t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者
By Adam Downer | 13 January 2015
向かい合って is a record about drowning. Vaporwave has historically worked best when it’s held a grotesque mirror to pop culture, conflating nostalgia and irony in an effort to destroy the narratives that built the techno-capitalistic zeitgeist. That is not 向かい合って. Rather, it exists in a place above dreaming and below waking life, submerged below consciousness, where tones and time float ethereally by while language morphs into a soothing miasma of vowels. It colors the world in an uncanny light, not skewering media so much as it is the quotidian, making the familiar confusing and strange with a sonic makeup that’s more like a smooth-jazz lucid dream. It is an excellent album for not feeling alive.
向かい合って (“Face to Face”) comes from t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, a prolific artist on the Dream Catalogue label. Populated by Bandcamp vaporwave producers less interested in irony as they are playing within the genre’s ever-important aesthetic, Dream Catalogue generally trades in spacious ambient crafted by time-stretching and lightly rearranging obscure pop music. Though the process is ostensibly very simple—t e l e p a t h テレパシ released 20 albums in 2014 in addition to contributing to numerous collaborations—Dream Catalogue’s exhaustive F R A G M E N T E D M E M O R I E S compilation illustrates just how titanic t e l e p a t h テレパシ’s sound is among his peers. Whereas some Dream Catalogue artists lack a niche or worse, dabble with jokey absurdism, t e l e p a t h テレパシ’s excellently-crafted arrangements, watery palette, and tendency towards maximalism have helped make him a hot artist among the tiny community who still cares about vaporwave. 向かい合って is his masterpiece, a massive, impressively consistent mix of dreamy vapor slush, melancholic and beautiful, a warm, digital facsimile of soul.
Which isn’t to say it’s necessarily easy to get into. The hour long “あなたの愛、永遠に” (“Your Love, Forever”) sits boldly at track two, serving as the mammoth gateway to t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者’s dreamscape. A slowcore endurance test with two long, major payoffs, the track is the album’s signature experience. It’s a love song stretched into an ocean, smoothly and languorously working towards killing any sense of linear time. A voice whose humanity was left several pitches upwards goes wailing a soul-slathered chorus over and over again, trudging through a cyclical emotional arc where every dissonant suspension in the simplest chord progression is pressed achingly too long. Every microcosm of emotion in a pop phrase is playing out in epic scale; the minor fall gives way to the major lift, the anticipation of a V resolves to an ecstatic I, repeat, on and on and on, until the song fades into a reality where there’s still two thirds of the record to go.
That “あなたの愛、永遠に” succeeds so powerfully makes it a new benchmark in vaporwave’s hypnotic potential and serves as a sort of indoctrination to the rest of the album. The rest of the tracks are nowhere near as exhausting, but the intense emotional color survives in songs with stronger loops and mesmerizing melodies. “シアン水面” (“Cyan Water Surface”) chugs along at a meditative clip with buoyant backing vocals supporting a lonely smooth-jazz saxophone lick and a vocal soloist singing something incomprehensible and heartbreaking. “今夜、私の愛” (“Tonight, My Love”) works a bit more menacingly, a sharper 20-minute expanse pierced occasionally by a hellishly down-pitched vocal riff. That Voice, the down-pitched trip into the uncanny valley that has become such a signature of vaporwave, t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 uses as a conduit to his music’s heart. Throughout 向かい合って, That Voice expresses yearning, calmness, and intense loneliness without words, a canvas onto which a listener can project whatever they want.
This is the thing with 向かい合って: it responds to how willingly one submits to it. It can serve as that canvas that can speak to love or ennui, be that mirror to a subconscious confusion or the isolation inherent in being an individual. Because of what it demands, it lends itself well to obsessive listening. Songs speak in different ways on different listens, not to mention the fact that because it’s so damn long it’s easy to work through in chunks. And, perhaps crucially, there is the comfortable knowledge that the larger world will never know about it. A fascinating part of t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, Dream Catalogue, and what’s left of the vaporwave movement is the willful obfuscation of the genre’s artists. Anonymity is of the utmost importance, so while 向かい合って could be considered a paramount release for the genre, in the past three months it was immediately overshadowed by five new t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 tapes. It’s as though these mixes, powerful as they can be, are never to be given much artistic stock, as they’re being tossed off; there will be a new one by the end of the month.
Then, there’s conspicuous elephant in the room: that the record’s name and song titles are all in Japanese. The implications of using Japanese characters and aesthetics is a topic for a different essay, but what it does artistically for many listeners is create a barrier, an understanding that they will not have a clear grasp on what is being communicated. These layers of obscurity have helped keep t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 Facebook and Twitter follower counts in the modest hundreds, but all evidence suggests that success beyond the smaller pockets of the internet is not a priority. Rather, it is the art, strange and lush, willfully obscured reflections of post-modern humanity, passed around excitedly or faux-ironically on tumblrs that the general public will never frequent, that thrills before it gets tossed aside with other internet ephemera. This raises the question: what to do with music that’s free, simple, powerful, but ultimately of little cultural impact? Cherish it. As the world grows more connected, awash in more content than is humanly tweetable, music that exists far outside the zeitgeist could start sounding like the only music that’s speaks to it.