VHS テープリワインダー
Virtual Insanity






15 tracks, 21 minutes and 30 seconds: that is the magic of numbers regarding VHS Tape Rewinder’s Vaporwave abhorrition Virtual Insanity, self-released in 2014 and available to fetch and stream at Bandcamp. The artist who stylizes his/her/their moniker as VHSテープリワインダー hails from Salem, but which Salem could it be? Is it the one in Massachusetts, Florida or – God help us all – Kentucky? Is this a one-man project? Those things do not matter in the glitzy genre called Vaporwave which is based on ephemeral VHS memorabilia, video game soundtracks, 8-bit bleeps, Synth Pop grandiloquence, beautiful sci-fi landscapes and shopping temples as high as Mount Everest. Vaporwave is an underground movement of bedroom producers, names are unimportant and anything but smoke and mirrors. Smoke is ostracized in the worlds of Vaporwave, but mirrors and hyper-polished surfaces are key to a metropolis of your choice. Artists such as DIYPYЯΛMID, Freddyolo, even Panabrite, Riot Meadows, Lone and Stellar OM Source are cyberspacious artists who gyrate close enough to Vaporwave’s scintillating core to be somewhat loosely connected to the genre, having preceded it and led the way. Although the genre is quite different.


Is it pointless to review Vaporwave artists? Obviously not, or else Virtual Insanity would not turn up here at AmbientExotica. But it is chosen by me to showcase the genre’s classic structures, if you wanna call it a distinct genre, that is. Basically, it comes down to this: Vaporwave harbors flashes of genius in formulaic corsets. Artists tend to slow down their source material, sometimes even aggressively so. This approach is diametrically opposite to 90’s Rave with its sped-up samples of Disco queens and coquettes, yet quite a bit similar to that genre’s flamboyant popsicle anthems. Virtual Insanity features the aforementioned fifteen tracks, all of them seemingly unharmed, unprocessed and unfiltered besides their sloooow appearance. The source material is exclusively funky, Pop-oriented and usually good-natured, with lots of love anthems and Synth Pop ditties thrown in. But is this kind of purposefully limited Vaporwave an artform? You be the judge, I be the reviewer (next week, we change our roles!). Expect shedloads of chintziness, furious flourishes and synth hook(er)s to appear in slowed down form here at Virtual Insanity. And yes, since the album is called just that, Jamiroquai’s classic surely must be interwoven as well, right?


The gateway to Virtual Insanity is called 21st Century Lip Chitosan, incidentally the longest but not necessarily best carved-out vision. The pastiche comprises fuzzy cymbals whose formerly piercing surfaces now seem toned down and ruddish in this downpitched incarnation of a trumpet-oid electric piano loop with a black priest extirpating his soul in one last prayer… which is of course repeated ad infinitum for almost four minutes, usurping 19% of the album's total runtime for his oozing charm. The following I Can Feel It turns a 6 o’clock wake-up-and-get-outta-bed anthem into an industrial behemoth that schleps itself forward in its metallic armor whose interstices let out an incisive euphony. Said euphony, in its current state, is more of a transmuted blur. Departing Postal Consolidation Facility is equally disturbing even in the given paradisiac imposition of insouciance, sporting squarish flute tones, crunchy acoustic guitar twangs and hubristically performed lines about departing while the album is still running on all cylinders.


Major Retail Plaza, meanwhile, focuses on another topic that appears more often than not in Vaporwave releases: consumerism. It is but a glimpse in the universe and the album itself, but the slowed down Hammond organ and tropical horn helixes promise those who have the money to spend another day in shangri-la succumbing to a shopping binge par exellence. Better Days absorbs these organ-oid structures and moulds them into a two-parter, with the first half offering a short marathon over sun-kissed meadows, with the second half introducing Japanese Funk guitars and carefree piano undercurrents. The next tune then reveals it all in an in-your-face moment. In lieu of the genre’s camouflage tactics, VHS Tape Rewinder is utterly honest on his eponymous title track. It features Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity alright, now shimmering in a fir-green opalescence, with the chlorotic Disco strings being threatened by asphyxia via heatwave. Those who survive meet at the Cocktail Lounge with its city-strolling brass aorta and Fourplay-evoking set of guitar-driven harmonies.


Don’t Run Away is another downwards spiraling slacker whose polyphonic vocals sound utterly ridiculous and mocking, making this an echopraxia that twists the knife in the wound of Pop. The veiled singer begs and pleads, but to no avail, he lacks the backbone to win women over, at least in his current state of existence. I Miss You interweaves the same golden thread into a genuinely catchy molasses mix of Everything But The Girl’s famous club stomper, letting its acoustic guitar placenta shine all the better. In addition, the atmosphere really is as oppressive as the desert. Whereas One Last Time provides a wondrously blue-tinged Ambient shelter full of simmering textures, silkened vocals and plinking guitar spikes, Pop Culture Isolation goes Gospel on your ears, unleashing handclap-infested chants with the earth-shattering medulla-emptying thumps of a classic drum kit before this state is resolved in a third intrinsic part of melting soul. And so the album continues this path, no matter what; Got 2 Be Love unchains a besotted euphoria via sun-dappled backing chords and towering lyrics of elation, Millennium spawns cavalcades of bliss, Hapa Haole strumming and lovestoned backing choirs that want to "change your life," the penultimate Accuweather twirls along like a Polynesian mirage with ardent doldrums and adjacent pointillistic polka dots, while Coastal Living™ is the divine apotheosis supercharged with Glendale fiddles and aphrodisiac cloudlets. Enter your new home, the whitewashed metropolis.


One thing is for sure: Vaporwave is here to stay, albeit in a fugacious way (and rhymes are always good). VHS Tape Rewinder’s self-released artifact is less polyhedric than streamlined, yet shows an interesting array of possibilities and sudden shifts. Formerly glorious Pop songs become ridiculed and disdained, but at the same time emanate a sparkling glint, an unexpected – and most definitely unintended by the original producers – beauty that occurs due to the adamant slow down endeavors of the curator. Beauty and horror come very close to each other: the incessant slowness extrapolates the perceived heat, the vocals sound stupid at best and horrible at worst, but new patterns and harmonies emerge which make this stint worthwhile, at least occasionally so. Everything suffers from an elasticized, prolonged state, and while this state is not mirrored by the track lengths which are short and crisp, it is cautiously implied by the repetitive nature of the loops. So it is a clever concept after all, for Vaporwave, as it turns out, brings up a painful subject in a playful kind of way: the pretentious adulation of Pop songs tailored to the masses.


Admittedly, VHS Tape Rewinder is more of a curator than a real artist, at least for now, but this interconnected topic shall be discussed another time. I cannot possibly explain the hypnotic nature of slowed-down Pop hymns, R’n’B toasts and rotatory synths, for one might as well listen to the – oftentimes cheesy – originals, but Vaporwave and its adjacent genres such as the virtual reality-oriented concept of New Age, Space Ambient and the likes are, by their very means, alloys of cosmic star dust, alternative scenarios and soul-cleansing forms of escapism. I am aware of the audacity; it is at the end of this review I am telling you the following: I cannot pinpoint the beguiling languor this genre imposes. What is painfully amiss in Virtual Insanity is another kind of curation, namely one that is driven by aesthetics. The (p)resented material may not be all too arbitrary or alatoric, but it would have been comparably easy to ameliorate it with additional synths or cleverly thought-out ingredients. Maybe I am wrong, but as far as I can tell, VHS Tape Rewinder leaves everything “as is,” with no admixed guitar, message or unique vestige in-between the coppices of the concrete jungle the producer creates with the help of innocent Pop stars and Funk heroes. Virtual Insanity thus turns out to be Vaporwave at its worst and best: hopelessly formulaic, ever-slower, stupefyingly chintzy and a rip-off of the greatest and not-so-greatest hits in the history of Pop and related genres. Is this Ambient? Somehow, yes, it is. However, if one is offended by the style’s nature – fair enough –, one should remember that its rhizomes and tendrils do reach into other styles such as New Age and Drone, both potentially loop-inspired as well, so it is valuable to keep the lur(k)ing Vaporwave in mind for the time being.


Further listening and reading:

  • You can fetch and stream Virtual Insanity at Bandcamp
  • Follow VHSテープリワインダー on Twitter: @VHSTapeRewinder.


Ambient Review 316: VHSテープリワインダー – Virtual Insanity (2014). Originally published on Feb. 12, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.