esc 不在 – black horse
black horse is the sister album to midi dungeon by Ramona Xavier, publishing as esc 不在. It was released on the same day in August 2011 with almost identical album artwork and similar sample curation aesthetic. The differences lie in that whereas midi dungeon sampled mostly from new age, ambient, and soundtrack sources; black horse is very “standard” vaporwave, with the vast majority of samples being mostly unedited smooth jazz and easy listening. Overall, it’s rather forgettable – especially in the context of albums who have taken this aesthetic and ran farther with it, including Xavier’s own work as Macintosh Plus.
The album starts off with what is now one of the most cliché samples in vaporwave history: Brian Eno’s famous Windows start-up tone.1 black horse came out before Blank Banshee and a million other producers came on the scene, but modern ears simply aren’t impressed with the choice to lead off with such a tone. Yeah, back then it was a little more fresh and nostalgic,2 3 but now it’s… stale. Like someone using “Commodore 64” for their ritzy coffee shop Wi-Fi username.4
The majority of the tracks have the same pitch-shifted/tempo-shifted production style that Xavier utilized on most of her later works, especially as Shader and Macintosh Plus. But where her futurevisions and ECCOJAMS approaches to those two albums (respectively) made them incredible works of art, the lack of any such interpretation on black horse is just disappointing, and leads the listener into the vaporwave trap where one would much rather just listen to the actual songs than these semi-affected samples. Not to mention, most of the samples cut off randomly without any sense of completion to the song, which could be a pretty cool idea if the rest of the album felt more cohesive and put-together but instead just feels arbitrary.
The one moment of cleverness here is on “end of life consolation scenario,” which features the lyric “say good-bye to it all.” It’ll gain a few giggles, and it’s especially refreshing after three tracks of the usual. Otherwise, your average fan can skip this one and lose out on nothing. black horse is only recommended for the diehard nostalgia-seeker and completionists of Xavier’s discography.
1. nightvision (overture) – (3:12)
2. 3d cliff’s edge – (5:06)
3. feel – (2:50)
4. lay on me – (2:47)
5. end of life consolation scenario – (0:52)
6. tonight on hbo – (2:00)
7. drive home thru the stars for you – (1:06)
8. willfully – (1:56)
9. gone – (0:48)
10. our lord the burning virtual theatre – (2:58)
11. on a pale horse – (1:59)
12. archway – (2:32)
1Fun fact: Eno never used Microsoft computers. He’s an Apple guy all the way.
2… although that being said, it’s a bit frustrating that vaporwave producers take that sample so much. It’s a great tone on its own, don’t beat it to death.
3… “fresh” and “nostalgic” in the same sentence? Vaporwave, man.