Anniversary · Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Miami Vice – Palm Haze, 2013

While he vanished before we knew it, Miami Vice left a definite mark on like-minded producers and helped define vaporwave. In it’s year-long span, his music came in fragments that went from one early trademark to the next with surprising ease. You had spacy ‘mallsoft’, sinister funk riffs, smooth jazz, and in this case, self-composed v-wave before that was so common. On the other hand, the thing that insists to haunt the whole project is this blurry, downbeat view of ‘paradise’. Where his debut’s ‘paradise’ was uneasy to the point it would fit an obscure 80’s disaster film, Palm Haze seems to steep itself in the heartbreak that can come with nostalgia.

It’s so sweetly eccentric on the surface; even with the groovier bits, each sound warbles and shimmers softly like an odd creature. Imagine melting synthwave into seafoam and you get something like this. Like the best vaporwave, MV opts to use lo-fi as a smooth balm that renders this weird sensation we call the eighties in a more tender and luxurious light. Once I listen close though, I get the feeling this isn’t a paradise meant to last or regain it’s old glory. As much as the synths burst with that eighties pastel, the melodies give an idea that they can’t keep nurturing and entertaining us. Whether it’s the voice of a broken toy, a worn VHS or the beach itself, they aren’t here in spirit. They’re intent to sulk and hide. The pleasure is empty then, but the refreshing part is that Miami Vice doesn’t look past the emotional weight. Palm Haze isn’t another edgy e-boy gazing off into the dystopia. The way MV does it, I can feel the innocent dismay in this scenario.

Whether you’re talking it’s period acccuracy, emotions or ghostly presence, that extra mile MV took in ‘dubbing’ these songs to real VHS makes everything three times as effective. When you render the 80’s sound that unmistakable magnetic decay and not another Com Truise polish-overload, not even a fanatic like Fire-Toolz can tell this was self-composed until I tell them. It brings this gushing, detuning effect that turns already eccentric sounds surreal while leaving them too ‘choked-up’ to clearly ‘speak’ out their sadness.

Take that lead on “Palm Haze”; the way it chirps and frolics around is just adorable, while the melody nears depression. It tries and tries to feel better and it doesn’t work despite it’s own sweetness. Move on to the farewell that swallows up “HyperColor”, ironically using the same bubbly synths as before, until it fades into “NeoSynth”‘s quiet abandonment. The outro to “Tropics” brings the most sublime textures on the album just as a tiny bell pleads to me and drowns it’s sorrows. The whimsy sits at odds with grief here. Is this how it feels to watch good memories wash away against my will, or burst a young person’s innocent bubbles? All I can say for sure is: it feels eerily fitting to revisit this when I’m approaching 20.

While “Tokyo Negative” was quick to strike a nerve with me through that forlorn twinkling, I’d call it the album’s ‘refuge’. I can see shores flourishing in a calming, cinematic slo-mo. Someone wraps themselves in a blanket, concerned for their future but grateful to have someone to help. (like the pair on the cover?) Even if they’re yet to the fix the problem, they can persevere through their support for each other. I want a 80’s movie with an outro like this.

Miami Vice didn’t intend it as a swan song, but Palm Haze wound up fitting the bill in more ways than one. Really: with a sound this lonely, coming from a project that wound up floating by itself on the internet, to haunt whoever finds it? This really is vaporwave’s lost sea shell. Fitting, but I have to sigh a bit when it promised so much for his future. Why do the best vaporwave artists have to go poof?

hidden treasure

Djavan – Lilás, 1984

More like this – Elza Soares’ “Lá Vem Você”, “Marcos Valle’s Marcos Valle

One reason I adore sophisti-pop is it’s SUPREME breeziness. Albums like Lilas have such a luscious yet steady groove that I lose myself in a blissful fantasy of the most refreshing morning walk. It’s something about the way the glittery keyboards shimmer over the smooth bass and such clear, idyllic pillows of harmony. On a song like “Esquinas”, the saxophone gets me lost in the image of endless cities or candle-fit cocktail parties. Music for having an easygoing Good Time, but the wistful way it frames the vocals leaves room for deeper thought without disrupting things.

I’d say the only thing that can enrich this further are some strings.. oh wait, they’re here, and they have a gorgeous way of flourishing into the arrangement just enough.

Well then, how about some Brazilian flavor? Evocative, romantic singers like Nascimento or Jorge Ben are sophisti bait, are they not? Having a past in samba himself, Djavan brings plenty of that, and the result is true ear candy if you like it smooth and don’t mind some subtle eighties-isms. (I don’t, of course.) As you may guess, the elegance of Portuguese and the samba-like atmosphere makes a breezy genre like sophisti even more breezy. For one, “Obi” brings a bossa nova vibe and the album’s richest strings, meaning Lilas has about anything I could ask for in a sophisti album.

This stuff is like gourmet strawberry pie as music; I’m sure my ears will always have room for that.

Mix

Don’t Disturb This Groove

Listen here

Track listing

B.Y.O.B. – sister sledge / let’s go together – change / she’s strange – cameo / driving satisfaction – grace jones / heartbreaker – evelyn champagne king /  still a thrill – jody watley / oh sheila – ready for the world / back and forth – cameo / have you heard the news? – high fashion / let it whip – dazz band / party train – the gap band / didn’t mean to turn you on – cherrelle / the character – morris day / don’t disturb this groove – the system / slow dancin – – phyllis hyman / thinking about you (prod. kashif) – whitney houston / all of you – pointer sisters / i love you too much  – stevie wonder / family man – kathryn white / why you treat me so bad – club nouveau / the glamorous life – sheila e. / i want my girl – jesse johnson / i betcha – klymaxx

Pictured: Phyllis Hyman

new music

rozowypalec – ‘ecstacy of the lost soul’

My friend Jan (writer of last year’s ethereal wave guide and a list of underrated video game music) has a new song out! If you’re into classic 90s goth music like Lycia or shoegaze like Lovesliescrushing, this is something for you.

With such cavernous textures (all guitar except the drums!) it sounds like an established darkwave group. Their passion for this music is really on display. It does have a metal tinge but the tune is wonderfully emotive. Gaze into a giant cave with this playing.

My music

New EP for Netlabel Day: Liquid Forest

To celebrate Netlabel Day and mark my 2 years on Vulpiano, the first label to feature my music, I went as far back as I could tolerate. This entire EP comes from August 2015 just like “Garden” (which I lifted from Mint and Turquoise Trilogy). I made the songs on the FL Studio ‘replica’ LMMS since I couldn’t get Garageband on my old PC. I was a younger teen who ~played around~ with music more than made songs. It was “Sea Shell”, “Cold”, and “Garden” that told me, after three years of aimless experiments, maybe my music had potential.

Many things set these songs apart from what came before. For one, it was a transitional time where I was just escaping a long-hold paranoia, so this fragile sense of hope left a mark; as did my fascination with the ‘awakening’ feel of the early morning. Sonically though, it was my focus soft, trickling synth tones (a trademark for LMMS?). For that same trio of songs 2-4, I used the pentatonic scale and loved it’s soul-searching effect.

The result was this shy, secluded ‘virtual nature’ vibe that may remind you of Turquoise Trilogy. I figure my obsession with invoking forests and oceans began here. I felt I finally found a niche to focus on, so I stuck with this style for a few months.

“Sea Shell” came first. It was my attempt to stop fiddling with awkward loops and make a pure ambient piece. 70% improvised, yet it has more focus than most songs I would make for the next year somehow. It has this twinkly sea-side sound that would pop up in so many later songs; and this happened before I got into new age at all..?

2020 favorites · Playlist

Favorite songs of 2020, part 1/2

Sign Libra – “Sea Of Nectar” MV

LISTEN ON YT

I have a lot to catch up with but this is an interesting music year so far! This particular mix wound up having a lot of rich and moody synth-pop along with airy vocals (AKA my default mood). I love to have some variety in all of my mixes though so we also have tropical vibes, ghostly ballads and some unique fusions. As you might expect from me, I focused my inclusions on less canon artists who could use more attention.

  1. Σtella – The Race
  2. Wild Nothing – Sleight of Hand
  3. Choir Boy – It’s Over
  4. Baby Zionov – Extract From Truth
  5. Planet 1999 – Party
  6. Sign Libra – Sea of Waves
  7. Lido Pimienta – Te Queria
  8. La Roux – 21st Century
  9. Shura ft. Ivy Sole – elevator girl
  10. Christine And The Queens – I Disappear In Your Arms
  11. Hello Seahorse! – Mujer
  12. Maria Jose Llergo – El Hombre De La Mil Luna
  13. Eefje De Visser – Stilstand
  14. Half Waif – Siren
  15. Agnes Obel – Island of Doom
  16. Kelsey Lu – Morning Dew
  17. Nailah Hunter – White Flower Dark Hill
  18. Kelsey Lu w/ Onyx Collective – Where Or When
  19. Lydia Ainsworth – Diamonds Cutting Diamonds (Strings Version)
  20. Pantayo – Kaingin 
  21. Little Dragon – Stay Right Here 
  22. Empress Of – Call Me
My music · new music

New album! ‘Short Circuits’

‘A gardening robot awakens among hills, rivers and mountains, not remembering an inkling of its functions and original purpose. Something draws it to follow some unusually fussy glowflies and amphibians to the rocky mass of the Chrome Citadel, where it will rediscover just what it forgot..’

An ALBUM? From ME? That’s right! After months and months of absurd delay, whether it was figuring out what to do about the cover (initially I dreamt of paying the amazing Mossworm to do it) or trying to get the quality right, I finally have my second album and first with all-new material.

ONTO THE MUSIC: I got my first 8-bit plugin in Spring 2018; Short Circuits is the result. I was curious about 8-bit music for many years before, being a video game person long before a musician, so this was a great way to merge my interests.

It was fun to explore chiptune hence a more melodic sound. In spirit, I’d compare it to a late 80s or early 90s platform game; stuff with mascots and goofy creatures like Mario or my personal fave Kirby. Like most of my more uptempo projects, most songs follow a pseudo-synthpop style. I mix the 8-bit voices with effects and external sounds too, often with bitcrushing. Even a piano here and there, including one (“Mountain View”) that I think Celeste fans will enjoy.

To spice things up I created a few new songs (1, 20, 25, 26, 27) and remixed 14 and 16 from previous releases; so it isn’t a 100% archive release in the end. When it came to bonus song “Toppling Floors” I liked it but didn’t fix some iffy clicking on it before it got stuck on a freezy drive (like the other original files for the album, hence tons of other WIP material; part of why my flow with new music went out-of-whack this past year).

Despite taking most of June to get the song volumes to work as a group, I don’t despise these songs upon releasing them! So that’s a relief and it gives me hope that some of you will enjoy it.

I want to tackle more VGM vibes in the future. To hear more of this in my music check out my first album Turquoise Trilogy, where “West Forest Field” and “Entering The Citadel” originate.

My music

New song “Winter Into Spring” featured on IOR’s ‘Thaw’ album!

Honored to appear on Thaw, a new spring-themed V/A album by  net label Index Of Refraction, which focuses on crystalline electronic music. Possibly the most ‘me’ comp idea ever, so I had to submit something when I discovered the prompt in April-May.

I sent two songs by the deadline. To my amazement the label owner loves both! I went with this song since it’s the more ambitious one overall. The most exciting part is, this is my first time on a netlabel besides Vulpiano! 

The thing I liked about this song is how it sounds like a hybrid of several styles/interests I have: the new agey bell sounds on Gemstone Study, pastoral acoustic elements, 8-bit synths, and the ‘digital nature’ vibe on my Turquoise Trilogy. If you enjoy[ed] those things this is for you.

Go here for my other submission Ice Into Water

Deep Cuts

The Creatures – “Another Planet” (Anima Animus, 1999)


I thought it was time for a new Siouxsie b-day post since I kept reblogging the old one.

Anima Animus was a ‘black sheep’ album for The Creatures and Siouxsie in general. The decision to follow the British club scene brought us the closest thing to Siouxsie ‘going electro’. In addition, it features her voice in it’s best incarnation since it’s noticeable deepening in the 90’s. Her preference for surreal poetry stuck, but she took extra amusement in bringing the chaos. She always had a way with playful b-horror after all; she does it with such confidence and energy that I wish she played a villain in a movie. Mixed with Budgie’s mechanized rhythms, this made heavy-handed 90s sounds like futurepop much more convincing with their edgy thrill-rides.

Forming the album’s whirlwind finale with the villainous epic that was “Experimenting Angel”, “Another Planet” is the most striking moment by far. Siouxsie’s rage turns to luxury, opting to bask in space’s wonders rather than well, destroy things with it’s black holes. With the metallic, slow-drifting fusion of guitar and keyboard, the chill-out tease matches the purr in her voice. The sounds mutate and zoom further beyond as it goes. If the first verse is a sleepy glance at space, the clashing drums and vocals at the end IS space; it’s full expanse. Like it’s nothing, every last sound bursts with the same confidence as Siouxsie. Her lyrics suggest strange beasts and mutations:

They’re coming out the walls / they’re seeping in
Three odd eyed tentacles / Speak in forked tongues
Sprouting all over me / And blossoming
I’m breaking out the walls / I’m coming in

Much more creepy than glamorous, but Siouxsie is thriving in this imagery. She sings like she’s celebrating at the local sci-fi cantina. Something about it is weirdly relaxing. Surprising as it sounds for her, it makes a perfect tribute to sci-fi. This is a song for feeling in-your-element and thanking your inspirations for it.

Interesting to note: On the previous Creatures album and a full decade before, Siouxsie sang an addictive proto-electropop tune about flying to Pluto.
Deep Cuts · List

5 Grace Jones Deep Cuts You Can’t Miss

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 12.53.09 PM

Wishing Grace Jones a happy 72nd with this post!

Even during exciting eras like disco and the new wave, Grace Jones stood out and made many unique acts sound mundane. These were worldwide phenomenons that define the eighties’ myriad influences, but you won’t find anyone quite like Grace within them. That should say something.

Yes, Grace is a ‘muse’ (after all, she had an album with this name; she excels at it). So much appeal with learning her story is the way connects with fellow artists and producers. I felt I’d learn a new connection with every other page in her memoir. Still, I think it’s crucial to note that so much of that ‘larger than life’ character you see in her collabs revolve on her face, voice and personality in the end. None would wind up the same without her. It’s rare for anyone to mold her for real; she absorbs her surroundings, the extravagance of her voice shines through. No matter how poppy, how disco or how ‘weird’ she got, she rolled with it and made herself the life of the party. Grace brings glamor to anything without trying.

Her supposed ‘narrow’ range as a singer didn’t matter so much to me. I was too busy taking awe in her velvet-like elegance and unique dramatic flair. Her monotone brought hypnotic classics like “Private Life”, while others can rage with passion; let’s not forget “La Vie En Rose”. So often she comes off as this enigma, yet she can radiate this sense of warmth that draws me back again and again.

Most Grace tributes stick to her Sly/Robbie era, if they acknowledge the music, so I thought I’d break this ‘cycle’ by focusing on other eras this time.

1. “I’ll Find My Way To You” (Muse, 1979)

My defense for Disco Grace goes back years: I had each album on vinyl by 2013 and I wrote about “Autumn Leaves” for THE first MAM post. I see where some criticism comes from, since her delivery can grow awkward and on-the-nose, but I think any 70’s disco fan should take a closer look. This eager, younger Grace should endear true fans anyway, and the disco glamor suited her theatrics. Arrangements from the famed Tom Moulton, both punchy and luxurious, helped support her with every great disco trademark.

The interesting thing about Muse (her ‘lost album’) was the added synths. Not enough to make this ~electro-disco~, but with all the syntoms bouncing around like laser beams this makes a colorful decoration. This way, I got a feel for disco’s range through singular songs.

“Find My Way” demonstrates best, with the synths taking on a breezier tone that flourishes perfectly with the strings and and the lyric’s sweet yearning. The result has a nearly Cinderella feeling, painting dreamy portraits of romance in pastel and Technicolor. Disco as an idyllic walk in the park. I can’t believe this wasn’t a single.

2. “Slave To The Rhythm” (6:36 version / Slave To The Rhythm, 1985)

Never stop the action

Keep it up, keep it up

Anyone who says Grace lost her edge after new wave should hear Slave To The Rhythm. Here, Trevor Horn re-assembles her title hit with more creative measures than many modern remixes. Revolutionary at a time where most mainstream ‘remix albums’ boiled down to ‘make song longer with new drums and bass’.

Trevor’s colorful palette shouldn’t surprise Art of Noise fans, and it’s a perfect fit for Grace given her pop-art aesthetics. You have new age lotion in synth form (“The Crossing”), an operatic dance mix and even a fashionable R&B revamp on music from the Bruton library. (“The Fashion Show”; and I heard every Grace album long before I knew a thing about library music!) Funk from eighties heaven meets surreal spa music from Utopia.

“Slave To The Rhythm” is a flashier example (no, this isn’t the single). Matching the lyrics, Trevor mechanizes the go-go rhythms and Grace’s wordless ‘oohh!’ into an earth-shattering force. You have Chic guitars, an infectious mix between digital and organic beats, and synth horns adding quirky chrome futurism.

Grace seems to command this rhythm like her horde, all while dropping some enigma to reveal the upbeat spirit that brought so much charm to her ‘pop’ era. And before you know it? The most heavenly bridge in all 80’s pop, where gentle guitars and background voices wash over like a fountain. This is the same song? And it FITS? Time to kick myself for the hundredth time over hearing so few Horn productions.

3. “Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician” (Inside Story, 1986)

I went to a concert, to see Nina, Simone,
The concert was over, there was still a band playing, the rap up…

Hollywood jazz meets sophisti-pop at it’s peak luxury. I’m yet to hear a jazz/pop crossover that captures this much impeccable late-night-cantina romance. Just as “I’ve Done It Again” provided a surprise ballad to close Nightclubbing, “Victor” shows Grace in a wistful, even sensitive light. She plays a dreamer, falling in love and losing herself in this subdued, big-city glamor.

With that sad little keyboard I can feel the guests coming and going, the flickering billboards and a band playing for what feels like forever, serenading everyone. The instrumental break at 3:08 is most hypnotizing with the groovy 80’s guitar that screams of yachts, plus the most haunting trumpet solo I know. Jazz isn’t the first thing I’d expect hearing ‘Grace Jones’ but well… Read that again, this is Grace Jones.

4. “Seduction Surrender” (Bulletproof Heart, 1989)

I’ll always remember

Light inside your love

Bulletproof Heart holds a unanimous status as ‘worst Grace album’. I say you should give it a chance if you appreciate her voice and don’t mind a few predictable lyrics. The mechanized late-80’s beats and cavey reverbs are bound to overwhelm certain people, but such kitsch-futuristic antics fit right in with Grace’s flamboyance.

Some critics will lump Bulletproof with Inside Story, but I’d say that was her sophisti-pop/soul album while this is her ‘party’ album. On the other hand, “Seduction” stands out through it’s weirdness. It sits somewhere between nightclub nightmare and demented cave. Gigantic drums tumble in all directions rather than stick to a simple beat; sampling makes trippy, ambiguous distortions on her own backing voices.

Once again, Grace mixes a powerful delivery with warmth and over-the-top fun. Her jumping from giddy monologues to a theatric sung chorus sounds near-effortless. The result demonstrates her nuance as a vocalist just as well as her prime; I’d LOVE to see it live.

“SS” resembles the theme for a b-movie villain, and sure enough: it originates from her villainous role in Vamp. At least two movie mixes exist. This one loosens further with it’s turbulent melody. Leave it to Grace to make groovy 80’s pop verge on gothic.

5. “Devil In My Life” (Hurricane, 2008)

You’re the architect of my destruction

Hurricane is the best ‘comeback’ album I could want. It modernizes the artist’s classic sound without losing any initial charm. It takes a sound that began unique to new places as Grace sings about new topics herself. No covers here, but the auto-biography feel creates it’s own intrigue. This is ever-mysterious Grace revealing her story here, after all. No matter how long she spent away, certain songs resemble a re-arranged lost entry from her new wave heyday.

Remove Grace’s enormous personality and “Devil” stays a unique instrumental. Isolate the drums and they alone mesh trip hop, slo-mo reggae and gritty electropop. Before half-time rhythms were everywhere, this song was fast and slow at once thanks to it’s bursts of distortion and film-worthy suspense. From the sad, smoky piano that opens it to that vulnerable shiver of strings, this had me wishing she dabbled in orchestral sounds more often. (The one other time I recall aside from this era is her thrill-ride of an Avengers theme, “Storm”.)

The strings throbbing with her voice soaring at the end makes this song one of her most emotionally intense. In one corner, she invokes a long-standing inner fear (Devil in my life / Treading on thin ice / slowly mesmerize / always in disguise). In the other, she has her own sinister aura as she observes a seedy gathering (Collaborate while being exploited, And we celebrate by drinking poison).