Sacred Tapestry – Shader Complete / New Dreams Ltd. – Sleepline (2012-2013, reissued 2018)

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Vektroid is truly an artist of the internet age; not only does she work in a genre that was born entirely online, but she has a tendency to continuously remix and reconfigure her back catalogue in a way that wasn’t really possible in the age of physical media. Throw in the fact that she uses about a dozen different aliases and you wind up with a discography that’s massively confusing; you’re never quite sure what’s from when, or whether the thing you’re listening to is actually just another work-in-progress. So when Aguirre announced the release of two of Vek’s albums on vinyl, I knew I had to get them; if nothing else it’s neat to actually get a finished product in your hands, especially one that seems so backwards-minded.  I mean, the vaporwave on cassette tape thing at least makes some sense – it is in fact that perfect physical medium for a genre that obsesses itself with lo-fi digital futurism circa 1986, where a record player is not something to be nostalgic for, but rather an old technology to be discarded and forgotten as we face a brighter future.

Yet, there’s something undeniably cool about it – the new artwork is gorgeous, extending down to the records themselves (if you were lucky enough to snag the colored version), and I kinda like that I can file these things next to, say, my Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs LP collection. It’s funny to me that one day my kids will have to sort through this junk. Who knows, they might actually put the record on and be left with way more questions than answers. Dad, did you actually *like* this stuff? Wasn’t your generation all about Lou Bega and Chumbawamba?

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It helps that one of them is a re-imagined version of Shader, which is considered one of her very best, especially by yours truly. Rumor has it she composed this album while in the midst of some major life changes (including a move to Portland), and was flirting with the idea of making this album her last. It’s certainly structured that way, with several pieces that reference her past work, and a larger scope than any Vektroid album thus far. Some of it is ambient, some of it is catchy, and some of it borders on harsh noise, but it’s all part of this same eerie dreamworld; it lives in this half-awake, half-asleep zone where the same few thoughts keeps looping through your head in different permutations.  It is one of the few Vektroid albums that demands to be taken seriously.

I guess it goes without saying that this album makes me very uncomfortable, which I think is what it was designed to do. There’s something very elusive about the music here; all the pitch bending and quick cuts seem designed to unnerve the listener, with samples of old Japanese advertisements clanking around as though they’re being thrown down the stairs (“LDVHD Terminus” in particular is a real trip) or stretched out into oblivion (“Hushedcasket”, which has a real “voice of God” thing going on). There is some more tuneful stuff in the middle, but even that has a real melancholy sense to it. “Transmigration” is a morose, choppy 8-bit symphony, while “Cosmorama” has this arpeggiated Juno-sounding synth running through it, like something off Oneohtrix Point Never’s Rifts. Even “ドリーミー” has this surreal atmosphere about it; it’s music for a tropical resort that no one ever goes to. It’s a great melody but you can only give her half credit, since she already used it for “Sushi Plaza” on Color Ocean Road. Speaking of, “Microsleep 2012” actually sounds like an outtake from that album, with that “stuck on the loading screen of a forgotten PC game” vibe that Vektroid specializes in.

Don’t worry, the album quickly returns back to hell – “Spirited Child” is a completely dismantled take on the infamous second track off Floral Shoppe, so deconstructed that I almost didn’t recognize it the first time around. It sounds like the Diana Ross sample is being thrown into a black hole while dissonant high-pitched synth noises play in the background; it’s like something off The Orb’s Pomme Fritz, but even weirder than that. At 14 minutes it’s a bit of an endurance test (particularly since this version boosts the volume levels), but I give it props anyway – there’s really nothing else that sounds like this. Which has always been Vek’s calling card; though she’s clearly been influenced by the likes of Daniel Lopatin and James Ferraro, there’s a certain component to her music that sounds totally unique, something that only could’ve been made by something who’s spent most of their life on the strangest corners of the internet.

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The other reissue is an album called Sleepline, which was produced in 2013 but remained unreleased until 2016. Now this is one that really benefits from a reissue campaign, since it’s the sort of release that’s really easy to overlook; 80 minutes of Japanese advertisements, played somewhat straight but obviously edited in a number of ways. Like most things vaporwave it has a very 80’s sound to it, both in the cassette-like fidelity and the cheap percussive sounds. It is one of those albums where you make it 15 minutes in and think, “okay, I guess I get the point”, wondering if the joke’s on you for sticking with it so long. It is also one of those albums that you can easily get lost in; I would not exactly call this ambient music but it’s got a similar vibe to it, as it works really well as background music where you don’t really know what track you’re on or how long you’ve been listening. Mainly this is because the “compositions” switch up very quickly, as though the listener is channel surfing, with most tracks featuring 6-7 distinct and totally unrelated ideas.

As such, it’s a difficult album to get a grasp on; most of it’s in Japanese of course, so you can’t really understand what they’re saying, but you can certainly picture the bright sets, the smiling actresses, the jagged cartoon graphics, and the grainy film. Sometimes bits of English slip in, as they tend to do in a lot of Japanese media, but its usually in nonsensical phrases like “I love that sparkling” and “Warm as the sun”, stuff that’s funny and maybe a little profound, even if you know what they were probably trying to say. So there’s a tinge of recognition there (particularly since bits that appear on other Vektroid records pop up, if you’re paying attention), but everything about it is a little off. A lot of the music has a bright, summertime vibe to it, not dissimilar to the synth-laden Japanese City Pop that’s currently having its moment, but Vek’s hands-on production keeps the listener perpetually off guard; bits are reversed, suddenly pitch-shifted, then cut off entirely. Occasionally she plunges into a Shader-esque nightmare hellscape, but those moments are fleeting (“Surrounded”).

I don’t know what sort of statement Vek was trying to make here; if there’s some sort of “advertisements as ambience” social commentary to it or if it’s just an attempt at inventing a new genre. Obviously there are sinister overtones to the fact that almost everything you hear on this album was designed to sell you something, but there’s also a little comfort in it. My generation does not remember a time when we weren’t being advertised to all the time, but we do remember a time when ads were *just* obnoxious; they showed you bright colors and smiling faces and oftentimes had a dumb little jingle that you might remember later, but that was about it. They tried to manipulate you, but in a very overt and transparent way. They weren’t intensely focus grouped the way they are now. You didn’t have “personalized advertising experiences” or 2-minute mini-movies where you couldn’t possibly guess what they were trying to sell until the very end. You didn’t have ads with more drama and higher production values than the show you were actually watching, designed specifically to connect with you as a human and cause you anxiety. And you certainly didn’t have a Pepsi logo that aligned with the damn lunar cycle.

Most of all, there’s the knowledge that most of the products here are now hilariously obsolete, and as such all fall into the category of “things you sorta remember”, stuff that only really brought up to be made fun of today. Nobody will tell you that they love a current advertisement, but they’re more than happy to talk about the old ones they were fond of, because the danger of *doing their bidding* has faded away. Maybe you won’t recognize any of these commercials specifically, but you can easily imagine the sort of products they were peddling; it’s nostalgia for something you never actually experienced, presented in a format that it never could have appeared in naturally. Which is pretty much the modus operandi of Vektroid’s entire catalogue.  She’s a special breed of musician and I think these are two of her most evocative releases; hopefully the fact that you can actually get final, physical copies encourage a few others to actually sit down with them for a while.

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