Vaporwave’s association with kitschy pitched-down R&B is so intrinsic as to be memetic, and it all started with 骨架的’s Holograms back in 2010. Released around the same time as Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 by Daniel Lopatin, Holograms ditched the “post-Internet” ethereal gloom that was previous release Skeleton for a nostalgia-bomb of old school muzak samples and dreamy, glittery electronica.
Despite their equally influential status, Lopatin’s Eccojams, 骨架的’s Skeleton, and James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual may be more accurately designated as “proto-vaporwave” due to the scene’s non-existence at the time of release and their lack of some of the genre’s more memetic aesthetics; whereas Holograms is best described as the first real vaporwave album. The sound is instantly recognizable to those whose initial introduction to the genre began with Macintosh Plus,1 Saint Pepsi, and Blank Banshee: smooth jazz soundtracks, shimmery electronics, and those Barry-White-on-Dramamine sex vocals.
The sound quality of Holograms is impressive in relation to the many vaporwave albums that attempt extreme lo-fidelity to create a retro vibe; 骨架的 made an excellent aesthetic choice to let the datedness of smooth jazz and R&B speak for itself rather than add layer after layer of effect.2 Of particular note is opening song “Computer,” which features a soft keyboard flutter with a low bass rumble and two or three blink-and-you’ll-miss-it3 glitches. It’s one of the best songs in the genre, and is so effective precisely because it isn’t just a cut-and-pasted manifestation of a sampling fetish. Holograms does not sacrifice musicality for statement; the sample curation subgenres of vaporwave (e.g. broken transmission) are built around concepts rather than the facilitation of a pleasurable listening experience, but for songs like “Computer,” it is a pleasant reprieve from experimentation to have a track that is a genuinely enjoyable listening experience.
In comparison with its successors, Holograms is tame. There are no crazy compositional mix-ups, no hardcore experiments in noise or pitch-shifting, and no extraordinarily eclectic samples. Those who heard Skeleton first may find that Holograms‘ toned-down and less overtly discomfiting style to be a disappointment. Holograms is one of those releases where the scene that it spawned expounded on its idea further than the album ever touched, making it seem basic and bare in contrast. Ironically, those tracks worth hearing are the ones that do not rely on pitch-shifted sampling because – despite those tracks’ then-experimental qualities – they have not been revisited countless times by so many artists. Holograms may be mild to post-Macintosh Plus ears, but credit to 骨架的’s skills as a producer that he made an album so damn influential that hundreds – if not thousands – of artists took with his ideas and ran with them. That is the highest form of flattery for a musical artist – to have your ideas reinterpreted by others so that they may create even better works of art from them.
The full Holograms album is not a definitive vaporwave experience, but it is an exceptional part of the scene’s history and one of the most “listenable” releases in the genre, which is why it will suit well with those for whom the memetic or experimental aspects of the scene are not their flavor more so than it would be good for the already initiated.
1. Computer – (2:19) – ★★★★★
2. Don’t Sleep – (1:22) – ★★★★☆
3. Water – (2:47) – ★★★★★
4. Breeze – (1:52) – ★★★★☆
5. Silk Sheets – (1:00) – ★★★☆☆
6. Smoke – (0:38) – ★★★★★
7. Eye – (1:09) – ★★★☆☆
8. Relax – (1:35) – ★★★★☆4
9. Memory – (1:25) – ★★★☆☆
10. Tones – (3:08) – ★★★★☆
11. Skin Glow – (2:05) – ★★★★☆
12. Fountain – (2:43) – ★★☆☆☆
13. Fade – (1:29) – ★★★☆☆
14. Clouds – (0:54) – ★★★★☆
15. Yeah – (1:09) – ★★★★☆
16. Still Awake – (3:54) – ★★☆☆☆
1To the point where the artist considers Holograms to be the most influential vaporwave release, at least according to the TVTropes article on the genre. However, this might be apocryphal, as I cannot find another source for this quote.
2Hyperprocessing in vaporwave is the tape hiss of bedroom pop. We get it, you’re indie.
3What’s the auditory equivalent of this idiom?
4Reminds me a lot of Nujabes