Dream Catalogue (DREAM_110), 2015
Language can pose a barrier, especially when it’s presented in an inscrutable or indecipherable manner. Take Egyptian hieroglyphs, for example: symbols carrying meaning that can only be understood by experts. But on the other hand, a series of symbols can invite curiosity, for the message they hide is only a mystery waiting to be unlocked. Or, you can leave the mystery unsolved, and allow your mind to interpret it in its own way.
Submitted for one’s burgeoning curiosity is 安全出口EXIT空间和时间, the second symbol-ridden album from Chungking Mansions. If you’re familiar with Asian dialects, you might be able to detect a clue of the album’s identity, but it’s ultimately unnecessary, for the music itself carries wordless meaning that anyone can understand.
Following the outstanding vaporwave effort ShowView, Chungking Mansions has retained some of that curious subgenre’s characteristics, but 安全出口EXIT空间和时间 sees the project moving into uncharted territory. You’ll still hear the warped samples, muted urban ambiance, and strong Asian atmosphere, but the surreal sense and variety has been increased, along with a cohesion that winds its way through the seventeen tracks from start to finish.
This is a soundtrack, but a soundtrack to what, exactly? Bypassing the language, it’s open for discussion. Here’s where Chungking Mansions delves into the potential of ambient, by letting the listener become an integral part of the experience. While it might be tough to imagine the setting to be somewhere other than Hong Kong or Taiwan, owing to the numerous pipes and strings present throughout the album, enough room has been left to use the template for any number of imagined circumstances. Chungking Mansions has proven a master at evoking the nocturnal, neon-drenched mood of the Chinese city, but now, the boundary has been expanded.
One example of this is “互動導遊機器人,” with a downtempo beat framed by smoky piano and delicate keyboard. There’s not an inch of Asian influence to be found, but the track is still a deeply effective and evocative piece of assembled atmosphere. “In The Eyes Of Vashti’s Owl -☏-「古普韦布洛人」” has the same effect, but attains it through oddly calming loops in a beatless ambient framework. “Gare d’Europa” is a brash piece of downtempo, riddled with broken samples and choral loops, while the truly bizarre tapestry of animal sounds and tribal percussion of “Omaha’s Zoo虚拟旅游” hints at a place where only the most unusual beasts are kept. The album closes with “格利澤581d” and the wonderfully titled “ShΛfts Of Light Inside The Museum,” two strangely beautiful selections of deftly crafted and memorable ambiance.
ShowView was a masterfully created display of vaporwave verve that remains one of the highlights of the vaunted Dream Catalogue label, but 安全出口EXIT空间和时间 exists on another plane entirely. While there’s plenty of familiar urban vibe to be heard, presented to enhanced effect, Chungking Mansions has gone outside the standards to create an album full of memorable passages that transport you to a unique place of strangeness and wonder, far beyond the world we know. Sure, you can translate the titles if you like, but it’s not necessary. When an album contains music as brilliantly composed as this, no words are needed.