講評 : death’s dynamic shroud.wmv – CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE

This is another album that got me more intrigued with the possibilities of vapour (and I had already been sold on it by that point).  Like the previous one discussed, this was also a 2016 follow-up to a previous album, which gathered a certain acclaim not only within the vapour community but also a little from outside of it.  Both also work within a particular established concept that still allows for room for personal identification.  However, while 2814 was continuing to develop its sound beyond the initial vapour paradigm – and I will hopefully explain that more in a near future analysis (hint, hint) – dds.wmv continued to develop its sound more or less within that paradigm.  As for the concept, it is also much easier to write about this one than the other one as it comes with a description of its aim and there’s even a reveal of its construction.

Before I continue, I have not yet listened to anything before I’ll Try Living Like This.  But I don’t think this will affect what I have to say here.

This album, like their other ones, consists entirely of pre-existing music and sounds, with only a few exceptions here and there.  In the music, the sources are mostly recent pop songs with Miley Cyrus showing up frequently, even though it is only “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop”.  There are also a lot of video game music and especially from the Final Fantasy series, which seems to be a staple for dds.  In the general sound department, iPhone ringtones appear frequently through the album.  Another frequent source of sounds were Vine snippets from a once budding and scorned pop starlet.  For the rest, they are field recordings of assorted other sounds and from video games.  There are a few moments where Apple’s Text-to-Speech feature is used to read messages in translation or just a series of “tweets” found on the random (“Someone come help me set up my tumblr?”).

With only a few exceptions – and it’s apparent if you listen to the source material – every sound has gone through some sonic colouring and manipulation.  The most common manipulation employed here – and what had defined vapour/vaporwave for the first couple of years – is a slower playback speed, where ten seconds of sound can be played out in twenty or thirty seconds or even more.  Reverb is an effect employed frequently as well as various modulations such as the flanger and the “underwater” effect (which is really just employing equalization).  Finally, there is also the loop effect where either a complete section or a smaller section can be endlessly played in rapid succession (“Do you like me?  Do you like me?  Do you like me?”).

This technique of modifying and replaying previously recorded material – dubbed plunderphonics by its self-declared creator – is most certainly not unusual, and, as stated earlier, a defining characteristic of vapour.  However, this is not just done for its own sake (although it would have been fine if otherwise).  This has a point:

Classroom Sexxtape utilizes sampling and sweeping song arrangements to explore the sexual obsessions and machinations of western society. The album’s distortion of pop music mirrors thematic elements of cultural infantilization, media hyper-sexualization, and systematic layers of sexual shame that many of us are bombarded with on a daily basis.

Before answering this, I should explain something about vaporwave in general that will, without a doubt, be recurring in future examinations and analyses.  Vaporwave may have started as a kind of personal amusement, but manipulating certain music from the 1980s was also done to make a point about consumerism and corporatism.  I have even seen the pithy description that vaporwave is basically “chillwave [which can also be understood as hypnagogic pop] for Marxists”.  This was a double edge sword as while it gave some credence to the art, it also made it seem more pretentious.  Also, “following the formula” gave no guarantees it would be received well, let alone remembered for more than a day or so.

Going back to CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE, it is not entirely clear which is the chicken and the egg here.  I would suspect that the concept came first and Tech Honors (who was the only one working on this directly) found the material to support it.  If that’s the case, I think it succeeds.  In fact, the first time I heard this, I found myself going to back to the emotions and thoughts I had when I was going through intermediate and high school, where I was dealing with sexual sensations and new social expectations and trying to balance all of this with myself … and more often than not, it ends up being this awkward mess.

An easy example to use for this point is called THIGH GAP.  The entire piece consists a heavily manipulated “Tattooed Heart” by Ariana Grande.  The original is clearly inspired by the 1950s pop ballads that would have been played on the dance floor at some secondary school gathering but given a current twist with her vocal performance.  What Tech Honors did was slow it down to where Ariana Grande sounds more like a tenor crooner than mezzo-soprano.  At a certain point, the word “rushing” (from the lyric “All I need is all your loving / To get the blood rushing through my veins”) repeats as if it were a record stuck on a deep scratch.  It resumes and then swells into this staggered canon-like effect where renderings layer on top of each other to where it becomes a thick sonic soup of sounds with only traces of its more noticeable parts.  The speed varies slightly where it gets slightly faster.  Towards the end, it slows and staggers its way to a hard end where it falls silent.  As I was listening to this, I immediately thought of David Lynch, which is no surprise given him employing 1950s and early 1960s pop songs and naming a certain current recording artist a personal favourite.  But it also took me back to that time when during the few times I went to some school dance, I was miserably romantic.  You go into it expecting these great feelings of high … but only if you are one of the chosen and beautiful ones.

But there is a flip side to this also.  Consider, arguably, the album’s ultimate track, SIDE ℬÆ「究極のカタルシス」[the subtitle is “Ultimate Catharsis”].  The foundation of this is an intermingling of two pop songs employing the same chord progression: Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away” and Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop”.  They are slowed down to the point where both of them – not celebrated for being great singers in their own right – sound something like Elisabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins fame.  Weaving in some video game music and some ringtones, it has the feel of being in the mist of an orgy-porgy complete with soma.  The stroke of genius occurs when after experiencing an emotional orgasm, the “Waves” ringtone plays … leading to a snippet from the earlier DISNEY PRINCE$$, where “Wrecking Ball” and Beyoncé’s “Blow” (amongst a few other sounds) turn into something out of Suspiria (or that crowd).  The party may have been great, but often the last thing felt is the hard crash.

So all in all, this may be something akin to something Roger Waters would have made had he been interested in what the current year youth are doing nowadays and had a library of sounds at his disposal.  But for all the brains put into it, it remembers to have a heart, which is the only way not only to feel something but also to change (if so prompted).

Album released on 2016-05-13 via Orange Milk Records (and through Ghost Diamond Collective)

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