If you know anything about Hunter S. Thompson, then you are probably aware of the book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Written in 1971, the book portrays the adventures of journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they travel to Las Vegas. While covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race for a magazine, they abuse recreational drugs and have frequently bizarre hallucinations. Thompson’s overarching theme, however, is the collapse of the “American Dream” and the 1960s counterculture. From destroying cultural symbols to portraying Vegas as a cesspool of greed and commercialism, Thompson’s novel shows it all.
Now imagine this book was rewritten and updated for the 1980s. Imagine blaring synthesizers, slot machines, and televisions as the backdrop to Duke and Gonzo’s madness. Got it? Good, because that’s the direction of vaporwave producer High in Las Vegas’s last album, High in Las Vegas 3. The album is the latest offering from the Ontario-based collective, Museum of Skin. If you browse through the label’s discography, there is a variety of music from bassy beats to left-field experimentalism. In the past, there have been two albums from this producer: To Live and High in Las Vegas, and their eponymous debut. This album, however, is supposedly going to be the last from the project. If it is, then it’s a stunning finale. Vaporwave has always had a penchant for the surreal and psychedelic, but this takes such aesthetics to another level. Prepare to enter the neon-lit casino.
The opener will “Drag You to Vegas” as screeching synths and funky basslines skip underneath a variety of vinyl scratches. The follow-up, “⟡⟡⟡⟡⟡⟡◆High, A Lot◆⟡⟡⟡⟡⟡⟡,” replicates the pings of casino machines over repeating grooves that belong in a Nintendo game. Afterward, the synth-funk hop of “♥Home is HILV♥…” bumps hard enough to be played during a night out on the Vegas strip. Things slow down with the happy ballad of “▒▒▓Sweet!///(Doing Great!).” The chords and bass slaps ooze memories of lucky winning streaks at slot machines. Following this, the short interlude “Runaway ;” continues the hip-hop groove under Asian dialogue, while “Make Vegas Hostels Great Again (Vincent van Hogh Edit)” twists the rhymes of Felt’s “Life Vegas” into a Com Truise style remix.
Two later interludes, “Strip Loop [xtended Cut]” and “∵Desert Money;’\∴” repeat catchy downtempo riffs that feel equally perfect as a homage to the hot desert city. Meanwhile, “Sweat Jam” mixes together funky disco, R&B, old hip-hop, and workout videos in a way reminiscent of someone tuning the car radio. Both “In the Club” and “At the Hilton” are two uptempo tunes with fantastic DX7 bells that simultaneously mock its mainstream appeal. “Quick 1” and “Beer Run→→→ ” feel cut from a Windows 95 racing game menu, as though this is the music you hear while choosing the fastest car possible. The album finally cools down with the slow flow of “Cooldown Beat,” and the credits of the Windows 95 game play during “Thank You For Playing **Staff Roll**.” The screaming synths from the first track seem to return, although the song goes through a variety of styles throughout its 5-minute runtime.
It’s a shame I’m only reviewing the last album of the project. But hearing this in comparison to High in Las Vegas’s previous albums, “High in Las Vegas 3” is the fitting conclusion to a fantastic project. This is the first time I’ve heard hip-hop and synth-funk within a genre that’s known to satirize elevator music. It’s also the first time I’ve ever heard rapping on a vaporwave song. Yet all of these styles work well within the larger theme of Las Vegas casinos and greed. If Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo did another Las Vegas trip 15 years after their first, this is the music I’d imagine they’d hear. It’s unapologetically surreal, trippy, and a fascinating journey I’d easily take again. Whether this is your first introduction to the project or you’re already a fan, the album will suit both groups. Be a high-roller and buy it today.
Title: High in Las Vegas 3
Artist: High in Las Vegas
Genre: Vaporwave/experimental/psychedelic electronica
Available to purchase for $7.77 CAD (or similar, depending on your country’s currency) at https://museumofskin.bandcamp.com/album/high-in-las-vegas-3!