphis Socks”.
To that point though; why would you want to pick apart individual tracks? I mean, this album is clearly meant to be consumed as a whole, and leaving tracks out is ultimately cheapening the experience. Like leaving the pickles out of the burger you ordered from the hole-in-the-wall diner downtown. Just like this record, it gives you savory satisfaction. Just eat the damn pickles.
Into Dreams offers a reliable late-night lo-fi experience that harkens back to classic vaporwave aesthetics. While some listeners might see this as a relatively safe release with few extraordinary qualities that might help it stand out from the sea of classic vaporwave sounds, this Epson album is still a solid choice if you’re aiming to recreate that nostalgic feel.
Climatewave has a pretty well-defined sound to it. Swelling synths. Feathery, synthesized woodwinds. But what if there was a different way? A new approach? Help us give a warm welcome to endless cliffs ltd., a new side project of the ever-amazing Soul▲Craft. As if birthing some of the best albums in vaporwave wasn’t sufficient–we’re looking at you, Beach House—this new project sees Soul▲Craft dabbling in some hitherto unexplored regions of the scene. And the results, while maybe a bit uneven in places, justify this whole experiment rather brilliantly.
Right out of the gate, it’s clear that things aren’t as they appear. While there may be an element of those “weather channel vibes” buried within, the notes hit harder, they hit faster, and there are simply just more of them.
Indeed, we briefly picked Soul▲Craft’s brain about this very aspect, with their goals for the project outlining this overwhelming volume of notes.
“My particular approach with this one, I wanted a clearly defined theme as well as a specific and evocative sound palette. I also wanted a minimalism in the number of instruments used. So you know, no like 50 instruments or layers existing in a song. And finally, an attempt at a sort of virtuosity (for lack of a better word). Playing parts that were challenging and that were a little more difficult than I might approach in a different context.”
While the opener, “earth song”, unfolds to the calming swell of a coming breeze, this quickly gives way to a rapid beat, offering up a quirky melody that almost sounds like something out of a Canadian children’s broadcast. It also makes it very clear that the tracks on the album are keen on having core identifying melodies for themselves. While the album has a tonal throughline, each track comes off as a microcosm of the whole, but with something unique to say on it’s own.
Which is why the next track, “altocumulus maximatus”, is such a curious follow-up. The tempo feels almost identical to the opener on the surface, but the synths layered over it offer such a toned-down melody that the track’s overall speed feels much more calm and relaxed. It almost feels more in line with a traditional climatewave sound, especially if you were to mute the drum track.
And then “gradient cumulonimbus” takes what appears to be the melody from the previous track and speeds that up while slowing the driving tempo of the track down. The inversion of elements between track two and three are a completely unexpected move. And it rather brilliantly allows them to have individual identities, but perhaps more interestingly, cohesion through unification. The first portion of the album concludes with “tilling shadow crops,” which feels like a further reshuffling of the elements that have been played with to this point.
However, a new storm swoops in, shoving the sounds we’ve been hearing for the past 15 minutes aside. Instead, “snowed all night” brings in the barren, bassy rumble of a lone synth. A melody starts to build out of these darker elements, but the storm seems to have been able to hold the original sounds at bay for only so long. The back half of the track sees additional synth layers and a percussive rhythm start to slowly creep their way back in, which is carried through to “arcticus cirrostratus.” Some of the dark sounds linger for a time, but a drum track comes to the forefront as well as what seems to be a plucked instrument of some sort, carrying the most optimistic tune on the whole album. The melody has such a distinctly hopeful quality, it’s hard not to smile.
Maybe that joy isn’t meant to last, though— “column of smoke” brings not just a foreboding title, but such heavily distorted synths that the track dabbles in darkwave at points before clawing its way back out of the muck, trying to regain that hopefulness. The sun never manages to shine through quite as much as it once did, but some optimism is able to creep back into the music just in time for “nox atra” to offer a pallet cleanse of sorts. The rain pattering at the start gives way to yet more optimistic music, though in a more forlorn and somber fashion. It feels like we’ve reached the end of the storm and things are starting to improve.
If “nox atra” provided what could be considered after the storm, the title track feels like an entirely different place altogether. There’s a particular melody, absolutely striking and wholly alien from what we’ve heard before. It’s hard to truly describe, but it conjures a mental image of soundwaves in the shape of a boomerang, notes moving back and forth across that shape. The sting has an almost visceral hook to it.
And then the title track gives way to “Earth’s spiral closing (new earth version)”, the lead single that has easily the most front-and-center percussion on the album. All the disparate elements of the release coalesce into one high-energy sequence absolutely hellbent on putting a spring in your step. The energy on this penultimate tune is downright infectious, which is perhaps why it’s for the best the release doesn’t jarringly jump straight to a somber farewell to close out the album. The drums remain a central focus on “vapor terrae,” but the energy slowly ebbs from the track as the album winds down. The synths bray one final time, the lights come up, the curtains fall, and all that remains is a faint whistling of wind.
The album is an absolute treat from start to finish, and while some of the tracks may provide emotional whiplash, the tonal consistency of the project is admirable and leaves a lasting impact on the listener— and ideally will continue to do so through all subsequent listens.
If Invidia tropicae sounds right up your alley, we are pleased to say that the album drops December 19th at Pacific Plaza Records, so you don’t have long to wait!