Guest Post: On Punk-via-Utopia, and Lack Thereof

TGIF! Today’s post is from Eldursson, an avid vaporwave listener and writer. For those who have no previous knowledge of vaporwave (myself included), it’s described on Vice as ““chillwave for Marxists,” “post-elevator music,” “corporate smooth jazz Windows 95 pop,” and (my personal favorite) “better than that witch house sh*t.”” That being said, here’s Eldursson’s take on some very unique tunes.

There is something deceptively punk about vaporwave. On first listen, a vaporwave song may be unassuming, if not self-indulgent, and perhaps even utterly pointless, as punk once seemed to some deplorable atonal chaos. And yes, like punk, vaporwave covers a broad range of sounds, from plunderphonics to ambient to cloud rap. But most importantly, and somewhat unbelievably, vaporwave is madly subversive. Under the dystopian musical Dadaism of vaporwave gestates a powerful theme: a disillusion with the utopian vision of cosmopolitan life that pervaded the 80s and early 90s. It’s hard to pinpoint when and where vaporwave began, but it is hard to deny the pioneering role of Chuck Person’s Eccojams, Vol. 1. If it did not birth vaporwave, it defined it; for me it remains the genre’s quintessential mixtape.

It’s been nothing less than fascinating, watching Daniel Lopatin (the man behind the project) grow artistically since the release of Eccojams, primarily as Oneohtrix Point Never. Lopatin’s Replica was a sublime revisiting of some of vaporwave’s musical themes, though conceptually it was wholly unique from most of his previous work; R Plus Seven took these ideas to yet another new and exciting level.

All this said, I’d seem the first to become excited about the announcement of his newest album, Garden of Delete. But upon listening to what I suppose you could call its leading single, “I Bite Through It,” I have to admit that I am proceeding with caution. The song itself is interesting enough. The first thing to notice is that it’s remarkably heavy for an OPN song, featuring thick layers of noise and automated electric guitars, and even occasional samples of… screaming? Different. But likewise expected from the eclectic toolkit of this particular producer. What’s touched me as problematic thus far, however, is that I don’t feel any of the subtlety, intricacy, or innovation that is inherent to his previous work. This would be forgivable if there was some sort of conceptual justification for the approach he took on “I Bite Through It,” just as there was on the brilliant Eccojams, which would otherwise have been quite laughable and banal. The question then is: what is the raison d’être of OPN’s new approach? Does it have one?

At first, I thought it did. On first listen, I was convinced that Lopatin was going to do to EDM on this record what he once did to nostalgia-pop on Eccojams, that the coarse aesthetic of “I Bite Through It” – its blunt, flat leads and frenetic staccato pads – was clearly emulating, warping, and finally expressing discontent toward the tired repetition and lack of subtlety of Electronic Dance Music. Ultimately, I was giving the song the benefit of the doubt. But reality is stranger than fiction. Actually, as I would later discover, this song actually emerged alongside a few cryptic release notes that appear to be only among the very first features of what seems will be a massive and intricate marketing campaign, which frames the album with an entire lengthy backstory, centered around a bizarre, elusive band named Kaoss Edge and a pimple-riddled alien boy named Ezra with his pet dog  Void – though most of the details are as of yet undisclosed.

At first glance, the conceptual nature of the upcoming album is a hopeful sign. However, it is not conceptual as Eccojams and Replica were conceptual: in the sense that, even while remaining abstract, they were metaphorical but meaningful incarnations of ideas, such as vaporwave’s dystopian disillusion. They were innovative. They were punk. “I Bite Through It,” on the other hand, does things differently but without much apparent purpose behind it. The sonic departure from form does not feel innovative; it feels gratuitous. And the concept – its hallucinatory backstory – while, strictly speaking, more concretely defined than that of any of Lopatin’s previous works, feels superfluous. And that’s my fear. At its core, it doesn’t seem to be much more than a gimmick.

Listen to “I Bite Through It” below:

Here are Eldursson’s Fall 2015 picks (click for larger image):

Cal

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