RE@L1TY is an eight-track album by Melbourne, Australia-based twenty-something producer Lee Nania aka Hawaii94, originally self-released in December 2012 and available to purchase and fully stream at Bandcamp. This review has been planned for a long time, and I give away the primary reason for its late appearance at AmbientExotica right now: RE@L1TY is a masterpiece. I took my time. It’s an album that is here to stay with me for eternity. Its tropical rainforests and callisthenic co(r)pses are at least as vivid as Lone’s Rave-centric Galaxy Garden (2012), but are approached by Nania from a different angle, and it is not necessarily a good angle at first sight: Pop. Hawaii94’s Pop impressions, however, are very different, taking the eruptive hedonism of the 80’s and merging them with the sophisticated chord progressions of the 90’s. Despite these past decades, RE@L1TY is no retrogressive echopraxia guttersnipe, but a full-force galore to a blissful state right now. Seven out of eight tracks are loaded with hazy, echoey vocals whose oneiric blur is an exciting addendum to the neon shrapnel and the fusillade of spermatocystic cataracts flowing in the carefree world as delineated by Hawaii94. Surfing on the Dreamwave, taking bits from Vaporwave, bytes from Lo-Fi productions and cascades of Synth Pop, the majesty of RE@L1TY is more closely checked out in the following paragraphs.


The only instrumental of the album is put right to the forefront, gaining the oh so important slot as the opening track. Morning is thus a curious choice, for it is not a prototypical marker of the endemics of RE@L1TY, but what it lacks in hazy lyrics, it exudes multitudinous times via luminous synth sinews, blotchy 16-bit countermovements, crystalline sparks of pure freshness and field recordings of a nearby tempest. And here is the greatest part of this downbeat track: despite the omnipresent gaze of melancholy and nostalgia, the sheer amount of colors, their intensity and vibrance make Morning an uplifting albeit tumbling force to be reckoned with. Its soporific dreaminess, however, is shattered with the aggrandized photometry of Secrets, a summer-infested hazescape of seething whorls, iridescent synth streamlets and muffled percussion. Reverb and hall meet, mesh and melt into an agglutinating superfluid. But there’s much more: the reticulation of chords, their advanced shape and Nania’s husky lyrics of vitrectomy ("I can see the sunlight, looking through your eyes, I can see the nighttime, looking at a light") altogether amalgamate into a blissful guitar-accentuated vestibule to that famous Melbourne heatwave. Even a dubious line such as "Can’t keep a secret from you" is supercharged with rapture and excitement. A screamer that begs you to work out to (or with) it, to start your car and drive along the Vaporwave Highway.


The following Sunlight is closely attached to the predecessor Secrets via its title-related similitude, but in the latter, Hawaii94 allows his Glow-Fi gemstone interstices in order to entrap micro-pauses in them. This makes the drums all the feistier and the helicoidal synth arpeggio an adjuvant of cauterized luminescence. The lyrics meanwhile are so heavily reverberated and spectral that their transcendent physiognomy prevents a deeper understanding of the words. No harm done, for Sunlight also sports something magnificently enthralling, namely a crunchy ten-note guitar riff that is so euphonious, slick and insouciant that it is the sylvan-earthbound base to the flittering cosm(os)etics gyring around its substantial gestalt. Another alluvial belter follows in the shape of Altered State, the album’s centerpiece with a runtime of over four minutes. Granular Candela pads, acidic Roland bass blebs and vesiculating illuminants float through the midtempo ctenidium. Nania’s vox are a tad more enquiring ("Why were you so close to me?"), drilling down to the meaningful core of the album: »maybe I’m dreaming.« Even a delightful cross examination by Phoenix Wright feels more pillorying than Hawaii94’s saccharified horticulture.


Eclipse lives up to the hype carried by its three main concepts: summer, dreams and, well, reality. These words have become meaningless hulls, skeletons of the masses, but Lee Nania knows how to let the pericarps of the mind prosper and bloom. In short: Eclipse features the most stellar neon-colored fluorescence of the whole octet of pieces. The proclivity for colors is all over the album, but here during Eclipse the synths, arpeggiated splashes and lyrics are a theophany, their aureoles stupefyingly hued in syringa. The best line: »Wait until the summer comes around.« Read it aloud, and it sounds dull. Hear it in the song, and its permutation becomes the elevator to Shangri-La. Don’t Wake Me Up is curiously enough a return to the opener Morning, at least thematically speaking. Much more cyan-colored than rainbow-driven, it sees the lyrical I in a state of compunction: neither wanting to miss the horological senescence nor fond of leaving the balmily shimmering rain pad atmosphere of one’s bed, it is the classical catch–22 of nostalgic dreaminess. This state is overcome in the equally gorgeous 5:48 am, the album’s arpeggio hymn, with not a straight legato influx in sight. Instead, the whole layer field feels mucoid, awash with light, pointillistic to the max. 80’s hi-hats and drum kits nurture and augment the atmosphere. Now fully awake and optimistic, the formerly grayish-turquoise nostalgia makes room for the well-known and gigacatchy vivacity. The following closer is fittingly enough titled Closer To You. It presents a dustier scenery complete with electric guitar sprinkles and acerbic riffs whose lanthanoid structures are equally protective of good moods. And so ends a fantastic journey of 30+ minutes… and Ambient, Synth Pop and Dream Rock are happily united.


RE@L1TY is undoubtedly the most life-affirming, hyperoptimistic and beautiful Pop-related work I have ever heard. Whereas bonfire guitar rituals and remote love/hate relationship ballads are equally suitable to overcome life’s vicissitudes and the gruel hangover of last weekend, Lee Nania’s project Hawaii94 does only touch these things from a distance but otherwise runs on all cylinders: chromaticity, gamma, hue, all these things refer to the things one sees, but here they transmute into syn(es)thetic auroras! The album sometimes sounds plastic and apocryphal, and that is exactly what is so great about the cross-linkage of lyrics, synths, prolonged hooks and majestically flamboyant situations. In addition, RE@L1TY is the – back then – culmination point, the cusp and apex of a very self-assured bedroom producer, as it spawns, nourishes and interpolates an intrinsic style that is upheld throughout the runtime. While some colors do not shine as brightly or magnanimously, for instance on the melancholia-driven instrumental and opener Morning or its next of kin Don’t Wake Me Up, Hawaii94 nevertheless keeps the positive vibes floating, letting them overflow the galactic rhizomes of his aural coppice. RE@L1TY is not just an experience; it’s an elixir of joy, and even though I have listened to its vitreous-diaphanous epithelium hundreds of times, its colorful blasts do never feel tacky or gaudy, nor do they lose anything of their magic. Lee Nania manages to present an album that is willfully overproduced, with reverbs, echoes and whatnot facing exhilarative chord progressions and sumptuous overtones, but this production value does not translate to fatigue. Heck, even the morning-related songs are greatly transfiguring fatigue, not addressing this state directly. No can do: RE@L1TY by Hawaii94 is here to stay with me. It won’t be abandoned, for I love life.


Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase the digital version directly from Hawaii94 at Bandcamp.
  • Follow Hawaii94 on Twitter @yoler0y.


Ambient Review 355: Hawaii94 – RE@L1TY (2012). Originally published on Jul. 2, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.