Mike Tenay
Jacuzzi (Diamond Editon)






Miami-based Mike Tenay is no man who thinks twice about proclamations or the use of right words, for he already thinks thrice about the amelioration of your old friend or foe Vaporwave, a no-genre genre that blends Pop vestiges, videogame memorabilia and shopping mall melodramas into a usually slowed-down, mellowly gyrating moiré of mist. The moniker meanwhile is an artistic bow before the eponymous wrestling announcer as depicted on the front artwork. The music-related Mr. Tenay doesn't rely on the old Vaporwave formula but knows how to tweak it and make the result both truly Ambient-based and in-your-face-like. Jacuzzi is the work I am about to review here, originally a ten-track incarnation self-released on Bandcamp in February 2014.


However, the self-proclaimed King of Vaporwave has re-issued the bling with the help of the Dream Catalogue label (est. 2814, don't ask!) and added six equally gorgeous and multifaceted supplements. Released in May 2014 and available to stream and fetch at Bandcamp, Jacuzzi is a wondrously ephemeral Chillwave/Dream Pop capsule with polished synth patterns, Disco vocals, an aureate ambience and lots of surprises. One of these surprises would be the runtime of an average track: Vaporwave is more about vignettes and short moments than fully fleshed-out symphonies, but Tenay’s tracks cross the four-minute mark more often than not, and since this is the case, he shies away from all too aggressive loops and repetitive cycles. All the better, I say, for this is but one important alteration that takes Vaporwave to another level. Whether this is a better level per se is up for debate, but I am certainly hooked, and the Diamond Edition of Jacuzzi is definitely both Vaporwave-like enough to be considered by the Dream Catalogue label and Ambient-oid enough to be considered here at AmbientExotica. I jump into the Jacuzzi and tell you what I’ve experienced. Safe for work, of course.


Into the hot tub of love the listener jumps on the opener Jacuzzi Love, and one cannot be sure whether this scenery shows gratitude towards tacky B-movies or relatedly whacky memorabilia, but one thing is for sure: the song starts in medias res, with its reverberated synth patterns, stereo-panned Space-Age helixes, dirty saxes, Disco coquettes and a magnitude of cheesy brass eruptions already in place, pitched down of course for good measure. The arpeggiated aureoles of the blotchy synths evoke – and outshine – a sleazy porn atmosphere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Tenay laughs loudest by having distilled this dizzy mélange from such a, well, source.


Rollerbabe, meanwhile, revs up both the tempo and Candela and thus runs on all cylinders right from the get-go. Be it the scintillating laser pulses, hypereuphonious epithelia made of sparkling synth coasters or the staggering bassline, Rollerbabe neglects its Ambient nucleus in favor of plastic theophanies. Miami Beach then showcases the supposed heritage of Mr. Tenay and enchants with whitewashed mirages supercharged with spermatocystic soul sermons, chromatic synth pads and aqueous Funk guitar licks, with the follow-up Slow And Easy being a stupefying superfluid of harmonica-oid wah-wah-fied vocoder vocals, crystalline electric pianos and a reticulation of softened hi-hats. The mood is soothing and slick, almost oneiric, especially so in contrast to Top Squeeze with its neon-colored theme of a prowler walking through a concrete jungle. The luminosity of the synths is diaphanous, merging with the glowing pads, patterns and patchworks. Clever phasing ameliorates the presumably slowed-down apparatus further. Catchy snatchy.


Pink Flamingo is less fragile than the physiognomy of the bird, but showcases a certain darkness that occurs due to the comblike breakbeat structure whose argentine keyboard guitar riffs illumine the earth-shaking low frequency reticulation, all the while Swimming With Dolphins continues the animal subtheme with aerose cowbells, liquedous mating calls of the gregarious creatures and an overall vitreous aura that is gorgeously fluorescent and nocturnal. Both animal songs let the echoey afterglow of the synths bloom all the better due to the pitch-black nothingness in the distance.


Flow Money kisses this balmy circumambience goodbye as Mike Tenay presents a vignette of heterodyned bimbo vox, shattering earthquakes and music box vertebrae before worshipping the upcoming Bubble Butt as follows: it has the highest BPM rate of the album, the most saccharified sax convulsions as well as egregiously callisthenic vocal ranges of efflorescent Bronx queens. What an acataleptic void! It is not coincidentally the harbinger of the thing to come, the final piece of the original version of the Jacuzzi LP: So Many Girls is the (interim) apotheosis, majestically smarmy qua its pristine seesaw synth scythes, veneered faux-calls of equally fake birds of paradise, moaning pimps and fir-green snare drums. The cheekiest of all omissions is the fact that Tenay (willfully?) fails to include discernible girls in this closer… of all things!


A roll call reveals that there are six additional tracks flanged to the opus jacuzzicum that didn’t make it to the original album, but are now proudly presented. These are no mere afterthoughts, nor are these erudite appendixes, but carefully crafted venomous Vaporwave vipers visibly vesiculating. Let’s Dance kicks off the bonus stage with chintzy vocoder spurs by an MC, reversely played snare sizzles and icy Hammond organ sinews, with Lick U featuring a rhythm scheme slow as molasses, inducing a dreamy mall scenery complete with mucoid synthesizer helixes, raspy cylon vocals and that lactic Miami atmosphere.


Babe From Beijing is the standout track of the sextet, if only for its galactic superimposition of high-plasticity synth tunnels, blazing glass glints, pentatonic keys and pitched Pop prose. What could the original song possibly be? I’m not telling, but rather venture on to the last triptych: In The Mix is a murky two-step arcanum with less powerful synths and a greater focus on a drum-infested percussion-depicting interdependence. The textural wealth is exchanged for a surprisingly focused effort, making this the black sheep of the album. Destiny, however, enthralls with its japanoid femme fatale announcements, jungular brass fanfares and an impressive wideness beat-wise, whereas the true finale We Are Alone is a largely unprocessed languorous lizard. A downbeat symphony for the R’n’B lover complete with sugary-tramontane latino guitar riffs, confectioner Mike Tenay rather lets it fade out before the sweetness becomes too unbearable.


The Diamond Edition of Jacuzzi is perfectly titled, for it emanates that glow, the luminosity and incandescence of the material that is shredded, processed and fiddled with in this seething cauldron of Pop artifacts, Fusion particles and Funk synergies. Vaporwave was a fad to begin with, and in tandem with the great variety of themes, locales and styles, this can be seen as its greatest achievement. When all is set and done, Jacuzzi downright bewitches the listener with the carefully chosen material. I have recognized a few instances that derive from that place called “somewhere else,” but we don’t need la-la-land lawyers to spoil the fun, so I better be quiet about them.


There is one very specific thing that makes Mike Tenay’s erudite echopraxia and helicoidal homages so particularly sophisticated in my opinion: the post-processing of the material. Sure, the same old Vaporwave rule is embroidered in this album as well, namely that of slowed-down, prolonged and elasticized originals. But there is more: the oomph of the beats and the bedazzling colors of the hi-hats become all the greater when filters and frequency benders are applied. This leads to material that is only based on other people’s works, with the consecutive steps, amendments and additions ensuring that it feels fresh and hazy at the same time. Mike Tenay’s Jacuzzi is a bubbling dream world, the postscriptum six-track entanglement does the original justice and exudes a frilly aurora. Highly recommended even to Vaporwave doubters who otherwise want to see the genre’s limits and chains burn up in flames.


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 342: Mike Tenay – Jacuzzi (Diamond Edition) (2014). Originally published on May 14, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.