In recent years, Melbourne, Australia‘s Lee Nania aka Hawaii94 has remained dedicated to the interstitial node that connects Downtempo with Vaporwave and the duality of Lo-Fi/Glow-Fi alright, but rather spent his times with the occasional collaboration, dutifully so. Now that Summer approaches Hawaii94 in full force, he embraces it with a ten-track album of 34 minutes that can be rightfully described as a great addition to his works, a return to form so to speak, a form he never left in the first place. 


Evolve is released in mid-October 2017 on the Del Mar, California-based label Stratford Ct., available in a limited edition of 50 tapes and unlimited amount of streaming/download versions at Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes and cohorts. Due to traveling, AmbientExotica opted for the classic download through iTunes, kind of a retro statement itself in these times, contrary to the album title, if you will.


Evolve, but in a rectangular way, please. Photographed by Stratford Ct.


What to make of Evolve then right up front before we dive deeper? This is Downtempo as advertised, but seen through the zoetrope of a certain aforementioned V-genre. I can‘t help it: the sounds are crystalline, the guitar licks stratiform, the hooks synth-infused and punchy, but Nania‘s trademark of vapory haze permeates throughout all of Evolve’s intrinsic parameters permanently. This especially affects the artist’s hypnotic vocals — nine out of ten tracks gleefully succumb to this most regal Pop constituent — placed deep within the mix and even behind the synthetic dioramas, resulting in a softly wadded warm haze that works wonderfully well with the upbeat Glow-Fi coruscation.


Also of interest is the album title itself: After the magnificently orthochromatic RE@L1TY (2012) and gunmetal-coated Hauntology-goes-Pop EP Nightvision (2014), Nania‘s ensuing evolution as an artist is aurally depicted, but this is not so much an artist-centric statement as it much more encloses the noospheric humanist viewpoint of the world: a collective mind fuelled by art. The cover artwork by Andrew Walker aids this train of thought, as it ever so slightly illustrates the concept of evolution, literally both horizontally (floral icons leading to what can be aptly described as an eyeliner sunset) and vertically (a blurry smiley/emoticon turning from a laissez-faire grin to a warmhearted smile). You are welcome. No, really: you are to be welcome in this scintillating album. 


The ever-important letter ”R” is purposefully amiss in the title, Hawaii94‘s 2017 work is by no means a revolution, but prone to offering a benign look ahead through retrogressive rotoscoping. Several pillars and cornerstones of the Melbournite‘s past works reappear with pride and are very much appreciated here. The matutinal, reducibly dreamy atmosphere, for instance, is also wafting through Evolve. Whereas these twilight moods were marked in song titles or even EP titles in Hawaii94’s previous works (RE@L1TY’s 5:48 am and Don’t Wake Me Up come to mind, as does the Nightvision EP), the listener can distill their omnipresence even without the help of language-based markers. 


Tunes that encompass these sanguine hours way past midnight but before dawn include track 6, the beautifully laid-back Emotion, with its anthocyan Ghouls ‘n Ghosts pads of the rectangular kind. ”Say what you want, it‘s all in your head,” Hawaii94 sings deep in-between glacial synths and bubbling sawtooth blebs. Downtempo indeed, with (s)traits of Funk, but decidedly cosmic and surreal. Or take the adjacent Regret: seriously, you can spot some kind of regret in this tune, but this isn‘t a crepuscular-crestfallen affair! Instead, a guitar-infused pearly mid-tempo synthorama unfolds before the inner eye. Rounded off by playful square bleeps and Hawaii94‘s trademark sirocco vocals deep within the mix, this paradisiac peridot of a track is surprisingly sparkling despite it being a denouement of an upbeat metropolitan scenery.


Another key ingredient of Hawaii94‘s tracks comprises of their humane warmth, caused and nurtured by both the vocals and polyphony. These aural trade winds magnify both Pop gems and introvert contemplation pieces alike. To be honest: Nania‘s RE@L1TY is one of the most gorgeous Pop records I‘ve ever encountered, with hooks, tercets and licks so aglow and positive yet non-saccharine that it belongs to my all-time favorite records. Evolve, meanwhile, is more nuanced and subtle in regard to its earwig territory, yet extensively more bright and mellow than the previous Nightvision EP; it‘s not just mediating between them though.


Let‘s talk Pop then, a hopeless endeavor as everything is Pop and nothing is real nowadays. Hawaii94‘s V-powered Glow-Fi-induced Pop, however, offers a vibrant addendum to the chorus — or was that chore? — of ever-cascading uplifting tunes. Tunes which got that certain timbre-related impact include track 9 called Finally whose rhizomes and tendrils harken back to RE@L1TY: emanating emerald erethism, emitting euphonious essences. The flittering aorta of synth mica, the wafting glissando and those purposefully wadded drumkit echoes offer benignancy aplenty. Track 4 Forever may even be the album‘s Mana tree, harvesting all the salubrious nutrition the sound-based rhizomatic alluvial soils of the artist’s music has to offer; playful squares, vibrant handclap-accompanied guitar hooks and superb melodies are all equal pillars in this above-midtempo corker. Even in its interstitial, beatless phase, Forever radiates like an isotope wrapped in lactic xenon. 


And included all the time: a Hip Hop megafauna with softened Break Beat chloroderivatives. Even if Hawaii revs up the tempo a notch, this attitude remains valid. Track 5, titled Real, oozes the 80‘s out of every pore: cowbells, fast-paced suprematism, recesses covered by aureate guitar licks and best of all, synth-boosted — faintly brass-like — lead pads emanate beachwalks and serpentines aplenty. Everything feels so friendly and pointillistic, but in lieu of low poly aesthetics, Hawaii94 opts for electropositive immediacy, exchanging languor for positively punchy kineticism.


One final thought: it is astonishing to me that the Pop formula still works, let alone, that one guy — the one and only guy next to George Clanton in the very sphere we tend to review extensively — can pull it off time and againwhen it comes to hook-driven lyrics-boosted gemstones. That‘s not to say it doesn‘t happen all the time. If you‘re a fan, you‘re a fan no matter what. But in the realm of bedroom producers, small-ish studio owners and one-man armies, constant waves of sounds tailored to our ears made possible by the same artist ad inifinitum almost seems to be an iconoclasm. Evolve is such a gleefully audacious work, listenable in the best sense, having its endohedral and tetragonal splinters polished away without sounding mundane or basic. Hawaii94 once again hits the spiritual macula, and AmbientExotica is glad he continues to deliver constantly, but even more relieved that he remains dedicated to the world of music. After all, Summer’s floralcy takes its toll.


Further listening and reading:

  • Streaming and purchasing options are available on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, iTunes and cohorts.
  • Hawaii 94's Twitter account: @yoler0y.


Vaporwave Review 166: Hawaii94 – Evolve (2017). Originally published on Dec. 1, 2017 at AmbientExotica.com.