New Album Pre-Release Discussion - Part 2: When Life Gives You Lemons...
When Life Gives You Lemons...
In part one of this article, I outlined how I came to make this album and the modus operandi of its production. However, one aspect not yet addressed, and for those in the know, quite apt, is that of Vaporwave and Future Funk - arguably the two most prominent musical genres today utilising City-Pop and Fusion stylings.
Wikipedia defines Vaporwave as being:
"defined partly by its slowed-down, chopped and screwed samples of smooth jazz, elevator, R&B, and lounge music from the 1980s and 1990s"
When starting production on my album, I knew it would have shades of "smooth jazz, elevator, R&B, and lounge music" (as they're some of the core components of City-Pop and Japanese Fusion) and of course, much Vaporwave and Future Funk is made utilising City-Pop and Fusion samples. I.e. my album was going to be potentially ripe for Vaporisation.
When Life Gives You City-Pop, Make Vaporwave!
With the above in mind, I decided that once the album was finished, I would vaporise it and create a "Vapor Edition" to release alongside the original, non-vaporised version.
This lead me on a new approach to writing and arrangement, as I was factoring in the Vaporwave potential of every decision.
I began tailoring the creation of songs around the notion of Vaporwave-ability. For example, there are brief passages with minimal arrangements in most songs ("breakdowns" if you prefer). In their original form, these "breakdowns" serve as lulls in the macro-dynamic, however, for the Vaporwave version they're serving the purpose of being four or eight bar passages that can be looped and overlaid on other (mostly rhythmical-groove based) parts of the songs in the remixed versions.
The choice of instrumentation was also always influenced by "how will this sound when slowed and pitched down?". I would discard some of my synth and electric piano sound design as I knew it would become too mirky once slowed and lowered in pitch. This not only ensured my original songs maintained a bright, City-Pop aesthetic, but also meant that they would translate to Vaporwave in a coherent manner.
In many ways, this process was the natural evolution of my Vapor Session EPs, which took the most suitable tracks from my back catalogue and gave them the Vaporwave treatment; this time I was making source material specifically to be vaporised!
Doing It Right - Making Fakerwave!
Undertaking a Vaporwave (or Fakerwave) project of this nature gave me a unique opportunity that most Vaporwave artists don't have; I had the original mixes, stems and production assets to pull apart and use individually if needed. But NO!
Vaporwave is not about these sorts of technicalities. To approach it purely with a "remix" mindset would not befit the overarching artistic notions of the Vaporwave aesthetic. At best, Vaporwave is created using audio ripped from CDs, but often it is sampling from low-res MP3s scoured from dodgy blogs or torrents, or ripping audio off YouTube videos, or importing old cassettes or vinyl from Japan and sampling them. Vaporwave artists do not have access to production assets in the way a label-commissioned remixer might have and therefore, I must place similar limitations on my own work flow.
I therefore did not begin my Vapor Edition of the album until I had the masters back from the mastering engineer. I used the vinyl masters as the basis of the Vapor Edition, as the vinyl masters had an older, more dynamic sound (i.e. they hadn't yet been slammed through a digital limiter like most digital masters are).
Over the course of several weeks, I used standard sampling techniques, textbook filter effects and extensive editing to rearrange all the songs on the album with a slower, moodier aesthetic (as well as some genre appropriate "choppiness"). In some instances, I enveloped parts of tracks in a shopping-mall-esque reverb. The whole project was treated to artificial ageing and cassette tape-warp effects for added warmth and genre-specific aesthetic.
The only track that didn't make the cut for vaporisation was a short, little piece that precedes the closing track on the original album, but this track was never intended to get the Vaporwave treatment. The other nine songs all made it into the realm of Vaporwave (or Fakerwave) and I'm pleased with the end result. So, without further ado...
Presenting: Yume No Machi
The album's title roughly translates to "City Dreams"; a relatively self explanatory title given the context.
The track titles and (rough) translations are as follows (please note, exact translations from Japanese aren't always possible as the language is very reliant on context to derive precise meaning):
Tōchaku - "Arrival"
Yoru No Kōsoku Dōro - "Driving on the highway at night"
Asa - "Morning"
Akai Shiro - "Red Castle" (a reference to Mount Akagi or Akagi-yama, a nearby mountain to where my in-laws live)
Shoppingumōru - "Shopping Mall"
Fūdokōto - "Food Court"
Sampuru - "Sample" (the name given to the super-realistic plastic food models in restaurant window displays - also a meta, deep-cut reference to the "sample" culture of Vaporwave)
Kiri - "Fog" (one day whilst I was in Japan, a fog descended from the mountains and shrouded the town in a thick mist that, for a foreign visitor such as myself, was beautifully enigmatic and atmospheric)
Aisuru Hito - "The woman I love"
Sumida Gawa No Tsuki - "Moon on the River Sumida" (the river Sumida runs through central Tokyo and is steeped in mythology and legend. The bus route to the airport before departure home took us alongside the river at 4am with the moon bright in the sky. The scene was very cinematic and reminiscent of the Streets of Rage title-screen animation)
For Yume No Machi (Vapor Edition), I swapped colours on the cover for a more Vaporwave colour palette, and as mentioned above, all but Aisuru Hito made it into the Vapor Edition (in the same order as they are on the original album).
Both albums will release simultaneously on April 16th 2021 and be available digitally on the OSC BandCamp page, as well as all major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, etc. A limited run of both albums will also be available on cassette, CD and minidisc from My Pet Flamingo (while stocks last). Vinyl is in production as I write this and will be available later in the year.
I'm very pleased with and proud of how this double-album project has shaped up. Whilst the turnaround time from conception to completion was not as long as Ideality, I believe this project is of comparable (if not higher) quality and definitely a more coherent listening experience (most likely due to its strongly contextual foundation).
I also believe this album will lend itself better (than Ideality did) to repeated listening. Taking a lead from my work with ambient music, I aimed to strike a balance between creating something that lends itself well to passive listening, like all good "background" music should, but I still nested enough musicality in there so as to satisfy my own musical geekiness (and that of the music geeks among my audience).
Art can sometimes be meaningless without context, so thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I hope that you enjoy listening to both versions of the album when it's released. I've posted teasers on my socials, as well as YouTube, so if you don't follow/subscribe to me yet, you know what to do (links are at the bottom of the page).
All the best and keep it retro :-)