AIR Japan – Ghost Dragon

Recommendation: ☹


Ghost Dragon is one of the three inaugural releases on Pyramids, a label founded by HKE as a home to ghost tech music.1 It’s the fourth release in the AIR Japan saga, which progressed from classic-style vaporwave to glitchy future funk to HKE’s highly polyrhythmic take on ghost tech. At ten tracks in twenty-five minutes, it’s one of the shortest albums in the discography of HKE’s main projects, but that’s par for the course for AIR Japan, whose longest release (Tokyo Audio 3000, since deprecated from Dream Catalogue’s roster) didn’t even hit a half-hour.

This album is a sister to HKE’s Loop Matrix and Sandtimer’s The New King in more than just timeliness and monochrome album artwork. The garage-style looped voices and focus on technical percussion abilities that would make any live drummer shiver take center-stage in compositional focus. “Demon” is highly influenced by trap music, with plenty of stuttering beats, and “2084” features indistinct vocal chatter akin to “God Energy” from Loop Matrix. All songs have some futuristic, even video-gamey sounds to them – listen to “2084” another time and ask yourself if it wouldn’t be too out of place on a soundtrack to the wipEout series or a Metroid Prime remix album.

Ironically, its laser-precision craftsmanship is its biggest flaw. Ghost Dragon suffers from being so stylistically indebted to the other HKE projects around the time of release, that it sounds too much like those other albums to stand out on its own. It’s a problem that hit most of the main projects at that time, where the shifts to house music, ghost tech, and garage and from the dreampunk and hardvapor styles that typified 2015 and 2016 suddenly became the main compositional foundations for all the projects. As such, Ghost Dragon has the peculiar problem of being too consistent and too dissimilar at the same time. Consistent in that it’s highly similar almost to the point of being indistinguishable with the other project releases of the time, and dissimilar in that it has little to do with previous releases from the AIR Japan project, which is important in the context of how relevant the concept of narrative is to many HKE projects.

A rebuttal to this criticism would be that artistic creators are under no obligation to continue the style of their previous works. That’s absolutely true, and it’s a fair statement – consider Radiohead with Kid A coming after OK Computer. What makes this case different is in how HKE is an artist for whom each project’s narrative is directly tied to its listening and conceptual experience. For example, the story of チェスマスター follows a character who is having something of a personal and existential crisis with his relationship to technology, which came to a beautiful head in I Am Chesumasuta. But with AIR Japan and Ghost Dragon, these tracks sound like ideas that needed another alias, and AIR Japan just happened to be chosen rather than continue any extant narrative.

Perhaps this idea is bullshit. If so, then Ghost Dragon may be revisited by Sunbleach in the future. For now, it seems too far removed from the narrative to really feel like AIR Japan, making it kind of awkward in context. Additionally, it’s too similar to the other HKE project releases of this time to come into its own. The piano tracks, the ambient effects, the crazy percussive shuffle, and the club atmosphere are all present here, but to an extent that one can almost identify the formulae used to create them in the wake of all the other albums. In the endless search for innovation, Ghost Dragon is a moment of sameness in an otherwise extraordinarily diverse repertoire.

 

Tracklist


1. Summoning – (0:35)
2. The End – (2:59)
3. Golden Halo – (2:58)
4. Poison – (2:18)
5. Demon – (2:33)
6. Air – (2:10)
7. Hard Angel – (2:06)
8. Future Ruins – (3:33)
9. 2084 – (2:47)
10. Ghost Waltz – (3:04)


 

1See also: Tekres, owned and operated by Halo Acid.

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4 comments

  • totaji

    HKE put out 52 albums In 2015-2016. That this is even listenable is pretty remarkable. You could tell at the time he was putting a ton of energy behind PYRAMIDS and his various projects did have a continuity. I agree with your points, especially needing time to to unpack all that music. Alot of good music was dropped in a very short time period.

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    • Sunbleach

      For sure. By no means do I fault HKE for putting out so much, and I hope that it didn’t seem so in this article – his prolificness something admirable, and it’s part of the extreme fun I get out of listening to all of his releases. Part of my issue with “Ghost Dragon” is that *so* much came out that albums such as these end up sounding formulaic in retrospect, with albums like these perhaps slipping through cracks that were picked up by the rest, and “Ghost Dragon” happens to be an example.

      I look forward to continuing to explore more of the Pyramids releases. They’re quite engaging – along with Tekres, both labels have done a pretty amazing job of unpacking the concept of “ghost tech”.

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      • Totaji

        Man, you’re the writer. Can you define Ghost Tech? I remember hearing the term a little before PYRAMIDS started but it seems to be the genre. I sorta know it when I hear it, but can’t seem to put words to it.
        And for a bonus, use the terms Ghost and Tech in your definition.

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        • Sunbleach

          I’d be happy to do so! I’m working on a series of articles about the different subgenres of vaporwave and its offshoots such as ghost tech, so hopefully in the future I’ll have a longer description for you that links to examples and goes into the composition a bit more.

          Ghost tech is similar to IDM in that it’s dance music for the head, not the body – or as tekres founder Halo Acid once told me, “for those looking at the people pouring outside the clubs at 3AM with headphones rather than those inside”. It combines the stark atmosphere of darker shades of electronic music while maintaining the four-on-the-floor and percussive compositional focus of techno music. In my experience, the “ghost” side comes from the somewhat “cavernous” production style used, like on “Sleep” by Somnus over on tekres, as well as a kind of lo-fi aesthetic that occasionally rears its head in either, as if the music could fall apart on itself without the connotations of structural weakness or a lack of technical complexity. As befits, a lot of ghost tech is pretty abstract, and it’s more about exploring emotionally restrained but compositionally engaging electronic music. By this notion, I think it’s no accident that quite a few ghost tech releases are also concept albums.

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