Cyberpunk Music Dossier – January 2018

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Mujiko naka~tsu – NO ACCIDENT (2012)

A soft start for this month’s dossier. Midwest Collective was at the forefront of vaporwave back before it really coalesced and dropped this gem in 2012. I’ve brought it up partly because it’s a very laid back album and, being so old, it may have either slipped your notice or simply be from so long ago that you had no idea it existed. Guarantees as to the authenticity of the artist’s provenance cannot be provided, but Gnostic Reunion has enough hints that it might just be Japanese enough for you to pretend.

As with all vaporwave, NO ACCIDENT is a plundering of the sounds of the past, cutting them into interesting shapes, and recomposing them for art’s sake, not necessarily a listener’s enjoyment. Pizz▲ W▲r was great, ハッピーHAPPY was up there in the tunes I got the most out of too (in a self-indulgent sort of way with those trip drums and sultry vocals), and if list all of the tracks I enjoyed I’ll cover half the album with my own low-quality ramblings. Give Pizz▲ W▲r a go. If that does it for you, go back and start at the beginning – both of the album, and of vaporwave’s strange rise.

Neon Masters – Judgement Day Mixtape

Mixtapes? Since when do I do mixtapes aside from that brief period in the summer, when fans of Neon Dystopia ask us to put together a Spotify playlist (which Isaac and I need to figure out), or on a roughly bi-monthly basis? You have Isaac to thank for this one actually. It’s all sourced on the Soundcloud page, with a good blend of heavy hitters like Scandroid and Tommy 86 mixed in with lesser-known (but spookily prescient) artists such as Woob, Megahit, and Quixotic. Come to think of it, it’s been years since I heard anything new from Quixotic… Clear an hour or so out of your schedule – slightly less if you skip the Johnny Mnemonic sample at the start – and press play on the Judgement Day Mixtape.

Low.poly.exception – OniTECH


Long-term readers of the Cyberpunk Music Dossier will have their own opinions on low.poly.exception and in the unlikely.but.still.possible case that they don’t they will know that I tend to write positive reviews on low.poly.exception. OniTECH is a more difficult proposition for me than earlier efforts. I’ll sum up my criticism in one sentence, then get on with the things that I liked. Ready? There’s too much going on; too many instruments running too many sonic threads. There. Painless.

Etude is a fab standout from the wealth of sound that precedes it. A piano-focused piece with an occasional glitch that progressively worsens. Is it an interrupt on RING 3 or a corruption in the ALSA buffer? Is it just your internet connection that’s the issue here or is it your obsolete recall implant glitching out? There are other tracks that helped to build the vibe for me: Gashadokuro and EMPTY FUTURE tickled the synapses that low.poly.exception frequently finds in my meat brain. I want more of this, but I want less of it at the same time, and I still feel that this is worthwhile, even if it isn’t my favourite release from the leaking buffer of low.poly.exception.

Taylor Drift – Because I’m Speeding


If there’s a thesis behind Taylor Drift’s album Because I’m Speeding then I can’t find it for looking. There’s the kind of austerity that only a Russian winter can produce, which given the Muscovite origin of this album ought to be unsurprising to me, bundled up with the occasional reinterpretations of eastern sounds. Taylor Drift’s curio came my way via another of Veritas’ cryptic emails, the kind that looks like they were lifted from someone else’s inbox, drawn from a niche of Bandcamp I don’t regularly visit. Who knew that Russians were into vaporwave?

What we’re looking at is vaporwave without the Western kitsch, and a deep breath of Eternal Vampire should cement that for you; a gasp of cold air and a handful of guitar notes recycled and re-pitched. You’ve got to be into vaporwave to want to engage with this, and that isn’t written with the intent of criticism but to thrown down your dollars you ought to know what you’re getting into.

Roxi Drive – Girl on the TV


Boring trivia to start: the opening track, Run All Night, was originally mentioned back in July’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier as a single release. The version of Run All Night that opens the EP is a different mix of that song. Check the differences in the snare and vocal levels, check out what sounds to my uneducated ear like a key change; if I wasn’t informed otherwise I’d say that the goal here is to produce an EP with a dreamier sound to it. Artistically, the EP nails the 80s revival aesthetic. Font, palette, photo, layout: it’s too modern to be authentic, but as with most modern reinterpretations these EPs and albums are about celebrating rather than reproducing.

Girl on the TV is the standout for me, and not by dint of the saxophone solo that leads out. The whole album has a dreamy edge to its production that reaches its high point with Girl on the TV, stretching out Roxi’s vocals along with a tale of passing from artificial into real while covering the whole thing in coloured cellophane and artificial smoke. It’s not the most erudite review I’ve ever given and that can be blamed on my lack of coffee and low-grade hangover, and while I don’t think this would be a smart choice for a full album, the EP is just the right length to carry this conceit. I’d hoped that a longer release from Roxi Drive would be a good listen, and with Girl on the TV, it sounds like I wasn’t hoping in vain.

Sierra – Strange Valley


The title might be deliberately misleading: Strange Valley is familiar territory for me. It’s synthwave with a knife-edge sharpness to it and I am well accustomed to this sound. Strange Valley is the debut EP of Parisian artist Sierra and the final release of 2017 on Lazerdiscs Records. Six tracks over twenty minutes, on a soundtracks-inspired-by-John-Carpenter trip. While I don’t hold to ideas like ‘Save the best for last’ Lazerdiscs could well apply that aphorism to this album.

If you want synthwave at this time of year, where days are short and nights are long for those of us in the northern hemisphere, then Strange Valley will make your glands leak adrenaline as you take a walk in the cold and the dark. Two-Headed Birds is my pick for you, although the margins between songs are so slim that you could take any track and get a representative sample of what the EP is about. Great production, great execution, great focus. But is it cyberpunk? Let me pop my mirrorshades on and get back to you later.

M4 – HYPNO GIRL


According to my first-pass, back-of-a-bar-napkin, crib notes I have this selection summarised as “Ukranian 80s New Wave meets vaporwave”. There’a Ram Jam sample in the very first track of this release from M4. There’s sampling all over the album, all of it drawn from New Wave, summoned from the past and slotted into place like a synth chord or drum track. It doesn’t always work – SILICONE PREDATOR is too bombastic to be music optimized for an abandoned mall, but ENJOY YOUR LIBERTY already has the right kind of reverb for you to stand alone, hand on hip, smoking a Chesterfield in an abandoned shopping center.

I was going to mention ENJOY YOUR LIBERTY a second time as my offering to you from this release to entice you to put the whole album on, but on reflection, IZANAMI gives a better feel. I’ll pad out my word count for this dossier by describing it as a e s t h e t i c and say that it risks running long or repeating itself towards boredom but manages to avoid crossing that line enough times that I have to give it a wry smile because you just don’t get lucky that often without being deliberate about it. It’s not t e l e p a t h, but it is vaporwave.

Eumatheus – Sempre Observando


Now for something from somewhere a little warmer. I had a listen, earlier in the year, to another of Eumatheus’ albums and found myself in an increasingly familiar place of unfamiliarity: trying to understand music that I couldn’t understand. Never let it be said however that I am afraid to try new things and in a slightly contradictory stance to this clause, I am listening to Eumatheus again on your behalf.

Sempre Observando, both the album and the title track, are an escalation on Eumatheus’ previous release. Saying that it’s better is a weak judgment. The album art is an escalation, from a photoshopped image of a man onto a CGI background to an artful shot of a man and a woman discussing art with a professional font atop. The songs are an escalation too, Sempre Observando is artificial but intentional. It’s not like, say, vaporwave where trite sounds are repurposed into intentional ones. It’s music created in the tradition of concrete art with a genus outside of my context. Give it a go, even passively, and see if you find yourself drawn back into the soundscapes of the man from Jacobina Brazil.

Xetrovoid – Subhumans


“Every sleeve has a history. If that kind of thing bothers you, you line up at Syntheta’s or Fabrikon. I’d worn my fair share of synthetic sleeves… Cheap, …and they never get the flavor circuits right. Everything you eat ends up tasting like curried sawdust.” – Richard K. Morgan. Altered Carbon. Xetrovoid’s Subhumans, released on the 8th of December, is here with 25 minutes of hot synth action for those of you who like their synthwave from the independent fringes.

Xetrovoid has been covered a few times now on Neon Dystopia. I want to assure you that we receive no commission for covering his work. I mostly post it because enjoyment aside, I think Xetrovoid mostly works alone; in a genre with a lot of collaboration and crossovers, it’s interesting for me to listen to the progression of someone working outside of the mainstream of this niche. There’s a definite evocation of electro/cybergoth in this one, a seven-track tale of artificial humans on the brink of extinction at the hands of their erstwhile antecedents, with tracks like Subhumans and Slaughterbots pulling in those elements. Elsewhere, video game soundtracks can be heard influencing the music while overall Xetrovoid continues to improve the quality of their output.

Alonewolf – Waiting


Alonewolf last popped up in the Cyberpunk Music Dossier last December. To make a joke about waiting would be too easy, but since that’s the name of his most recent release I suppose I ought to ask if Waiting was worth waiting for. It’s a slow, meditative kind of synth that’s being served up to you here. Is it cyberpunk? Aesthetically I think it is. It’s a soft sound to listen to, replete with intercepted radio traffic. I don’t mind waiting, and I could stand to listen to Waiting while engaged in any number of other tasks, but if I’m going to wait, I wouldn’t mind if there was more that one song released at the end of it all. Still, quality takes time right?

Cobra Priorat – Medieval Digital


I’m labeling this one as ‘found sounds’. I’ve played Cobra Priorat’s Medieval Digital four times through now and I’m no closer to a definitive answer as to what it is. If it’s really something, then it’s an abstract attempt to reprogram your emotional state to fear and confusion with distant visions of battlements atop a ruined castle. Honestly. This is art masquerading as music, and I don’t know how to interpret it.

Grendel – Age of the Disposable Body


I do read comments on the internet to do with the Cyberpunk Music Dossier, even the occasional mean-spirited one. I particularly enjoy the ones that introduce me to new music which I would be otherwise unfamiliar with. Such is the case with Age of the Disposable Body, a politically-charged release from Grendel, released on Germany’s Infacted Recordings. As a one-line description Age of the Disposable Body is an educated respin of late 90s electro-goth. There’s a lot to listen to with 24 tracks included for your hard-earned dollar, but be aware that the front ten are original compositions with the back fourteen being remixes.

So Zero Hour, then. The final original track on the album and the one that left the longest lasting impression on me; seething as it did with fear and synth. If you take comfort in sound, and that sound happens to be late-90s electro-goth then you’re probably already aware of Grendel, but if you’re diving deep into this musical pool you may feel the touch of Grendel on you in the cold and in the dark.

Fixions – ヘッドハンター


I think I’ve gone and pulled in three artists who previously shared the same Cyberpunk Music Dossier some… six months ago? Have mercy on me; Veritas gets an increasing number of emails about releases and I suspect that the quantity has only increased since we started the dossier. Anyhow, closing the dossier this month is Fixions, a synthwave artist from France with that unexplainable French talent for synth. Head Hunter – at least, according to my translation software that’s the album’s title – bears no relationship to Fixion’s last release, except that it’s good. Head Hunter is unafraid of invention where a traditional synthwave trope or sound wouldn’t be the right fit. Take Infosphere as an example; between the 2m and 2m6s mark there’s a steadily building background hiss that you’d expect to segue into a break of some sort, but Fixions isn’t delivering the goods on command. You’ll hear it again around the 3m to 3m8s mark, and it’s not until now that you’re graced with the musical climax you’ve been trained to expect.

Ionic Energy Leeches is my choice for you. Partly to pad out my word count, and partly because as you go into this one expecting more of less the same darksynth formula that seemed to be the dominant flavour in the synthwave scene last winter you get to hear how Fixions does it instead. The whole album’s good, so don’t take this recommendation too dear to your heart, but if you do enjoy it you’re sure to find something you like even more on Head Hunters.

[BILL’S NOTE TO YOU]: This one’s been sitting on my computer since the middle of December. I’ve just been super busy! Hopefully, this banquet of sounds is enough to convince you that when you shout into the internet, someone, somewhere, is listening. Still no Spotify playlist for you though. Partly because I don’t have a Spotify account, and partly because I try to push readers in the direction that best supports the artists being reviewed which ought to help explain my fixation with Bandcamp links.

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