Vaporwave, at it’s worst, was an internet trend of pitch shifting and applying reverb to some late 80s or 90s music and calling it a day. Why do I say “was”?
Vaporwave is dead
At least the version that became a meme about aesthetics. That version exploded between 2014 and 2016 off of the earlier successes of Daniel Lopatin and Vektroid. Something I believe both of those artists did well is expand past the “easy” single-sample manipulation and create their own voice in their music. Many of those artists that exploded during that mid 2010s period did not learn that lesson. I find christtt to be one that made it out. While he started out in 2013 performing the standards and ended up leading Vaporwave’s internet label monolith, Business Casual, his journey since 2016 has been one that has exceeded all expectations.
From his side project with 아버지 [father] and his solo works, he showed he had ambition to expand his tool-set and show where Vaporwave could really go. Primarily in the latter case, conceptual Sound Collages and Plunderphonics records have been the name of the game. While there was a quick middling detour in the seemingly sample-less Minimalism project, Alone Online, his strengths truly lie in bringing together disparate audio-visual sources and modifying them to an overarching narrative. So with the last record getting mixed reception, I was glad to hear that his approach would refocus on previous successes. While the whole of the musical effort was a great return to form, I can’t help but feel that I’ve been grasping at straws as to the concept and full execution of the record.
He said so himself on Twitter:
The first portion of the record seems to cement some form of rapture narrative, talking of tragic events seemingly happening at the same time all across the globe. Even the music video for “Newsworms” confirms this, with a collage of TikToks featuring disastrous imagery and individuals trying to connect the dots to their belief of the incoming, past, or present rapture. News samples and intro stings provide a tense plodding that reinforces the concept of this somber state. Many tracks lead down this similar theme, like the slow burn of “Burning Rain” and the ghostly “Trials”. The latter repeating a vocal sample “couldn’t wait for you”, just continuing the eerie feeling of a world being raptured. This first section is all about surviving or going through this world, with all it’s consequences. It is bookended by a missed worrisome message from a mother at the front and the son’s return message at the end. This whole first section is extremely well done and really encapsulates taking for life for granted when a “rapture” could happen at any moment. That is why the next section is so puzzling. Welcome to Hell.
The Hell section is something of a throwback. Something much more lighthearted and sample-based. I can find a lot of enjoyment in these tracks, in particular parts 2, 3, and 7. For the life of me I just can’t quite put my finger on the point of this section. Does Hell represent the immortal hellish cesspit of Vaporwave that won’t ever come back? The first part of the record kind of representing a somber reminder that the good times are fleeting and compartmentalizing what remains into this purgatory that can’t be saved? Maybe the ending track, “Walk The Earth” supports this. A long repeating sample that does a great job of showing some form of spiritual monotony.
So do I actually like the record? Yes, but I am a bit confused by it’s structure. Maybe upon some revelations I could understand it more, but the switch between the brilliant first half and the middling Hell section is pretty confusing to me. I think this is some of christtt’s most mature work so far, doing a great job to avoid some of his past tendencies to embrace meme’s and more obvious sample flips. There are some technical issues with some imperfect sample isolation, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt on that. In my opinion, it gives it a little more character. If this is a send-off to the scene of old, it is a proper one. The name change (at least on this project) from chris††† to christtt says it all to me. Even if it is one to make it easier to search the name in a search engine or pronounce, there is definitely a sense of artistic maturity here. Quality control issues and puzzling structure aside, I quite enjoyed this record. A solid listen through and through. That first section especially is some of the better sample manipulation I’ve heard in a while. It gives me confidence that we are seeing the next John Oswald or Negativland in the making. I love the memories of Business Casual and the mid 2010s Vaporwave scene, but it’s time has passed and the path forward seems bright for christtt.