The “vaportrap” subgenre of vaporwave probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Blank Banshee, who – erroneously or not – tagged his debut release Blank Banshee 0 as “vaporwave” on his Bandcamp page back in 2012, setting off an entirely new development within the subculture. Perhaps it’s fitting that so many vaporwave artists release their music through digital media services and only press on vinyl or compact disc after the fact: after all, it’s a genre made for and inspired by the digital era, and releasing through services like Bandcamp only highlight the ever-present theme of global interconnection and communication.
With an album cover taken from a cut-up model of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider placed against a blue gradient, Blank Banshee 0 is quite straightforward about its intent. There are tons of goofy beats and off-kilter samples that show this isn’t necessarily meant to be taken seriously. Blank Banshee 0 is occasionally called “wavestep” or “seapunk” due to its aquatic timbre;1 2 3 for example, a favorite sample of this Vancouver producer is a steel drum arpeggio like a nineties VHS advertisement theme song for a Caribbean cruise line. “Purity Boys” features a vocal sample of Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys,4 manipulating the lines like electropop duo Purity Ring. Hell, the opening track is a chopped and screwed sample of Brian Eno’s famous Windows start-up jingle.5
Contrary to the VHS-screw of Daniel Lopatin’s Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, the computer drive breakdown of Infinity Frequencies’ Computer Death, or the ambiance of チェスマスター’s discography, Blank Banshee is considerably tuneful. Samples are not used as snippets of an era that are taken out of their context and warped to the extreme, but edited in a way not unlike contemporary post-noughties electronic music. All tracks – with the exception of the opener and outro – utilize trap and club beats, which are now staples of the vaportrap subgenre. Few vaporwave albums can unironically claim to be danceable; Blank Banshee 0 moves booties on “Ammonia Clouds,” “HYP☰R OBJ☰CT,” and “Teen Pregnancy” – the last of which samples Grandmaster Flash, and there’s no way that was not extremely purposeful with the whole retro-style going on here.
Blank Banshee 0 has a reputation of being “meme-y” within vaporwave circles, and such a label is certainly not without merit. This is a release that is fully aware of how silly it is, and it seeks to capitalize on the awkwardness elicited by listening to old nineties smooth jazz and computer music with modern ears with imagery of the early 3-D era. The best example is “Visualization,” which makes fun of new age music mantras, but those kinds of tracks are so commonplace within the genre that its addition to this release is hackneyed rather than clever. Vaporwave often walks a very thin line between self-indulgence and irony, and Blank Banshee 0 may cross that line for some listeners.6 That being said, the album is a very fun time with several moments of seriousness (e.g. “World Vision,” “Photosynthesis,” and “Purity Boys”) that serve as foils to the explicit irony. Blank Banshee 0 is an excellent addition to the library of a vaporwave fan and one who is interested in the evolution of the nascent genre.
1. B:/ Start Up – (1:09) – ★★★★★
2. Wavestep – (2:43) – ★★★★★
3. Bathsalts – (2:49) – ★★★☆☆
4. Ammonia Clouds – (2:43) – ★★★★☆
5. Venus Death Trap – (2:14) – ★★★☆☆
6. HYP☰R OBJ☰CT – (2:45) – ★★★★☆
7. Photosynthesis – (2:51) – ★★★★☆
8. D ☰ ☰ P $ P Λ C ☰ – (2:17) – ★★★☆☆
9. Dreamcast – (2:02) – ★★★★☆
10. Cyber Zodiac – (2:21) – ★★☆☆☆
11. Teen Pregnancy – (2:57) – ★★★★☆
12. Purity Boys – (1:42) – ★★★★★
13. Visualization – (1:47) – ★★★☆☆
14. World Vision – (1:54) – ★★★★☆
15. B:/ Shut Down/Depression – (0:53) – ★★★★★
1“Seapunk on Tumblr.” Tumblr. Accessed March 25, 2016. https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/sea-punk.
2“Wavestep.” SoundCloud. Accessed March 25, 2016. https://soundcloud.com/blankbanshee/wavestep.
3Zhang, Catherine. “Blank Banshee 0: Your Soundtrack for Psychedelic Drugs, or How to Have the Best 30 Minutes of Your Life.” Catherine Zhang. September 08, 2015. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://catherinezhang.me/2015/09/08/blank-banshee-0-your-soundtrack-for-psychedelic-drugs-or-how-to-have-the-best-30-minutes-of-your-life/.
4…something that I didn’t even notice until this listen, and I’ve had this album for years.
5I’m honestly rather surprised that it hasn’t been over-sampled in the genre.
6It did for me when I first heard it in the context of a radio station meeting and the music department couldn’t stop giggling about it. Sounded as if this were just a joke being played on air to amuse hipsters.