We’ve entered an age where some brows knit and eyes become furtive when we premier a piece of music in polite company, especially when its an ‘underground’ ‘limited release’ that perhaps found early life on ‘cassette.’ We grow anxious as to whether EQ settings were manhandled last weekend, whether a corrosion so ardent as to dig its fingers into gold has gripped one’s RCAs. We wonder, but never aloud, “Is this hiss — tape or otherwise — intentional, or did I inadvertently download the 64kbps preview mp3?”
LA Vampires is the post-Pocahaunted project of Amanda Brown, well-placed to thumb out a direction for the recentest wave of gothique/psychedelic/lo-fi sonic sensibility that has been dragged up-and-out from the underground’s burgeoning subbasements, left for some time now blinking in the light, and which may or may not dry up like so much just-outta-Barstow roadkill before its pupils adjust and folks just drive on and away. With her LA Vampires project and as co-founder of the Not Not Fun label (surely a sly, light-as-a-Theremin-and-noble-gas poke at East Coast noise boyz No Fun), Brown is bent on documenting the LA sun-scorched psych & budget beatscene and, to wit, NNF has been steadily releasing a slew of collectible nuggets, including Brown’s own work as LA Vampires.
The LA Vampires collaboration with Zola Jesus earlier this year mined cavernous, paranoid dub sensations (think Torture or Lee Perry in mid-Black-Ark-pyromania with extra lashings of sherm), featuring tracks pleasingly married to Zola Jesus’ voice buried and banshee’d in the noisy vein of her 2009 album Spoils. That LA Vampires is a phantasmic collaboration that gets better with each listen and is a thrilling document of what Brown hopes to map out.
This time round, LA Vampires meets Matrix Metals and takes a slightly different route. The dub is still there, but driven more firmly in the direction of so-called ‘hypnagogic pop’ or dare I say ‘chillwave’ (or firm favorite ‘glo-fi’); Brown’s echoplexed voice is lifted to prominence over tracks that mine the misspent VHS-afternoon and bedroom-reverie-honed knack of Washed Out, Neon Indian, and Memory (Weird) Tapes/Cassette for conjuring up half-remembered or entirely-received and/or fabulated chunks of personal-meets-historical cultural consciousness — neon-lit film soleil Miamis and sun-drenched park/beachland picnic vistas presented as obsolete photochemical signatures, cheaply vision-mixed video edits, pixel cascades in the place where memory fails. The recipe culminates in the use of plastic synths, cast-off drum machines, and mastering everything on a big block-rockin’ JVC double tape deck from the bottom of a swimming pool in light so over-exposed you can’t actually find the BASS, MID (HI/LO) and TREBLE levels because of the oddly-pleasant migraine glare and the fact that you left your novelty sunglasses poolside and have drunk rather a lot of sea-salted margarita mix and/or smoked massive amounts of sherm-soaked dank you bought off Ariel Pink’s friend’s cousin.
But I veer too far. LA Vampires evidently has a feeling for the darker side of the sun, the coldly sweating possibilities of hypnagogia, evidenced by Brown’s choice of studio buddies. Although her voice is far too prominent to bear up much comparison to a noise- and atmosphere-veiled songstress such as Grouper, there is some milae to be made here. Harking even closer to the darker side of disco than sonic touchstone Nite Jewel, you are more likely to find the sudden sun overcast and the figure poolside floating face-down, hair blocking the filter come morning. At this point you raise your head and look over the fence and recognize — tape hiss suddenly ominously loud and raising rattlesnakes rather than rollerblades from the kindergarten memory block box — where you is at: it’s prototypical postmodern city LA and you are so far from both edge and centre because both are gone lost in the vast sprawl and your pool water’s only blue because it was painted that way I mean look at the sky its fucking YELLOW. What I mean to say is that while Brown’s lyrics are, unlike most of Grouper a.k.a. Liz Harris’ lyrics, discernible, So Unreal nonetheless seems preoccupied with emptying out trite lyricisms and musical tropes, reducing both to decontextualised utterances epitomized by the washed-out, screwed & chopped lyrical nicking from Chic’s “Everybody Dance” in “Don’t Dance Alone.” This perverse take on worn-out, platitudinous disco culture and the hit machine is the stuff of much of this record and owes a lot to the involvement of Matrix Metals.
Matrix Metals, sonically affiliated with the aforementioned story of the hypnagogic pop protagonists, sound like the thick, sinuous, slightly glitched, faux-80s synthpop soundtracks churned out by Games (Daniel Lopatin a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never + Tigercty’s Joel Ford) and Gatekeeper, but with the lo-fi knob turned up, like Black Dice leaving a mess behind after a session in Jan Hammer’s sleek studio to which they paid a visit after cutting some copy-unprotected C60 demos at maybe even Peter Gutteridge’s place. Here they prise up and lay down thick chunks of poorly compressed disco pop tarmac for Brown to breath over, begging to be made over and born again in “Make Me Over” and waxing paranoid over the syrupy bounce of “How Would You Know” (“I could be faking this/ How would you know?”). The standout track is perhaps “Berlin Baby,” which leavens the sludge with a fuzzy percussive opening and cheap MIDI-keys horn section to bed what struck me as a kind of hijack of Lou Reed’s “Berlin” — Reed’s lyricism replaced by the poetic of the slogan; carefully fleshed romantic vignettes nixed by trite, stacked epithets re: fame, champagne, gossip, and the loosely hip associations adhering to the idea of Berlin.
Overall, the production, however (intentionally) muddy, is shot through with small sequins in the polyester weave, a spandex sheen that reveals itself if held to the light and turned right. This holds true through to the sunny (sunniest, rather) closer and title track “So Unreal,” which has perhaps the closest affinity to the hypnagogic pop of the Washed Out/Toro Y Moi/et al over and above the snot-nosed glitch and disco-wooze moves of most of the cuts here. Lazy gated-reverb snare hits, glittering pads, and buried woodland flutes hem in what is, after opener “Make Me Over” (video here), the mission statement here: Brown’s LA Meets series are exercises in sonic drag. This one in particular is an exercise in the unreal that reproduces fantastically on laptop speakers. We’re meant to hear the empty lyrics ring tinny in our not entirely comfortably assaulted ears. While this release is as ever an interesting detour, it just isn’t quite as compelling a soundcrash as the earlier Meets Zola Jesus. As a signpost for an obviously fertile and wildly cross-pollinating collaborative scene, it bodes well.