Saturday, 5 July 2014

ESPRIT 空想 – VIRTUA.ZIP

It's been a long time coming but finally I am writing about ESPRIT 空想's latest (and perhaps greatest) album virtua.zip. Last time we heard from this guy it was actually in the form of his alter-ego (or is this his alter ego?), another musical project: Mirror Kisses – namely the cool video for even cooler song, 'Genius'. There's some new Mirror Kisses stuff out right now actually but let's just put that off for a second and get right into the melted-mind sounds of this collection of songs.

A key component of the slightly undefinable, nostalgia-and-sample-ridden style of vaporwave – whose sounds can reach as far back in time as any artist's musical memory will allow, and as far forward as their imagination will take them – ESPRIT 空想 has moved forward, describing his album as "distinct in that it is comprised of all original compositions. Samples are utilized as a brushstroke rather than a canvas. Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10 and 11 are entirely free of sampling." As such, the imaginary constraints of vaporwave fall away to leave nothing but its lightly distorted aesthetics and its apparent liberal-mindedness, wherein the freedom to do whatever underpins most of what has been made within the brackets of "vaporwave", which simultaneously leads to an eternal paradox: if this is the case, then what is vaporwave? A genreless genre; a community brought together by common interests.

Almost as a realisation of this kind of maturation into formlessness, ESPRIT 空想 does as he pleases: to great effect. virtua.zip – its name reflecting the cube comprising of Akira Yuki (from Sega's Virtua Fighter series) on the album art – is expansive and atmospheric yet groovesome and quirky, building these soundscapes with relatively short tracks; each one of these suffixed with the extension ".wav", the perfect accompaniment to the album's own ".zip" – as if the sights, sounds and words attached to this release are wholly indebted to all things digital.

And what a set of sounds! We go from the warm holiday sounds of opener 'whispers.wav', with its '80s-commercial glitz and two chords spacing out in 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' (Tears For Fears) fashion, and the chopped-up sounds and stammering beat of 'select.wav', as well as 'slow2014.wav', which sounds like an area on Streets Of Rage, swaggering yet calm in the post-crime-syndicate-clean-up; to the moody chillment of 'mindless.wav' – the hollowed-out skull of deadbeat intoxication – with a beat reminiscent of 'peter.wav': almost pure trip hop: spacey strings and surprising sub-bass as accoutrements to a slowed-down beat that uses the "Amen break"; 'esprit.wav', whose tropical washes of sound cloak a familiar sample and ghostly vocals, matches with 'iwillbe.wav', which finds its partner in the aching 'withyou.wav', the two essentially one track cut in two ("i will be with you"), both sufficiently equipped with steel pan stylings and epic tom drums to evoke a bepalmed beach paradise at sunset – titularly including the fantasy love-(or-lust)-of-one's-life.

Then there's 'warmjet.wav', a master-class in warm, modulating synths, focusing also a lot on empty space, syncopated bass and the loving sway of the beat, similar in a way to 'love.wav', a jaunty track with twisted, drugged-out synths, upbeat percussion, and the shadow of an angelic choir oooo-ing for extra romantic flavour, as well as the wholly retro 'gameover.wav' – staccato-chopper synths over a slow beat, with weird moo-box-style decorations; for virtua.zip, it's an ending that couldn't be more different from the romanticised glistenings of its beginning.

It's certainly an eye-opener, an insight into new territories of sound that paradoxically – and conversely to many "futuristic" sounds in music at the moment – are drenched with cassette-tape fuzz, imbued with nostalgia and, ultimately, could well have been made 20, 25, 30 years ago. Even though it runs the gauntlet of chillwave, retro game music, hip hop, synthpop, and yes: vaporwave – virtua.zip just effuses freshness effortlessly. And it's all condensed into around 21 minutes of music, making it a brief and blissful slice of escapism; I did, in fact, at many points find myself whisked away somewhere else. Basically, this album is like a modern version of exotica ("a musical genre, named after the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same title"), itself an offshoot of lounge music, and intended to provide listeners with a synthetic, sonic experience of Pacific islands, African jungles & South American mountaintops.

What ESPRIT 空想 does is very much the same: from its very concept, as a .zip file, you have this strange, digitally tangible feeling for the music even before you've heard it; then, when you're listening, you could at certain points be in a videogame ('slow2014.wav'), in the past ('whisper.wav'), on a beach ('withyou.wav'), or – for something more descriptive – stuck at home on a rainy day during summer looking out the window ('esprit.wav'). The places it can take you depend on your imagination, of course, but to have made songs that are capable of acting in this way shows, maybe not intent, but at least a capacious and reflective imagination in the first place.

This is vaporwave's answer to lounge music – or perhaps vaporwave IS just an unknowing, modern interpretation of it – and it really is lovely.



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