Cobalt Road






“Suspended between two points; light and dark, past and future, joy and sadness, love and hate, life and death.” That’s the formula of Purgatory, written and produced by vaporwaver and classically trained pianist Jared Clark aka Cobalt Road from Florida. Spanning eight tracks that are released on the isospin-inheriting Business Casual label on a strictly limited edition of 18 tapes that have sold out already, the album can be fetched and streamed at Bandcamp as always. The artistic testimony quoted above showcases a bold problem to begin with, for these pairs of opposites are nowhere to be found in Purgatory, a title which itself is entirely too grim and apocalyptic when the eight soundscapes are considered. It has to be said: Purgatory oozes fantastic synths and wonderfully arpeggiated rhythm sections time and again, regardless of whether it is in an orthonormal, orthogonal or orthochromatic state. This is not a doom-laden twilight, no, I for one can only sense luxuriant sensationalism and viridian chromodynamics, the latter of which Cobalt Road’s Venetian Blinds EP so successfully transmogrified into soundscapes already. While said EP is a bit more varied and isothermal, Purgatory feels like an album, with all of its amniotic gluons firmly in place. Here’s a meticulous look at all eight tracks and the overall mercurial amicability that graces an album which is said to be about obliquity.


Is this Mount Olympus? Or a cavernous dripstone antrum in Carlsbad? Whatever the locale may be, the opener Clouded Vision embraces the vaporwaver right from the get-go as Cobalt Road paves the way to ethereal epithelia by means of wondrously mellow two-note synth perianths, aqueous cowbell-and-shaker fusillades as well as a handclap-underlined breakbeat pattern whose bubbling gridlock-leeway diffeomorphism carries the longitudinal lozenge further. This is one highlight of an opener, fittingly cloudy, yet eminently diaphanous and good-natured. Up next: Mirrors. More of a prowler than a growler, this ophidian track kisses the sun-dappled asphalt of a laid-back megacity, spawning and sporting all the vapor traits one expects: a punctilio of eclectic percussion, Jared Clark’s demotic – not demonic – piano silk and an insouciant hammock-friendly atmosphere. A salubrious centriole alright.


Blue Skies meanwhile points back to the front artwork by means of its title, but the soundscape itself has a different focal point and rather concentrates on the rave-like rhombohedral slides whose warped textures enchant with their immersion. The hypanthium is exquisitely rounded off by clave-and-handclap strata, chopped snares à la Vaperror and a pulsatile neoteny second to none. These skies may be grounded and comparatively bound to earth, but this is a cutting edge fairy tale regardless. The phytotelemata of the adjacent Why then succumb to the slowed-down elasticized Vaporwave state that works so well. A more granular, though no less panchromatic synth ventiduct simmers in the background of a trap-infested lo-freq vestibule with male chants and a rather uncertain depth of vision overall, before Sleep opens up the curtain to a holarctic fibroblast of periglacial piano prongs whose corkscrew helixes bubble downwards in order to bask in equally gregarious synth rivulets and pyrethrin-coated percussion phragmoplasts. A corkerrr!


The eponymous Purgatory is a more ambivalent-dualistic critter, and it rather should be, given that we’re talking about purgatory here. This is not the asphyxiating mephitic melodrama one might expect. Instead, Jared goes all-in on cenobitism and lets his telomere-driven song gyre between viscoelastic synth momentums and gravitational apprehension on the one hand, and hautboy-oid surfactants and halides on the other hand. The standout feature, however, must be the polyrhythmic segue in the last third which boosts the municipal gravity, creating high-rise cytoplasms of the mind and concrete jungles in the future. Another great feat is the penultimate Solitude, and while it may only be a shorter vignette of less than two minutes, its fluvio-lacustrine microlensing enriches the pluvial immersion with jungular bongo blebs, breakbeat circulators and molybdenized snare oxidants. The mood: delightful and aeriform. In the grand finale called Bliss, Jared is playing the genie, promising the lady to take her wherever she wants to. It is not so much where he takes us, but when: supreme 80’s synths are in the epicenter of this wonderland, slowed-down flaring, sky-rocketing hydrazine hooks and debonair brass bursts make this multinucleate macronutrient magnanimously mellow, man!


Purgatory is ultimately the wrong title for this great album, and that’s the only negative thing I can think of. The term translates into torment, affliction, agony, even torture, and yes, there are quite a few naysayers and party poopers who exactly think of these nouns when they encounter a Vaporwave album. These nihilistic thoughts aside, Cobalt Road has come up with an yttrium crystal in sound form, a cerulean emerald whose proselytizing avulsions and synth flumes enthrall time and again. I am most fond of the very cautious and pinpointed balance between classic proto-V vestiges and genreless planetesimals. It’s true that there are two instances of clearly slowed-down material which is probably taken from that place called somewhere else – Why and Bliss come to mind – but its inclusion is not degrading the paradisiac polarimetry of Purgatory. An 80’s vibe is in the air, moments of Jungle, Trap and arhythmic breakbeat patterns overcome the aforementioned decade and venture into newer territories, and last but not least, there’s the deliciously ligneous/hollow/aquatic trifecta of texures, patterns and surfaces on the percussion side of life. And that is ultimately the phototropism to hold on to when I’d be asked to describe Cobalt Road’s Purgatory in one super-short sentence for a change: it’s life-affirming!


Further listening and reading:


Vaporwave Review 106: Cobalt Road – Purgatory (2015). Originally published on Jul. 3, 2015 at