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?

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

On other sites · Playlist · Ultimate Box Set

RYM Ultimate Box Set – New Age Revival

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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!

 

Deep Cuts

Aleph – “Silver”, 1989 (sampled in Luxury Elite’s “Empire”)

I’m addicted to that intro with the little echoing bell. Cinematic, fierce, even a little tragic. Skyscrapers are peering over the TV credits.

I considered Luxury Elite’s edit a main theme for my mix Is It A Crime?, AKA my ‘dream Miami Vice soundtrack’. At the original pace it’s a slamming euro-disco tune with more urgency than most in it’s genre. It’s that glittery maximalist sound you come to expect, but even with the expected hammy vocal, “Silver” sounds more like a confrontation than another melodramatic love story. Why it wasn’t a single is beyond me.

hidden treasure

Kobayashi Yamato – Commercial Work 1993-2004 (2014)

easy listening / sequencer & MIDI / synth pop / new age

RIYL – Donkey Kong, Super Mario and other Nintendo 64 music; vaporwave, Eyeliner

This ‘album’ gathers commissions K. Yamato stashed away for years. Only after seeing the new online interest for 90s game music did he share them. Some tracks glean from other media, but everything has a certain 90s-VGM flair here.

The early lower-bit jingles make a brief but fun cherry on top. The rest is a tour in digitized MIDI bursting with color. Mallets, synth pads, slick bass, bells and adorable flutes are on the menu. Versatile as expected, Yamoto shifts from 16-bit Outrun synth-pop to deluxe 90s chill-out. Somehow “Pleasant Specter Lever 6” merges a heaven-sent unicorn lullaby with summery disco.

Yamoto fills these bite-sized songs with sweet, romantic melodies, never letting them ramble. The “Spa Tape” tracks near this but their refreshing synth textures won me over. Spa music needs space to breathe after all.

CW is like playing Kirby for half an hour: a quick, simple pick-me-up with no pretension. Anyone curious about 90s VGM and/or the cuter side of synths should look here. No more Yamoto albums followed, but his Pleasant Specter EP from months before is your next step.

For more great video game music on the obscure side, see my top five

Favorite new wave-inspired albums

George Clanton – 100% Electronica, 2015

synth pop / chillwave

RIYL – Brothertiger, Eyeliner, Luxury Elite’s With Love, Esprit Fantasy – virtua.zip

George Clanton’s past making eccentric vaporwave as ESPRIT Fantasy informs his pop songs in interesting ways. He may sing and arrange his songs into verses and choruses now, but vaporwave’s neon shades plaster themselves all over just as they did before. He developed a great ear for that glittery pastel side of eighties synths on the part-composed, part-sampled ESPRIT album virtua.zip, and that stays his strong point here. His tones resemble sea creatures jumping from digitized sea in euphoria; it’s a hugely endearing effect.

George’s vocal style gets overbearing on occasion, but he does bring a lot of energy to these songs. As on Brothertiger’s new EP, it’s refreshing to hear a ‘chillwave’ vocalist this dramatic. Instead of drifting along a shore, he reaches for the stars, bringing this album to metaphysical peaks even at a slower pace (“Wonder Gently”).

By far my favorite is “It Makes The Babies Want To Cry”, where adorable peaks of synth propel his easygoing melodies into pure bliss. The momentum he builds toward the first hit of the chorus makes it so much more exciting.

♥︎ – “It Makes The Babies Want To Cry”, “Never Late Again”, “Keep A Secret”

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know: Claude Larson

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Claude Larson (AKA Carlos Futura, Klaus Netzle) was a frequent contributor to the German music libraries Sonoton and Selected Sound. Many of his albums focused on cinematic backdrops with a tech slant (plants, space, snow, fantasy) and early experiments with digital synths, being one of the first to make extensive use of the Fairlight CMI. As with a lot of 80s library music, his songs were an earlier example of the polished synth-pop/electronic sounds now popular with modern vaporwave/synthwave producers.

Several CL songs have resurfaced on Youtube in the past ten years. Aside from a Fiat LX reissue in 2018, though, they haven’t attracted the same attention as most of Youtube’s other revitalized 70s-80s favorites.

Youtube playlist

I’ve gathered my favorite Larson songs on Youtube with this playlist. Of course, the limits of Youtube’s selection means I can’t make aim for something ‘definitive’, but it make be a good sampler for the curious listener.

Note: I focused on his Sonoton history as most of his Selected Sound albums are rare jingle collections or full of 10+min songs that could disrupt the flow.

1. Sand-Dunes / Environment, 1978

2. Industrial Plants / Surroundings, 1979

3. Helicopter / Synthesis, 1980

4. Marshy Ground / Scenic Sequences, 1980

5. Panorama / Panorama, 1980

6. Biopulse 2 / Scenes And Images – Developing Underlays Vol. 1, 1981

7. Machine Language 2 / Industrial Future, 1981

8. Wolga / Rivers, 1981

9. Harpsi 1 / Digital Patterns, 1982

10. Hardware / High Tech, 198?

11. Blossom / Plantlife, 1983

12. Transformation / Digital Landscape, 1983

13. Dramatic Impact / Dramatic Impact, 1984

14. Autumn Mist Drama / Soundscapes Vol. 1, 1984

15. Wings In The Sky / Wings In The Sky, 1986

16. Aurora / Soundscapes Vol. 2, 1986

17. Synchrosonic / Synchrosonic Patterns, 1987

18. Haunted Clockwork / Synchrosonic Patterns, 1987

19. Alpha-Dream / Euphonia, 1988

 

Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Eyeliner – Buy Now, 2015

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synth pop / sequencer & MIDI / vaporwave / synth funk

More like this – Eyeliner’s High Fashion Mood Music + Larp Of Luxury; Kobayashi Yamoto’s 商業的な仕事 1993 – 2004 + 快い亡霊 OST; Luxury Elite’s Fantasy

Eyeliner’s crystal-clear sound revitalizes late 80s/early 90s electronic music with optimal charm and without reducing it to another snarky joke. Instead, Buy Now takes you to an easy-going virtual world of polka-dots and pastels. Like the giddy cover art, the album doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it doesn’t need to when we’ve had this many vaporwave projects sulking in cyberpunk/ambient gloom.

That said, his research of this music is serious, interpreting a full rainbow of sounds and moods with accuracy. These include ambitious electro-disco (“Pinot Noir”), hold music, hints to library music, new jack swing (“Sneakers For Men”), a cross between The Knife and 80s funk (“Showbiz), and Miami Vice tension (“Pictionary”).

Some striking cool-down moments (”Payphone”, “Venetian Blinds”) and soulful flutters aside, Buy Now highlights the toy-like gloss of digital synths over more accepted analog tropes (to most amusing effect on “Toy Dog”).  Oh, and if that drunken Seinfeld intro had you doubting the powers of slap bass, this is the album to convert you.

♥︎ – “Toy Dog”, “Showbiz”, “Payphone”, “Private Hospital”, “Pictionary”

Unique samples in electronic music

Lukid – “Bless My Heart” (sample of Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King – “Shame”, 1977)

Part of a new column highlighting creative uses of sampling in electronic context.

Lukid’s Lonely At The Top is an example of the huge potential lying in modern electronic music and it’s never-ending connections, through sampling or otherwise, especially when we avoid cliches. Like a mutating creature, it shifts gradually from ferocious water-splashing rhythms (”This Dog Can Swim”) to techno synths shrouded in fog and shattering like glass (“Southpaw”).

One of it’s more emotive songs, “Bless My Heart” makes a distinctive opening by morphing this Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King hit into something both robotic and soulful, emphasizing the shimmer of the e-piano and adding a number of strange (but subtle) down-pitched voices.