Martintox Presents: Discipline Reviews
Ah, it's quite some nice shade...
Artist: Sacred Tapestry
Released in: 2012
Producer: Sacred Tapestry [I imagine]
Best Track: maybe something like ドリーミー or 移住
TRACKS: 1) LD・VHD; 2) 花こう岩Cosmorama; 3) ドリーミー; 4) 移住; 5) 新たな夢Spirited Child (Color Ocean Sky); 6) 凍傷
I have already dedicated a special feature to this strange, but somewhat still ongoing meme/maymay/fad/genre, but I feel that this peculiar little experimental domain deserves yet a bit more exposure than what I gave it. Thus, I'm going to review an album that was, for a moment, the last album from a person who became legendary in that domain.
Ramona Andra Xavier, more notably known as Vektroid, is an electronic musician who mainly posted albums under dozens of different aliases from about 2010 to 2012. She's most renowned for releasing Floral Shoppe under the name Macintosh Plus, an album which is considered the quintessential vaporwave record, probably because it features a 7-minute track with Japanese characters and the number "420" in the title and which consists entirely of a Diana Ross song ("It's Your Move").
Back in 2012, Vektroid released a new vaporwave album (after putting out multiple essential releases of the genre, such as the sprawling 75-minute 札幌コンテンポラリー and NEW DREAMS LTD.) under the name Sacred Tapestry: it was titled Shader, and was apparently the end of the "New Dreams Ltd. Saga", which consists of the vaporwave albums that Vektroid had released over the years, starting with 2010. While she has made two new vaporwave albums in 2013 under the name PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises, Shader was, for a while, the end of her vaporwave legacy.
Let's see if she truly went out in a bang.
Now, while many elements of that special feature I made still hold true, I think that there's a much clearer way to explain vaporwave now: if you want a really short explanation, the genre can be summed up as sampled/manipulated 90's smooth jazz/commercials/game shows with outdated AOL-era imagery as a backdrop. You got lots of blue skies, CDs, cityscapes, all that sort of thing. Look up "vaporwave" on Google Images and you'll get a good idea of what I mean.
Albums like Floral Shoppe may fit (or have created, in fact) this generally agreed-upon image of what vaporwave is, but Shader actually strays farther away from that idea than you think it might be. Only the opener and closer, "LD・VHD" and "凍傷" actually sound like something similar to the legendary "420" Floral Shoppe song. Even then, however, Shader seems to play out this sampling concept in a very "heavenly" fashion.
Take the first song. It begins with what sounds like the beginning of the "Continue?" tune in the first Super Smash Bros. game, and then turns into about 2 minutes of some sort of sample that features a voice talking about "business" and "sawashi" and more Japanese shit. The thing you'll first notice with that sample is that the sound in it is much more than just added reverb: it seems like you're flowing through a really fucking noisy river, and that effect is actually pretty incredible. I wish I knew how to do that.
This opener can be considered the worst song, since the progression seems a bit slow, but at around two minutes in, the sample changes into a loop of the same sort of sample that grows louder and then "explodes". This effect continues for the rest of the 8-minute track, but actually evolves over time into a new song, which actually sounds really goddamn good. You have to hear that to believe it, because the transformation is positively masterful.
We then get to the second track, which I'll refer to as "Cosmorama": it features another supposedly sampled song that fits perfectly the "vaporwave" profile, but yet again, the production is thick and rich. Well, I suppose "rich" could be argued, but it has the same sort of thickness as the "LD-VHD" opener, instead this time it plays out as a sort of corporation-sponsored jungle exploration, another effect that I like a lot. Over time, the song becomes more crowded, and some synth lines reminiscent of something by electronic musician Daniel Lopatin (check out his album Replica, released under the name Oneohtrix Point Never, it's fucking incredible) pop up.
We then get the third song (it apparently translates to "Dreamy"), which I suppose is the most standard one: but that's actually quite surprising: if you assume that this is a sample song that Vektroid has crafted into something else, then she has done a god-tier job at making it sound like an actual song that exists, since many sample-based vaporwave tracks make it clear that the songs are sampled via sort of making loops where the beat doesn't remain constant. But I suppose that's part of the mystery: you don't know what's sampled and what's real.
We then have the fourth songs, which is, oddly enough, titled "Immigration" if you translate the Japanese: it's a strikingly slow, but beautiful synth-heavy track, which, after consideration, isn't actually similar to music from the game Fez ([hurr durr insert gratuitous "phil fish" or "gamergate" statement here]), but yet again recalls music from someone I already mentioned, that being electronic musician Daniel Lopatin. "Immigration" is like a thicker and richer version of his more minimal works, like Betrayed In The Octagon. So it's a highlight.
"[japanese characters] Spirited Child (Color Ocean Sky)" is one of the weirdest songs, but I like its charm: instead of directly focusing on one track, you hear a whole bunch of halfway quiet samples overlap upon each other (you can even hear the Diana Ross song that Floral Shoppe samples in there!), which gives the impression of a gently flowing river. Listen to this one with your speakers and walk around the room a bit: it's great for atmosphere. With enough imagination, you can feel your house floating on water.
The closing song, "凍傷" (which translates to "Frostbite"), begins on some mellow Japanese track, but then, maybe about a minute and a half in, the song starts doing some really strange shit with it, along with some extra voice clips (including one that I think says "baka" but at this point it's hard to make assumptions): 8 minutes in, the song transforms into some fucked up voyage through an ethereal void, with the vocals from the sample still audible in the background. The song eventually fades out, leaving me with an image similar to going straight through the clouds and into some light tunnel leading to Heaven, but having all your senses give up on you on the way there, only leaving you with a faint glimpse of the destination.
If you poor bastards managed to get into Swans and listen to all of their albums between when I posted my review of The Seer and when I posted this one, then you might not think I'm going out of left field when I'm saying this reminds me a bit of Soundtracks For The Blind: both of those albums are conclusions, Shader being the ending to the "New Dreams Ltd. Saga" and Soundtracks being the Swans'... swansong, and... well, that's basically it, Shader is not even half of the length of Soundtracks and isn't even close to drone.
This is, admittedly, not the best entry into vaporwave (check the special feature for that, and yes I know this album is in the "recommended albums" section this is why I'm reviewing it in the first place), but this is a pretty essential release, both for its importance in the "New Dreams Ltd. Saga", which more or less defined vaporwave as most people know it, and because we see Vektroid pull off some incredible things through sampling and... probably other strange means that my undeveloped brain can't understand.
Personal Rating: ****½
Recommendation Rating: ***
Lettered Rating: Gamma (Leaning Towards Delta)
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