Stay Awake






Debut albums are double-edged swords, and when they appear to be closely tied to or fully embedded in the equally double-edged genre called Vaporwave, chances are that you’re going to listen to a quadruple-edged circular saw. How fun! And I really mean it, for the Dream Catalogue label, the interweb’s superior address for all things Vaporwave, benthic dream music and artsy front artworks – just look above! – has gained access to the mind of a bedroom producer and curator from Warsaw, Indiana called HyperGanesh. His 16-track album digitalium is titled Stay Awake, available to check out and stream at Bandcamp as usual. At first a curious choice to be released on Dream Catalogue due to its title alone, HyperGanesh fathoms a glorified, transfigured state of living the dream in a bustling city surrounded by solacing neon lights and flickering temples of consumerism. This is by no means a standout concept, but the devil is in the details, or in this case, the music: naturally, the 16 tracks are taken from that curious place called somewhere else as I tend to say time and again, but their magic freely unfolds due to HyperGanesh’s intuitive craftsmanship of cutting the next-to-perfect loop out of the R’n’B and Synth Pop material and then letting it breathe and prosper. The dichotomy works: despite the loopy nature, Stay Awake does not enforce this idea; even when the listener is fully aware that he or she is listenting to a particular loop, it becomes a stupefiyng and utterly enchanting experience… which of course ends after approximately 100 seconds or so, it’s Vaporwave after all. Here is a closer look at a fluorescent full-length debut with lots of – gasp! – perfectly English titles (and synths manifactured in Japan).


Sleazy and slick, with metalic bass drums and vitreous chimes, the opener 保持清醒 is the Chinese transcription of the album title, worshipping the night in a more easygoing fashion by staying in one’s abode and watching the city instead of say, being part of the actual city life. As such, it is a great contemplative piece to start, showcasing the endemics of HyperGanesh’s album. The following Restless is a similar, way too short vignette which even mocks its own title by luring the listener with funk guitar blotches amid square hit pads of the 80’s and crystalline rain brethren of the same kind. The agglutinated flute is more of a fife than a panpipes remnant, adding an exotic shimmer to the photometry. Awake then is a similar illuminant, spawning rotatory dobs, down-pitched vocal cascades (or is it escapades?) and a seething haze, with Can’t leaving the muffled state right from the get-go by unchaining a high-chromaticity cannelure of scything synths of euphony and arpeggiated haze particles. This would be a potential standout track, were it not for the perfect integration into a cohesive stream of equally luminous sparklers.


Lolo, however, shows the first instance of proto-clichés in terms of Vaporwave: schlepping itself forward only unwillingly, the keys and chord progressions are hurt by the cauldron filled with molasses. On the plus side, the current prolonged state allows phantom frequencies and swooshing longitudinal airflows to feel like nutritious solar winds. Once the song becomes a blur yet again, the processed two-note guitar solo of Nap Time sounds suspiciously like a great 80’s hit, only unwillingly camouflaged qua its slowed down gestalt. There’s lots of – cough – politti things to say about it, for its repeated motif is ever-enchanting and works fantastically well in Vaporwave form, though Lift Me is already waiting, keen on delivering low frequency rivulets in juxtaposition to diaphanous hi-hat convulsions and ridiculously saccharified shoo-shoo vocals. That’s Vaporwave’s major blind spot: the immersive synths of R’n’B duds suddenly start to shimmer as heavily as the chintziness of the vox increases.


Sanyo is another transcendental abode awash with light, showcasing the magic of a keyboard’s black keys in delivering moments of pondering and melancholy which are reversed into blissful states of togetherness in their presented sustained aura. Even the wordless male vocals are veiled in velvet, but it’s velvet made of lanthanoids and an alloy of nitrous oxide. The follow-up Why Do You sports an excitingly playful aura of nastiness as depicted by the sanguine MIDI granuloma; sparse Funk guitars tumble around pads that are as punchy as they are wonky. In addition, the tempo is actually quite high, resulting in a vestibule to NRG vibes instead of advertising sleeping pill doldrums. Candles cranks the lively atmosphere up in a major way by unwinding gigabright two-note synth flares, staccatofied scintillae and coruscating cymbals. Heck, there is even a progression found in this piece, with its second half making room for a slightly pentatonic guitar convulsion. A rad piece awash with colors!


While Slow embodies one of the very few instances of a perfectly understandable spoken word sample which then makes room for rising sirens encapsulated in Synth Pop hues, I Want is the experimental black sheep of the album, but its blackness glows in the dark! Its heavily breakbeat-accentuated rhythm, the many scattered sermons ("we have a good time"), its synthetic marimba blips and the comparatively high tempo lead to a moonlit tunnel vision and the appearance of Wade, a magnanimously blurred corker of the Ambient/Drone kind full of rubicund sinews and pure warmth. Neglecting all the argentine percussion placentas of the world, it is a delightful beatless addendum to the album’s intrinsics. Sweet Dreams meanwhile is totally different as well, both resembling a hybrid omnium gatherum of a theremin-laden Space-Age orchestra and a clang-heavy chiptune chimescape, with Right Next To Me featuring a fusillade of apocryphal Hip-Hop cowbells, a shrapnel of cavernous beats and glistening synth tricklets. The big 16 rounds off the album with a titration of AM frequency bands supercharged with spectral lavabo singers, shuffling snares and keyboard aureoles.


Stay Awake as a title can be read out aloud in three possible ways: as an order, as a suggestion or a plea. All three interpretations are valid at certain points as the album progresses and gyres toward the more experimental material placed near the album’s end. What I like so much about HyperGanesh’s debut is the focus on instrumental material and the selection of appropriate hooks. Obviously, one cannot love – let alone hate – Vaporwave if the sheer omnipresence of elasticized vocals is entirely ruled out. Still, it is refreshing that the rainbow-oid synths are standing on their own feet, only guided by the silver percussion aortas. Stay Awake furthermore reveals the true talent of HyperGanesh, who may not show a prestidigitation regarding the use of aquatic filters or frilly flanger flummoxes, but what he willfully neglects in these fields, he more than delivers via his skills as a curator. Indeed, the short vignettes are never arbitrarily taken out of their original contexts but appear astonishingly cohesive and streamlined in the best sense of the word. The 16 tracks create a flow, as they’re all aglow, ho! But seriously: tunes – or rather loops – like Candles and Nap Time are absolutely stellar examples of the good sides of Vaporwave. And even though the portions HyperGanesh chooses are indeed loop-based, they do not entirely exist within their corset. In fact, there are progressions interwoven, and nothing shows this better than the quasi-experimental Sweet Dreams and its amount of stacked and simultaneously played countermovements. Vaporwave is a hectic, fast-paced and often arbitrary genre, but this release really has it all. Maybe we should stay awake… in our dreams.


Further listening and reading: 


Ambient Review 354: HyperGanesh – Stay Awake (2014). Originally published on Jun. 25, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.