Exceptionalism? What a joke. I get it though, I really do. You’re just a kid and up until now you’ve had a parent or two who’s been telling you that you’re clever and talented and if you work hard enough you can have it all. They’ve been telling you this while hiding anything that requires real talent, real intelligence, or real hard work from you. I’ll tell you what your future is in two words: minimum wage. If you don’t like the sound of that I can’t say I blame you. Take this, think it over, and maybe when you’re done you like the sound of something else. No promises though…
low.poly.exception – I N T H E A B S E N C E O F L I G H T
Booting up this month’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier is low.poly.exception with more of what I’d previously described as “nihilist electronic drone”. The sound on offer in this new EP is still carrying the nihilism; deliberate repetition, skipping out a drumbeat here or there before returning to the same pattern and still offering no sense of relief unless a short fade out is sufficient for you. That having been said there’s less of the Japanese influence I was so amused by on this release. If I was to attempt to pigeonhole low.poly.exception again I’d call it austere vapourwave.
Don’t call this an overreaction to my overreach in the last dossier where I went all-in on retrowave. low.poly.exception is exactly the kind of gem I’m excited to listen to. Take O V E R G R O W T H as a sample example; there’s a dance vibe that you can’t dance to, but you can contemplate your mortal failures too, there’s a dull drone at the edge of your hearing that makes the slightest tonal shifts while you’re distracted by something else, and then, at the end, there’s nothing. No celebratory conclusion. No climactic movements. Just emptiness.
Viktor Liseddi – Grapevine Tales
I don’t always pick things out for you that I understand, or that I necessarily enjoy, but my algorithms are self-aware enough to appreciate that my understanding and/or enjoyment does not equal your understanding and/or enjoyment. Viktor Liseddi’s Grapevine Tales is auditory performance as art spread across 35 minutes of increasing discomfort. Is it cyberpunk? It’s electronic, it’s creator-owned, it’s remixing elements of reality into fever dreams of artificial intelligence, and like too much art I get only the vaguest hints of what it’s trying to tell me.
Since we’re outside the frame of entertainment and into art I’ll say that my favourite moments in Grapevine Tales come between 19 minutes and 21 minutes where a conversation between instruments closes off and moves to introspection. I don’t get what Viktor Liseddi wants to tell me across the length of Grapevine Tales but I did come away with a sense of voyeurism at the end of the experiment. If you’re looking for something out-of-the-ordinary then this is one release that holds up Pinkbox Teleport’s reputation for weirdness.
ksmtk – CHRONEMICS
Berlin-based ksmtk make their way into this month’s dossier, not by dint of being my physician-mandated dose of synthwave to keep me from relapsing into full-blown addiction, but because it’s just good. Enjoy the bystander effect of seeing scenes of riots cut with promotional footage for Berlin’s transport system as ksmtk’s CHRONEMICS lulls you into a soporific state and scenes of burning vehicles mesh with animated peril.
Wolf and Raven – Ace of Space
I’ve tried to contextualize Ace of Space a few times with a little eloquence and come up short. It’s inspired by video games, 80s cartoons, and hair metal. It doesn’t push any boundaries but doesn’t fail to do so; it’s content in its niche. It’s supremely sharp too; Wolf and Raven have a great sounding album but it’s strictly for people who remember the 80s well enough to have felt short-changed by it; I’m right in the center of their target demographic.
The quality is consistent from start to finish, still capable of pleasing the ear even after 45 minutes of synthesizers and twin guitar harmonies by the time All Systems Go comes around to remind you of action sequences and anime soundtracks from your past. Judging a book by its cover is always a risky move but when it comes to Ace of Space you’re going to have a pretty good idea on how you feel about it a few moments after looking at the artwork.
Let’s Fight – Cartridge Music
Now back to your scheduled selection of out-of-the-ordinary auditory oddities. Cartridge Music is closer to cyberpunk art than cyberpunk entertainment with its collection of sampled and reassembled introspections into the 8-bit sound. We’re back over the line between art and entertainment here. Let’s Fight take what should be a chirpy, poppy 8-bit sound and pass it through endless CPU cycles until it comes out almost unrecognizable. A synthesized sip from the same source of SUNN O))) with occasional theatrical flourishes.
Pixelated Gender is the shortest, most accessible track on Cartridge Music and a precursor of how the album itself plays out. That doesn’t make it any easier to categorize though; calling it a musical ride on a ferris wheel that won’t stop to let you off feels like cheating. It begins almost innocently, but each revolution increases the distortion as harsher and harsher reinterpretations are taken and deliberate attempts to corrupt the source material occur like bits stored in bad memory.
DJ Apolo Trevent – New Century Black Magic
I was expecting, with a nom de net beginning DJ, something upbeat and percussion-rich, something with harsh electronic noise and tight-woven musical spirals intensifying over time. New Century Black Magic was quite unlike what I’d expected. Rather than the kind of music that unites people in public places, New Century Black Magic is the sound of loneliness.
Is it cyberpunk? I dread to think how often I frame these reviews with this question, but it does pass the broadest tests (creator-owned, tele-cooperation, computer-driven) before sidestepping the specific tropes. If you’d like to know if New Century Black Magic is right for you then consider the song titles. You’re in for slow-burning vaporwave – a dollar bill set alight by a dying candle in an unfurnished room. Compared to earlier works like Kaneda Hills FM, I’d call this a more subdued release. Vaporwave is a genre that’s a struggle to define, inherent in the name given to it, but Limb After Limb, My Body Is Disintegrating But I Am Not Feeling Any Pain at least tries to describe what you’re in for.
Scattle – Backup EP
The Backup EP came out on Bandcamp in the middle of August as a thank-you note from artist to fans. It’s as free as anything ever is on an internet where you can get your 0’s and 1’s in any order you like, so long as you know how to search for them, but it’s the context that makes this freebie notable. It’s a gift. What you’re in for are basically drumlines and musical versions of pages out of an artist’s sketchbook; more thoughts and experiments than fully realized pieces. If you’re into the hip-hop inspired blend that Scattle usually does so well then the Backup EP is going to appeal to you.
While it wasn’t really for me, I wasn’t the target audience anyway for at least the second time in this dossier. I do appreciate that this is perfect for fans of Scattle and a good example of an artist maintaining a relationship with their fans. If it’s cyberpunk or not is a tough sell. It’s a related sound, certainly, considering Scattle’s contributions to the Hotline Miami soundtracks, and there’s a crossover between cyberpunk and gaming since practically day 0.
White Gavri’el – Vista of Chaos
Business Casual has been on my radar for some time. Partly because of their regularity in releasing new music, partly because they put out interesting music that catches my ear from time to time in the way that Vista of Chaos by White Gavri’el has done. Plunderphonic, glitch-laden, vaporwave-inspired, machine-driven. The first track on Vista of Chaos, Aerodynamic Dissemination, grabbed hold of me like a shirt sleeve caught in a machine lathe. By the time Alvorecer had played out I was exhausted.
Day of Retribution is my selection for you. A pulsing, tinkling-on-the-ivories, distant voices, horror movie haunting of a tune complete with church organ and percussion like heavy boots on floorboards. The album is honestly all good, albeit darker than I was expecting from a Business Casual release. It’s even on tape should you wish to hold a copy in your hands rather than on your hard drive.
Waveshaper – Velocity
Completing the Cyberpunk Music Dossier for the month is NewRetroWave stalwart Waveshaper’s new EP Velocity. Waveshaper’s a stalwart for a reason; consistent delivery. Velocity is no exception. There’s no new ground being broken here just an auditory bucket of fresh water being dumped into the retrowave pool so if you remember the 80s as a depressing time of artificial fabrics, unflattering haircuts, and 80-minute movies with rigidly defined formulas and identikit soundtracks then Velocity might not be for you. If on the other hand, you appreciate the marriage of vintage synthesizers to modern production techniques then you might be in for a treat.
16 Bit Computer delivers a refreshed take on the soundtracks of old computer games, close enough in sound to the content of the recent Project Paula compilation to make you wonder if you’d heard it before, two and half decades in the past. As I said, there’s no new ground being broken here which makes it hard for me to recommend, but if synthwave is undiscovered country for you then Velocity by Waveshaper would make for a great tour guide before emigrating to this digital land.
That’s your Cyberpunk Music Dossier for September. Did we miss something your were looking forward to seeing? Send us a message! Are you perturbed that Perturbator’s recent release wasn’t reviewed? Send us a message! Are you looking for a new life in the off-world colonies? Find it through a three-way handshake with a server of your choice out there on the internet.