Macintosh Plus - Floral Shoppe [Olde English Spelling Bee - 2018]Vaporwave is a micro-genre that's largely passed me by. The style has its roots in the late 2000s during that productively turbulent period around the start of the Arab Spring and the UK riots of 2011 and came along with other short-lived forms such as Witch House and the even more improbably themed Seapunk. All these forms share a common antecedent in the chopped and screwed style of hip-hop pioneered by Texan DJ Screw along with familial associations to hypnagogic pop and the side projects of Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never, such as Chuck Person and Games.
The principle Vaporwave move is to apply the chopped and screwed sampling style to 80s and 90s popular music, stretching and decontextualising it in a manner tangentially related to the way artists associated with hauntology treat their samples. The Vaporwave approach to this however is more of an ironic take on consumer culture, advertising and corporate aesthetics. Album art often focuses on 90s videogame and advertising graphics, surreal appropriations of early internet imagery and soft cyberpunk and anime culture. There's also a lot of un-translated Japanese in this stuff. This is apparently meant to create something of a mysterious atmosphere around these releases, along with virtually every producer having multiple aliases.
Macintosh Plus is a case in point being one such alias of 26 year old Ramona Andra Xavier, better known as VEKTROID. Floral Shoppe was originally released as a digital album in 2011, marking something of a concretisation of the Vaporwave form and has subsequently become a classic in the scene. It's appearance (blinding pink record sleeve with bad 90s collage style graphics plastered with Japanese script) and sound have become a cornerstone of subsequent Vaporwave aesthetics.
Now, I liked those OPN side-projects, especially Games, which had Lopatin collaborating with Joel Ford and Laurel Halo to transform the likes of George Benson and Secret Service into queerly epic pieces of twisted disco; but a neat trick (which for Lopatin's project lasted less than a year) does not equate to material for an ongoing genre, no matter how much you obscure your intentions with Japanese script. Floral Shop, however, takes the idea and runs with it.
The titles here are all in Japanese, so I'll have to trust in the translators involved on one unofficial LP release from 2016 for the names. The opening track Booting (when did we stop using that word?) kicks off by smudging Sade's Tar Baby into a soporific Lynchian dirge, with the vocal phrasing and saxophone put painfully out of sync. The technique is similarly applied to Diana Ross's It's Your Move on a track which Xavier titles Modern Computing with equally jarring results. By now you get the idea. More successful, at least on its own terms are the tracks based on funky keyboard refrains of naff late 70s group Pages. Here without such an well known source the music is more able to surprise. I read somewhere Vaporwave described as synthwave for Marxists. I'm not sure if any Marxists are confirmed fans but this statement apparently has to do with the supposedly ironic/critical appropriation of consumer culture effected by Vaporwave artists which shows up the hyperreal and media saturated state of the early 21st century. I'm not sure if such a turn qualifies you as a Marxist and I'm less convinced of the critical value of the conjunction between Youtube clips and the Audacity music software which seems all that's needed to produce this material.
There are some rare serendipitous moments where the clunking effects and edits come together into something attention grabbing. The longest track on the record Math is seven minutes of breezy saxophone, harmonically detuned synth sweeps and drones courtesy of Dancing Fantasy and Donn Wilkerson. This track raises the bar simply for the clear evidence of extra labour in its production. Two extra untitled tracks are included on this edition. These bring things closer to the present with DJ Screw type distortions of modern R&B songs rendered weird and queasy with effects that put the drums out of sync and delay and shift the vocals into a monstrous growl.
It's genuinely hard for me to understand how this is considered a classic in any field. The music is almost entirely form over content and for that matter a form that wears thin after a few minutes. The OPN side projects that pioneered this stuff were if nothing else inventive and had in Daniel Lopatin a first class producer and musician at the helm. The trick wasn't just slowing down and detuning a popular song, there was some craft and musicality behind it. This record, however, from its cover to the last irritating minute is a long tired joke. Fortunately Vaporwave has moved on, as has Ramona Xavier, who has produced far better music since this came out seven years ago. Her Tanning Salon record - again on Olde English Spelling Bee - is a moody and considered work comparable with Grouper or The Caretaker. Vaporwave artists like HKE, 2814 and a myriad of other projects, many organised around the Dream Catalogue label, have taken the basic aesthetic and pushed it into darker and more original territory. This early effort however could well do with being forgotten.