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Angel 1 – Terra Nova

Angel 1 – Terra Nova (2017)

Among the musical divergences that occurred in the 2010s vaporwave will probably be remembered the least fondly. It seems like it's just visible and recognizable enough that it was able to reach that critical inflection point of being disliked by default; in other words, its nature as a loudly ironic exercise sets it up for failure in the eye of the general public. But what about artists lumped within this broad, highly nonspecific genre definition who actually produce good music? Therein is the great tragedy of genres: they operate as a critical convenience, a plaything for the commentators, and perhaps only serve the artists they presume to label to the extent that they help advance marketing efforts (ticket sales, etc) – at the risk of impinging on the artistic prerogative itself.

That's cynical, of course – genre labels help create genuine, and crucial, discourse among fans and critics, which serves to grow appreciation for music. For every nine people who might turn their nose up at anything labeled "vaporwave", there's one who will excitedly scuttle home to dive into it, deconstruct it, and plot it on the growing matrix of subgenres. In the case of Terra Nova, I've found an album I think exemplifies some of the better elements of the vaporwave genre. Whether that was the intent of the artist I cannot say, but that seems to be where it falls in the aesthetic genealogy of music. It's to the genre's credit that this album would be classified within it; I hope that, with the grace of open minds, the album is not diminished by being categorized as such, but rather helps us better understand it as being part of something greater than itself.

In the past I've half-jokingly described vaporwave as "chopped and screwed elevator music" but the music to be found on Terra Nova is leaps and bounds beyond any such reduction. It's rich and oozy, enveloping all it touches in its colorful underwater world. Think the Mario 64 levels where you're swimming around underwater. It requires a bit of patience (the average length of its six tracks is over nine minutes), but the thing really gets going by its third track, the dramatically titled "The German Idea of Freedom". This is where the beats really start to hit. In the next track, "Apple-tini", we're enjoined to kick back and enjoy this "state of dream" by a Slavic-accented female voice (with some serious ASMR vibes going on) before it eases gently into a meander of skittering drum taps and soft synth pads. The album closes out with the 14-minute "Karaoke", a wandering, melancholy introspection with definite traces of lite rock and muzak but with so much of its own strange identity. Throughout the whole song, various voices repeat, in spoken-word or whisper, the single lyric "passion". The vaporwave mantras might have us believe it's an ironic gesture, but the emotion I feel hearing this song, and album, is sincere.

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