ULTRACOMPUTER – SUPERCARTRIDGE
Listening to SUPERCARTRIDGE? You’re on the game grid now, that’s for sure: except this one’s a backalley find of a B-list console with several pins missing rather than a state-of-the-art arcade cabinet. This is the second album from ULTRACOMPUTER, one of the many anonymous and pseudo-anonymous projects on TKX Vault,1 and it is certainly one of the label’s works that is most indebted to the foundations of the digital era.
There is plenty of eighties music that sounds immediate and ageless, like Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys or The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut; SUPERCARTRIDGE is not one of those albums. Although it was released in Spring of 2015, SUPERCARTRIDGE is exceptionally dated in music and visual aesthetic, as if thick layers of dust are covering the long-disused motherboard. It’s gaming tunes retrieved from a chalky North Carolina flea market. The album artwork demonstrates as much, taking the form of a bent and worn cardboard casing to some unknown pre-crash gaming console;2 combine this with some of the most physically-corrupted chiptune out there, and you’ve got yourself a stew going.
SUPERCARTRIDGE is best experienced as a single, unbroken suite. The first and final two tracks are extreme low-fidelity plays of nameless pop and electronic music, with the middle six being miniclips and advertisements of then-modern electronic paraphernalia. Unlike many microsample albums, these don’t overstay their welcome; there’s no fluff or constant repetition of the same thing except for a slow-down two-thirds of the way through; everything feels purposeful and inexpendable. Even the cassette clicking of “X_06” has its place by introducing the next album half, and it’s only sixteen seconds long. The main negative is in its ending: “X_10” is nothing more than a standard jazz track sample, and it’s strikingly at odds with the rest of SUPERCARTRIDGE‘s video game-ish, decrepit-technology vibe. The sample itself isn’t bad, but it has no place on this particular release.
Other than that, SUPERCARTRIDGE is something of a hidden gem for a very select group of listeners. ULTRACOMPUTER isn’t exactly a household project name within the avant-garde electronic music circles, but this album’s antiquated milieu is immersive and impressive – and overlooked. It’s a worthy addition to the library of the classic-style fan whose interest in vaporwave is in the genre’s eclectic appropriation and evocation of bygone cultures – ones that really weren’t all that long ago, yet, with a bit of exceptionally clever presentation, may sound so just the same.
1. X_01 – (3:39)
2. X_02 – (4:23)
3. X_03 – (1:13)
4. X_04 – (1:07)
5. X_05 – (2:21)
6. X_06 – (0:16)
7. X_07 – (0:52)
8. X_08 – (2:20)
9. X_09 – (4:02)
10. X_10 – (3:17)
1Formerly known as Tokyo Exchange. The label is an imprint of Dream Catalogue.
2Personally, I like the Vectrex most of all.