The Encyclopedia Dramatica, which may or may not be a legitimate source of contrarian knowledge in the face of the “unbiased” approach of Wikipedia, approaches vaporwave as any pre-internet institution would: warily, never making direct eye contact. Of the subculture, it says: “Vaporwave may or may not exist as an established art form or means of expression. Vaporwave works against itself to provide entertainment; the boundaries of irony are irrelevant here.” And then, of course, there’s vaporwave’s younger, beefier cousin, hardvapor, with its hypercorporate mindmelt of postmodernism and Netscape utopia mixed with meme-influenced imagery playing as both self-referential and tongue-maybe-in-cheek. It all feels so ethereal and fleeting.
So, how do you attempt to deal with music that thrives in a contextless ether? What music could bridge the anarchic void of internet ephemera and the physical world, where industry, technicality, and social constructs are still veritable gatekeepers? At some threshold, the source material ends and the artist begins, which is where Daniel Saylor’s debut Spring Rain comes in. In an attempt to make the vapor ａｅｓｔｈｅｔｉｃ “tangible,” Saylor approaches consonance through pop culture sampling, live jazz instrumentation, and references to hardvapor’s distant ancestors in breakbeat and glitch music. This album goes beyond the work that Saylor released previously as Windows 98の and currently on his label, Bedlam Tapes; it’s a simple answer to the progression of a style of music that he and others have worked to legitimize, shedding the material constraints of the genre and using live-tracked instruments to meld jazz with various electronic styles.
Pioneers from many electronic narratives are given cameos: for example, Dan Deacon, the father of frenetic, circuit-breaking rave anthems, is sampled on “Crossing Paths.” It’s a moment when Saylor’s ideas really click together, and the composition is exciting and seamless. The track then transitions into one of the album’s many interludes, which also happens to contain some of the album’s most impactful moments. Imogen Heap, who inadvertently sang the blueprint for a sub genre of ghostly hip-hop when her voice was sampled by Clams Casino for “I’m God,” appears on “Breathe.” Saylor also samples George Clinton, Hirokazu Tanaka (the composer behind many classic Nintendo titles), mathcore savants Dillinger Escape Plan, and even Kanye West, all with some sort of purpose in mind, no doubt.
Saylor is a bit like of a foil to Venetian Snares. He clearly has a deep fundamental and technical musical knowledge, and like Aaron Funk, he has a quixotic online presence and questionable sense of humor that gleefully undermines the seriousness of his music. They are also both reflections of the state of the internet during their respective heydays, which is also what makes them extremely different. Venetian Snares was all about chaos, filth, and grimly chauvinistic imagery, adopting a kidult machismo that long predated meme/trolling culture’s preoccupation with juvenile in-jokes, homoerotic jabs, and cartoonish violence. Saylor takes an opposite approach: Spring Rain is like a spa day away from whatever circle of hell society has wound up in, one where the Western standard of living is higher and comfort more accessible than ever, paid for by constant exposure to advertisements, aggravating fictions, and the ceremonial beating of the dead culture horse.
Spring Rain definitely isn’t subtle on the dramatics. In fact, things get silly on “Forward Junction” and “Downtown,” two songs that seem like they’re meant to be a crest in the album’s narrative, but are ultimately overstuffed with content, like the stereotypical teenage gamer’s bedroom. While this NES influence leads him to craft some questionable melodies (like on the second part of “Ashes into Rivers”), Saylor also manages to do what the best video game soundtracks do on “Unstill Waters”: create a sense of narrative place — in this case, the album’s danceable finale. And by understanding the nuances of live instrumentation and the tropes of today’s most popular and exciting electronic music, Saylor wisely places himself in both camps: a technocrat and a subversive, and also, in his own words, a composer and “savant.”