Dream Catalogue (DREAM_92), 2015
Vaporwave can be a daunting thing to break into. The bands are usually anonymous, and the band names and album and track titles are often composed solely of Asian characters. Add the large and still developing subgenres that vary wildly in style and composition, along with the rapid stream of new releases, and keeping up is a demanding but potentially heavily rewarding proposition.
I’m a relatively recent vaporwave convert, so while I’m no expert, one of the first albums that got me hooked was ShowView by Chungking Mansions, and I still consider it to be quite a fitting starting point for those interested by this most curious of genres. It touches on several of vaporwave’s subgenres while still managing to maintain a cohesive feel – no small task, given the breadth of styles dwelling under the vaporwave umbrella. On ShowView, first and foremost, there’s the heavy modern Asian mood so integral to the vaporwave experience – Hong Kong in this case – from which the project draws inspiration and source material. You’ll get Asian jingles, with the vocals downpitched and melodies stretched into hazy melancholic bliss. You’ll hear jazzed-up horns and bass, urban-soaked trip-hop, and field recordings of airports, nightlife, city streets, malls, and commercials, all of it cut up, reversed, reverbed, and filtered. Vaporwave is often a celebration of consumer culture, but can also be deeply critical and cynical. Most of it skews towards an Asian urban setting, reflecting both the energy and the vapidness of the city center. Chungking Mansions has delved into all on its debut album ShowView, a remarkably assured and confident entry into the hard-to-nail-down vaporwave style.
ShowView displays a lot of these different yet related perspectives. In many ways, I see it as Vaporware 101; an introduction to the vast array of styles and sensibilities the genre dips into, as well as a hint as its conceptual potential. You’re likely to find entire vaporwave albums built on any one of the styles featured in any of the eighteen tracks on the album (it’s common for vaporwave tracks to be on the shorter side; only one here is over four minutes long). And yet, Chungking Mansions has made this mashed-up and fractured example of 21st-century Hong Kong lifestyle to be a highly listenable experience, providing a keenly conceived sonic portrait of the place it represents. Even though I continue to explore the neon-drenched depths of vaporwave on a daily basis, this is an album I keep returning to, because it’s such a finely focused yet varied example of what the genre aims to achieve.
It remains to be seen whether the retro-futuristic, internet-obsessed, cyber-punk realm of vaporwave is going to stick, or if it ends up morphing into something utterly unlike what it sounds like today. Even an album that sounds as cutting-edge as ShowView can sound basic when compared to some of the more recent abstract efforts that vaporwave continues to create. This album is a fitting portrait for the current high-speed quick-shifting generation, in spite of its constant and curious cultural backward glancing. On ShowView, Chungking Mansions has captured the immersive aesthetic of ambient, the energy of glitch and IDM, the chilled vibe of downtempo, the slyness of trip-hop, the immediate honesty of field recordings, and the playful quirk of Asian commerce into a single heady package. Its scope alone makes it a must-listen, but like vaporwave itself, there’s much more here than is readily apparent. ShowView may be somewhat baffling at first listen, but it quickly sinks its hooks into you, and you can’t help but explore it. If you find this album to be even the slightest bit intriguing, it’s just the tiniest glimpse into the hypnotic and mysterious urban maze that is the vaporwave universe.