By Adam Downer | 18 November 2013
It takes seven seconds for Hit Vibes to take off. Emerging from the rubble of vaporwave with the most transparently fun album the genre can claim to its murky parameters, SAINT PEPSI begins his album with a small sample of Woody Allen dialogue, like a narrator introducing the themes of a play before a closed curtain. A party is promised. A piano slides up, a crisp drum fill gives way to beefy horns, and the listener is not so much gently prodded into remembering the ritzy dance-hall sounds of disco as thrust into immediate, total immersion with a Baz Luhrmann-directed Gatsby party circa 1980. This is the album Random Access Memories should have been: vibrantly alive and brimming with wonder, not playing like animatronic robots approximating disco and funk from behind a plate of glass. Hit Vibes makes the spirit feel real, interactive, the result being a seriously seductive piece of escapist pop that, as cocaine was once described to Dewey Cox, “turns all your bad feelings into good feelings. It’s a nightmare!”
Like the dance sequences in Saturday Night Fever, Hit Vibes conjures the dance-club-as-oasis setting while harsher economic and social realities leer through the window. Or, perhaps more accurately, Hit Vibes is like the impossible party that’s happening in an advertisement because of shitty beer. It seethes with the promise of consumer culture, from the phrase “I could make it better” playing beguilingly on loop to the sound of a soda can cracked open with that commercial-specific, problem-evaporating resonance. Hit Vibes is awash in the dangerously alluring high of buying, of participating in the ad-man-invented zeitgeist glossed over with the sheen of neon lights and impeccable white suits. It’s all summed up in an interlude where a couple reaches well out of their price range for a wedding ring, because “what the hell?” For people who look at capitalism and nostalgia as opiates of the masses, Hit Vibes is a thirty-six minute piece of devil’s food cake.
Vaporwave birthed a modest collection of thinkpieces on the genre’s critique of capitalism by way of distorting the inoffensiveness of easy-listening. Lengthy, pitch-shifted Diana Ross samples or chopped-and-screwed muzak were pretty standard fare, especially for artists on the Beer on the Rug label. But Hit Vibes isn’t postmodern pastiche with plunderphonics like Macintosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe (2011), nor is it a recontextualization of elevator music such as 情報デスクVIRTUAL’s irritating-to-write-about 札幌コンテンポラリー (2012). Rather, it is an artistic project whose political aims are mostly nonexistent. SAINT PEPSI represents the genre’s supposed politics falling wayside to the form—the parody becoming sincere. Here, the lengthy samples are of the Whispers or Phil Fearon and the Galaxy and are allowed to play with little interference. SAINT PEPSI treats his samples as something already perfect, and rather than reinvent them, merely sequences his favorite bits. The result is an ADD sugar rush, a Girl Talk record that isn’t played for laughs or ironic partying but is sincerely devoted to pulling the very best of its material.
This inherently raises the question of the role of the artist within this movement, and indeed, to look at the Youtube comments for vaporwave tracks, there’s a predictable amount of wankish shots like “this is just a song pitch-shifted, I could do this in my bedroom too.” And, sure, what SAINT PEPSI has done will likely not satisfy rockist metrics for “artistry”; rather than culling records to make something auteur-driven a la DJ Shadow or the Avalanches, he makes himself rather anonymous, his achievements in sequencing and isolating rather than mixing and mashing. Each successive track works perfectly off the last one. Observe, for example, the way the climactic “Better” slows down into the down-tempo “Together,” which gives way to a slick, mid-tempo middle. The anonymity doesn’t preclude some noticeable flourishes, including a delicious “It’s SAINT PEPSI, bitch” and the sound of Toad getting hit by a shell and falling off a ledge in Mario Kart 64, but for the most part this is an album whose aspirations begin and end at “be fun.” To that end, SAINT PEPSI has succeeded: Hit Vibes is a masterfully put-together party record that fills out its run time without a dull moment.