Hong Kong Express






HK is a seven-track Ambient work loaded with exuberant city scenes, spirited street canyons and zestful mirages of contemplation, carefully crafted by Hong Kong Express, founder and co-runner of the omnipotent Dream Catalogue label. Digitally released in January 2015 and available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp as it should be, it is an all-out vision of a big city. Due to the artist’s moniker and the ever-helpful front artwork, it becomes clear what city HK refers to, but not so what it ultimately means and how it translates to aeriform music. And it is within these interstices that the surprise level hits elysian heights, that is if you are a follower of the label, the artist or that V-genre in general. Inspired by his love for Wong Kar-wei’s movies and the reciprocation between a city’s atmosphere and its organic agents, Hong Kong Express delineates a different concept of metropolis. Whereas HyperGanesh’s Stay Awake (2014) offers a secure outlook by allowing the observer to gaze onto the neon-lit concrete jungle from a posh apartment and Golden Living Room erects yet another distancing layer in his aureate abode Welcome Home (2014) where the look out the window is replaced by a greasy 4:3 cathode ray tube, Hong Kong Express builds almost everything anew by making an album without a tonal reference while itself becoming the reference. Vaporwave is a genre that transfigures, alters and mutates any impression. HK, however, comes as close to the bustling atmosphere of the megacity as possible, comprising purposefully apocryphal/synthetic diethylene memories with earthbound field recordings, street noises, wind gusts and a vortex of Far Eastern flavors.


Synthetic syrinx layers in alto minor, circadian acid scythes, lucent laser lariats and the soothing percolation of raindrops: Ghost is the dualistic gateway to the eponymous city of Hong Kong Express. It is a pure – purified even – Ambient track in the true sense of the word, as are all of the following entities. Dynamic and glistening, too energetic to let the melancholy take over, yet too nostalgic to let an incidental myocardial event become phylogenetic within the album’s boundaries, Ghost unites the heaviness of ethereal New Age cloudlets with the amethystine range of modern deconstructions: pitch bursts, textural variety, retrosternal flare-ups are altogether inhabitants of the locale. The adjacent Window comprises of a more seraphic serration, uniting a streamlined glaucous drone of polyfoil-perennial condensation with a mesmerizing three-note reticulum of pristine synth pads. Livid and annealed enough to not imperil the balance, the formerly autonomic, countable tones float into each other by means of glissando, ultimately becoming a sweeping sphere. The result is a gorgeous – but not sumptuous – current of caproic light.


The third track is the all-encompassing standout, definitely cohesive but protruding the cesspool like a transcendent tower: Return Of Dreams is a quasi-tangible ether of Doppler synths flowing by, four-note verglas halides, square lead pads absorbing guitar-esque tone sequences and a lactic veil of caulked moxie. The tonal shifts in the accompanying airflow let the listening subject feel lightweight, surreal and panchromatic. A feast for every sense, supercharged with luxuriant lushness; a perfect closure of the first triptych of tracks that is delightfully parochial and only offers semi-paradisiac visions comparatively close to the city’s pulse. The following Shanghai, however, revs up the vibe and throws the listener into a caustic cauldron of dual-tone mauve mica, sizzling hi-hats, cajoling traffic noise and last but not least an increasing presence of the primary synth aorta. Cautiously nasty and upbeat, Shanghai is the wondrous scally: mucoid at the beginning, cavernously reverberated during its apex, intriguingly wispy during its ending stage. How eminently frosty the oneiric Glass Temple is in comparison! Within its runtime of over eight minutes, Hong Kong Express unfurls dazzling drone aureoles and adds layers of preaching monks, with a few coruscating clouds enabled as a third adjuvant. The diaphanous temple is the most minimal piece, awash with diffracted tawny light, resting within itself, only gaining depth qua the echoey sermons in the distance.


This oasis of quiescence and tranquility eventually leads to the vicissitudes of City Killer, a heavily bubbling apocalypse made of rubicund synth tremolo, metallic cannelures, hissing chromaticity and the leisured rise of the curtain leading to a revealing look onto the city. Police sirens and comblike convulsions hide an eclectic core of molten superfluids that floated in this piece all along; their aural visibility in the last minute or so is the artist’s cherubic admission to counterbalance. The final piece is fittingly called HK and borrows both the surface and melody of the energetic Shanghai. The melody is much more dreamlike and juvenile though. In placing this reference in a wide chasm of skyscrapers and ennobling it with fuzzy public service announcements, crystalline scintillae and high-decay koto-like licks, HK (the song) feels like a cotyledon, a new-born city on the ground of goodness… in lieu of, say, the frail endpoint of a turbulent turmoil.


Hong Kong Express has delivered an Ambient antrum with HK that is a monolith in the Dream Catalogue roster, if only for the fact that the artist willfully succumbs to beatless, sylphlike concoctions that are the antipodes to beat-driven Vaporwave. This reference to the infamous V-genre is hopelessly de trop at best and misguided at worst, for HK cannot possibly be linked to the aesthetic zoetrope that is key to the alloy. Hong Kong Express instead focuses on the synth sybaritism and pours it into the construction of a whole city, always retaining the ambience. Emanating the love for Hong Kong-based movies, emitting the boiling point of a humongous concrete jungle and radiating an enormous reticulation of delicious colors, patterns and textures, HK is an isolated work, and I mean this is in the positive sense of the term. Instead of absorbing genre trends, well-known surfaces and stylistic necessities, the work of Hong Kong Express is freed from the chopped gradient and histrionic haze. The seven-track vision comes to life due to serious craftsmanship, the accentuation of the city itself and – most importantly so – a production technique that doesn’t expel the use of samples and libraries in order to let them become the second string to the city’s unique epicurean superstructure… built from the ground up by Hong Kong Express.


Further reading and listening: 

  • You can purchase and stream HK at Bandcamp.
  • Read NeonVice’s enlightening interview with Hong Kong Express here. Vaporwave isn't what it used to be when you take it to the next level. 
  • Follow Hong Kong Express and Dream Catalogue on Twitter: @HKEdream @dream_catalogue


Ambient Review 415: Hong Kong Express – HK (2015). Originally published on Feb. 11, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.