Oscob / Digital Sex
1. The prelude
Aha, a prelude. Which means that this is not a quasi-objective product review; on top of this notion, the level of excitement must not destroy the level-headed endeavor that is called a holistic review, so for the moment, bear with me. What a curious way to start this writeup, but you’ll understand in time, if you haven’t already due to the buzz that surrounds the all-caps gigantism of OVERGROWTH, a nineteen-track epitome realized, carved out, created and curated by Oscob / Digital Sex, released on the European Vaporwave headquarters Dream Catalogue, released on 100 lime-green tapes at Bandcamp in July 2015. Digital Sex from Hudson, Wisconsin meets Germany’s best-known US-expatriate Oscob aka OSCOB aka Virtual Plaza Max in order to create a tropical Vaporwave album where the formerly unspoiled woods of the world are increasingly taken over by man, then by a fusillade of androids/robots/mechs before nature wins the war and overcomes the pesky problem. This isn’t a spoiler: the ambivalence between nature and mankind, organic life and technocracy is a well-known trope in every medium, especially so in Vaporwave.
And that’s what the listener shall receive, a journey with a humongous amount of field recordings, synth rhizomes, mystical shadows and tech-oriented artificiality. But there’s one thing that lets OVERGROWTH skyrocket into spheres of real benevolence and philantropy: Digital Sex & Oscob invite several of their vaporwaving producers, friends and colleagues to collaborate. Okay fine, collaborations are common. But there’s more: these aren’t mere collaborations, but completely autonomous, discrete and independent visions of each producer, perfectly curated by the duo and sewn into the right place so that they benefit the contiguous story arc. OVERGROWTH is hence a collaboration/compilation hybrid of the cinematic kind which deserves a particularly meticulous inspection, divided into four distinct parts (congratulations, you’ve almost finished the first). This review comes with a sequential twist though: I don’t review the tracks in order, but rather concentrate on the collaborations between Oscob / Digital Sex first, followed by the respective offering from each of their friends. This isn’t the right way to listen to OVERGROWTH, true enough, but it allows a consistent approach in terms of a segmented review. In addition, I have received an advance copy by Max. But other than that, I've received no hints, no behind-the-scenes stories, no briefing whatsoever. I want to be as much in the dark as possible. But now there'll be light, for we talk Vaporwave!
2. The chieftains: Oscob / Digital Sex
OVERGROWTH begins as you expect it to, and that’s no mean-spirited criticism in terms of a potentially absent creativity, nay: Mother spawns the endemic neon-green/cerulean purity of the jungle right from the get-go, complete with pristine rainfall, distant birds of paradise as well as a particularly centered specimen in the limelight, squawking its rhythmical way as a vulturine beatbox into the heart of an autochthonous jungle queen. And that’s it, Digital Sex and Oscob concentrate on the circumambience in this saprotroph. Is there room for synths? Yep! Echoes Through The Forest comprises of vangelis-ized cherubic vincristine veils in front of a tropical chaparral bursting with life. The peaceful chord progression is almost tranquil to a point; first a bokeh, then a gamelan-oriented verglas hypanthium, finally a clandestine cloak-and-dagger gaze onto temple walls. This is New Age, maybe even your grandfather’s interpretation of New Age, but ultimately supreme.
Clear Sky, Clear Soul meanwhile continues to embrace all immaculate, uncorrupted phytotelemata in another Ambient prelude only to then turn into a vesiculating silk arpeggio of firefly fibroblasts. Perfectly in order and accompanied by large-grained maracas and echoey woodblocks, the ensuing equimolar epithelium between sound, sustain and silence is soothing, the diaphanous punctilio good-natured and laid-back. Breezes of Dub waft through the bird-infested glade. While Sleepwalking sees the North American gentlemen pave their way into underwoods of analogue glissando slides, square lead lozenges and a constant cricket circus, the adjacent Hypersensitivity私の唯一の快適さ is a curious stokehold dungeon made of heating circulation pumps, a mephitic metalization overall and a tenor saxophone-driven Synth Pop sporophyte, showcasing Digital Sex's and OSCOB’s love for washed out cottoned soundscapes. Perfect Storm then takes its time, eventually clocking in at over six minutes of shuffling hi-hats, slapped Bhangra strings, lasticized male vox and the viridian lucency of uplifting synth rivulets. Beatless but not rhythmless, there is a storm brewing that only unleashes when the public service announcer talks about hunger, poverty, social breakdowns… an uneasy addendum.
The periglacial translucency of Complex, however, washes away the pain, enthralling with its heartbeat, adaxial synths, the looped wisdoms of a Disco coquette and plenty of music box-fueled dewdrops, with Beyond The Horizon harvesting the greatest oomph of all songs, frightening with its humongous mechanoid timpani bursts, heavily reverberated corrugated rhenium sheets and biomorphic classic piano magnetotails… even the jungle becomes silent in this colloidal technodrome, a moment of portent for sure. It is oh so fitting that Destruction Is Rebirth is placed right next to this lanthanum cesspool, and what we hear is iconoclastic: chainsaws scything through tree trunks, violent landslides and electric guitar-powered Shoegaze shenanigans, followed by warped otherworldly Glitch jitters, clavicular cracks, AM radio frequencies and tetragonal studders. With Decay, Oscob / Digital Sex agglutinate a sanguine sunset violin onto paraphyletic sonar waves and rhythm-shifting ever-droning ecomorphs, before their penultimate contribution Afterglow succumbs to glitchy globs, alkaloidal aqua and laser interferometry, with the grand finale (but not the actual final track) Synthetic Living completing the biotech scenery with vinyl crackle-underlined 16-bit harps, demotic square blebs and other willfully apocryphal constituents. And the jungle keeps still forever…
3. The OVERGROWTH tribe
… that is until the greater family of the producers visits the chlorotic megafauna, its diamond mines and villainous hideouts, for Digital Sex and OSCOB invite many a friend to appear with bosky visions of their own. Chungking Mansions’ Daydreaming kicks off the debonair cenobitism with crunchy steel guitars that are hued in salubrious light, their licks floundering and faltering in an aviary, fathoming the soft green hue of the Atlantic forest. ArtFluids then brings us The Sun King, a superbly tribal piece with a variety of boo-bams, timbales, guiros and other exotic surfactants placed in cristae of granular accretion with nomological chants and an unapologetically life-affirming chord microlensing. Remember’s Failed Reboot meanwhile places antediluvian, quasi-apoplectic synthesized speech patterns into an adiabatic haze. Cowbell-interspersed downbeat polymers round off the rural positivism, with only a few chords in b minor bringing the gravitas of life into the arrangement. OSCOB’s frequent partner in crime Rez is on board as well, racing the Ecostream and its medulla-emptying whiplash steelification, or what else to call the rhythm-shifting counter helix of wire-band servings, structural manganese sections and fluid-processed piano pyroxenes?
Then there’s White Marino who brings us an – admittedly decelerated – Outrun opal. Called You Can’t Run Forever, the titration reaches towards the high-rise buildings, light houses and skyscrapers of a jinxed megacity, but there are retrosternal jungle artifacts in this neon-lit noctuid alright, for instance the aluminum-alloyed phylogenetic drum and the stereo-panned polarimetry of the faux-ligneous shakers. But don’t be mistaken: White Marino’s contribution spells doom for the forest. Then there are two special tracks left, special due to their characteristics and attributes. For one, we have Total Loss which features Orlando’s Windows 98の in lieu of being produced by the artist. So this is seemingkly it, the only classical collaboration. It consists of cyborg polyphonies scattered in-between a saltatory phototropism complete with burnt buzzes, threaded connections and bouncing thread-milling cutters, i.e. the typical constituents that are to be a prominent part of the album’s latter, robotized state. Then there’s the second – and real final – composition of Digital Sex's and Oscob's opus tropicum, and that’s 終わりと始まり by 2 8 1 4, the Vaporambient moniker of telepathテレパシー能力者 and HKE. Translating into alpha and omega if you will, the behemoth of 13+ minutes ventures from ultramafic synth halides of sorrow over beat-underlined chloroderivatives amid chimes and whistles until nature overgrows (!) the technocratic cytoplasm and lets the birds, flora and fauna come alive again. And the jungle keeps living forever…
4. The aftermath
What happens to vapor eventually? Nobel Prize alert: it evaporates. But what happens in-between? It expands! The feeling of expansion and being together is the primary emotion that is evoked by OVERGROWTH. I would like to think of OVERGROWTH as a classical concept album, what with the jungle being perfectly alive, followed by the intervention of pesky humans who eventually turn into cyborgs or robots or whatnot, with nature suffering up to a point until the showdown is over and nature wins. Granted, we have heard, read and watched this dualism between technocracy and nature time and again, it is deeply engrained in both the Occidental and Far Eastern culture, but the realization thereof is most impressive in the wake of Oscob / Digital Sex’s masterstroke. The reason is not just based on the gravitational redshift, the metamorphosis from undisturbed forests over homo economicus-caused cost-benefit ratios to the energy generation of artificial beings that is gradually audible throughout the nineteen tracks, no: the ultimate reason is the bond that both producers magnanimously share with other Vaporwave luminaries.
I mean, how cool and graceful is it to give the ever-important slot of the finale to the vision of 2 8 1 4? Shouldn’t Digital Sex and Oscob come up with the finale, given that it is, you know, their album and such? It’s astonishing to me that OVERGROWTH is pieced together and envisioned the way it is. If I’m not mistaken, there is only one classical collaboration on the album (salutes to Orlando), with all other artists gaining total freedom with their – formerly insular – tracks which now become equipollent parts of the great picture. The end product, then, inherits the spirit of the DREAM_31 and DREAM_100 compilations, but here on OVERGROWTH the story arc is the real deal. No wait, it’s the field recordings, synths and textures! Wait again, it should be the tribal profusions and jungle rhythms, right? The title gives the answer: every luring element you can think of is overgrown by the kaleidoscopic zoetrope of Oscob x Digital Sex x friends.
Further listening and reading:
- You can fetch and stream OVERGROWTH at Bandcamp.
- The chieftains and label on Twitter: @DigitalSexual @VirtualPlazaMax @dream_catalogue
Vaporwave Review 109: Oscob / Digital Sex – OVERGROWTH (2015). Originally published on Jul. 9, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.