In 2010, a one-off side-project of Brooklyn electronic musician Daniel Lopatin took an updated approach to plunderphonics with Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, a collection of chopped-and-screwed chart-toppers from the sixties through the noughties that were cut up and slowed down to a “narcotic” pace.1 Entirely made of samples, Eccojams utilized extremely recognizable songs and melodies with a purposely dated aesthetic: the title references Sega video game Ecco the Dolphin, the album was released only on cassette, and the many tracks were edited to elicit a texture similar to nineties muzak, smooth jazz, and easy listening. Along with 骨架的, Lopatin unintentionally became one of the most influential artists in the burgeoning vaporwave scene, and many of the genre’s signature traits may be found in their early – and quite unironic – form here.
Eccojams anticipated the shameless samplism that typifies vaporwave in the popular consciousness. In sharp contrast to artists such as DJ Shadow and Tricky – who use obscure samples on purpose so that listeners focus on the final product rather than their original contexts – Lopatin chose hit songs from prolific mainstream artists. There’s Fleetwood Mac, Janet Jackson, The Byrds – hell, the very first track is Toto’s ubiquitous mega-hit “Africa.” This proved so influential that it sparked an eponymous subgenre of sound-alikes, which later gave way to the even more avant-garde “broken transmission” scene that takes microsamples from television advertisements and jingles in the same style as Eccojams.3 The point of Eccojams is that the listener is aware that what he or she is hearing is intrinsically tied to the source material rather than divorced from it.
The layers of effects and screwed time signatures create an auditory uncanny valley: sure, the listener may recognize Jojo’s “Too Little Too Late” on “Dream,” but the R&B-inflected male vocals and constant repetition of a single line quickly pass from catchy to unsettling. “Horseman” intensely distorts”The Four Horseman” by Aphrodite’s Child as to turn the original psychedelic rock hit into a demented house-esque song akin to Karin Andersson from The Knife at her most wrung-out.2 Several songs spontaneously speed up, slow down, or unravel into mindless cassette noise like a digital equivalent to William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, as on “Make U Mine” and “Lightening Strikes.” Other tracks are relatively straightforward earworm loops that are incredibly catchy but not gratuitious, such as the spacey “The Door” and the slow-jam “Nobody Here.”
Vaporwave is often accused of unoriginality and plagiarism, and for good reason. Many, many albums take samples that are slowed down or edited with minimal additions and published as art. Sometimes this is effective in establishing the (faux-)utopian and globalized atmosphere from which vaporwave takes the majority of its aesthetic influences, as on 식료품groceries’s half-parody half-experience 슈퍼마켓Yes! We’re Open. However, it’s difficult to tell when blatant, unfettered samplism is actually an impressive commentary and listening experience – or when it’s just stealing a track and adding some reverb. Eccojams is an excellent litmus test for such albums; yes, it is entirely sampled from mainstream mega-hits, but there are compositional additives4 and clever alterations to the extant music that make for a unique listening experience outside of the original song’s context. Marvin Gaye’s “My Love Is Waiting” is not the energetic Motown single on “Make U Mine;” Lopatin’s edit turns the sexual healer into an android undergoing a hard drive corruption. “Angel” skips and stutters like an unraveling cassette stuck in its player. Eccojams is successful not because its samples are from songs already proven to sound good, but because Lopatin corrupts those same tracks and creates his own exceptionally appealing earworms through a haze of ingenious manipulation and timing – a characteristic of his work as Oneohtrix Point Never.5
The tracks on Eccojams were originally unnamed for the cassette release, simply called “A3” or “B6” based on what side the track was on and its order in the playlist. Newer copies have tracks that are named after the most prominent word or phrase in the track. The album has since been digitized for non-cassette release; Eccojams is quite easy to find on the Internet in any vaporwave community. The album is mixed as a single set with the exception of audible breaks between “Information” and “Letters,” where the break between sides on a cassette would be.
Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 is a long listen at nearly an hour – something that Lopatin anticipates with his tongue firmly planted in-cheek with late-album crooner “One More Year,” which repeats the phrase “just one more year and then we’ll be happy.” This may be exhausting for newcomers, but Eccojams is (perhaps ironically?) innocuous enough in small doses that there’s no reason why someone cannot enjoy putting this on “shuffle” in their electronic music or vaporwave playlist and being perfectly content. Eccojams‘s twisted side comes out in deep, long listens that are just as rewarding as short ones. This album is absolutely necessary for anyone with a cursory interest in the vaporwave genre and culture – let alone those who are fans of progressive pop music that is ambitious precisely because it doesn’t want to be.
1. She’s Waiting – (2:40) – ★★★★☆
2. Angel – (3:53) – ★★★★★
3. Be Real – (3:03) – ★★★★★
4. Dreams – (3:09) – ★★★★★
5. Demerol – (1:59) – ★★★★★
6. The Door – (2:55) – ★★★★★
7. Alone – (2:51) – ★★★★☆
8. Horsemen – (2:20) – ★★★★★
9. Make U Mine – (2:51) – ★★★★★
10. Information – (2:04) – ★★★★★
11. Letters – (1:34) – ★★★★☆
12. Never Been Easy – (3:05) – ★★★★☆
13. Let Her Go – (2:32) – ★★★★★
14. Lightening Strikes – (2:11) – ★★★★★
15. One More Year – (4:22) – ★★★★★
16. Nobody Here – (2:12) – ★★★★☆
17. World – (2:56) – ★★★★☆
18. Silence – (2:27) – ★★★★☆
19. Chains – (4:13) – ★★★★★
1Reynolds, Simon. “Brooklyn’s Noise Scene Catches Up to Oneohtrix Point Never.” Village Voice. July 06, 2010. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.villagevoice.com/music/brooklyns-noise-scene-catches-up-to-oneohtrix-point-never-6393906.
2Check out “One Hit” from Silent Shout.
3E.g. Infinity Frequencies, Nmesh, and LASERDISC VISIONS.
4Think of Eccojams like eating a fresh muffin and eating another muffin that’s had too many preservatives and was left to sit out for a few days. They’re both muffins, but that preserved muffin is going to have a weird, weird taste with the funky staleness that comes from the preservatives.
5Check out Replica, another stellar vaporwave album with an aesthetic that’s kind of like a cross between this album and 骨架的’s Skeleton.