run for your lives! it's an


C418 - 148



2015 · 1:58:47 · 19♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

#17: 2023/02/14

From the moment I first heard of him, C418 was never just a soundtrack artist. Obviously, his work on Minecraft was as impeccable an introduction as anyone could possibly make, but his songs, to me, transcended the game. I first heard Volume Beta the night of its release, in full — in album form. It didn't grow on me through any repeated nostalgia-tinged connection to playing Minecraft itself, the very aspect which naysayers will tell you overinflates C418's acclaim. I knew that I was hearing a landmark in my musical journey, a collection sequenced deliberately to have the listener travel through every possible setting, every possible mood, every possible experience. Of course, the best songs on the project are the ones casual players are least likely to hear in-game. "Alpha," the behemoth meant to play over Julian Gough's (and now, our) End Poem. "The End," which allegedly plays the first time you enter the game's final area. And "Intro," an album-only closer, Aphex Twin's "Nanou2" as played by St. Peter — one of the absolute greatest songs of all time.

I presage discussion of 148 with mention of Minecraft: Volume Beta for a number of reasons. First, 148 is something of a sequel to Volume Beta; it was C418's next album, released just over two years afterwards. Second, I consider them similar in structure; just as Volume Beta winds across countless biomes, well worth the time it takes to give it a listen, so too is 148. Third, I heard both albums very soon after they released, and I remember exactly where I was for each occasion. For 148, I was streaming some artwork for internet friends, looking for the right background music. I made a familiar pilgrimage to C418's Bandcamp, raring to play Volume Beta, only to find the site awash in red, painterly strokes, emblazoned with this album's mug. The title said it all: 148. This was a rollout designed to contrast Minecraft in all respects, aligned instead with the artist behind it, Daniel Rosenfeld. In many ways, this is an album about him.

Fourth, and most importantly, is the timing. When Volume Beta released I was submerged in all things Minecraft. My online life was spent on the Minecraft Forums, and my involvement in this game led to, either directly or indirectly, virtually all the other internet communities I would join. I grew up with this game in middle school, and just as I entered high school, putting Minecraft and the many fanworks I'd made for it aside, 148 was there. I had grown up and burnt out, and evidently, so had C418. He spoke publicly of this album's protracted production, which began soon after his first work on Minecraft. In the years since, his workflow had completely changed, he had gained and lost relationships, and he'd become bitter and jaded from fame. As he put it, 148 was "started on a gigantic computer system somewhere in East Germany in 2011 and finished on a tiny laptop in Toronto, 2015." I don't think I truly appreciated the poignancy of his personal journey on this first listen, or how vast the journey physically contained within the album really was. In fact, I barely made it two songs in before 148's utter perpendicularity to the Minecraft soundtrack alienated me. I exited the page, I listened to Risk of Rain instead, and that was that.

But 148 was always there, undaunted and unimpeachable. For months, C418's Bandcamp was bright red, emblazoned with his shifted logo. It was a calling card as clear as 100% Electronica or Selected Ambient Works. C418 has said quite a bit on the album, with some comments more cryptic than others. One such note: 148 “is dedicated to everyone that forgets where the '1' goes.” I said before that this is an album about him — perhaps, about him making a statement. That this was the album following Volume Beta feels poetic. He could have continued the ambient soundscapes which earned him critical and commercial acclaim, and he chose the progressive house he'd always chosen, just better than ever. 148 became not a collection of music, but a reflection of C418 as an artist. It felt like he'd tried to strip away the subterfuge and focus on the work itself. So, eventually, I focused on the work, too. What I found by peeling back the layers of paint was an album that had so much more to give than I could have ever imagined. Everything I'd loved about Volume Beta (and even Volume Alpha) was here, reiterated and polished to a blissfully mechanical sheen. This album may seem long, but the length is perhaps its most impressive aspect: it remains two of the quickest hours I can ever experience, flowing by faster than I can imagine. How? Well, I already gave it away — C418 knows how to take you on a journey.

It's funny to view 148 in retrospect, slotting it in between C418's discography. There's an intentionality to its structure; the album is divided into sections which both nod to his past work and quietly announce his future. The opening three-song "house ballad" has the strong dynamism, seamless flow, and "worker bee" milieu which would be realized on Excursions. C418 shouts out the whole of video game music in the next five songs, covering his own work, the timeless FEZ soundtrack, and the talents of Baiyon, Big Giant Circles and Laura Shigihara so perfectly as to defy commentary. Then there are slower, trancier remixes of Minecraft itself, serving as running commentary on his entrenched fame while speaking to his subsequent work. C418 would one day create the ultimate dance remix with "Stranger Think" on 2 Years of Failure, and he would further build up little nothings into towering compositions with, of all things, the Cookie Clicker soundtrack.

I could spend entire paragraphs on every single song on 148 and how I've come to love them all. Many are timeless in their own ways, able to be loved day or night, summer or winter. They blend into each other with the utmost subtlety, or crash into a heap by mimicking the sound of a plane taking off into a volcano. Their instruments, their purposes, the mechanisms which propel them are all at C418's command. As the best electronic artists do, C418 creates worlds not just through the sounds, but within them. Part of the success of Minecraft's soundtrack is how the music is incorporated within the game: you scale a mountain and, just as the sun sets, a piano trickles in through the atmosphere, swirling into its own universe as the stars rise. You stop to contemplate this transcendent beauty, and you're blown up by a Creeper. C418 has always understood the power of sequencing not just albums, but songs. There's the silence, the build-up, the release, the fade away — and the crescendo is the most important thing of all. Some of C418's finest moments as an artist come from the peaks of compositional epics like "Taswell" and "Dreiton,” which abruptly cut into nothingness just as they reach their summits. C418 directly compares this technique to playing Minecraft itself. “Sometimes creativity doesn't need to have a reason,” he says. “Sometimes you just build.”

This power finds itself codified on 148. Note “Seismic Stratigraphy's" pulsing, beeping, repeating intro that veers into undulating, foggy sighs before making a left turn into a proper drum track. After building itself out of nothing, the song finds its true zenith in its outro, a soaring, heart-rending orchestral passage that grabs you by the shoulders and yells in your face. "Kompass" brings in an acoustic guitar to sculpt a swirling three-dimensional world of an entirely different kind, and then it leaves you with a deafening silence for just a couple of seconds just to smash you through a window so you can see the colors only visible in heaven. "Jimtention" could have been a perfect two-minute tribute to The Legend of Zelda on its own, but then it, too, swirls down the drain and comes back with a vengeance, faster than ever until it segues into its antithesis. “Beta” (almost) closes out the album with an industrial, repetitive fuck-up of “Sweden,” perhaps Minecraft's most iconic composition. Its ending, where the synths spiral on each other and the song's remainder is swallowed, muffled by a limitless cubic sky, evokes the transcendence of the best Volume Beta songs. Lest we forget "Droopy Remembers," which annihilates its own ending in an aforementioned abortion that proves one of the album's most memorable moments.

Reinforcing the idea of 148 as C418's personal album is the presence of his voice. I have yet to meaningfully peruse his back catalogue, but save for his humming and vocalizing on “Intro,” this album remains the only avenue through which I've heard him. C418's vocals receive many treatments in this album, usually sounding like a robot or an instrument. Sometimes he's plaintive and rhythmic, and sometimes he's demanding, self-aggrandizing, screaming to the rooftops. Some of my favorite vocals are on "Friend," an upbeat, quirky ditty with a minimal drum beat. C418 rules the track as he rattles off numbers in increasingly glitchy, erratic fashions, invoking the serrated hijinks on "Bucephalus Bouncing Ball" or the miasma which results from "I Have a Special Plan For This World." Clearly, he's having fun with the whole affair (I love the snickering after he first says "You need to pee" in "Seismic Stratigraphy"), but he knows when to take himself seriously, and on “Friend,” he's secretly taking aim at "all the Twitter followers who hate me but still insist on following me. Why? Leave me alone. You are not my friend."

To segue this song immediately into the Minecraft remixes is brilliant, as are all of his sequencing choices. 148 seems daunting, but I already outlined its structure for you: a journey of progressive house, split into several blocks of similar themes with interludes in between. It's impossible to deny the sheer ground the album covers. "Semantic Satiation" has no drum beat to speak of; C418's voice functions as a razor which carves up increasingly blown-out synths. "Kompass" swaps between C418's own brand of "post-rock" and the sound which lets you understand the truth of the universe. "Vierton" plunges the serenity of its base, "Dreiton," into acid-laden synths and dance-floor beats. And “185,” the album's longest song, is a veritable tower of house, assembling itself out of fractured drum loops, chopped-up breaks, liquid leads, chirping erratic percussion, sporadic piano hits. It repeats and repeats and repeats until the moment it pulls the rug from under you. This is where the through-line lies. Just as house is built on repetition, the pounding of the beat surging through your ears, 148 is an album of repetition. It repeats its structure endlessly: any song with lyrics inevitably sees C418 settle into a little refrain which builds alongside the music (“You are not my friend” he says, and then shouts). Not only that, numbers, and their repetition, are hugely prominent on 148. I mean, what did you expect from that name? The literal first sound on the album that isn't phonograph hiss is a voice saying "two." The last song, "841," is entirely comprised of a series of robots belting out "one-four-eight" in sequence until the machine which puppeteers them explodes, leaving behind their distorted vocal processors to spit out nonsense.

This repetition must be commentary. 148 is an album about depression and burnout, the consequences of fame. To helm a project such as Minecraft in any capacity is to invite an unprecedented amount of scrutiny onto your every action, to navigate a world which you never could have imagined. The album begins with C418 saying goodbye to his old worker bee lifestyle, boarding a plane to the world of the game soundtrack, and never looking back — but not quite. There are always cracks in the facade. People claim to know C418, though they are not his friend. Specters of the biggest projects in the world always loom over him. We bear witness to cycles of starting and stopping work, entire “years of failure.” To create music as ambient and contemplative as Minecraft's while being stuck in one of the Internet's fiercest crucibles feels like madness. No wonder 148 is for "when Minecraft has no chill." No wonder 148, "at all times, has not a single chill."

Already, it's clear that this C418's most interesting work: an album with something concrete to say about its own creator, and where he, too, has something to say to you. It stands so perpendicularly to the Minecraft soundtrack, and is so fierce in its purpose, that it should be impossible to ignore. But, evidently, that wasn't enough for C418. He wasn't done, he wasn't ready. So, to seal the deal, 148 includes five of the greatest electronic songs ever created, in a row. Tracks thirteen through seventeen are what keeps this album permanently locked in my upper echelon. Make no mistake, there is utter greatness in this album's blood — but it's these songs which loop in my head at all corners of the day.

"481772" takes the album's best qualities to the limit, pushing its industrial bent, its unrepentant machinery-style percussion, its repetition of numbers to the highest extreme to create a song you feel more than you hear. Allegedly, C418 wished to have a poem of some sort on top of the abrasive sound, but what we got in its place — vocalizations and shouts which, again, sound ripped from “Intro” — is a perfect complement. "Ample Time" manages to be the album's fastest and slowest track. Its haunting, heavenly opening pad makes the song feel at home in Minecraft itself, until the beat comes in to scourge the slate clean, twinkling and spiraling and soaring as high as possible. This song, much like the Volume Beta juggernauts before it, reminds me of the all-encompassing power of creativity. "All the time," a voice repeats amidst the noise. I agree. "Habitual Crush" has C418's best vocal performance on the album by a mile, making short order of even “Friend.” Its lyrics are heart-rending in their plainness, with the effects on top of his speech serving to emphasize, rather than mask, its human nature. Before, C418 couldn't understand the actions of his so-called "friends.” Here, he mournfully asks why anyone would have a relationship with him at all. "Can't you see that I am just a lie? Won't you believe that I am a lie?" No other song he's made — very few songs that anyone has made — carries as much melancholy, even with the drums at full force and the crescendoes striving for a resolution. This song has a very special place in my heart, once again due to its timing. It was a very close friend's favorite track off the album, someone who I violently fell out with for a number of years hence. For a long time, whenever I heard C418's pleading, I imagined it coming from her. Well, her and Julian Casablancas as featured on “Instant Crush.” Can you blame me?

"Divide By Four Add Seven" is one of the prototypical summer songs. Whenever I hear it, I'm immediately transported to the late afternoon, the sounds of cicadas, the streaming sunlight, hunting for rocks and walking through the woods. At its disposal is one of the most satisfying chord progressions of all time, a beautiful backing section of instruments to pair with that exquisite baseline and those chopped, echoing drums, and one of the best melodies I have ever known. Perhaps my favorite part is just under two minutes in, when a resolute, powerful piano lead joins that sidechained beat, echoing the transcendent melody just prior spelled out by some sort of harpsichord. Perhaps it's a reminder that you have to enjoy the good times while they last. Perhaps it's a reminder that you have to hold your memories close, even after they're gone. Despite the many layers of sound that C418 builds up with each of his house bangers, it's important to note that the essence of Minecraft: Volume Alpha's appeal is almost definitely in its simplicity. Each song is like a shining pearl, with writing so crystal-clear that it carries emotions which are so universal as to be transcendental. This, then, is why "Divide By Four Add Seven" truly works. It has all the power and intensity of C418's maximalist compositions, with all the delicacy of the work that has resonated with untold millions. By the time it fades away, it consigns itself to the spot in my consciousness usually reserved for faint, detuned wind chimes off in the distance, swaying in the summer breeze.

And then, there is "Round Up to the Inevitable End” — and it's here where my attempts to sound cool fall into a ravine and die.

It was this song, which I first heard nearly nine months after its release, which made me understand that 148 wasn't an album I could afford to write off. What would start as a song that impressed me became one that made me involuntarily dance, which conjured images in my head crucial to every single story I was making at the time and ever would make, and which became the lifeblood of my brother and I for years and years. I sometimes make the distinction between "best" and "favorite," the former conferring some supposedly objective pristine quality in craft and production, the latter exciting the id of my brain in a way impossible to ignore. "Round Up to the Inevitable End" transcends this false dichotomy. Without question, it's one of the most important pieces of music in my life. I've referenced it countless times in both writing and art, I've listened to it while playing games, I've listened to it on a train, I've listened to it on a plane, I've listened to it at maximum volume, I've slowed it down and listened to it at countless different pitches, and for God's sake, my brother even remixed it just because he could. It's over seven years old and every time I hear it is like the first time. C418 labelled it "probably the best song" on the album. I agree, but that's putting it lightly. It's potentially the best song of the decade.

C418 describes "Round Up to the Inevitable End" as a fusion of "drum 'n' bass" and “something that I would call not bad dubstep," which, while technically accurate, downplays the song so severely that I want to hack into C418's website and write a lurid essay for this song in its place. Put simply, this is the inevitable end of C418's whole discography. It throws everything, plus the kitchen sink, into the mix. 148 is ruled by songs which, beyond sounding as though they came from digital interfaces, sound as though they are machines themselves. There are repetitions which stack to create skyscrapers that demolish themselves as quickly as they came. If it's true that C418 creates worlds in between the sounds, then lurking between every beat of "Round Up to the Inevitable End" is another universe. This song, just like its predecessor, features one of the most satisfying chord progressions of all time, one which alters itself to become even crazier following the drop. "The train keeps running" is the refrain at play here. With every second, every measure that the drop sustains itself, there is a new element added to the song, endless instruments and beats vying for the attention of the heavenly host until they all fall apart and the voice, the soul of the song, the mechanism by which it turns, dissimilates into energy. We are made to cling to dear life atop this train, a vehicle that barrels through the Minecraft soundtrack and hurtles into outer space as the drums sidechain themselves into the stratosphere and the pads synergize into a shimmering waterfall of shining kaleidoscopic fire.

There is a moment here, during the second and final drop, where nothing else in the world matters. (Because all dubstep songs must have two different drops.) The drop itself comes silently and quickly, overwhelming you by all the force it could have delivered. (Because C418 already dropped a warhead onto your skull with the first drop, assembling the loudest shout in the world out of screaming synths.) The drums become the wheels of the train, and so they barrel along, rising in complexity as they play, the arms of the gods multiplying and splitting to hold all the sticks. Then, the moment arrives. It's somewhere around the six-minute mark, when the singalong vocal samples in the back mutate into shimmering liquid, and the pads soar beyond the clouds, and the drums achieve the sound and feel of a supersonic bullet train. It's when the organ kicks in, the same beautiful blinding tone that marked the ascension of “Intro,” the greatest song ever put to piano, that beautiful melodramatic glorious sound which feels like you've seen the face (and voice) of God, and you innately understand that He is about to recite the sixty-four bits which will dissolve your skin into tar and glass. 148 was started using analog equipment, but by the end of its production, C418 had transitioned to entirely digital components. The human and machine have, in this moment, blended into an unrecognizable form. They have transcended each other. I'd like to think that this song is the one which C418 said took five years to make. I imagine he started with the most powerful loop in the world out of wires and pads and beeps, and ended by jacking into the mainframe and crafting his own stairway to heaven. That's what electronic music is about. That's what music is about. It becomes an extension of yourself, the equipment you use to reach the inevitable end.

There is a bottom line here, though I think it got away from me. It's alright; it happens. After all, this is a collection of music that never fit anywhere, music about depression and for dancing. To sum it all up at once is a fool's errand, and C418 knows this all to well. 148, at the end of the day, is C418's most experimental and expansive work. It's not even as long as Minecraft: Volume Beta, but at least that has a quality guarantee hovering over its every waking note. 148 has to earn your respect, even though, in a just world, it shouldn't. It should be the third aspect of C418's godhead, flanked by both Volumes, reigning over all other EDM with its indescribable power. It's impossible for an album to be always perfect, but in this case, it amy as well not matter. In terms of its emotional core and vulnerability, its songwriting and structure, the sheer tension and joy and chaos put into the production, this album is without compare. And if you listen and you feel otherwise — if 148 is, to you, a pile of numbers and nothing more — then that's perfectly fine.

I don't need you to agree with me.

RATING: 10/10

  • Semantic Satiation
  • Septic Shock
  • Seismic Stratigraphy
  • Kompass
  • 185
  • Jimtention
  • Aria Economy
  • 481772
  • Ample Time
  • Habitual Crush
  • Divide by Four Add Seven
  • Round Up to the Inevitable End
Fax Gang - Aethernet


Fax Gang

2021 · 34:03 · 9♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

#16: 2022/05/31

Last December I took a trip to Brooklyn to see a whole bunch of No Agreements people perform. A lot of them were artists I'd never even heard of before; truth be told my main motivation for going was to see Naked Flames and Fax Gang. I was right at the front for Naked Flames' whole set, practically head-banging to "The O." Right when "The O" hit its outro, Fax Gang showed up on stage to start prepping their stuff and everyone started cheering. It was pretty sick. you'd think they'd timed it on purpose. Shellboy had done guest vocals for some other artist's songs throughout the night; they had their phone in front of them and they sounded like a possessed robot. It was unbelievable. All the underground bullshit I'd consumed over the past year through my headphones and word of mouth from random internet music nerds had jettisoned out of my ears and into the real world.

Oh, and Fax Gang's set was pretty fucking awesome too. This is a review about Fax Gang, remember? Everyone went right up to the front for Fax Gang, almost moshing along to the hits from Aethernet, FxG3000, and surprise teasers for Dataprism. It was seriously rad, I loved hearing the Aethernet tracks. "Jeopardy" was the real highlight (though it's not on this album, of course); GLACIERbaby lay motionless on the ground during the spiraling ascent of the outro. When the song cut out, there was pure, blissful silence for a second that felt like infinity. Then the applause started.

On January 1, 2021, I had no idea that anything in this world existed. I'd only just begun my foray into Naked Flames, and I had no idea who anyone in No Agreements was. I rarely listened to trap music, I stayed as far away from Drain Gang as possible (not out of any vendetta, but because I was sure I wouldn't gel with the sound), and HexD was a curiosity that I was aware of (thanks to an errant YTP from a friend), but that was about it. Even then there was something intriguing about the intentional artificiality and its reliance on aesthetic; these were the qualities that tipped me into vaporwave and even Naked Flames's lo-bit aquarium, after all. But then Aethernet started making waves. Some of my friends rated it, reviewed it, and listed it, and I felt compelled to give it a go. What was I in for? Well, whatever I'd expected couldn't really compare to a full-length visualizer, a flawlessly melodic multi-part intro, an unbelievably killer closer, and a whole journey in between. Was my first listen at 30% volume because I was playing Minecraft with my partner and just had this in the background? Yeah. But just from that, I knew something was going on here.

Aethernet is a bit scattershot, I'll give it that. The highs are extremely, unbelievably high, but other portions definitely feel more subdued and suffer because of it. They're never awful, and I'll never call them filler: I just don't return to tracks like "Itsumo" or "Mirror" very often. PK Shellboy loves to settle into very specific flows all throughout the album as well; I personally really don't mind it because I find their style on Aethernet absurdly catchy most of the time, but I can understand it being a complaint. I'm also warm on the heavy bitcrush; it's a key part of the aesthetic after all. But the one thing I will say is that it tends to obscure the lyricism, which is a damn shame because a lot of work was very clearly put into the lyrics here. Highlights include the second verse of "Anything to Gain," the outro of "Reality / Dreams," the second verse of "Implosion," and the triumphant chorus of "Goodbye."

It's the production that truly elevates Aethernet, though. It only continues to grow on me; as time goes by I keep re-evaulating the sound of this album more favorably, especially in comparison to Fax Gang's other work. I get the sense that me listening to this album first really tainted my appreciation of their sound. I've seen people claim that FxG3000 was their finest hour and that Aethernet is a step down, but I emphatically disagree. That EP is cold and clinical, sometimes with well-crafted grooves but most of the time merely functional. "Jeopardy" outstrips virtually everything else with its raw emotional output, but Aethernet literally picks up where that song left off without breaking a fucking sweat. Nearly every song here is suffused with emotion, feelings ironically made clearer through the bitcrush.

"Anything to Gain / Nothing to Lose" is just brilliant, kicking things off with a bang and manipulating nearly every sound so expertly you'd swear an endless cacophony of robotic voices were playing the whole album a cappella. It sounds like Fax Gang is fighting for their lives, clawing their own relevance from cybermen. "Fallen" is honestly beautiful in its melancholia, and the trap drums enhance Shellboy's mournful delivery perfectly. "Extant" sounds larger than life, like the song itself is skydiving thanks to the expansive production from (GL-GL-)GLACIERbaby and the ominous sirens in the background. "Shotgun" should be simple, but the bitcrush (especially in the backing vocals) make it sound like a bona-fide cartoon supervillain theme; it's so fun to listen to. But above all, it's the composition and production on de facto opus "Implosion" that gives it the grand prize. "Jeopardy" might have wowed audiences with its stupendous drone of an outro, but this is even more my speed — a blistering fusion of all instruments on the verses and choruses that speeds up to a degree it can't even handle with digitized croons in the back. And then, the song literally implodes, in flawless fashion. The degeneration into static is the icing on the cake, as though the album has succumbed to the bitcrush that was plaguing it all along.

Anyone who wishes the bitcrush wasn't here or views it as a crutch are full of themselves. It's absolutely essential to the sound. I think of it similarly to Naked Flames, whose reliance on a washed-out, lo-fi "rinse" and heavy use of samples, bass-lines, and twinkly synths gives an incredible sense of nostalgia. I've said he uses nostalgia as a weapon, and Fax Gang certainly wields their sonic tricks as weapons too. I'm not so sure it's nostalgia they're after as much as it is the very concept of the Internet. Fax Gang is, of course, a group that couldn't exist without an interconnected planet, and the music they make serves as meditations on a Y2K world. It's not just the internet anymore — it really is the aethernet, a digital domain existing on a level transcendent from any of us. And yet, we all of our own hopelessly human worries to deal with. And there are still miles to go before I sleep.

And there are still miles to go before I—

RATING: 8/10

  • Anything to Gain / Nothing to Lose
  • Reality / Dreams
  • Fallen
  • Extant
  • Shotgun
  • Implosion
Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett

Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett

Venetian Snares

2005 · 46:42 · 11♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ½

#12: 2021/05/12

So obviously "Sikertelenség" is meaningless drivel, with "Hiszékeny" and "Senki Dala" not being bad but still feeling aimless. "Öngyilkos Vasárnap" doesn't hit very hard but, to be fair, turning the legendary old-timey creepypasta "Gloomy Sunday" into a techno jam is a neat idea. "Galamb Egyedül," meanwhile... is what it is.

Every other song here is incomparably amazing. "Szerencsétlen" immediately bashes you over the head with the album's concept to great effect. "Szamár Madár" took a while to grow on me, but it contains the album's scariest moments, ominous sermons on pidgeons notwithstanding — look no further than the spine-tingling outro of choirs, echoing the demented hook of the strings and drums, for proof. "Kétsarkú Mozgalom" is such a skullfuck that it redacted itself from my memory after I first heard it. And lest we forget the two crown jewels: "Hajnal," which is for all intents and purposes the soundtrack to a heist movie in a malevolently anachronistic 23rd century, and "Második Galamb," easily one of my favorite songs of all time, with more twists and turns than you could ever expect going in.

Look at the genres of Rossz Csillag Alatt Született and you will get a fair summary of its contents. Modern classical mixed with breakcore doesn't feel like an intuitive combo, but the juxtaposition of these sounds creates something otherworldly. The most mundane of bad experiences, the death of a thousand cuts that is modern life, are all filtered into muzak and harsh, grinding errata — slams, screeches, gongs, bleeps, the works. Why does it scare me? Because it is the personification of a life gone horribly wrong. Suffering through day after day of hardship only to finally snap, or to realize that the world was never what you thought it was at all. The disturbances in the beats of Venetian Snares are corrupt enough to transcend a lifetime. This album is, without a doubt, born under a bad star.

And you are not welcome anymore.

RATING: 9/10

  • Szerencsétlen
  • Hajnal
  • Galamb Egyedül
  • Második Galamb
  • Szamár Madár
  • Kétsarkú Mozgalom
George Clanton - 100% Electronica


George Clanton

2015 · 38:15 · 10♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ½

#11: 2021/02/11

One of the most unabashed, self-assured thesis statements from an artist's debut album that I've ever heard. George Clanton strips away all subterfuge from the packaging: he uses his real name, he shows his face, he captures himself on camera using a phone emblazoned with the very title of the album, itself a reference to his own label. 100% Electronica is an amalgam of Clanton's previous musical exploits, prior influences, and current sensibilities.

Strip away the austere cover and you uncover the explosive, in-your-face pop ballads of decades past drenched in a cavalcade of washed-out neon. The album's artificial lo-fi sounds are one of its greatest assets, its vast synth palette sounding like a maestro using virtually every possible element at his disposal to create his own little kitschy symphony. Clanton is a brilliant songwriter capable of creating the catchiest hooks you've ever heard, and a multifaceted producer that never knows when to quit — and thank God for that. How can someone get away with sampling their own work before it even releases through a vaporwave alias? (And then sampling it again, even further, after the album already came out?) The answer there is pretty simple: George Clanton lives and breathes vaporwave.

Anyone who knows anything about vaporwave knows that it's not a meme — or, at the very least, it lives both as a meme and flourishes outside of the narrow confines of such a descriptor. Clanton's hold on the vaporwave sphere has only grown and grown as the years have gone by, reaching record heights. His label, 100% Electronica, now has such juggernauts as death's dynamic shroud under his belt, and although the ongoing pandemic quashed successive events, 2019's 100% Electronicon was a true zenith in a scene that hadn't had a truly big one in quite some time. 100% Electronica is not solely a vaporwave album, no, but it is undeniably suffused in the genre's aesthetic and palette. The woozy hypnagogia and softness of chillwave, the echoes and repetitions of vapor, and yet undeniably original and fresh production are what fully sell this album as a one-of-a-kind experience.

But let's ignore the Clanton's widespread reach in the world of vaporwave, and his many projects under other aliases, and the even greater acclaim generated from his second full-length album, Slide. Even if I focus on just the ten songs within 100% Electronica, I would still say that George Clanton deserves to go down in history as one of vaporwave's greatest contributors. Nearly every song here has one of my favorite moments in any song, ever.

1. I am hard-pressed to think of a more iconic intro to an album than "Never Late Again." The stuttering, rapid-fire text-to-speech voice, the constant vocal chirps that serve as the listener's first taste of the classic Clanton Sound™, and those otherworldly warm synth pads in the background... They virtually instantly pull you into the experience, and the song doesn't let up. Funnily enough, one of the only other intros that can give this one a run for its money is Slide's — "Livin' Loose" is no fucking slouch.

2. Ninety seconds into "Keep a Secret," at the end of its only verse, Clanton's crooning voice distorts into the nethersphere. "With my hands, I'll... make you CRYYYY—," and just as his many voices begin to pile on top of each other a bit too far, risking toppling the serene, sunshiney mood like a Jenga tower, we're back to that immaculate hook.

3. The extended outro, with that steady drum beat, the twinkling melody in the back of the mix that almost sounds out of tune with everything else, and that iconic, metallic lead. Clanton seems to realize that "Did I Flounder?" peaks at the end, because he remixed this section into "Flounder 202" on "200% Electronica," creating one of the standouts of alias ESPRIT 空想's catalogue.

4. Well, "Purity" is just an interlude. But it is a damn good one. That detune as it starts up is just perfection. It's like a carousel that doesn't want to stop.

5. The drop to end all drops. The pounding drums, the constant shimmering detuning synths. That liquidy hit that sounds like a video game power-up. "HERE'S YOUR DRUM, HERE'S YOUR BASS, STAY IN YOUR FUCKING LANE, DON'T SAY SHIT TO ME." The immaculate extended outro, with those record scratches, the keyboard chords from heaven, the fucking choir in the background. If "Wonder Gently" says one thing in its perfectly-paced runtime, it's this: Clanton knows what he's doing. Don't say shit to him.

6. "Bleed" deserves a review all of its own. "Wonder Gently" might be better on a technical level, but this is one of the most emotive songs I've ever heard. It might be at its best at the very beginning. All the components of its enthralling vortex of synth gradually stutter into focus, one at a time, like a digital orchestra tuning up. George's vocals almost don't even register as proper vocals — it's like some robot has synthesized its own voice from within the mix, belting out its struggles with love and life to anyone peering into the tornado. His voice has never sounded better than on this song. The raw emotion behind the line "Someone else can fight UNTIL YOU BLEED" will always, always stick with me. And that "chorus..." Just utter perfection. If you listen to one song from this album, make it this.

7. The beginning of "Warmspot" almost steals its thunder too, with that monotone synth evoking a real desire to be warm on some cold, windy day. The distant ambience of cars and birds only adds to its appeal. But the real star of the show is the hook, maybe the best on the album: "Time to find the spot that gets into you" has three (!!!) exclamation marks on the official lyrics, and it deserves each of them. What an uplifting, cozy song.

8. The very end of the first verse, as Clanton delivers the line "And when I walk away..." The cavalcade of fuzzy synths around him change key right alongside him, and as he says "YOU'RE IN LOVE," you can just fucking feel the song explode back into formation. "It Makes the Babies Want to Cry," but it makes me want to dance.

9. Another interlude, another swift detune, but this time at the end. What elapses as Clanton's most happy, bombastic performance on "Innocence" suddenly nosedives in pitch, before briefly cutting in with a passage from the next song — and then, nothing but waves.

10. Four minutes in, when everything becomes clear. Clanton holds his high note, those massive, mountainous percussion hits reverberate through the mix, the newly constant ostinato, and above it all, the same shimmering synth that opened the song. "Kill You in Bed" may be the slowest song on the album, but I couldn't think of ending the album in any other way. What a triumphant note to go out on.

Every single song on 100% Electronica has something worthwhile. These are Clanton's best hooks, his most memorable moments, some of his finest effects. His production may have stepped up on subsequent projects, like 200% Electronica and Slide, but it truly felt like he captured lightning in a bottle here. This is chillwave at its chillest, hypnagogia at its most dreamlike. Not a single note is wasted, and nothing overstays its welcome. Oh, and the bonus tracks are worth your time too. They sort of sound like a bridge between this album and his purely instrumental work on 200%, with "Persuasion" definitely being my favorite of the three. It's quite repetitive, but with such a catchy, funky beat, it can do whatever the hell it wants in my book.

There's a discussion to be had about the idea that vaporwave is something which is grown out of. I suppose internet-based microgenres are only truly feasible for so long — and vaporwave, on the surface, is such an artificially narrow concept that it would make sense that people would like to spread their wings. Oneohtrix Point Never only dabbled in eccojams for one (or two?) albums before moving on to whatever genre R Plus Seven is. Vektroid purposefully pivoted around about a billion different genres before re-establishing the Macintosh Plus brand as a deconstructed club funhouse. Saint Pepsi became Skylar Spence, Blank Banshee turned his vaportrap into vapor and trap, Daniel Saylor transmuted the genre into glitchy nu jazz, and chris†††... well, does what he does. And then there's this man, at the center of it all. Everything he does is to further the flame of this crazy niche genre, and in his heart, he truly wants to see it succeed. When he's not producing vaporwave out of his own unreleased music and planning the longest cons, he's creating sprawling, elaborate soundscapes doused in the nostalgia of years gone by. And the young man's name? Well, just go listen to the album. You'll get it immediately.


This album is THE GENESIS WAVE.
RATING: 9/10

  • Never Late Again
  • Keep a Secret
  • Did I Flounder?
  • Wonder Gently
  • Bleed
  • Warmspot
  • Kill You in Bed
Carpenter Brut - Trilogy


Carpenter Brut

2015 · 1:21:04 · 18♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ½

#10: 2020/11/29

Towards the end of Carpenter Brut's vaunted Trilogy, there's a song with proper vocals, the only one of its kind: "Anarchy Road." (Others have samples, background chants, or incomprehensible muttering, but this one's the real deal.) "In 2070 or so," it warns, the world will have incurred the wrath of some apocalypse, a fusion of Mad Max and the Book of Revelation. Cities on fire, malicious weather and sunless skies, the land besieged by gang activity and shapeless monsters. It states explicitly what the rest of the album conveys through powerful synthwave alone.

The catch is that when I first heard this song, I thought it was saying "in 2017 or so." Twenty-seventeen. The very year I was listening. Needless to say, I treated it less like a far-off prophecy and more like an imminent demise. Carpenter Brut was the hero of the nascent apocalypse, and only by investing in a fuckton of guns, sunglasses, a gas mask, more Satanic iconography than is strictly necessary, and this very album could I have any hope of surviving the incoming maelstrom of devilish forces.

In case it wasn't clear before, this is Carpenter Brut's wheelhouse. Monsters and demons and blood and gore and all sorts of nefarious, beat-'em-up cinema transposed into the realm of the album: or rather, the compilation. Because Trilogy is really a fusion of Brut's first three EPs, aptly named EP I, EP II, and EP III, released over the course of the early 2010's. They stand at six tracks apiece, resulting in this behemoth of eighteen (six-six-six) tracks and a nearly hour-and-a-half runtime.

And make no mistake, when I call Trilogy "cinema," I mean it literally. Carpenter Brut's name is a mashup of "Charpentier Brut" champagne and the legendary John Carpenter. It's not hard to see how his horror scores have carved out a niche in the omnipotent 80's nostalgia that seems to be our zeitgeist. Synthwave owes a lot to Carpenter's tense, minimalist style, sonically and aesthetically. Trilogy is loaded front to back with nods to horror films, action films, sci-fi films, you name it. Voyages around the world fighting monsters, glimpses of hellish futures and pasts, attacks on all sides from zombies and vampires and aliens and demons... Trilogy is like a film score, or perhaps, a soundtrack stretching nonlinearly across multiple films, through the screen, and into the depths of Hell.

I like to say that my favorite music is something I could envision playing to a climactic, grand, cinematic moment. If Carpenter Brut isn’t the poster boy for this, I don’t know who is. I’ve seen his work paired with The Terminator, the fifth season of Samurai Jack, and Hotline Miami, just to name a few. Everything about Carpenter Brut’s aesthetic forces you to think of movie posters, deleted footage, chase scenes, action heroes, and so on. It was through this lens that I discovered Carpenter Brut, and it’s helped me to piece together my thoughts on Trilogy.

The backbone of this series is its closers and openers. “Le Perv,” “Roller Mobster,” “Hang ‘Em All,” and “Division Ruine” rank among Brut’s most well-known and well-liked tracks, and it’s impossible not to see why. These could make a killer EP, and an excellent sampling of Brut’s style. “Le Perv” and “Division Ruine” deserve mention for their jagged, pulsing wall of sound and brilliant arpeggios that combine into a satisfying climax, though the former feels like a devastating chase scene and the latter is a triumphant return — “I’m back, motherfuckers!” Meanwhile, “Hang ‘Em All” is nothing but a journey, with a haunting refrain, thudding beat, and gritty ambience winding through multiple layers, both quiet and loud, each more intense than the last. Few songs in the albums develop quite like this one. The standout is of course “Roller Mobster,” which starts with the most evocative intro on the project, full of tense synths, distant harrowed ambience, and droning sirens before blasting your face off and piercing your skull with the grittiest, darkest synths and choirs that you'll ever hear. A shot in the arm in an album full of shots in the arm.

If blistering speed is your thing, you’ll find a lot to love on Trilogy. But even more fulfilling are the slower, more methodical tracks: the album’s intro (“Escape From Midwich Valley”), midpoint (“Obituary”), and outro (“Invasion A.D.”). I say these terms in relation to the tracklist, but thematically, “Invasion A.D.” is the inciting moment for Trilogy’s world. Its aggressive, glossy beat is a tune-up for the instruments of destruction that wreak havoc across the record, but this falls about halfway through to an ambient section like “Roller Mobster.” The sounds of wind and faint mutterings are broken by stray synth leads, which promptly shatters the silence with a horror soundtrack and mechanical background noises. The rest of the song is dedicated to the actual invasion, ending with gunfire, shouts, and horrific screams before the final blast, and then — nothing. Judging by the song’s name, this is our date for the end of the world. At Invasion A.D., reality became Carpenter Brut’s playground, and nothing was the same. “Escape From Midwich Valley,” then, is a set of snapshots at life following the invasion. A slow burn with a far-off beat, what this song lacks in immediate jaw-droppage it more than makes up for in tone. The gradual introduction of more instrumentation here, such as wailing guitars, fuzzy vocal samples (I was introduced to the Prince of Darkness sample here before Endtroducing....., and it’s impossible for me to say who used it better), and scintillating synths, creates a brilliant rising tension. You can practically feel the narrative unfolding before your ears, and when that classic pulpy Brut Sound™ kicks in with a minute to spare, it feels earned.

“Obituary” stands as my favorite of these, giving a needed cooldown after the one-two punch of “Roller Mobster” and “Meet Matt Stryker.” (The latter is an upbeat romp that exudes an action hero’s energy; it’s his police badge on the album cover, and likely his car on the EP’s.) Its repeated high synths are like a heart monitor, and the cavalcade of pads, organs, choirs, and faux strings masterfully set a funereal tone. But it’s the “vocals” that set the song apart for me. Someone is speaking on “Obituary,” though it’s heavily digitally processed and, as a result, impossible to understand. Far from being a nuisance, these vocals are an instrument themselves, delivering a eulogy for the deceased... or a premonition from the afterlife. Your choice. Like other album standouts, it has an amazing mixup too, eventually kicking into high gear and changing chord progressions. Those vocals rise along with it, clamoring for peace from the other side of the veil along with those synths. And to top it off, it leads perfectly into its follow-up, “Looking For Tracy Tzu,” in the same key and a faster tempo. If “Obituary” is a call to adventure, this song is a mission, and a tense one at that. It has one of the greatest choruses on the album, with dazzling, sparkly production befitting of a tarnished paradise throughout.

Speaking of that vibe, it’s present clearly throughout Trilogy. The project seems like an inversion of the commercialized decadence and glamour we were promised, as it’s been refitted into the post-apocalypse. “Disco Zombi Italia” leads with a grating amalgam of TV clips but recovers with a funky, warped disco-ish beat, and “L.A. Venice Bitch 80’s” does the same with police scanners, though its resulting beat, while cinematic, is less powerful than others. “Sexkiller On The Loose,” the follow-up to “…Tracy Tzu,” is a brickwalled fight scene, continuing the momentum building through the last few songs and exploding in a dazzling fireball of metal guitars and frenetic synths. The star here is “Paradise Warfare,” which opens on a swinging, leisurely note, conjuring a resort for assassins. Its bouncy synths and keyboards work wonderfully with steel drums, a saxophone, and killer baselines, giving the song an incredibly unique feel that instantly sets it apart from everything else on Trilogy. (This chill, yet unequivocally synthwave, sound would be harnessed more on Brut’s next album, Leather Teeth.) Of course, it picks up the pace in the album’s most intense and devilish chase, one that shatters the illusion of peace with blisteringly fast drums, pounding noise, and one of the most satisfying chord progressions on the project. But then, it loops! Seamlessly, I might add, and in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

I keep returning to the point that Carpenter Brut is making cinematic tracks. How does he do it so well? Clearly his sound palette is effective and evocative, as are his chord progressions, his use of crescendos and lulls, and his overall aesthetic, from the song names to the artwork to whatever videos he supplies. He’s a master at his craft, and his craft is opening a demonic portal to the Nega-80’s. I called Trilogy an inversion, and it is — Brut’s calling card is that of an inverted cross, and his logo is a pentagon repeating into infinitely, affectionately called the “Brutagram.” This symbology couldn’t be more apt, as Brut is a master at creating layering and depth in his songs.

There’s so much going on at once, even in the quieter moments, and it certainly stretches the capabilities of your hearing, but I refuse to call this a bad thing. It creates a truly enriching and engaging listening experience, it adds to the pervasive feeling of watching a movie, and it rewards repeat listens. There are so many tiny details and flourishes, background synths and off-kilter repetitions and vocal pads and bookends, that it feels like a maximalist triumph. Carpenter Brut threw everything he had into his Trilogy, and it worked. Through the compression and blaring, all-encompassing synths, it is impossible to ignore that Brut has crafted a gritty, serrated world of his own, rife with lush sights and sounds that thrive even after the end of the world.

Look no further than “Run, Sally, Run!” for proof. This song, one of the last on the Trilogy, is already great, evolving more effortlessly than nearly any other track here, and it is fucking stacked with layers in each section. There are those bubbly arpeggiated synths, that whining, pitchbending lead mimicking a guitar, that funky, warbling bass, background strings, low, deep ambience, the constant background twinkling, earth-shatteringly heavy drumbeats and crashes, and even more. As the mood darkens and the run turns into a sprint for survival, the percussion (the star of the show) grows more complex and intricate, while those telltale jagged synths claw for dominance. Nearly every song on Trilogy is like this if you stop and listen, full of instruments and moments and passages that will blow your mind, both for their volume and depth. (And if you thought this song was good, check out “Hush, Sally, Hush!”, a remix at a slower speed that has even better percussion and more refined elements in its later stages. If it was on Trilogy, it would be one of my absolute favorites.)

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Flawless tone-setters, perversions of the way things were built up to be, the rampages and sounds of the end of the world. Reserved tension and breakneck pace and everything in between. Trilogy is a smorgasbord of emotions of high quality. Even with all these songs, I could listen to this, rank it as one of my favorite albums, and call it a day. But this album has one final ace up its sleeve. One more card to play. You know what it is, and I know what it is.

If you held me at gunpoint and forced me to name my favorite song that I’ve ever heard, I would tell you “Turbo Killer.” There are many songs I’d consider perfect, but this one is the top of the top. The absolute fucking best. It’s Carpenter Brut’s most popular song, and it is for a reason. Many reasons, really, but I can’t be here all night.

Firstly, it has a fantastic music video, the crystallization of Carpenter Brut’s style rendered in all its glory. It’s a throwback to campy 80’s sci-fi flicks with production you’d only get from the modern day. I highly recommend it, if only so you can see a car chase that leaves Earth and ventures onto a gigantic alien ship shaped like an inverted cross with fucked-up gravity. Hot damn. The music video was so popular that its director, Seth Ickerman, teamed up with Brut again to produce a full-length feature film, Blood Machines. (Of course, Brut did the soundtrack. The “Grand Final” has a hint of “Turbo Killer” towards the end as a neat homage, which is really sweet.)

As for the actual song, well, it really can’t get any better than this. I’ve said that the album is most fulfilling when it’s slow and methodical, and that its best songs evolve drastically through their runtime, and that it’s loaded with thematic takedowns on the 80’s. But “Turbo Killer” gives no fucks, and transcends all else. It instantly opens with a brilliant, heavenly wall of synth: the Brut Sound™ as played by a choir of angels and demons. Organ, vocals, drums, synth, and noise all combine for the ultimate shot of adrenaline. After this do you get the song’s only reprieve — a genuinely beautiful organ passage, played in the last church in the world, while haunted, distorted vocals chant “GO! GO! TURBO KILLER!” This alone would be my favorite passage on the album, but then there’s the rest of the song — a maelstrom of noise centered on a deliciously dark, toothy synthwave lead. The song’s chorus, with its glorious key changes, iconic lead melody that’s ripped from a metal band, and walls of background vocals, is transcendently catchy, implanting itself into your head like a virus. It’s a third-act showdown if I’ve ever heard one, effortlessly straddling the line between the dread of a chase and a hero’s journey.

My favorite section of the song is the passage right before the second chorus, exactly halfway in. The driving, sludgy synth and staccato armada of percussion takes a backseat to a haunting, melodic refrain and, in the back of the mix, the return of that amazing organ. All of these instruments and more wind through a chord progression that conveys nothing less than triumph, as though at the last moment, the calvary has arrived to aid our hero. It never fails to get my blood pumping each and every time I hear it. The song’s third act is no slouch either, reincorporating the initial organ passage with proper synth backing, building further and further into a tense climax. The outro, a truncated mirror of the song’s blaring intro, is just the cherry on top of this kaleidoscopic cake, and the song punches you in the face with as much force as it entered, leaving behind a mournful horn.

As a compilation, Trilogy is already impressive. But as a cohesive work, it is unrivaled. These are three EPs that work perfectly with each other, are sequenced just about flawlessly, and are paced so well that eighty minutes can disappear in the blink of an eye. Though it’s worth noting that each EP has its quirks, too, and you can hear Brut’s sound change across them. EP I is the grittiest and most subdued, making frequent use of vocal samples. EP II feels like the most cohesive story, kicking the cinematic parallels into high gear. And EP III is without compare. Each song is its own world, the production is top-notch, the Brut Sound™ is in full force. Trilogy is the evolution of Carpenter Brut as an artist, a record of his progress, and it’s a delight to hear.

This is an album with no subtlety. Trilogy is concerned with making an impression constantly, and it will do this by any means necessary. It will get very loud very often, with red-hot drum beats and careening synth solos that sound impossible to play. Its moods are second to none, as Brut proves time and time again that he can tell elegant, tense, classic stories with instruments and names alone. It retains a clear, unified sound throughout, but never gets old — his sonic palette spreads far and wide, and though every song has those thudding beats, those liquidy saws, those organs and voices, every song has its own identity. One minute you’re escorting the President through a wave of demons, the next you’re on a manhunt for a serial killer, the next you’re fighting for your life against a cyberpunk sorcerer. It’s a marvel that it doesn’t collapse under its own weight, and that it’s never even in danger of doing so.

Trilogy is the definitive synthwave record, and Carpenter Brut is the definitive synthwave artist. No one else comes close, and no one else can. Though his later work seems to be departing more and more from the sounds he cultivated here, Brut is always trying new things, and is even plotting a new trilogy of his own. Whatever comes next, I’ll be watching. I hope you can say the same.

Invasion A.D. approaches.

RATING: 9/10

  • Escape From Midwich Valley
  • 347 Midnight Demons
  • Roller Mobster
  • Obituary
  • Looking for Tracy Tzu
  • Paradise Warfare
  • Run, Sally, Run!
  • Turbo Killer
  • Invasion A.D
Vanilla - Moonlight



2017 · 1:13:09 · 19♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ½

#9: 2020/10/23

Going into Moonlight, my biggest question was how Vanilla could top himself. A stroll through his profile reveals that he's been pretty prolific throughout the 2010s, releasing a plethora of instrumental hip hop beats. My introduction to him was 2015's Origin — specifically, a fan-made music video of the album's centerpiece, "Summer," set to the film "Halloween is Grinch Night." And what an intro it was. It's one of the most impressive sample flips I've heard, turning the leisurely jam of "Summer Madness" into a thrilling, timeless beat driven to insurmountable heights by Vanilla's percussion and those repeated, cloying synths.

Vanilla's production is simple to explain. He takes one or two samples, sometimes just a snippet, adds drums and effects, chops the sample to his whims, and leaves the track to play itself. There are few lyrics, and the drums can feel simple, but Vanilla's power is how evocative his work can be. In instrumental hip hop, the strength of your sample is key, and Vanilla certainly knows how to pick and choose them well. Some of these songs may be airy loops with drums, but their effects are instantly tangible, conjuring up a mood, a location, an experience, within the listener. His albums are infused with many little details that enhance this, like applauding crowds, orchestral swells, ambient interludes, and vocal mutterings. "Simple to explain," maybe, but in practice, it explodes into something much more than the sum of its parts.

Other artists have introduced me to instrumental hip hop, but Vanilla codified the genre with Origin, so he had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Moonlight was more than a match. For a long time, I saw the two as equals in quality — they're certainly linked thematically, serving as diametric opposites. The addition of a new installment in this series, 2020's Into the Dream, has lead me to revisit Moonlight. Now I think it's safe to say it stands as Vanilla's best.

First things first: this is an album about winter. Origin did everything in its power to associate itself with summer, though a different kind of summer than you might think. This is summer's end, the last vestiges of a peaceful time, an era of humidity and nature and introspection. The stylized sun (which could be rising or setting) is implied on the title track to be the titular "origin" — the warmth and light to which we all owe our lives. Moonlight could not be more different. It is a hallway of blues and grays and whites, with columns and ridged roofs and wooden panels, with windows obfuscating their contents. There is no moon, and there is no snow, but their presence is certainly implied. The image is suffused with an otherworldly faint glow, the reflected aura of a winter's sky.

But hey, don't take it from me. Take it from the tracks themselves. "Crystals" uses swirling ambience, soft cymbals, a powerful bassline, and echoing synths to evoke a cave, shining with multicolored light. It's a respite from the encroaching darkness; chilly, but protective. "Cold Outside" and "Snowdance" work wonders back to back. The former is a slow jaunt with beautiful, twinkling keyboards and a funky bass that slides up and down while the drums shake about. The latter leads with the most gripping piano on the album, swapping between keys in a melancholy manner while the drums behind it sound off like the ticking of a clock. Moonlight's wintry vibe is strongest in the first half thanks to songs like these. They evoke the wonder of playing in the a winter wonderland or walking through a blizzard, the solitude of shrinking sunlight, and drinking hot chocolate by a fire.

Not every song is strictly beholden to this aesthetic, but this is a positive — the array of emotions sealed within this record are practically universal. "Sakura" complements Origin's opener "Dreamcatcher," replacing that song's danger and urgency with outright bombast while retaining a similar sonic palette. "Rise" is, similarly, an answer to "Arrow" — an upbeat, soulful romp with shouts and whispers woven into the brilliant keys and guitars. Fresh after my first kiss, "The Love" came onto my phone on shuffle, and I truly appreciated it then, a twinkly voyage of woodwind and bongoes and bass and everything, confused about its own feelings but revelling in the wonder of it all. "Forgettin'," meanwhile, feels at home on Origin, with a memorable piano trill and brilliant vocal samples. "I keep forgettin'" will, unironically, never leave your head.

One aspect of Origin that Moonlight lacks are the short transitions between some of its pieces. These were some of the album's highlights, especially the breathtaking string piece that perfectly sets up "Golden." This should be a negative, but I think Moonlight makes up for it. The track sequencing is even better than on Origin, and multiple songs seamlessly transition into each other (pay attention to their endings), leading to a more cohesive experience. The presence of an interlude that clearly divides the album, and the fact that it saves some of its heaviest and best songs for last, proves that Vanilla knows what he's doing. This is a conscious choice, and one that works very well.

Speaking of those songs, "Visions" is the album's longest track, substituting prior whimsy and warmth for determination and adventure. The crisp, echoing piano refrain and muted guitars that bounce off of each other on this labyrinthine voyage work very well, turning the song into something like a duet. It continuously changes throughout its runtime, but Vanilla doesn't need to do that to make a song excel. Like I said — the true strength of Vanilla's music is in how evocative it is, and you'll find no better examples of this than "Keep On" and "Waves." These were the first songs I heard from Moonlight, and I view them as a focal point worthy of comparison to "Summer."

From the moment "Keep On's" choppy, mournful piano kicks in, the bittersweet mood is apparent; the inclusion of a Biggie Smalls chorus resembles an apparition floating in a blizzard, urging the listener to stay determined and "keep on pressin' on." Funky basslines are practically omnipotent on Moonlight, and this track is no exception; the bass and drums balance the wistful vocals. Despite being an unmistakably sad song, there's an undercurrent of hope here. Thankfully, it blossoms to life on "Waves," an upbeat piece dominated by plucky acoustics and various vocalizations that, despite not speaking in any recognizable language, communicate a sense of triumph. Rushing, smooth pads in the background and clattering percussion creates a tangible seaside ambience, commanding you to picture the waves. If Origin is the end of summer, Moonlight has taken us to the end of winter. The big chill is thawing. It'll all be okay.

The rest of the second half is no slouch. "Ritual" and "Fusion" are an enthralling one-two combo, bringing back that sense of mystery and spectacle. "Home" and "Moonlight" are relatively lackluster, especially compared to Origin's closer, "That Dream Again," but they're the album at its most peaceful and whimsical. They're certainly needed at that point. "Moonlight" even features sporadic birdsong against its fluttering piano and light percussion — did you need more proof that spring is here? The bonus track recapitulates "Fuji's" iconic melody (which was already one of the best on Origin) but with a completely different feel. And, in a rarity across the entire trilogy, it's got actual vocals! Taken from the opening to Samurai Champloo, apparently, but I didn't know at the time. They fit perfectly with this chilled-out remix, and serve as an excellent coda.

It's safe to say instrumental hip hop has a reputation. Everywhere you go you'll see playlists full of the stuff, its lo-fi, laid-back nature a perfect fit for studying or working or writing or what-have-you. You could say that Vanilla works within these terms, but easy listening he is not. Moonlight works well in the background, but it simply demands your attention and imagination. The way Vanilla has cut up so many scattered songs and re-worked them into his own compositions is magical. His ability to infuse them with other vocals, working them seamlessly into the background, is genius. Instrumental hip-hop may be this genre's name, but Vanilla is not just making backing beats here. These are songs, songs that don't feel empty without any lyrics. They're complete.

The year I first heard this, my extended family went to see the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall. We walked throughout Manhattan after that, around the streets, through the viridescent ceiling of Grand Central. And on the train ride back home, this is the album I played. As the nights grew longer and the air grew crisper and the grass sparkled with frost, and we had to heat up our cars to get the ice off the windshields, and we fervently prayed for more snow, this is the album I played. A summer album — one that links itself to nostalgia and sunshine and adventure — is a precious thing. But a winter album, one that truly embodies how you feel when it's cold outside, is even rarer.

Somehow, Vanilla has made both. And that's a real accomplishment.

This album is WAKING UP TO A SNOW DAY.
RATING: 9/10

  • Sakura
  • Crystals
  • Forgettin'
  • Cold Outside
  • Snowdance
  • Visions
  • Fusion
  • Keep On
  • Waves
  • Fuji Pt. II (Battlecry)
Danimal Cannon - Lunaria


Danimal Cannon

2016 · 55:05 · 12♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ½

#8: 2020/09/22

There are some things that I can't accept, no matter how hard I try. Not because I find their existence repugnant and would rather live in a world without them, but because they feel utterly impossible. One of these is the fact that there are people on God's green earth who can make music with GameBoys. All programming is wizardry to me, since I know nothing about the concept. I'm impressed that any computer works. But how obtuse this idea is on paper, and how well it works in practice, really grab me. Maybe you haven't heard any fabled GameBoy music before. If you want to, then you've come to the right place. Let me introduce you to Lunaria, one of my favorite chiptune albums.

Danimal Cannon, real name Daniel Behrens (what is it with Daniels and their good music?), is sort of a chiptune artist. He takes the genre's typical LSDJ arrangements and pits them against clear, powerful guitars. Cannon's earlier albums, 2011's Roots and 2013's Parallel Processing (a collab with Zef), are interesting listens. They squeeze a lot of depth out of bleeps and bloops, creating sprawling, aggressive pieces that evolve in crazy directions. Cannon really shines when incorporating additional sounds into the mix, like the surprise guitar on "Roots," the foreboding nature of "Gorelax," the chippy EDM on tracks like "Logic Gatekeeper" and "Chronos," and a full-blown band on the impressive six-minute track "Synergy." However, both albums ultimately wear thin. Roots is too bloated for its own good, and it feels like Cannon's guitar work is a supplement rather than a fully realized idea. Parallel Processing gets repetitive quickly, largely due to Zef: while clearly talented, he sort of makes the same song over and over.

Thankfully, Lunaria improves wildly upon its predecessors. It's like Danimal Cannon took everything great about his prior outings, polished it all up, and shipped it into space where it could play among the stars. Lunaria is a blistering combo of chiptune and metal, the likes of which I've never heard before or since. Frenetic rhythms, arpeggios, leads, and effects combine flawlessly and (somehow) naturally with hellish guitar riffs and chords. The result is a fast-paced sci-fi smackdown that has countless surprises in store.

First things first: this album's range is incredible. Though it certainly falls under the "chiptune metal" umbrella for the most part, there's a lot of ground to cover within. Opener "Axis" uses guitar riffs like percussion against the twinkling, glitchy chiptune leads that embellish its length, while teaser track "Behemoth" dabbles in breakneck thrash before it's interrupted by a cavalcade of sirens. These contrast well with slower, moodier pieces like "Collision Event" and "Red Planet," whose guitar riffs and solos inevitably spiral into satisfying climaxes regardless. "Long Live the New Fresh" practically turns into the chiptune equivalent of dubstep halfway through to great effect, and conversely, "Surveillance" leans full tilt on the metal with one of the album's most iconic riffs, a snide tone that evokes Judas Priest, and authentically heavy vocals.

Speaking of vocals, they're here and they're... actually pretty good. They're the last thing I'd expect a chiptune album to have (besides guitars, but we've already demolished that threshold), and a first in Cannon's repertoire, but Lunaria makes good use of them. Emily Yancey's contributions to the title track and short outro work perfectly. She sounds distant and distorted, like the otherworldly presence she sings of, and as "Lunaria" ramps up more and more, so does she, culminating in breathtaking line deliveries like "IF THE WORLD BREAKS ME IN TWO, I SHALL BE REBORN!" Likewise, Cannon's vocals on "Surveillance" are a fun, if obligatory, addition that gives the song more weight. Maybe too on-the-nose, but it's impossible not to headbang along to your rights being taken away. Hatsune Miku also guest-stars on "Long Live the New Fresh" for a little extra charm.

So what's Lunaria's greatest accomplishment? Probably the fact that years later, it's so fun and satisfying to listen to. It has a wide range of ideas, yet it sounds wholly cohesive. It's sequenced into two immaculate symmetrical halves, save for a couple of notable errors. Though "Long Live the New Fresh" is good by itself, it feels out of place in the actual album (betraying its nature as an old song that got tacked on), and the piano rendition of "Axis" by guest Shnabubula is but a side offering. Take those away, though, and the pairings become clear. You have the long, explosive openers ("Axis" and "Red Planet"), the vocal-driven tracks ("Lunaria" and "Surveillance"), the slower, moodier segues, ("Collision Event" and "Halo of Dust"), the climactic finales ("Behemoth" and "Coalesce"), and the "Interlude" and "Postlude," which have the same melody. With a structure like this, the album is practically telling you to conjure a narrative for it.

Of course, on one long road trip, I did, making an animated film out of Lunaria in my head. Living the dream, as they say. Intergalactic empires assault the benevolent and construct towering super-weapons, spying on their civilians. As the last hope falls through space, it collides with a passing craft; the passenger takes its core and from it, gains true purpose. Planets are visited and destroyed. The lives of every star in the galaxy are threatened by the very power meant to save them. Lunaria commands your imagination, and why shouldn't it? It almost sounds like a soundtrack itself — fitting for a chiptune album. Danimal Cannon's main instrument may be the guitar, but in using his GameBoys as a vehicle for sonic experimentation, he's created a video game that doesn't exist.

But the most important point is this. Though some of Lunaria's tricks do get old (like half of the album is in the same key, and various high-pitched chiptune sounds can get grating), the majority of its songs completely sidestep the repetitive nature of chiptune and VGM. These are engrossing, multi-part works that demand repeat listens. "Axis" switches time signatures and tempos at will, with discordant chiptune breaks between verses and a chorus that already sounds like a final boss battle. Halfway through, the guitar explodes into staccato focus until, right at the climax, the chiptune tears through the melody in waves of static and sirens. Likewise, "Long Live the New Fresh" changes from traditional chiptune march to bass-drop madness at the drop of a hat, tiny vocal samples, swirling arpeggios, and powerful bass intermingling wonderfully, and "Lunaria" swaps bideas practically every verse. One moment it's a straightforward ballad, the next its chiptune synths triumphantly swarm through Yancey's robotic vocals, and the next it becomes a meteoric anthem that switches from 4/4 to 5/4 time.

Even "Collision Event," "Behemoth," and "Surveillance," which are more concerned with pushing their core melody to blistering heights, have their standout moments. "Event" becomes an entirely different song halfway through, with a freakish chiptune solo against guitar backing and a climax that sounds like every planet in the solar system has aligned, while "Surveillance's" coda is a grand capstone to the menacing aura built up by it and "Red Planet." ("Behemoth's" aforementioned thrash bit is not just its highlight, but one of the whole album's.) Speaking of "Red Planet," that ending sounds so large it always blows me away. It's the most Roots-like song, a slow build alternating between chiptune and guitar solos with an extended quiet bridge that leads into a pummeling climax. The call and response between the two chiptune leads feels like a battle of wills.

Lunaria saves the best for last, as the penultimate track, "Coalesce," earns its name. Nowhere is the evolution and marriage of chiptune and guitars more prominent. Like "Lunaria," it changes tactics constantly and effectively, rearranging and remixing its own melodies and instruments throughout. It's a whole "variations on a theme" routine condensed into five and a half perfect minutes. The paired guitar and whining chiptune in the first part feel like a proper beatdown, and when the second refrain is introduced, with those swelling guitars and that twinkling arpeggio, the sheer catharsis is undeniable. From there, it's a ride to hell, the guitar and leads spiraling down in equal measure in a charged back-and-forth routine. The effect around four minutes in following that melancholy chiptune dirge feels like a hole is being torn through time and space, a singularity swallowing the album whole, and as the guitars ramp up for the ultimate showdown and the initial monotone beat re-emerges, the intensity is palpable.

Put simply, this song's outro is fucking fantastic, and it's what pushes "Coalesce" over the edge into true greatness. It's like a beat drop into a black hole. That toothy, churning chiptune bass, the incisive guitarwork, and the scattered, disintegrating effects bring not just a sense of malice, but finality. And when the second refrain comes back, it itself feels fearful against the background, as though it's fighting valiantly against the encroaching darkness. This single section, not even a minute long, is Lunaria's thesis, taking everything amazing about the project and impaling you with it. Disasterpeace may be my favorite chiptune artist, but this has to be my favorite chiptune song — a title that isn't earned easily.

One final note: the "Interlude" is a pretty neat, but sorta forgettable transitory piece that feels like something you'd hear after completing a mission. The "Postlude," on the other hand, is a complete reworking of that song with zero chiptune and a full band (plus Emily Yancey!) behind it. Hearing Cannon play guitar happily and leisurely is the denouement this album needed, and I'm very glad that it's here.

The pure satisfaction and emotion that this album evokes should be impossible. It doesn't feel real. But Lunaria is a proper opus, a fantastical journey across the vast cosmos, and it needs more attention. Danimal Cannon is a one-of-a-kind artist. He's always had talent, with his polyrhythmic GameBoys and his shredding tenacity on the guitar. But here, he finally has the outlet necessary to show off his skill. If you're a fan of chiptune as a genre and you want to hear it combined with crazy guitars and effects, then you've gotta check this out. Though Cannon hasn't made any new albums since, and I've stopped listening to this album due to the chiptune sound growing off me in general, I will never deny the talent that's showcased on this project. Lunaria is, for lack of a better term, out of this world.

See you, space princess.

This album is A CHIPTUNE SYZYGY.
RATING: 9/10

  • Axis
  • Lunaria
  • Long Live the New Fresh
  • Behemoth
  • Red Planet
  • Surveillance
  • Coalesce
Slint - Spiderland



1991 · 39:31 · 6♫

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

#7: 2020/09/15

When I stepped outside, into the hellish domain of the Alt-Taste Internet Music Consumer, some albums wasted no time scrambling the ranks to burn themselves into my retinas. Call them the RYM chart-toppers, or /mu/core, or whatever you'd like. They never left me alone, and some still haven't. Sometimes I worry about all the "classic" albums I still haven't heard, full of fears that I'm missing out. Or, even more insidiously, that once I crack open the vault, the supposed all-time legends will be stripped bare of all their accolades, and I'll be left disappointed.

Spiderland is one such classic. This is an album that needs no introduction on this site, and even if it did, I don't feel equipped to do it justice. On the contrary, it feels like Spiderland introduced itself to me, ever since I took my first steps here. The four heads bobbing uneasily in that murky water feel like sentinels guarding a motherlode of unholy knowledge. They aren't people — and if they were, all their humanity was stripped of their souls long ago, while being affixed to the cover of this album. These are creatures shrouded in legend, passing down the glory of their sound to all who dare jump off that quarry and cannonball through the surface of the water, risking certain death should their resolve falter. And death is no mere jest — should these leering stalwarts judge you unworthy, you shall drown, washing your life clean. The limbs of a million cackling servants will pull you under, where you will become what's for dinner.

But enough. How does it sound? To be honest, I don't think Spiderland is an album I should enjoy. It's so unlike what I was raised on, and far removed from the hallmarks of what I look for in music. It was truly alien. My first listen was on a loud train with only earbuds. The mastering was incredibly quiet, so I had to crank it near-max to get a sense of anything. There were instruments, yes, but they felt concerned a journey they had decided to keep secret from me rather than considering my feelings at all. The vocals were in hushed tones more often than not, and any flashes of total loudness felt brief at best. The only prior assurances I had were the word of my suitemate, who held the album towards the top of his own charts, and the final song, "Good Morning, Captain," which I had heard in complete darkness and solitude the night before thanks to him.

With that alone, my initial less-than-ideal Spiderland listen already left me entranced. Using just the essentials of rock — bass, guitar, drums, and a voice — Slint had crafted their own separate dimension that ran perpendicular to the waking world. It was like a dream or a movie, something that happened at me, riddling me with anxiety, paranoia, and loneliness. The crashing of its guitars and drums, careening wildly in tone, felt like the world was shifting around me, the dream altering itself to suit the needs of its puppeteers. Spiderland is a synthesis of both extremes: placidity and war, tension and catharsis, stillness and motion. To call it a quiet album where loud things happen is to do a disservice. The album invokes worry in its good times, and awe in the bad. Its softest moments ratchet up the intensity until they explode into a drama, and when its louder songs cut out, the silence they leave is a black sea of infinity beneath a chasm.

I was convinced of Spiderland then, after the clamoring and the fuss, but I didn't truly come to appreciate it until I heard it alone. Sitting in proper silence, letting all of the sound — and lack thereof — wash over me like a scourging bath of a refiner's fire, was what the record needed. Spiderland feels utterly complete, in spite of how stripped-down it can sound and how quiet it's mixed. Though there are a couple of tracks that don't hit quite as hard, I understand their placement in the album and fully respect what they have to offer. I honestly have trouble thinking of many albums with better pacing, really. It bounces from highest highs to lowest lows effortlessly, almost without the listener even realizing it.

"Breadcrumb Trail" weaves a dizzying tale of a day at a carnival with bright, plucky guitar riffs and steady, methodical drums. This is probably the closest the album gets to "traditional" rock, though it still flips the formula. The song hops time signatures at will, and instrumentation starts and swaps and stops uncannily, resembling a malfunctioning carnival ride. McMahan's vocals are so matter-of-fact and omnipresent that they carve this story into your brain even when dryly spoken. Come the chorus, the peaceful guitars whine and clamor to the top of their register, shuffling into tense reverberations, and McMahan screams iconic lines like "CREEPING UP INTO THE SKY!" with enough intensity to outmatch the rollercoaster he's singing about. The instrumental break towards the end is a highlight, wordlessly signifying the experiences of the narrator and his new fortuneteller friend as they traverse the carnival. It's packed with enough tension and abrupt change that it feels like the house of cards will be toppled, but everything rights itself just in time.

"Nosferatu Man" is a clear evolution of "Breadcrumb Trail's" sound. The drums are now drier and sharper, piercing guitars periodically shatter the momentum, and the song's dissonance and odd time signature make the experience a personified ghost story. Gone is the slow, whimsical vibe, as McMahan channels iconography of vampiric royalty that explodes into an aggressive chase with the chorus. The switch-up halfway through abandons any pretense of peace. The guitars ratchet across chord pairs and blips of noise, the drums feel monolithic and dangerous, and the vocals are threatening whispers above all. On paper this should should fall apart, but it never does. Everyone is in total control of their instruments, and "Nosferatu Man's" eccentricities allow its lyrical, thematic darkness to combine flawlessly with its twisted sound.

Slint knows that the notes you don't play are just as important as those you do, and "Don, Aman" is the epitome of this principle. At first, it only uses vocals and one guitar riff — the most iconic on the album. Though more guitars get added and force rising action, only towards the end does a properly noisey guitar burst in, the tempo building such that its screeching burst of energy fades as quick as it came. The guitar work here is immaculate — and if it's carrying the song, it has to be — from the initial riff. It never sounds resolved with how it endlessly repeats, and its sluggish pace feels overly cautious. I should specify that I mean this positively; "Don, Aman" is very much about these feelings. As the song gets faster and more complex, this uneasy malaise bubbles to the surface into overwrought anxiety, to the point that its climax feels like a fucking panic attack.

But the star of the show is the lyrics, which are probably my favorite on here. From the moment Walford narrates "Don stepped outside," the stage is set. I don't think I've heard a song nail social anxiety as well; it reads like an introvert's stream-of-consciousness monologue. All of Don's thoughts and worries fester into nearly apocalyptic threats. Everyone is having a good time laughing, dancing, talking. Don is clearly the odd one out, and none will associate with him. To him, socializing is an impossibility. He is disoriented and confused, paralyzed by indecision and fear, and as the song builds, he catastrophizes on everyone else's behalf, vividly imagining the hate everyone has for him. The raw anxiety and nervousness that permeates this song simply could not be captured if any other element was present. A guitar and a voice are all Slint needs — all that can be used — to render the machinations of one man's mind and his ultimate realization in crystalline detail.

The next two tracks are Spiderland's weaker offerings, but only comparatively. "Washer" takes "Don, Aman's" approach of starting soft and building until it explodes to the absolute limit, owing to its near-nine minute runtime. Its unrelenting guitar passages are repeated ad infinitum, creating a lot of tension right out of the gate but wearing thin around the middle. Its vocals and funereal drums are about as evocative as the album gets, resembling the demeanor of one contemplating suicide. Its plea for a lover, visions of desperate moonlight, and thoughts of dreamless sleep do not feel like empty promises. Thus, when the song boils over and a cavalcade of guitars enter, it transcends panic and vaults into inescapable danger, creating the most intense moment on Spiderland save for its final moments. "For Dinner..." is a slow instrumental passage, just barely Spiderland's shortest song. The guitars pluck at the same notes endlessly, sometimes silently, with only sparse percussion to guide the way. "For Dinner..." lacks the staying power and depth that the rest of the album has, yet its placement is key to the album's pacing. We've gone from a carnival ride to anxious ramblings to a suicide attempt, and this is the calm before the storm. This album has gradually worked its mood into a bubbling vat of pitch, and we are now fully sealed within the concoction.

"Good Morning, Captain" is the nadir of Spiderland. Slint's instruments and techniques should seem rote by now, but here they are wholly recontextualized. The opening guitar plucks are a death sentence lingering in the air, and as the song builds around that sound, it drives this cold, worrisome mood through the ground and into the bottom of the ocean. The dissonance of the lead guitars, the bassline jumping across the same notes endlessly, the pounding drums shackling the whole thing together... Everything sounds as though it is on the edge of certain death. The overblown electric guitar that collides with the nerve-wracking chorus is stripped of any prior emotion, acting as a hollow slab of noise. Gone are the dizzying heights of rollercoasters, or frenetic worrying, or even mortal terror. There is no life to mourn — Spiderland has already died. It's just in the process of being reclaimed by the tides.

The repetition that hampered "Washer" and "For Dinner..." is one of "Good Morning, Captain's" greatest assets. Its rigid structure is like a swan song, a symphony of last words, and as its verses and choruses drone across the horizon, the mood just sinks. In scouring itself of a fast pace or the wailing of its guitars or even silence, "Good Morning, Captain" becomes impenetrable. It is an event bordering on the supernatural that is concerned only with inevitability. The vocals are particularly haunting, relaying (as quietly as possible) the tragedy of a stranded captain, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Juxtaposing these spoken passages with such tense, gripping guitars and drums is a masterclass in rising action. The song doesn't start quiet and get loud like prior outings, and the beat never significantly alters itself, but the tension builds all the same. The captain's story is cruel and horrible and exhausting, as he mourns for all he has lost, clinging desperately to the possibility of life and asking anyone he can, even a child, for help.

In an album about loss of innocence, maturing, and anxiety — one where a boy can run away with a fortuneteller, where a vampire sucks his own queen's blood, where one party feels like armageddon — this is the lowest note to end on. The captain is trying to reclaim the life he had as a child, but it is far too late. At the door to death, he is hopelessly alone, spiraling away on a piece of driftwood in the middle of a raging, bone-chilling sea. Gripped by such paranoia, isolation, and desperation, it's no wonder that the song's climax is easily the best moment in the album. Walls of overlapping guitars and the mutterings of the captain resonate with each other until McMahan lets out some of the most guttural, primal yells I've heard in a song. The entire narrative comes crashing down, the guitars and drums working in torturous unison as they hammer home the indisputable truth: "I miss you."

Spiderland is a bone-chilling experience. It should be impossible to extract such emotion and clarity from an album like this. It feels so simple, so small. Four kids went to a quarry and swam in the waves, pooling together their guitars and drums and loose papers loaded with ideas and just jamming out. The instruments clash against each other, silence warring with the urge to break free and demolish the song with noise. Yet in spite of it all, Slint has made something much, much bigger than itself.

Through the dissonance and repetition and spoken-word and haziness, every facet of Spiderland is masterful. Slint manipulates their instruments to produce whatever mood they desire. They swap between progressions and paces and keys with ease, inexorably allowing the narrative to revolve around whatever they play. The production and the vocals work in tandem with the mood, resulting in a set of songs that evoke an extended dream sequence. Each song is a march or a chase, its subjects both literal and metaphorical, loaded with imagery and symbolism and recurring themes. It winds from peaceful sleep to unbridled nightmare fuel to interminable twilight, and in spite of all the clutter and chaos that comes with such haphazard dreams, nothing in Spiderland sounds out of place. It is perfectly ordered, every beat and note and strike measured with utmost precision and arranged with the steady hands of gods.

Spiderland is far removed from humanity, and yet, it is quintessentially human. It is the experiences we worry about, all of our deepest, darkest, fears culminated into a single journey. Its scope is unmatched, and its power is almost impossible to properly fathom. These four heads and all the hell that they spoke of have transcended into legend, deified into the pantheon where the most influential of acts rest. And the internet certainly got it right, this time. Spiderland deserves every bit of acclaim that its adherents have seen fit to give it, and I think it is an album that everyone needs to hear.

It is unorthodox, quiet, and plodding. It stalks through the night on trembling limbs, waiting very patiently for the right time to strike. Perhaps its approach to lyricism will turn you off. Perhaps it doesn't have the bite you expected it to. Just give it a chance, all the way through, in a dark room with no one else, and walk a mile in the shoes Slint abandoned as they sank beneath the surface. Imagine yourself stranded at sea, bobbing on the waves, wishing fervently for any kind of miracle that could possibly salvage your circumstances. You cry softly, hoarsely, for help, hoping beyond hope that somewhere along that distant shore, you can pick up the pieces and move on. That someone will be there to help you.

But nobody came.

RATING: 10/10

  • Breadcrumb Trail
  • Nosferatu Man
  • Don, Aman
  • Washer
  • Good Morning, Captain
Daniel Saylor - Spring Rain

Spring Rain

Daniel Saylor

2017 · 14· 46:17♫

★ ★ ★ ★

#6: 2020/09/09

I get the feeling that wherever Spring Rain walks, vaporwave follows. This seems like quite the brazen accusation: you wouldn't expect a nu jazz record to ride the wave of the most internet-ish genre. But the connection is undeniable. John Zobele, better known as infamous shitpostmodernist chris†††, provided the cover art. The album was released on the Bedlam Tapes label; a glance at their Bandcamp reveals rows of projects that conform to the vaunted "aesthetic." Neon colors, collages of haze and static and glitch, art akin to 3D tech demos, foreign languages, you name it. Vapor Memory, an archivist prominent within the genre, uploaded Spring Rain to YouTube, and Tiny Mix Tapes called the project an "attempt to make the vapor aesthetic tangible."

This makes more sense when you take into account the history of Daniel Saylor. Prior to producing Spring Rain under his own name, he held several vaporwave aliases, a practice common to the genre. The most prominent, "Windows 98-Wave," leans full tilt on technological theming, producing a gritty, corrupted sound. Typical stuff, but its later releases take this darkness and focus it into literal glitch hop. (His remix of chris†††'s "judas inside" takes its mind-numbing beat to even glitchier heights, infusing it with astonishing drum programming.) Clearly Saylor knew what was what, and was not content to stay in vaporwave's box. Just as Blank Banshee turned his vaportrap into vapor-influenced trap, and George Clanton used swirling vapor mixtapes to foreshadow his forays into chillwave and hypnagogia, Saylor transitioned from vaporwave to glitch-trap to... well, Spring Rain.

Rather than pushing overt vapor influence, Spring Rain draws from multiple disparate sources to craft a truly unique sound. Various keyboards, wailing guitars, the beautiful tones of trumpets and saxophones, and impressive percussion contrast perfectly with dark, edgy electronics in the rear. Drum machines snap in and out of focus while melodies stutter and shamble in accordance with the mood. Some beats feel like more aggressive instrumental hip-hop, and others are outright industrial. The result is an album that bears a sonic resemblance to its cover — the tender, lush garden of jazz is clipped by a sonorous, unwieldy automaton. At a conceptual level, Spring Rain could be a deconstruction of vapor. Long viewed as the internet's elevator music, vaporwave's distorted smooth jazz has now been processed in high-definition. Its jazz can run true and free, broken from its plunderphonic shackles, and the digital edge can extend into a tempestuous force, serving up ambience and noise at equal measure.

That's not to say there are no samples. Quite the contrary, actually. Saylor makes a note of each on Spring Rain's Bandcamp page, and they cover a lot of ground. Making guest appearances are psychedelia artists George Clinton and Dan Deacon, the spacey pop of Imogen Heap, renowned Nintendo composer Chip Tanaka, and, apparently, Death Grips. Since I haven't actually heard the vast majority of Saylor's source material here, I can't comment on how exactly they've been utilized. Having heard just how cohesive the album can really be, though, I think it's safe to say they're incorporated quite seamlessly.

Two-part opening suite "Ashes Into Rivers," quickly establishes Spring Rain's tone. The cascading chimes, dubstep-like bass, and frenetic drum hits in "Part I's" intro flawlessly merge into a luxurious passage carried by cellos, a subdued trap beat, and pounding rain. As more synths echo, the piano solo that offsets them structures the song while being improvisational and free. "Part II" is a march, true to its word, with frequent drum fills and a constant piano passage inexorably pushing forward. Shrill trumpets and flowing pianos get their share of solos here, playing off each other and the guitar that anchors them well. This gives way to "Reflections," one of the project's better interludes. Its nighttime ambience, rushing water, and reversed piano practically ooze contemplation and peace before grinding to a mechanized halt.

"Crossing Paths" is a standout with a cavalcade of keys, strings and trumpets, and more drum beats than I can hear. The repetition of a low D# note keeps things grounded while tumultuous drums continuously play. The backbone of the song is a passage of pure glitch taken from Dan Deacon's "USA I: Is a Monster." Juxtaposed against the repetitive piano and the trumpet playing without abandon, it is the epitome of the album's "synthetic vs. natural" undercurrent, and one of the best samples I've ever heard. A brief bridge drops this sample, developing the piano and mutating its live drums into a glitchy mess. From there, the song is an endless recapitulation of the same keyboard phrases and constant noise. Trap clicks and rapid-fire hits fire alongside rapturous fills and cymbals while the background noises create a veritable wall of sound. Only at the end does the beat let up, allowing its glitch and piano to fade away while drums and a trumpet that reprises "Ashes Into Rivers" have the last word.

Interlude "Refraction" takes the end of "Crossing Paths" and develops a shifting labyrinth of piano, playing forwards and backwards in a beautiful display that releases the prior song's tension. Follow-up "Breathe" is a slower song with background noise akin to a bundle of hushed voices and synths colliding with each other. Cello, piano, and vocals work in harmony, repeating a resonant, pleading passage for as long as they can. It's an almost ambient piece that's still urgent thanks to quick, glitchy drums, turning tense once a wailing guitar appears and the vocals degenerate into wisps of noise. Meanwhile, "The Days Have Passed" is centered around a drastically slowed rendition of the Intel startup sound. The way an innocuous jingle is turned into a tapestry of shifting, gritty noise is a real highlight, as are the pianos and feedbacked guitars supplementing it.

Of the album's forays with harsh sound, "The Days Have Passed" is second only to the album's midpoint and clear standout, the aptly named "Forward Junction." This was the first song I heard from Spring Rain, and it happened in the best of ways: through Soundcloud autoplay, immediately following the first track of (flip a coin to decide which of these words you read) vaporwave/ambient record Birth of a New Day.

The transition from serene ambience framed by distant cityscape turbulence to a wall of sheer fucking noise could not have been more abrupt, and it instantly cemented "Forward Junction" as a powerhouse in my mind. This is still intact on the album, as "The Days Have Passed's" soothing dirge is practically murdered when "Forward Junction" explodes onstage. The core noise is a digitized burst of incomprehensible instruments that loops on itself in a million combinations, all while surges of acoustic and digital drums take up what little space remains. The song feels like "Crossing Paths'" second half on steroids, with fiercer crashes, fills, clicks, and power — even the noise loop sounds like it was taken directly from that song. Just as the noise reaches its zenith, the song cuts out, introducing a slower, shuffled drum beat and reincorporating "Crossing Paths'" solitary piano notes and trills to give a much-needed comedown from the action before the whole song fades from memory. At just over three minutes, "Forward Junction" is one of the quicker songs on Spring Rain, but its no-holds-barred intensity makes it unforgettable.

The album's de facto crux is "Downtown," a six-minute multi-part opus. It uses endlessly descending pianos, guitars that switch between harsh and outright whining, killer baselines, and a raucous saxophone to create a song that feels like a full band performed it. Other musicians contributed throughout the project, and Saylor credits them on Bandcamp. But here, they really act in synchronicity, dropping in and out at the perfect times. The sax gets its solo, the synths get theirs, as the drum beat gets more aggressive so does the guitar, and even the keyboard gets its time to shine. The extended ambient outro is another needed bout of catharsis after how fast "Downtown" started moving, and it allows me to discuss an important note.

If Spring Rain was an EP that consisted of "Ashes Into Rivers" through "Downtown" (plus "Until Waters," but spoilers), it would easily be one of my favorites. The consistency and precision displayed in this long stretch is outstanding, especially with regards to the track sequencing. "Ashes Into Rivers" is one long song with "Reflections" as a coda; "Refraction" does the same to "Crossing Paths." "Part II" establishes an iconic brass trill (itself adapted from "Part I's" piano) that is recapitulated on "Crossing Paths" and "Forward Junction;" each time it plays, you can feel the mood get darker. The haunting vocals of "Breathe" are repurposed for "Downtown's" calming end, almost suggesting the song should chill. A curious sample of people having an indistinct conversation appears throughout both songs as well; it later shows up in the final track. The presence of such motifs does well to link all of these songs together into a web, really enhancing their narrative cohesion in an easily digestible way.

Unfortunately, not even these songs are without their problems. I don't consider myself keen on the technical side of music production, but even I can tell that the mixing needs work. The loudness of the drums is an asset on some songs, but on others, particularly "Crossing Paths," it literally hurts to hear. Likewise, the saxophone of "Downtown" feels too crisp while the guitar feels too muddy. While these qualms don't distract from the sheer skill of the album's production and from how powerful they sound, I do feel it's worth noting.

More unfortunately, past "Downtown" the album takes one of the sharpest nosedives I've ever seen. "Jared's Interlude" is a whimsical piano piece and an alright interlude that works well to continue the relaxed mood, but "Shores," despite having more than one piano, feels barebones. The fluid keys and dramatic swells in the background feel like a poor man's "The Days Have Passed," and the beachside ambience doesn't help. A half-hearted crescendo of reverse cymbals heralds "Everything Is Crashing Down," the album's worst bout of noise. An insipid "crashing" sound loops with almost no variation, and its only companions are bleeps and bloops that feel like they were made from a gigantic, wired synthesizer. I can't even listen to this one all the way; it just goes nowhere. "Hyperobjects" is a bit of an improvement; though it starts as synths piling onto each other, it gains proper drums and menacing bass. The song still feels aimless and at war with itself as its mechanical sounds chop, start, stop, and fiddle about, but at least it's not literally hell to hear.

Closer "Unstill Waters" gets the last laugh with an imposing chiptune melody that oozes with finality. More chiptune arpeggios fill the void, as does a shifty, infectious, partially-reversed drumline. The song gradually takes the form of a klaxon call or premonition, with its siren-like synths and tensed-up beats radiating worry. When the verse changes, it maintains its momentum even as the drums and ancillary synths fade away. The new beat that appears practically submerges from the song's depths in a heavenly transition that's one of the album's standouts. Its piercing trap drums, bubbling synth leads that sound like sirens, and the reintroduction of that good old saxophone, serve as a triumphant ending.

All in all, Spring Rain is truly jazz for the internet age. It works best when its organic and synthetic sides work in tandem, and thankfully, that happens more often than not. Though its tracklist could use some trimming, and there are multiple songs that abuse the digital soundscapes beyond salvaging, when Spring Rain is done right, it's done very right. The live instrumentation is mercilessly chopped and screwed, and the blaring, rich synths and leads feel like a garden all unto their own. In removing himself from the typical aesthetic of vaporwave, Daniel Saylor has cultivated one that could be even greater, and has proven his versatility as an artist. These songs feel alive, a patchwork of Mother Earth and ones and zeroes, marching and breathing and watching time go by, and at the end, returning to the chaos from whence they came.

"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with... uh, something."

I am almost certain Daniel Saylor said that.

RATING: 8/10

  • Ashes Into Rivers (Part I)
  • Ashes Into Rivers (Part II - March)
  • Crossing Paths
  • The Days Have Passed
  • Forward Junction
  • Downtown
  • Unstill Waters
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