TOP 5 VAPORWAVE ALBUMS OF 2021
BY: PAD CHENNINGTON
2021 is coming to a close, and with a year full of great new music, I want to talk about my top 5 favorite Vaporwave albums released this past year.
The genre in general has been in an interesting spot for a good while now, I don’t think there really is a definitive answer to what Vaporwave even is anymore, but more so just a simple way to define this collective group of albums, artists, or labels that you listen to in this specific corner of internet music all under one, umbrella term despite how much they seem to break the boundaries of what old school Vaporwave was known to be like. I don’t find anything wrong with that, I mean you know my channel I’m a fan of categorizing things into a genre or even sub or micro-genres, I find the whole concept of that really fun in a way, but I think you’ll see what I mean by this with the albums that really felt special to me this year.
We’ve come a long way from the Floral Shoppe and the Eccojams era releases and what made 2021 interesting for me at least is that I still find myself always loving that old school, classic Vaporwave vibe or album building formula, yet at the same time I’ve also become so drawn to artists that are taking the tried and true Vaporwave tropes, grabs maybe even the slightest bit of inspiration from them, all to create something that breaks the barriers of the genre into something else entirely.
And a quick disclaimer, obviously I’m not saying these 5 albums are the definitive, like best albums to come out of the scene, a list like this is always subjective of course and these are just 5 albums that I know I personally played a ton of times over and really meant something to me throughout the year.
Let’s wrap this crazy year up as I discuss my top 5 favorite vaporwave albums of 2021.
5) COMPACTdisc ステレオドラマ - サンドオブタイム (COMPACTdisc Stereo Drama - Sands of Time)
One of the things that can make a Vaporwave album feel so special or magical is when the project gives off a feeling as if you’ve stumbled upon something that hasn’t been touched in years. Dated or aged textures on an album art and Japanese track lists that I can’t translate myself, all something I don’t believe I’ll ever get bored of.
Released back in August, COMPACTdisc Stereo Drama’s Sands of Time is nothing short of euphoric.
Slushwave is another genre that has just taken a complete hold of my musical tastes this past year, and watching so many artists pump out projects under the angelic and blurry sound style, we’ve been blessed with how much material there is for us to discover out there. I highly recommend checking out the massive online Slushwave music festivals over at Vapor Memory for hours of this incredible music, I’ll be sure to leave links in the description of my video for those looking to find a ton of great work.
I don’t really remember how I discovered this album in particular, but ever since I did I’ve just found myself throwing it on all the time. There’s this like 2 or 3pm block during the work day where I just get super tired no matter how much coffee I drink, and Sands of Time wakes me up more than any amount of caffeine can ever do.
With 12 tracks making up the album, Sands of Time features a wide range of ancient instruments like flutes, harps, bells and chimes, all looped at just the right amount of time to never over-extend each tracks stay within your ears. They pop in, do their job, and then leave, simple as that.
I love the album art too, projects that feature images straight up ripped from like an old VHS recording containing footage of who knows what and probably only ever seen by like a handful of people, It’s beautiful, mysterious, thought-provoking and the imagery always plays a roll in how the music makes me feel.
Sands of Time warps me to a shoreline on a cloudy day, the cleanest beach with nothing but a message in a bottle washed up on the sand in the distance. Despite my best efforts on walking over to it, that bottle is unreachable, seemingly moving further back into the distance as I get closer and closer to it. Track #4 on here, “Spiritual Lagoon” is one of my favorites; looping piano chords paired with what seems to be a stretched out choir synth-thing in the background, all
joined in by the same repeated vocal phrase and more celestial instruments here and there...Each track is so unique from one another, they are all just beautifully colored sea shells sprinkled throughout the beach. I am in love with this thing, thank you COMPACTdisc for introducing me to such a wonderful musical world, and I know I’ll be throwing this on many times more in 2022.
4) national network - night-time television service
Many may look at this release, “night-time television service” by national network as nothing more than a simple Signalwave drop that doesn’t really do anything special, but with many releases coming out of this cozy and fuzzy Vaporwave subgenre, it’s all about your personal experience tied to when or how you first discovered it. For those who don’t know, Signalwave takes old commercials and/or delicate, happy-go-lucky jingles and songs and creates an almost sound collage between dozens of different samples in one single track. Some artists can get really crazy with this, while others can just keep it extremely simple and just play the one sample throughout with nothing more than some extra effects laid on top.
There was one month during this past summer where my girlfriend and I woke up to a tornado warning alert on our phones at like 5:30am. They said that the warning was to last for about an hour or so from what I remember... We went downstairs and sat away from any windows or whatever the text message said, we really don't ever get any crazy weather like that around here so we just followed everything the alert said just to be safe. Having a lot of work I could knock out anyways, I decided to boot up my work laptop and get a head start on the day before I logged in at 9.
Wanting some background music, I headed over to one of my favorite places to find great music online, a YouTube channel known as channelsurfing, and decided to click a random album to play to keep me company. After scrolling through, I saw the album cover for night-time television service and I remember clicking it because the color of the sky matched the color of the sky outside of our windows at that point early in the morning, and what I heard next just perfectly replicated the moment we were in.
Night-time television service is exactly what the title states it to be, 6 tracks that feel as if they are emanating out of a CRT TV, all from a channel that is only playing repeated news segments from the day before or paid programming. The samples used are super warm and cozy, yet there’s this constant buzzing present throughout the whole album that gives off a sort’ve eerie feeling behind the curtains. All of this just hit so hard as we waited for some tornado to run through our streets, and every time I pop this album back on I think of that morning. Nothing ended up happening and it all lead to a beautiful sunny morning, and ever since then I’ve kept this album in my back pocket whenever the sky hits that same brooding blue color.
The album is beautifully brittle, I love when Signalwave feels as if it would crumble at the slightest touch, and this album has that. There really isn’t too much to break down about the album, pretty much just recycled samples glazed over with some fuzz, but to me, it’s an extremely relaxing yet haunting 20 or so minutes to keep by your side. For fans of Analog Horror, this definitely gives off that unique vibe in an audio sense so give this unbelievably pretty yet crushingly lonely album a listen whenever you get the chance.
3) FM Skyline - Illuminations
A monster release this year and definitely my favorite album from 100% Electronica super homie FM Skyline, the drop of Illuminations back in September had a whole bunch of hype surrounding it, and it definitely delivered.
FM Skyline knows the sound they are loved for, and seems to just expand and play with it more and more upon every release. The main goal is always to play on the idea of nostalgia with FM Skyline’s direction, whether that be with the album artwork and imagery, or the audio itself, and what is so refreshing with this artist is that they seem to somehow breathe newness into what nostalgia can sound like, despite that concept kinda not making sense in the first place? Like
“new nostalgia” doesn’t really seem to work as a term, I don’t know, that “Chillwave-blended-into-Vaporwave” style has been done so many times before, always trying to replicate past auras, feelings and vibes onto the modern day internet, and we’ve seen this a whole bunch of times on 100% Electronica specifically with some really fun releases from artists like Satin Sheets, George himself, and Dan Mason for example. And, not putting any of them down, but I find FM Skyline’s sound to be the personal favorite for me. It’s crisp and translucent, that blend of a an all too familiar 80’s drum machine scattered throughout rising synths and pads, these shiny and pearlescent textures making these songs sound as round and smooth as the metallic spheres present on the artwork, can place you right into that mesmerizing, liminal space rendering in an instant.
Tracks like “Veil” feel truly chilly, a joyride down some slopes in the middle of winter. “Classique” gives off this virtual jungle feel, a blocky rainforest full of overly saturated rendered frogs and birds making up the wonderful place you find yourself jogging through. You can feel the dedication put into every instrument or stem in FM Skyline’s work to make this tracklist as fun as possible for the listener, each separate sound rises and falls in unique ways and makes everything so animated, yet not obnoxious or loud. “Intermezzo” lurks around corners and feels like an underground sewer level to a point-and-click PC game from the 90s. The whole album feels delicate but full of life and color.
I first discovered FM Skyline through Advanced Memory Suite back in 2019, and if you’ve haven’t heard that one either, you definitely got a great 2-for1 coming up for ya with this pair of albums.
The physicals released for Illuminations looked great as well, and I hope to see more FM Skyline on 100% Electronica in the future.
2) desert sand feels warm at night - ピアノの独り言
I really don’t know how much more praise I can give and respect I can have for UK Slushwave artist desert sand feels warm at night... and his latest work released back in July, Piano soliloquy, is nothing short of magnificent.
Desert has been making music for years now, but his recent direction of sample-free Slushwave has elevated him to a level in the online sphere I don’t think anyone saw coming, especially as fast as it happened. With a couple of these sample-free Slushwave releases under his belt, he seems to just get better and better at his craft with each release... and that is definitely the case with Piano soliloquy.
Desert gives us 9 hypnotizing tracks that ascend over one another as you progress through the tracklist. As with his other sample-free Slush, reverb coated, pitched down vocals lead the way on top of heavenly echoing piano keys, splashy drums, and an assortment of nostalgically warm pads. I get lost every time with the track “Heavenly Melody”. Each sound or instrument just glows apart from one another, the contrast between sounds is so rich and the way desert places each individual piece of audio must be applauded. Everything has its own space to shine, taking their turn to talk and being respectful to one another, all leading up to just 30 seconds or so of fading ocean waves. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
I was able to work together with desert sand feels warm at night this year on my record label, where we released one of my favorite albums of his, Drifting in the Sea of Clouds on a limited edition vinyl run, which sold out only hours after I dropped it on the site. It was amazing building the vinyl release with him, sending him art proofs and mastered tracks for the release along the way, and having that opportunity to work with him allowed me to realize how much he truly cares
for his sound, and more importantly, the Slushwave scene as a whole.
Getting back on topic with Piano Soliloquy, some other tracks I’d love to specifically point out to you is the 9-minute long I’m Falling Asleep. The sluggish, smokey drums just give another opportunity for desert’s piano playing to just journey onward once more throughout this tracklist. The album as a whole can feel very large and airy, and desert’s direction to focus almost all of the album’s attention on his piano playing makes it feel as if you’re in an empty hall with him for a one-on-one show. Expansive atmospheres all catered to whatever his piano playing feels like doing. The final track “I can't live without this sound” takes the emptiness setting and turns it up to 11. The intense pairing of pure silence with this just delectable piano playing is a sonic journey in itself, it weirdly builds this tension as we watch this piano flicker into the darkness and finally depart.
Exceptionally rejuvenating, blissfully humble and uniquely talented, desert sand continues to evolve his production style, as well as the Slushwave genre, with every release, and I beg you to give this gorgeous album a listen. Let me know what you think.
1) gh0st - 呪文 (Incantation)
And finally, my personal favorite Vaporwave album of 2021, Incantation by gh0st.
As I mentioned earlier, I still find myself so attracted to that classic Vaporwave
formula. As much as I’ve really gravitated towards Slushwave and Signalwave this year, this album in particular was one of the ones I just fell in love with upon first listen, and made me remember what I love about Vaporwave so much in the first place.
Doing classic Vaporwave right requires a great ear for songs to sample, clever and quirky vocal bites pulled from old 80’s television shows or commercials to create a theme or world within the albums tracklist, awkward and unexpected pitch shifting and tempo changes, and just mixing everything properly to give it that classic , high-end luxurious shine we came to love so much in Vapor from like 2012 to 2015.
I see Incantation as almost a buffet of everything we’ve come to love throughout the years; Sudden tempo and pitch changes happening towards the end out of nowhere in the 1st track “L.F.L.”. Smoky percussion and these super happy, jovial pads in the track “dreamstate”. Corporate, office skyscraper vibes in the track “RISE UP!”. That damn sample used in the track “risk it all” is so dang catchy and will have you looping it in your brain for days to come. And hey, maybe eccojams are your thing? G h 0 s t has you covered there too, “ecco to no one” truly feels as if it was made for Chuck Persons Eccojams Vol 1.
Incantation is a release that definitely, definitely deserves some more attention, and I really hope this video brings some new ears to the album. The whole album is curated so well, every track blends perfectly into one another and the whole thing from start to end is a blast. gh0st created a classic that I think is going to gain more and more recognition as time goes by. You can tell how much gh0st cares about the genre with this release, and the whole project feels like an homage to all of the feelings Vaporwave has given us along the way.
To top it all off, g h 0 s t leaves us with the final track “Welcome to the broadcast!”, an elegant and graceful Signalwave-inspired tune that just drops out at a random saxophone note, leaving you wanting more.
Cheers, thank you so much for stopping by today and here’s to 2022.
Much luv, ur boi and we’ll talk soon,