Aokigahara Online EP
Granted, if I talked about premises, promises and, yes, conjectures all the time, chances are that the defining moment of a surprise would be missed severely. But here we have one of those unexpected dobs, and it is for the artist to know and us to find out how this auspiciously auroral change of pace came to be. Enter Orlando-based Dan Mason aka Aokigahara Online who comes up with his eponymous four-track debut EP, available to fetch and stream at his Bandcamp site. Dan Mason and debuts, well, they don't fit well together, for he is much better known under his alias Dan Mason ダン·メイソン which – wait for it – is usually reserved for Future Funk corkers. With this tendency outlined, problems arise, and quite a lot of them. Firstly, a lot of Vaporwave fans belittle Future Funk. In return, Ambient followers spit on Vaporwave. It's a bloody mess, a cesspool full of sharks. It is with this bokeh in mind that the Aokigahara Online EP hits home… severely so. Named after the infamous Japanese forest full of alleged demons where suicidal people find their final sanctuary under the watchful figurative eyes of Mount Fuji, the four tracks epitomize the strange amalgamation of the aforementioned genres. Ambient, Vaporwave, Drone, even New Age meet, mesh and depart in an exquisitely outlined EP, with these genres being fully embroidered within the foliage, tree trunks and interstices of the aural forest. Here, then, is a holistic view onto, into and beyond the nomological patterns.
When the very first majestic synth hook fades in, it isn’t entirely clear what the opener Birds will be actually about. The soft granularity of the texture lures, the formerly hexangular and now plateaued timbre sounds eminently euphonious, but there is a darker micrometry injected in b minor which offers a contrapuntal clandestinity to the solemn boskiness. Utter delight finally wins when the rhenium-alloyed hi-hats accentuate the chlorotic scenery, enlighten the peritoneum, rev up the densitometry. Suddenly, Italo pianos, crystalline rain pads and vincristine wind chimes as well as exalted synth washes iridesce through the forest; in tandem with the birds’ dawn chorus, biocentrism has entered the coppice, uniting Ambient and Vaporwave in one adaxial ribcage.
The second track Rain is all about a demotic aura, and now that Aokigahara Online connects the jinxed forest with the cenobitic gathering of the internet, it seems as if the whole endemic chaparral opens up to the listener. After a withdrawn anacrusis with pectiniform chimes and tetragonal whistles, Rain ventures into elysian choral singings and synthetic hymns. The formerly isolated pieces fit together flawlessly, and better still: since they are agglutinated to each other, their respective auras reach into each other, creating a mutualistic spherification that celebrates the paraphyletic rhizomes of Enya, New Age and indigenous epistemology. Dan Mason’s point of interest is aboveboard and straightforward, neither ridiculing the gregarious enchantment nor adding an ambivalent aureole to the soundscape that would break the magnanimous spell by means of suggestive winks and side stories about consumerism as they happen so often in Vaporwave.
One of the – imminently graspable – reasons for the Aokigahara Online EP to appear in the Ambient section after all can be traced back to the lilting thermal immersion physiognomy of Wind which remains on the droning, beatless side of life throughout its runtime. From a contextual, community-focused viewpoint, Wind is a dangerous affair, as the raging discourse prevents it from being a Vaporwave gem simply because it is an Ambient track at the same time. But even more importantly, the track showcases the rightful urge of the producer to create a second moniker with Aokigahara Online, for this isn’t Future Funk either. Now that the listener-related obstacles are out of the way, Wind willfully works as an aeriform battery of macronutrients: adiabatic flares of pink noise, multinucleate telomeres of ecclesiastic erethism and a majestically benignant warmth transform the cursed forest into a place of sensorial microlensing and aureate apprehension.
The apotheosis is fittingly called Forest, and it seems to be an important part of the EP, not just due to its stature of a rightful finale. Aokigahara Online widens the focal point and amends the endeavor. Simply through the track title alone, completeness and cohesion are advertised. The first three tracks of this EP are about constituents and cornerstones of the forest, whereas the final offering showcases a diorama of its wholeness. Surprisingly enough, Forest doesn’t feel as pompous or important as it could have been, and that’s for the better. Its main aorta is a punctilio of semi-ligneous aqua droplets which oscillates and rotoscopes through an ultramafic proteostasis of chirping birds, sun-kissed one-note synth polymers and susurrant classic drum kit adjuvants such as soothing hi-hats and hatched drums. The whole arrangement comprises of approximately five tones only, namely the four-note marimba-esque epicenter and the monotonous but beautifully compatible backing accompaniment that regularly flashes and rises during the apex of the main melody. Forest doesn’t feel more complete or magisterial as its three predecessors, but again, this realization is to be cherished.
Dan Mason has created a scintillating quasi-debut under his new moniker. The Aokigahara Online EP is a treasure trove to behold, a conglomerate of caverns, groves and glades that oozes remoteness and clandestiny with each and every pore. Whether the listener favors remarkable textures and surfaces or focuses on mellifluous melodies that open to scrutiny, each and every one of the four tracks hits home. Mason's interpretation of the forest is admittedly whitewashed, lachrymose and stupendously naïve, but the positive vibes of these emotions outnumber the amount of any forest's trees for sure. It is admittedly strange to love the EP for its greatest shortcoming, its lack of labyrinthine eclecticism and failure to create eerie mysticism. You would expect a grand story, visions of monsters, an ignis fatuus of an eldritch wisp, even a pixellated 16-bit analogy or two. What you receive instead is a mature, most orthochromatic piece of debonair delight. With the superb melodies and rhizomatic strata comes a potential shard of conflict: the genre-related variety. Ambient fans might absorb the New Age vibe but elbow the soft beat accentuations away. Vaporwavers meanwhile might miss crazier samples and the afterglows of Mallsoft. And Dan Mason's Future Funk followers will probably always tend toward his beat torpedos. Aokigahara Online EP is above all this though, resting in a sphere of its own. One of the greatest surprises in 2015 to me. I sincerely hope that Aokigahara Online isn't a mere side project for the artist but the morphogenesis of the things to come.
Further listening and reading:
Ambient Review 460: Aokigahara Online – Aokigahara Online (2015). Originally published on Nov. 18, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.