チェスマスター – I Am Chesumasuta
“I am” albums are an absolute crapshoot. There’s an inherent danger in declaring your work the true representation of one’s output or the record to which the artist feels the most emotionally connected, which is what such a phrase inherently connotes. Does it mean that the artist’s other albums aren’t the their true intention or aren’t works of which the artist feels proud? What about all albums that follow – are they not equally worthy of such a title? Such works can be successful self-analyses that express the extraordinarily personal in nigh-universal abstractions – such as David Bowie’s Blackstar and his imminent death – or the façade may break and reveal an artist who neither knows who they are nor knows how to express that they don’t know1 – as heard on Tricky’s Vulnerable, which was anything but so. And now, ghostvapor/dreampunk has one – courtesy of Tokyo producer チェスマスター.2
チェスマスター entered the fray of electronic music in 2014 with the hypnagogic pop of 真の愛, an album heavily influenced by the ambient releases of artists such as General Translator and HKE (then presenting as Hong Kong Express) – the latter of which would feature チェスマスター on his Dream Catalogue and Tokyo Exchange3 labels. The two albums that followed – Night Drive and The Games We Play – played even more on the hypnagogic side, but with excursions into the murky realm of lo-fi electronic music, imparting a milieu of subtle darkness upon the listener that mirrored similar advancements by labelmates and other artists.
チェスマスター further realized this trend with the acclaimed 天使, a sprawling twenty-track release that mixed broken transmission, dark ambient, and hypnagogic pop into a work of art that was thoroughly its own – and wound up on a few community “best of” lists, to boot. That August, Dream Catalogue dropped 非実体, a cimmerian release that featured a larger focus on original electronic experimentation and music effects rather than previous reliance on samples; in many ways, 非実体 was チェスマスター’s club album. One month later, Tokyo Exchange released 夢に生きます, a concept album of haunting lo-fi, chopped-and-screwed, ambient pop music4 that followed a similar progression as 天使 in mixing the minuscule with the grand (e.g. “Dream H” and “Dream L”). Almost one year later – the longest interval between albums – チェスマスター released I Am Chesumasuta on Dream Catalogue.
In context, I Am Chesumasuta is a realization of everything チェスマスター has created thus far and more. It melts down and melds together the extraordinary ambiance of 天使, the long-form song technique of 夢に生きます, and the bastardized techno backing of 非実体. Dream Catalogue stated on its press release that this is a companion album to 非実体,5 which certainly seems apparent in the prominent cybernetic visual theme and larger reliance on electronic instrumentation. It pushes チェスマスター’s own boundaries as well, as heard on the guitar-like lead of “Forever Mine.” One can even hear Karin Andersson’s (of The Knife) wrung-out vocal style in the uncanny, pitch-shifted croons of “You Bring Me Joy.” I Am Chesumasuta also reveals influences from recent developments in the Dream Catalogue aesthetic; for example, “And Now I Am Like You” and “I Need a Hit” call back to the spiked samplism utilized by chris††† on no lives matter and death’s dynamic shroud.wmv on I’ll Try Living Like This.
This album features the most prominent use of vocals to date. Practically all songs feature チェスマスター ‘s robotic overlays, creating an unsettling yet entrancing effect upon repetition of lyrics such as “take me away” “you bring me joy” and “control yourself.” Short, simple phrases – ones that are entirely, almost blandly human – and therefore powerful. Female vocals feature prominently as well, and despite the inherent sensuality of tracks such as “Nights of Passion,” they avoid fetishization. They frequently serve as counterpoint to the digitized vocals, highlighting the disparity between digital and organic. Such a production choice is not rare – hell, look at Radiohead – but what is rare is how well it’s done here: at no point does チェスマスター fall prey to gimmick; these careful decisions in voice and instrumentation emphasize not the rift between man and computer, but its steady close.
Bar none, I Am Chesumasuta is the greatest vaporwave/dreampunk/ghost tech album of 2016 thus far. It is the truest example of チェスマスター’s ecstatic, impressive evolution into a hallmark producer at the top of his game. If this is to be チェスマスター’s “I am” album, then it is an exceptional choice of one.
1. I Don’t Want to Be Alone – (3:20)
2. Turn Me On – (3:26)
3. Forever Mine – (3:55)
4. Control Yourself – (3:05)
5. Nights of Passion – (4:51)
6. You Bring Me Joy – (4:00)
7. I Need a Hit – (3:07)
8. Drained – (1:14)
9. I Am The Non-Entity – (5:16)
10. And Now I Am Like You – (9:05)
1… or fail to demonstrate self-awareness that they are unsure of themselves, which Kanye West seems to have hit in the past few years.
2… which reads as “Chesumasuta,” or “Chessmaster” in English.
3Now known as “TKX Vault.”
4… that ended up on this reviewer’s “Top Five of 2015” for the genre.
5See the bandcamp link located below the tracklist.