Let’s say a few words about Lancaster County, PA. Millions of tourists visit to eat Amish cuisine at the Central Market, and visit the home of James Buchanan, the worst president in U.S. history. You can enjoy free music at Long’s Park during the summer, or check out the latest indie darling or metal band at the Chameleon club. To the north is Lititz, America’s coolest small town and home to Clair Bros., Tait Towers, and all the major players in the live entertainment industry. Perhaps you know two bands: Lititz’s The Districts and Manheim’s August Burns Red. Oh, and not to mention: EVERYONE wants to see the Amish buggies on the road.
We’ve been covering the vast variety of the vaporwave microgenre. It’s remarkable how one genre can connect artists come from all over the world, such as Kentucky or Canada. But much to my luck and surprise, today’s review covers someone from the Amish country. I write this as a Lancaster County native. I know this area inside and out, yet today is the first that I’m reviewing a vaporwave album from my hometown. It’s absolutely surreal. Vaporwave producer Sunstream is an up-and-comer within the scene, having produced several albums already. His latest album dropped unexpectedly last week via Twitter, and in most circumstances, I would have overlooked it. But as said, I’m a Lancaster native, so I HAD to check this one out.
The tuning of radio static begins our journey into slowed down vibes on “The Girl with Galaxy Eyes.” A lonely guitar strums over Seinfeld-like horns and a molasses beat, while pitch-shifted vocals drone underneath. The tempo increases with “Virtual Sky,” as a melancholy marimba riff repeats over a pulsating bass and rock beat. “Bounce” minimally utilizes a slowly beating synth bass, kick, and snare, with an unintelligible vocal in the last half. While “Clouds” is a nice interlude of classic slowed-down vaporwave, “Cherry Fantasy” is a solid piece of downtempo 80s synthpop. The lush atmosphere of synthesizer licks and pads make for perhaps the best track on the album. Another interlude, “Erupt,” distorts analog synths that sound less 80s than a science fiction-themed Krautrock tune.
“Honey & Wine” manipulates a smooth elevator jam and accentuates the melancholy of its electric piano and strings. In a strange sense, it seems to enter William Basinski territory, but without decaying the tape. “’84 Tape Jams” continues more of the slowed down downtempo grooves, yet the synths and organ on the tune sound akin to the offbeat strums of reggae. On “Human,” an emotional synth ballad is stretched into oblivion. The atmosphere feels as though it belongs in an abandoned strip mall. The interlude “Refresh Yourself” repeats a glimmering jazzy riff before a voice on “Virtual Sky Shutdown” thanks the listener for enjoying the experience. The album’s finale, “After School,” sparkles with synthesizer riffs before entering into a smooth jazz vibe. The synthesized strings, guitars, and horns perfectly act as an end credits roll before delaying into a blistering whirlwind that fades out.
Just when you think the slowed down 80s formula of vaporwave can’t continue much longer, Sunstream’s “Virtual Sky” proves it can. William Basinski’s “The Disintegration Loops” proved how muzak that was slowed and distorted could accentuate its sadness and melancholy. In the same vein, “Virtual Sky” feels like a yearning for that time period. The manipulation of the sampled riffs, basslines, and chord progressions seem to intensify the nostalgia of the music. Merely slowing down music doesn’t make it more emotional, but the music’s lo-fi tape quality and radio static add to the atmosphere. Aside from that, it works amazingly well as a chill-out album for summer. You might be turned off by the first track, but richly rewarded if you keep listening. After hearing this stunning release, I hope the Lancaster vaporwave scene continues to grow. The county needs it.
Title: Virtual Sky
Available to download at https://sunstream.bandcamp.com/album/virtual-sky!