R0x4ry – Descent
R0x4ry’s Descent mixes classic-style vaporwave with lo-fi hip-hop. It’s the third release on Irish label Smirk Sounds, demonstrating the label’s predilection toward experimental sounds that are rooted in the tropes of vaporwave and modern cyberpunk music. Songs have a bit of a chiptune and video game feeling with simple repeating melodies that might be found on early 8-bit video games such as Super Mario Land 2: Eight Golden Coins.1 Not to mention, the opening piano chords on “Grand” sound like the theme song to Grand Theft Auto III.
Over thirty-three minutes and eleven tracks, R0x4ry utilizes a diverse cast of resources – starting with some Nujabes-lite jazz-hop by way of “Grand” and ending with something like an early DARKPYRAMID cut with “Finale”. The majority of tracks use downtempo hip-hop percussion that is relatively simple with a syncopated kick-snare progression. They don’t exist for technicality but for flow akin to trip-hop music such as that by Wax Tailor. “Bathtime” melds this trip-hop aesthetic with classic-style vaporwave as brief vocal clips show up at the end of each measure for percussive emphasis. “Pacific Union” features birdcalls that wouldn’t be out of place in a new age release; they’re made even better by the moody and stuttering drums with heavy influence on snare hits, a technique pioneered by DJ Shadow on Endtroducing…...2 “Solitude” is the most outwardly classic-style vaporwave track with its similarities to adult contemporary music.
There are some missteps in composition, as if R0x4ry wanted a song to explore something outside of lo-fi hip-hop but wasn’t convinced enough to go all the way with it. “Midlight” is a good example. It has a techno backbeat to it with distorted synthesizers and a harder backbeat. By itself, it’s not a bad track, but it stands out harshly in context with the rest of the album, especially when sandwiched between two overtly vaporwave tracks. The lo-fi aspect gives off the vibe of a demo, making otherwise enjoyable tracks sound slightly unfinished. The hip-hop parts are wonderful, but their simplicity might sound pedestrian when it means to flow – “Solitude” is a good example.
Descent belies its appeal with a single letter. It’s a decent use of two relatively disparate forms that haven’t been married all that much since ELECTRIC▲L TE▲RDROPS. Many classic-style vaporwave releases elicit surrealism through the natural soil that comes forth from pitch-/tempo-shifting, but artists such as R0x4ry and DARKPYRAMID see the opportunity in using hip-hop beats to modernize instead of just slow down. For that much, check out some of Descent. It’s got some great ideas that work their way into vaporwave every so often, and I wouldn’t complain if they did so more often.
1. Grand – (2:49)
2. Mindcolony – (2:59)
3. Midlight – (3:12)
4. Bathtime – (3:14)
5. Pacific Union – (3:12)
6. Forever Never – (3:12)
7. Solitude – (2:50)
8. Subnormal – (3:08)
9. Aero – (3:12)
10. Lunar – (2:50)
11. Finale – (3:12)
1… especially the space levels. See “Mindcolony”.
2E.g. “Midnight in a Perfect World” and “Changeling”.