You find yourself in a dark room, sitting by the bed, looking into the darkness. You realize there’s a light source behind you, so you slowly turn around. There’s a window looking at a night city landscape. You stand up to take a better look, and you start walking around the room. Muffled piano chords ring in the distance. You look outside. A strange feeling fills your heart. It’s cozy, in a way. A voice echoes in your ears. You don’t want to ever leave. The initiation has begun.
What separates Vektroid from many of her imitators is how good she is at creating powerful atmospheres from the very beginning of an album. Here she opens the Initiation Tape, one of the first releases of the New Dreams Ltd. canon, with haunting piano chords and an unsettling pitch-shifted vocal. It should be kinda spooky, but the jazz feel and the analogue hiss makes it very intimate. Despite the sweet delivery, though, the words remind us of what we’re about to listen. This is not going to be an easy listening. Worse, it’s gonna be like dying. And the introductory lullaby gets cut short by a CBC title card followed by a noisy orchestral cue looped over and over as to become droning, pioneering a technique that will be used successfully by acts like Infinity Frequencies. It seems like the mood has reached a new, cozy plateau, but we’re mistaken again. We soon get dragged inside a TV promo. We even get what could very well be a phone-on-hold jingle or the introduction to an investigative serial. What the hell am I listening to?
The Initiation Tape is a study on the ugly. In tracks like drftrzzz / dstryrzzz, hydrocodone / prom night, you appeared / you didn’t, yr slave and rationalization long forgotten songs from the 80s are brought again to the light of day, looped and slowed down in a way that exposes their intrinsic ugliness. The guitars especially, when stretched out like this, reveal their empty glossiness and stink like burned plastic. Combined with the obnoxious pitched down vocals, it creates a claustrophobic feeling. Songs that many probably enjoyed at the time of release and then disappeared from public consciousness are forcibly brought to our attention in a way that reminds me of how Marcel Duchamp basically turned a urinal upside down and exhibited it as a piece of art, making us for the first time consciously reflect on them. Why they were forgotten? Will the songs that we enjoy at the present rot in the same way? On the other hand, other sections of the album indulge in legitimately beautiful and soothing short snippets like camaro, upper spheres of consciousness and album closer new life now! please, which are a nice breather from the overbearingness of some of the other tracks and also make us think of what this album is trying to tell us: wasn’t this supposed to be a mishmash of ugly loops and an intentionally awful record? After all, Vektroid herself said that the whole New Dreams Ltd. saga started as a social experiment on how bad you can make an album and still have people try to find a deeper meaning in it just to feel more hipster than thou (and if I’m writing this I probably fell into the trap as well). Why are we enjoying parts of this, so much as to make us overlook the obviously repugnant bits? This jarring contrast is especially clear in meditations save me o lord, where a gorgeous arpeggio synth figure is juxtaposed with a drawn out pitched down howl. It’s supposed to sound grand and holy, but it comes across just as fake as everything else. Yet it’s still beautiful in an awkward way. Go figure.
In a way that makes the Initiation Tape title kinda ironic in hindsight, in this album are showcased trends and techniques that will be reprised in vaporwave by her and other artists. Late night lo-fi, later perfected by Luxury Elite and her Fortune 500 label, is anticipated in timecop; by putting another, beautiful spin (almost Daft Punk-y in how it manages to create a totally different feel from the source material) on Toto’s Africa in psr41 and borrowing that album’s staple techniques in neu fatale, Vektroid pays homage to Chuck Persons’s Eccojams and marks it forever to her successors as the proto-vaporwave album. In the next installment of New Dreams Ltd. saga, the esc 不在 double album, Vektroid will expand on the concepts of exposed ugliness and naïve beauty explored in this album, respectively on Black Horse and MIDI Dungeon. In fact, those two albums, now redacted from Vektroid’s opus, will be later reworked together with this album and combined in the 2014 Isle of Avalon Edition of the Initiation Tape, which is actually the only one officially approved by Vektroid presently. The use of TV snippets and commercials is further explored on this album’s sister release, Fuji Grid TV’s prism genesis (another very good release that Vektroid sadly redacted), and upper spheres of consciousness anticipates some of the more ambient bits of Floral Shoppe.
While this album is not as pretty an introduction to vaporwave as Floral Shoppe is, the way in which explores and pushes the boundaries of cheesy sample choice and encloses in itself most of the trends seen in following vaporwave releases make it one of the first releases I’d recommend to everybody who wants to understand what vaporwave is and where it comes from. I strongly advise to listen to it in a dark room at night with view on a cityscape, it will all start to click.
Original Mediafire download link (thank God Vektroid didn’t remove it!)
YouTube playlist with some of the samples used