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?

On other sites · Playlist · Ultimate Box Set

RYM Ultimate Box Set – New Age Revival

7870531

Cover Image: Soda Lite – In Eco, 2017

Main list here

Youtube playlist

The 10s saw a slow but steady resurgence from new age in a few different forms. The blossoming period was around 2015-2017. FACT called this story ‘how music’s most maligned genre finally became cool’. Eventually, Simon Raymonde wrote about it. While smaller than many other online-based genres in 2020, I can predict it’s growing. After all, the much-discussed resurgence in calming, nature-centric music is going strong.

To make my best summary, I’d call the revival a few loosely connected scenes in one. Like the original new age, it has a looseness and tendency for overlap. Common roots for these artists are 80s-90s retro culture, lo-fi tape scenes, ambient and psychedelia. Many older artists are long-time fans or collectors; others have experience with all-out meditation.

Finally I can share this, made on-and-off over a six-month period. For my second-ever entry in this popular RYM-birthed series, I put great effort into illustrating this loose, wipe-open ‘scene’. (Check out my first one on 80’s library music too.)

Main features:

  1. Intro explaining some origins and influences
  2. Two-part mix, made from popular or influential releases within the niche, plus a few personal faves
  3. A ‘further listening’ section: ‘close but not quite’ entries in the niche, compilations,  labels
  4. Many quotes and links for full immersion

It began a simple idea for fun; after all, this is super niche and deserves more interest. Given the surprising lack in canons and communities (I thought all small genres had a subreddit!) though? It got tricky to get ‘definitive’ enough. I had at least three moments bordering on giving up. I struggled to find a good collaborator on RYM, since not many users care about this music. The few who did weren’t so active, so I ‘finished’ it alone.

I figure smaller edits will come, then, but I’m surprised I cut this down and mixed it up as much as I did. So please, check this out and discover some new artists!

 

hidden treasure

Elizabete Balcus – Conarium, 2016

art pop / folktronica / chamber pop / synth pop

More like this – Glasser’s Ring, Tess Roby, Danielle Dax

When I play this I feel I’m wandering the misty forests and castles, maybe even at Elizabete’s home of Latvia. On the other hand, her electronics morph that into a kind of vortex with their surreal, uneasy character. This is no shock since Elizabete calls her dreams a major inspiration. Not long before she sings “is the castle real?”, I’m sensing a computer behind the courtyard. Yes, this is yet another album where folklore and synths make a fascinating pair.

The same song can flip from churchy vocalizing to hectic techno beats in seconds. A simple feather-weight ballad like “Vienīgais ceļš” has me swaying, but something as flat-out bizarre as “Monument” makes me giggle. Beyond that, her lyrics go for abstract ideas like ‘following the shape of butterflies’ and forgetting her name. The memorable ‘it is not yet a forest’ repeats until the last song fades.

For all the synth shenanigans (she triggers them live with fruit) it’s the way she mixes it with her flute and distinct voice that stands out. The flute has a way of twirling around just so like a ribbon, while her voice has this deep, rosy richness. The two Latvian songs make good showcases for the latter, plus an uncommon language (“Vienīgais ceļš” again, while “Negribas Iet Gulēt” could pass for a lullaby). Like a wise mage, she’s discreet, focused; conducting some kind of research, but a song like “They’re Coming” shows her more playful instincts. With a colorful arrangement like that (flute, mallet, synth, horns) it could fit a parade.

hidden treasure

Purple Pilgrims – Eternal Delight, 2016

dream pop / hypnagogic pop / hauntology / folksy

Sounds like ghosts haunting the farmhouse of your past. What was once warm and nostalgic is now dusty, sinister, hard to believe. The wildlife isn’t frolicking anymore, it’s lurking! My ancestors’ rusty portraits took on a weird new energy since this time away, so much that I’m hearing voices. The Pilgrims suggest they’re enamored or pleased in some way, but it doesn’t feel right. Are they playing tricks?

This is one of those precious few albums which filter that special oldtimey, farm-life kind of spook through electronics and ‘heavenly voices’. As on their newer album, I love the way they frame their otherwise folksy voices with dream pop effects. Imagine a lost folk siren from the 60’s time-warped to today’s ‘hypnagogic’ scene and you get the idea. Felt Mountain fans rejoice.

Besides that haunted feeling, it’s the emphasis on synths that sets this apart from Perfumed. Like with the Ghost Box label, this adds a distinct space-age kitsch. The knack for eerie mantras wind up muffling this into a drowsier shape not far from a mangled library record.

hidden treasure

Metal Mother – Ionika, 2013

electropop / gothic / art pop

More like this – Grimes’ Halfaxa & Visions, Fever Ray’s self-titled, Zola Jesus, Gazelle Twin’s The Entire City, Drab Majesty

I only got to know Metal Mother seeing Pastel Ghost promote her on Twitter. As much as I love PG, I didn’t expect this to floor me given the er, Hot Topic flavor of her other peers. I was wrong. MM ticks countless boxes in my taste, and the same goes for most people who love their moody electronic ‘avant-pop’. I know you’re out there. Ionika knows just what I want from this stuff: an amorphous fog of synths, elaborate vocal layers, thundering rhythms and an ear for adventure. I can’t decide if it takes place in a magical glade or some dark future world. You could call those opposites and I’d agree, but this makes no difference to her!

What gets to me is how MASSIVE Ionika sounds. Let me get this clear: Mother’s production values are amazing. She gets an orchestra’s impact from vocal, synth and computer alone. With each song I’d give up with trying to count the layers as I tend to; I was too busy riding the adrenaline rush. This deserves to soundtrack a movie, not gather dust on Spotify! (It had two ratings total on often thorough Rateyourmusic by the time I listened.)

I had many pleasant callbacks to my other favorites (Fever Ray vocals in “Windexx’d”; early Grimes vibes in “Tactillium”) but it’s gloriously hard to box as a whole. It can fit so many contexts: a goth club (“Doomdome”), a cathedral performance (“Little Ghost”), a forest celebration (“Mind_off”). Tempo and volume flex to Mother’s whim, sometimes within the same song, yet nothing sounds misplaced.

Her vocals have a way of gliding around like a gust of wind. She adapts to both light and dark, from a fairy’s soul-searching mantra (“Prism”) to a creeping siren song (“Iona”). With something as dense as “Tactilium” she could be weaving spells around crumbling mountains. As I hoped, her music matches her name.

For all the wacky witch-house aesthetics, Ionika has a lot more going on than doom and gloom. MM likes to explore, even combine various emotions; something I wish more modern goth music did. It’s closer to a powerful exclamation from a cliff. You’re in touch with your spirit etc. and the waterfalls, releasing something deep inside. It has such a wonderful sense of harmony, freedom.

Deep Cuts

Brothertiger feat. Laura Ornella – “Further On” (Future Splendors, 2013)

Phased synth chords like holographic tears, dripping into a river to form some kind of dance. Then, the most gorgeously trembling verses I’ve heard in some time. Many thanks to Laura Ornella for guesting here. Gave you all of my life and you told me we’d never survive / My heart burns heavy tonight / If you hold it up to the light / You will see all of the memories of a million lives. Such a regretful atmosphere, yet such dedication and hope when the chorus hits. When Brothertiger made his name with happy-go-lucky songs like “Lovers”, this reveals a compelling new side to him.

What is it about synth-pop that makes it PERFECT for bittersweet, vulnerable ballads? Ignore the cliche that ‘synths have no feeling’ as usual. To think this is the ‘lesser album’ from a ‘lesser artist’ in a ‘fake’ genre (chillwave)… If that’s true, why did I play this 20+ times in January? More important, how wasn’t this a single?

Anniversary

Toro Y Moi’s ‘Causers Of This’, ten years later

In the early tens, DIY artists like Toro showed me you don’t need endless synth rigs to make creative electronic music, and that the best inspiration can and will come from the solitude of home. He helped kick off a chillwave take-over that inspired many artists to come, whether or not ‘died’ within a year like countless articles claim, but it doesn’t end there. For one thing, Toro came early to the trend of seeking the 80s funk vaults for inspiration and gleaning the weirdness out of them. Without vocals, “You Hid” could pass as vaporwave. I begin to lose count with the motifs Causers Of This mirrored, if not pioneered, and this was the decade’s first month. Hypnagogic pop, future funk, our latest nu-disco crop, lo-fi house, synthwave, Carly Rae, alt R&B’s groovier corners. I won’t say he invented all this, of course, but it’s hard to deny he helped shape the decade’s indie electronic music. As his most hyped, ambitious electronic album, Causers represents these many facets best.

That electro-funk attitude became a staple for Toro, but in this case? Imagine french house doused in the ocean and ascended to space. He achieves this through hypnotic EDM pulses and murky synth ambience. His interest in glitches and grandiose samples distinguish it further, nodding to Brainfeeder shortly before Cosmogramma blew up. It was this taste for surrealism and natural variety that set Toro apart from other chillwavers. He defined a new genre while expanding it’s formula.

Like the best ‘bedroom’ e-music, Causers immerses you in the artist’s musical psyche, taking even a shy persona like Toro’s beyond it’s size. With it’s mutant synth licks making way for a disco fanfare, “Lissoms” suggests he brought an inner clash between earworms to reality, and it makes sense as a song. Each sound manages to blur into this delirious, weirdly calming vortex. Like the ocean itself, it flows along at differing speeds, one element to the next, coming and going. These changes feel instinctual rather than random. I’m not sure I know any other chillwave so in-touch with the ocean. When this is an arguable goal for the whole genre, that’s saying something.

With most songs fading to the next, Causers can sound more like a suite or spontaneous DJ session, making more abstract tracks like “Freak Love” work better in album context. Even so, a finale as joyous and straightforward as “Low Shoulder” shows Toro was already developing an ear for elaborate hooks. The title track loses some punch through it’s odd shape, but each riff has an authentic funk edge too much chillwave lacks.

In this ‘vortex’, Toro’s everyday sentiments will distort however he wants them to, yet staying in excellent sync with the music. Many lyrics resemble scraps from a letter to a friend with the odd metaphor mixed in (’Turn those fans away from me, they only dry my eyes out / Ever since I was born I couldn’t see’). ‘Sorry I couldn’t name the color of your eyes’, he mutters on “Fax Shadow”, proceeding to loop and obscure it as a sample yells ‘BABY!!!’ to the beat. What began a plain, if odd, apology becomes a broken rerun, where that old song he was playing last night got stuck.

As he begins on “Blessa”: ‘Come home in the summer / Live the life that you miss / It’s alright / I’ll fill you in / don’t you wait / for me to call your name again’. This wouldn’t surprise me over an indie rock sound, but the way he drenches it in filters and tops it off with his most angelic falsetto adds a whole new dimension. It’s like a hug from under a swimming pool. Despite his reference to trying hard with a job he doesn’t favor, or feeling reluctant to ‘let you in’, “Blessa” could make a great lullaby. It captures chillwave’s bittersweet nostalgia like few others.

COT is a testament to the potential solo artists can unleash with our growing access to music software. With a single app and enough dedication, you can create a world in your head, even from disparate interests. If you’re lucky, you’ll set the tone for an era. At this point I’m wishing chillwave wasn’t such bait for jokes; maybe then, influential albums like these would get the respect they deserve.

 

hidden treasure

Pat Moon – Don’t Hide From The Light, 2016

ethereal wave / dream pop / synth pop

More like this – Molly Nilsson’s “The Lonely” + “Wounds Itch When They Heal”, John Maus’ “Tenebrae”, Grimes’ Halfaxa, Anna Von Hausswolfe, Ioanna Gika

Imagine swimming in a cathedral with those windows. They’re the only light source, so you have these brilliant colors flashing through the dark. You hear a familiar song from the other room that brings up memories you haven’t thought of in years. That’s this album.

Pat Moon shows an excellent understanding of ethereal wave’s potential, and this is her debut. She brings all the romantic soul-searching this genre needs while giving it a promising synth makeover. From the first seconds she submerges her voice in murky pads that perfectly capture the ocean’s depths. The harmonies she builds are so fluid they could melt.

I can detect the confines of a keyboard-based home project, but the sound and scenes are big. She’s walking alone in the moors, she’s drifting along the river. Completing this imagery is a synth-organ echoing hallways and chambers from centuries past. This is the kind of isolated surrealism that gives the best ‘bedroom’ music it’s unique appeal.

I love how she titled this Don’t Hide From The Light. It’s gothic for sure, but more grey than black. This isn’t all-swallowing doom, it’s longing and unleashing emotions with a bit of hope. She writes on the Bandcamp page: ‘thank you kyle for helping me get here and reminding me that I could do this during those times I didn’t think I could’. She’s emerging from her shell and this translates really well to the songs.

See also – “Medieval Spells” from Romantic Era

Playlist

Favorite Songs of 2019 – 2/2

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 2.29.20 PM

Listen on YouTube

As I said in my favorite albums list, this year had many, many albums that almost did the trick for me but just missed, so having this playlist is a nice way of giving these releases their deserved acknowledgement. This is VERY long so please skim and rule songs out to your liking. In order to keep it semi-reasonable, I’ve limited each artist to one song.

Like the previous 2019 playlist, I’ve ordered these songs to flow and blend in a way that makes sense (for example, I gather the slow and atmospheric songs away from the upbeat poppy stuff, and note that I begin with the most chaotic song by far so it won’t be too shocking later).

Track list

  1. Blanck Mass – House Vs. House
  2. Dorian Electra – Flamboyant
  3. Sudan Archives – Confessions
  4. Rapsody – Nina
  5. Purple Pilgrims – Sensing Me
  6. Sequoyah Murray – Penalties Of Love
  7. Jenny Hval – High Alice
  8. Bat For Lashes – Jasmine
  9. Golden Gardens – Desert Rose
  10. Hello Seahorse! – Domino
  11. Vagabon – Water Me Down
  12. Natasha Kmeto – Count To 5
  13. Yuna – Blank Marquee
  14. Harry Styles – Golden
  15. Shura – Religion (U Lay Your Hands On Me)
  16. Chromatics – You’re No Good
  17. Tinashe – Save Room For Us Ft. MAKJ
  18. Mark Ronson ft. King Princess – Pieces of Us
  19. Normani – Motivation
  20. Liz – DIamond In The Dark
  21. Charli XCX – Silver Cross
  22. Roisin Murphy – Narcissus
  23. Ana Frango Eletrico – Torturadores
  24. Flying Lotus – Tea Leaf Dancers (Maida Vale Session)
  25. Salami Rose Joe Louis – Sitting With Thoughts
  26. Tamaryn – Terrified (Robin Guthrie Remix)
  27. Drab Majesty – Oxytocin
  28. Yeule – Poison Arrow
  29. Barker – Paradise Engineering
  30. Steve Hauschildt – Subtractive Skies
  31. Chelsea Wolfe – Be All Things
  32. Angel Olsen – Summer
  33. Natalie Rose Lebrecht – Lost
  34. La Feline – Tant que tu respires
  35. Caroline Polachek – Go As A Dream
  36. Soda Lite – Vale & Stone
  37. CFCF – Impossible Condo
  38. Sulli – Dorothy
  39. Estelle – True Kinda Love
  40. Tei Shi – We
  41. Maria Usbeck – Retirement Home
  42. Teebs – Studie ft. Panda Bear