蜃気楼MIRAGE – Hotel By Night

bandcamp, 1999

Upon first listen, Hotel By Night from 蜃気楼MIRAGE appears to be little more than a nice  collection of moody and relaxing electro-jazz tunes. There are light synths and electronic percussion lounging in the backdrop of subdued saxophone and piano; think of a less spliffed-out version of classic Thievery Corporation and you’d be on the right track. Peel back the slyness, however, and you’ll discover there’s quite a bit more going on.

蜃気楼MIRAGE, which translates roughly as “miragesync,” seems to be something of a prognosticator. The release of Hotel By Night contains the sense of place and personality of vaporwave despite predating the style’s birth by more than a decade. There’s an entire sub-genre of vaporwave based on elevator and shopping mall music, drawing from the numbing ambiance of such “muzak” in a tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink manner – sometimes to the point of being dismissively critical of the consumerism involved. While Hotel By Night resembles this type of ironically subtle music, it focuses on the ambiance and half-told stories that also mark a number of vaporwave releases.

蜃気楼MIRAGE includes a variety of Japanese-language samples in a handful of tracks, adding a human element to the music. The horns are never intrusive or manic; the music is clearly intended to be the sound of a jazz quartet quietly creating a luxuriant atmosphere in a corner of a dimly lit hotel bar. The tracks on Hotel By Night are all under two and a half minutes in length, but this creates the sense of the listener passing through the darkened lobby, glimpsing a couple in hushed and intimate conversation, which catching a snatch of midnight music wafting from the open door of the bar. In this sense, 蜃気楼MIRAGE has created a magnificent piece of ambient music, as the sense of identity and place is unusually strong; it’s not just about the music, as well-done as it is, but about how it communicates a larger and more personal fiction.

One particularly effective example of this is “goodbye,” in which a woman whispers what are almost certainly painful departing words to her forlorn and now-former lover, perhaps overheard in pieces from across a near-abandoned lobby at two in the morning. There are no horns here, just minimal lo-fi keyboards and guitar tracing lonely, highly cinematic melody. At the track’s close, the woman breathes “ciao” with a near-palpable combination of heartache and conviction, and we’re left only with that sensation. Our imagination is required to paint the rest of the picture, if we so desire, or we can just let the emotion define it.

A hotel by night is a place of relaxed luxury, and can also be a place of secrets best kept in the shadows of expensive rented rooms and silent corridors. Within this surprisingly dense twenty-four minutes is a world of lazily curling cigarette smoke, half-empty tumblers of scotch, loosened silk ties, and lipstick-smudged napkins. The horns are perfectly pitched and paced, the electronics suitably mixed down, and the atmosphere as thick as the velvet night outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. 蜃気楼MIRAGE is an anonymous project, but it’s fitting: both the project and its music hint at something beyond the surface. At a mere twenty-four minutes, Hotel By Night may be short on content, but it’s a powerfully realized and densely atmospheric sliver of the hidden corners of urban high-rise nocturnal life.

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