Dream Catalogue (DREAM_777), 2016
I can only imagine what it must be like for an artist (or artists) who create a landmark album. 2814, a collaboration between two vaporwave heavies, HKE (formerly Hong Kong Express) and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, released the album 新しい日の誕生, translated as Birth of a New Day, in 2015 – an album that many credit with starting the explosion of vaporwave. How do you follow up a classic like that? It’s a boggling prospect.
Rain Temple is that follow-up, and while it will likely always exist in the shadow of its predecessor, it’s a phenomenal album in its own right. Shedding much of its previous vaporwave trappings, both in the kanji-less titles and in its sound, 2814’s new album, available from vaporwave powerhouse label Dream Catalogue as digital, CD, or LP, is an exercise in concept-driven electronic ambient that is the work of two masters of their craft. I wonder if Rain Temple might be an attempt to break into a larger audience, but while the music has lost some of its experimental edge, that’s not to say that the album isn’t inspired.
As with their previous releases, the center of 2814 features the minimal alien melodies of t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 and the synthetic rhythms of HKE. “Eyes of the Temple” is a showcase for this stylistic fusion, with a mystery-laden sequence of melody anchored by a slow glitch-laden beat. It’s an attractive and effective formula, and is enhanced by sampled snatches of spoken word and soaring synth-driven ambiance. It’s quite cinematic and wondrous, and given what appears to be the alien concept of the album, a fitting introduction.
Rain Temple appears to be the soundtrack to an invocation of some external presence, whether extraterrestrial or inter-dimensional. Sounds of water abound, whether the patter of rain or the gurgle of a fountain, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that the album’s early moments are the background to a ritual or invocation, an attempt to establish contact with the Other. In spite of its thick aura of mystery, Rain Temple is not an album of darkness, but rather of the unknown. Judging by the progression of the track titles: “Guided by Love,” “Transference,” “This Body,”, “Contact,” and “Inside the Sphere,” it’s easy to follow the course of events: the invitation sent from the temple has been received and answered, and those conducting the ritual have been spirited away to another realm and time. 2814’s music interprets this as a wonderful event, something welcomed and full of majesty, perhaps borne along the flow of water and rain. Considered this way, the album becomes quite existential and aesthetic; if this is the sound of first contact, it’s anything but a frightful or threatening meeting.
The nature of the tracks support the concept admirably. “Lost in a Dream” is an aquatic aria, where drifting wordless female vocals call through the depths. “Guided by Love,” my favorite track on the album, is a prime example of how t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 is able to conjure such profound implication and atmosphere through a deceptively simple series of notes. It’s instantly and deeply transporting as the best ambient, and enveloped in heartbreaking and lush atmosphere. I imagine that this is the final and irresistible part of the temple’s ritual: a siren’s call into beyond that cannot be ignored, for the emotion is simply too hypnotic. The foundation of “Transference” is an echoing guitar riff that sounds straight from Cocteau Twins-era Robin Guthrie; it’s Victorialand, updated for the 21st century via a wrapping of ambient IDM. “This Body” is the closest 2814 comes to the glorious blanketing amorphousness of 新しい日の誕生, all muted warbles and pitched and patterned glitches; it’s a stunning track, if a bit familiar.
Rain Temple reaches a crescendo on its final two tracks. “Contact” is every bit as celestial and celebratory as the title implies, the music thickly saturated by the otherworldly. “Inside the Sphere” is as fine an example of glitch-meets-ambient as you’re likely to hear, and that’s before the drowned piano emerges to add a layer of profound emotion. At the conclusion of the temple’s ritual, it’s easy to imagine those responsible being spirited away to an unknown realm by whatever entity they have summoned: transcendence has, at long last, been achieved.
For all its deft execution, Rain Temple doesn’t feature the same strangeness that marks 2814’s previous releases. I wonder how devoted fans might react to the album, as it’s arguably much more an ambient album than a vaporwave one, and keeps the bulk of its creativity in its concept rather than the music itself. If 2814 is trying to expand its audience, it’s hard to imagine them producing a finer attempt. Niche fans should prepare themselves for a potential letdown, but let’s be honest, it’s a tall order to match the level of 新しい日の誕生. Aside from these inevitable comparisons, however, Rain Temple is, ultimately, a massively enjoyable ambient record.