It is admittedly premature to address the artist Hong Kong Express as HKE, for his four-track EP Zero is in fact the final instance – at least within the boundaries of an EP – where the moniker is written out in its entirety. To boost the surprise level further, Zero is released in June 2015 on Florida’s DMT Tapes instead of the artist’s own Dream Catalogue, a most magnanimous gesture, available to inspect and stream at Bandcamp as usual. In the wake of this EP, when all is said and done, Hong Kong Express is about to cease to exist soon, leaving only the letters H, K and E which will be reinterpreted anew, gaining polyvalence, ambiguity and salubrious twilights aplenty. So why the attempt of the reviewer to allocate or assign Zero to the future, soon-to-be exclusive HKE acronym if this is clearly a dedicated, final Hong Kong Express EP? As luck has it, I have my reasons, they will be revealed over the course of this review. It’s not the greatest of mysteries either, though the interim state between HKE/Hong Kong Express and the ominous number Zero explains quite a lot, exogenously speaking. But what about the songs and compositions themselves? They are anything but nullifying, sporting tangible beats, plasticizing synth superimpositions, hexangular quiltings of fermions and percussion, all of these poured into two solo tracks and two collaborative efforts. With the inverted adage "from hero to Zero" in mind, let’s enter the colorful nullspace.


The first track offers two remarkable constituents already, one of them a thematic flashback of some sort, the other a sun-dappled recruitment. Enter HK constantly brings back memories about HKE’s concept of the big city, and the track title itself seems like a levelheaded description of my regular encounters with Hong Kong Express’ great metropolis-centered Ambient epitome HK. It’s not an addendum in style though, the reason being synthesist Windows98の who augments the Floridascape from his abode in Orlando. Enter HK consequentially tones down its Ambient nucleus and ventures into paraphyletic laid-back breakbeat patters complete with colchicine-covered synth swirls, ethereal chord progressions and high-chroma raindrops. The mood is wonderfully aeriform despite the immersive megafauna. The subject travels in midtempo and is able to bask in the aural lycopods and catchy auxiliary adjuvants. A dynamic collaboration that triggers all the right synapses.


Sheung Wan is the centerpiece of the EP, clocking in at over six and a half minutes. Venturing into a rhenium-alloyed Hip-Hop beat complete with silvery hi-hats and a monoclinic low-freq portion, HKE takes his time to crystallize the jejune interstices with helicoidal chimes – or chimeras? – and enchantingly aqueous clave-and-bleb patterns that evoke the impression of this being more of a gregarious antrum than a tourist destination by the numbers. While the tempo is decreased in contrast to the opener, a certain soothing energy level is maintained throughout, reflecting once again the situation of being in awe, wandering around, absorbing the textural verbiage and nematomorphic alleys or sidetracks. In lieu of an abstract locale, pristine melodies strike again, open to scrutiny, easily recognizable, lilting their ways into the cochleae of the wanderer.


Romantic Soul is the second solo effort by HKE, and it is here where the mysticism is degraded just a wee bit to make this one a hustling prowler. The Hip-Hop patterns sport a greater oomph, the ophidian shawm-like high-frequency drones possess the power of accretion, liquid telomeres and laser lozenges vesiculate on the surface level, all of them ingredients of enigmatic epistemology. That Romatic Soul comes nonetheless quite close to the periphery of Mallsoft/Muzak can be attributed to the debonair Rhodes interferometry which simmers and shimmers, extrapolating a scheme of insouciant microlensing through the power of cenobitism. Heck, there’s even verglas cowbells in this peritoneum! But none of these ingredients is farcical, the ambience remains apocrine and once more imminently tuneful as well as foot-tapping.


On the grand finale Virtual Sunset, HKE collaborates with the seraphic vocalist and versatile vaporwaver V I R T U E from Philadelphia, rounding off the Anglican/American/Asian trifecta that oozes through the stratiform layers. After the multicellular benthic New Age superresonance at the beginning of the track, the hyper-haunting vocals of V I R T U E make up >50% of the presented macronutrient. Seemingly towering above the dripstone caverns, caulking both the nullspace and even the lanthanum-encapsulating wind gusts, her cryovolcanic vocals bring back memories of the United Kingdom’s FSOL-focused mid–90’s tribal/tropical diffeomorphism. In tandem with the thermal riverbeds and aquatic magnetotails, Virtual Sunset either outgrows the dedicatedly panchromatic gamut of the Zero EP… or purposefully channels the longitudinal mirth through more gravity-bound polymers, letting the listener softly touch the ground via the aid of cherubic cantos.


Zero is not only an understatement of a title in terms of the attached soundscapes, it also carries a curiously negative aura if the cold harsh appearance of this non-number is taken into account. One possible train of thought, however, annihilates the portentous omnipresence of the worst mathematical entity: as he has announced previously, HKE starts anew, with these initials standing for Hong Kong Express in this last EP, but not in subsequent works where the sequence "HKE" will stand for everything and anything. Then you can – so I hope – re-interpret the letters, making them an acronym or uninterpretable string. Zero is therefore the spawning point and endpoint at the same time. Since it cannot be a morphogenesis and apotheosis at the same time, the EP remains in limbo; a delightful limbo, I might add. And with this realization, Zero loses the austere mathematical precision, is neither negatively connoted nor positively proselytizing. It is always wise to concentrate on the music anyway, and here HKE scores big time by featuring a triptych of pectinic puissance, strikingly melodious vapor vaults and beat-accentuated phytoliths, with the finale adding a heartfelt, possibly crestfallen point in the titration at which the reaction is complete. What comes next? We will find out.


Further listening and reading:


Vaporwave Review 101: Hong Kong Express – Zero (2015). Originally published on Jun. 29, 2015 at