Dream Catalogue (DREAM_105), 2015
Some albums get off to such a phenomenal start, it’s equally dizzying and suspicious. On one hand, a brilliant beginning implies that the rest of the journey will maintain the same the same level of quality, while on the other, there’s a creeping sensation that the bar has been elevated to such a stratospheric height that there’s just no way it can be reached again.
ルートバックホーム , the debut album from UK-based producer Remember, seeks to shake this foundation on several levels. True, the first track, “私を愛して Love Me”, is a magnificent display of crystalline production and heart-rending beauty, beginning with the sound of gentle rain that slowly morphs into an instantly memorable chord sequence that somehow manages to be celebratory, inspiring, and deeply melancholy all at once. It’s such a perfectly realized piece of ambient music, a part of you might be ready to elect Remember to the ambient hall of fame just on its merits alone.
But here’s the thing: the rest of the album comes very close to matching it. “私を愛して Love Me” is the perfect way to establish the mood for what follows; if the track had been placed later, the rest of the album wouldn’t be nearly as strong. The tracks feed off of its energy and identity, which they couldn’t do as well if it wasn’t leading the way.
Taking a cue from like-minded vaporwave artists such as the lauded and prolific t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 (who contributes to the track “トランスミッション Transmission”), ルートバックホーム falls into the gauzy neo-urban ambient branch of vaporwave – part diaphanous ambience, part field-recorded crowd noise – that tells a wordless story of a journey through a bustling imagined city, all lines of light merged with the singular ever-changing entity that is the moving crowd.
From the high-rise viewpoint of “午後11時 The 11pm” to the dreamlike fantasy and distant voices of “地下自然公園 Underground Nature Park” and the saturated nocturnal bliss of “ストリップの明るいライト Bright Lights Of The Strip,” the album is a guided tour through the hidden corners and techno-wonders of this near-future metropolis. Even when the drama increases on “エレベーション Elevation,” with sampled sounds of thunder, and booming drums and thrumming bass courtesy of vaporwave stalwart HKE, it’s a reminder that the city isn’t all floating lights and innocence. Remember drops subtle hints that the album is part of a narrative about lovers wandering the city, but the sparseness of the story works in the album’s favor: it’s not just a tour, but a soundtrack (musically interpreted and directly recorded) to whatever story the listener is inspired to create.
And yet, ルートバックホーム doesn’t garner its identity purely from its clearly Asian-inspired cultural window-dressing. While these elements do impart a certain exotic flavor, unlike many vaporwave counterparts, they could be removed entirely and the album would lose little of its power. The processed gong-like melody of “スカイライン Skyline” is strongly Asian, but the bulk of Remember’s atmospherics work because they’re highly effective and enduring ambient music – not because of the trendy ephemeral details. This is the type of album that will still be great years from now, as its foundation is unusually strong, and it can’t really be placed into a certain time, place, or style. Let’s not forget, too, that this is Remember’s debut – the project’s own journey is just beginning.
If you’ve steered clear of vaporwave because you thought it superficial or too artificial, Remember would like you to reconsider. ルートバックホーム isn’t primarily a vaporwave album. It’s ambient with vaporwave dust sprinkled lightly and deftly across its shimmering surface. At the very least, I’m willing to bet that “私を愛して Love Me” will strike a resonating chord in you, and once it does, there’s just one small step to take into Remember’s neon-draped tribute to the curious beauty of the imagined night city.