Dream Catalogue (DREAM_48), 2014
There’s a lot of 80s-inspired vaporwave, and a good deal of experimental 4/4 beats with Asian-flavored samples, but what ambient entries there are tend to be heavily skewed towards consumer culture; the mallsoft subgenre being one example. Ambient with a heavy dose of field recording is nothing new, but given the futuristic leanings of vaporwave, you’d think there’d be more attempts at creating sounds that stick to a future-ambient template.
Now, while such albums may very well exist in healthy numbers and I just haven’t come across them yet, there is one I’ve discovered which is a perfect example of what I’ve described above: 油尖旺 DISTRICT, the first album from the project named Future City Love Stories. On the Dream Catalogue bandcamp page, there’s a brief synopsis (many vaporwave albums have such supplemental blurbs) about two lovers wandering the streets, and the album is what they hear as they roam.
油尖旺 DISTRICT is short. Very short. It’s twelve tracks, but following the current vaporwave trend, only one track is over three minutes. The entire album is a mere twenty-two minutes in length. Each track flows into the next without pause, and since the album ends as abruptly as it begins, it’s designed to be looped. The sound is very dense, with clouds of samples and field recordings, all sourced from the urban center of some Asian city – construction noises, vehicles, snatches of commercials and ads, the hiss of the subway, and scattered voices – reprocessed and filtered and given new life. Tying it all together is a minimal arrangement of synthesized atmosphere, drifting in the background with delicate melody and mood; Future City Love Stories has manipulated the mix masterfully. This is the kind of detailed album that continues to gradually reveal its secrets upon repeat listens, and it’s only through revisits that you begin to grasp just how well-put together the album is. For example, there’s a particular vocal sample that’s repeated throughout, but in different incarnations, pitched differently here, cut up or stretched out there, and then pops up buried in reverb or completely unprocessed. I didn’t notice this until my fifth or sixth deep-listen session, and it was then that I began to understand how tidy a package this album truly is. I’ve been listening to this solidly for weeks, and am still finding new layers.
In my experience, ambient is at its most effective when it’s both a directed and a deflected experience. Future City Love Stories has pulled this off magnificently with 油尖旺 DISTRICT, and it’s exceedingly impressive that this album is the project’s first effort. Despite its brevity, this is a daydream journey through an imagined place, a window into the fantastic; it’s somehow familiar and deeply, thrillingly alien. In other words, 油尖旺 DISTRICT isn’t just a foray into a hidden corner of neo-future vaporwave; it’s a riveting work of ambient excellence.