Music In The Air






Music In The Air, well, who would have thought to see a music-related work with a self-explanatory, partially poetic title like this… only to then find out that this is a Vaporwave dob! Said album houses 16 tracks, harbors brass instruments and synth reflections aplenty and is created – or rather curated – by 豊平区民TOYOHIRAKUMIN, named after Sapporo’s premise of the Olympics 1972 and one of ’em young gender-neutral bedroom producers sitting all around the globe creating wonderful alterations of Pop and Hip-Hop material of the 80’s and whatnot. Only that the case is different here. Released in June 2014 on the versatile Dream Catalogue label specializing in oneiric orgasms and Vaporwave vivacity since 2814 (no typo), the work is available to fetch and stream in its entirety at Bandcamp. I am not even sure whether Toyohirakumin lives in Sapporo or whether this is all a good-natured ploy, but rest assured that the album differs ever so slightly from other genre-related artifacts. There is a jazzier than usual vibe added to the album, with the brass instruments playing more labyrinthine melodies than the aficionado might expect. Likewise, many of the English titles refer to movies made by Alfred Hitchcock who was, as we all know, Vaporwave’s biggest advocate. So how does the jazzy physiognomy fare in the Vaporwave world, and what are the hidden meanings regarding the track titles? I try finding out below.


One thing is for sure: Toyohirakumin’s album does not start in the typical Vaporwave fashion. Sure, its opener Curtis is slowed down a notch or two and is loaded with dirty saxes that illumine the night with their pretentiously sleazy afterglow, but what is so great about this piece is the Jazz cellar atmosphere. Most of the ingredients are so-called real-world instruments (you know where that place is situated?), however, the second part is increasingly filled with more MIDI-esque sound fields and timbres, spreading an incisive glow. Slow Boat To China meanwhile succumbs to a dreamy gauze. The lead saxophone is softened, as is the backdrop of rhizomatic electric pianos. The jazzy atmosphere is yet again the dominant force. Not so on the synth brass stab extravaganza called Plaza whose scything Funk escapades, quavering Hammond B3 rivulets and churning percussion placentas worship the artificial realm of consumerism and invite the listening subject to a shopping temple that exists for four minutes only.


While Midnight Talking revs up the BPM and sees Toyohirakumin delineating a blurred millennial French Filter House bassline that is then turned around to a coquette-accompanied Brazilectro sparkler complete with vibraphone driblets, the vitreous Vertigo is a U-turn and sees its melancholic e-piano protuberances entrapped in an AM radio filter that swallows every kilohertz it can get hold of. This one comes pretty close to one’s concept of lift muzak. The Japanese producer applies the same filter on Renaissance Hotel and lets its saxophone fusillades approximate a cyber march theme from the Steampunk era… only that it is ridiculously euphonious! Afterwards, A Wonderful Library proposes a great balance between sound, sustain and silence. The hall effects of the ligneous claves and goblet drums augment the aquatic-cavernous duality, vibraphone shards fluoresce like fiber optics. Bonus points for the Italo House piano layer spawning Rave memorabilia and glow stick galores. A particularly great track!


Phenomenon continues the journey to bliss and presents one of the clearly loop-based capsules, and as is always the case, the loop has to be particularly strong in order to enthrall. This is the case here as the limewashed trumpet and its MIDI foils float through the ether, but not ad infinitum; a progression takes place during the track’s apex before a return to the Moebius strip succeeds. Strangers On A Train suddenly opens the gate to a Western-influenced moment of veiled clarity by presenting a sun-dappled acoustic guitar base frame upon which a plinking piano is grafted, but this strangely dubious moment is annihilated by the following Recycling whose square lead flute is surrounded by harmonious keyboard overtones. Emanating mutual understanding and care, the power of this tune unfortunately cannot unfold due to its toned-down, unsuspicious appearance. Nakano Botanical Gardens leaves a much better impression thanks to its foggy Ambient core, Japanese claves and yet another saxophone in the spotlight. That instrument’s rufescent aura works very well with the light-blue cummerbund.


The upcoming Rear Window is your typical transistor radio reminiscence that thankfully neglects the thrill of Hitchcock’s eponymous movie in favor of a blurry sanctuary filled with remote pianos and synth-based backings, but no matter how shiny it is, the magnanimously pointillistic flow of We Arrived In Sapporo breathes and exudes nostalgia like no other tune. The vibraphone in the center tumbles between solace and happiness, the reverberated shakers amplify the feeling of being in an antrum. One can sense that this is another tune with an elasticized runtime, and this thought turns into awareness when a clarinet-like woodwind instrument appears in the second half, unchaining the mist of a bleary-eyed morning. Love To A Mountain, And Meditation sounds more contemplative on your reading device than the actual soundscape itself: the claves are the only remnant of a New Age flavor, the pads and scintillating chimes, however, are clear cut Vaporwave pillars. The penultimate Tomorrow, Toyohira is fond of delicately minimal Detroit synths which are poured into a breakbeat mould, whereas the finale Akaiwa 1985 rounds the album off with a saxophone-piano couplet and an additional funk guitar whose slapped strings are the raucous countermovement to the soothing goodbye.


Music In The Air is, as it turns out, the cautious – and probably unintended – attempt of a Vaporwave album with two distinct markers of erudite sophistication: in a first step, there is a huge amount of saxophones, trumpets and other brass instruments. The big deal in this case is Toyohirakumin’s proclivity for material that is jazzier than usual. No worries, there are breakbeat billows, lift layers and electric edges embroidered throughout the album, but the point of origin, the initial thought and driving factor is often based on that certain free-form improvisation that is so typical for Jazz records, even though the term Jazz has certainly become one of the fuzziest concepts and means many things to even more people. Be that as it may, let’s just say that Music In The Air is prone to include rather eclectic, sometimes even convoluted freestyle attempts of blowing the horn. There is a second point to make: the producer and curator has a knack for Hitchcock references and titles. This has been hinted at in the first paragraph already, but the instances of these movie titles are peculiar, for there is nothing in the tracks themselves that hints at the respective movies. No samples, no themes, no dropped hint of a string or two, and so the amalgamation of the titles is presumably nothing more than a red herring I have jumped at. Fool! At the end of the day, this album is not for Hitchcock fans. Those who want a tad more complicated tone sequences and chord progressions in their daily Vaporwave dose should definitely check out Toyohirakumin’s Music In The Air.


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 358: 豊平区民TOYOHIRAKUMIN – Music In The Air (2014). Originally published on Jul. 9, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.