Stardate: 2281. The aestheticas and vaporwaves are oppressing our culture, our very way of life. Taxation imposed on the most productive working men and women. The air, our water, our food, devoured by that of the internet culture. We are enveloped in a grand supreme environment of irony and thick atmosphere.
Blank Banshee’s “Mega”, released through his own Bandcamp, is a deep ebbing walrus of audio aristocratic jambalaya. Blank Banshee seems to instill the brightest of reflections off his new record, while reaffirming the dark hollow grounds from which he once stood. It all starts with “BIOS”, a track that proceeds with an inquisition to the soul of a teenager in 1992. Tones heard throughout the cyberspace of america, tunes so dope you swear you heard them playing in the background of a webpage explaining how marijuana is the cure for cancer. Blank Banshee’s stereotypicality (is that a word? It is now. Bite me, assholes) plays a serious role in this track. The shattering bass drum, coupled with the echoed snaps and obviously mid-90’s OS influenced synths make for an impractical yet hypnotic experience. Followed immediately is “My Machine”, a track worthy of filming a street racing movie with overly emphasized unimportance relating to an exuberant dramatic event that happens. Remember how bullshit The Fast & The Furious was? Vin Diesel’s performance was rocky at best. And Paul Walker’s performance was marred by the inability to relate to the character. But cool music was always playing, which is what gives this track its innate ability to invade your thoughts with this atmosphere. The next song, “Frozen Flame”, is as trippy as its name suggests. Remember those levels in Donkey Kong Country 2 that you had to pay 8 Kremkoins to enter at Klubba’s Kiosk? The ice level, this track brings back memories of that level. Lowdown percussion and very discreet monkey like sounds in the background give this track a real sense of weight and oomph. This track breathes the soul, gives the album as a whole a very weighted sense of worth.
“Gunshots” is a typical Blank Banshee track. Slow fade in low-pitched vocals with a vocal melody and trap influenced beats. A progression seemingly fair to the ears, a sense of relaxation filled my body upon listening to this track, giving me doses of nostalgia at a safe rate. The “chorus” of this song had lots of warbly borbly doos, which Hearing Double writer Michael Frett would label as “rad”. The track does seem to become a little, “poppy” at points. Not that it’s something I disagree with, it’s something I think could have been perfected, sounding somewhat thin at times, for the album it is. But how it transitions into the next track, “Megaflora” is astounding. Picks up right where “Gunshots” took off. Putting a bit of avant garde arrangement of the vocals into the mix, I got some serious Rihanna vibes on this track. The mixture of the voices with the percussion gave it away for me. A nice twist was the jungly melodies played by the marimba and synths, once again giving me Donkey Kong Country vibes. It flows as smooth as water from a tap, which yes, leaves a little bit to be desired. I feel as though points of the track could transition a little bit more, thoroughly. However, I do recognize this to be a point of personal preference, and I appreciate Blank Banshee for having the courage to follow through with what he thought was the best choice.
“Ecco Chamber”, named after the Ecco the Dolphin game on Sega Saturn (I think?) sounds like if vaporwave went Christmas. Those pulsating voice synths make me feel like I’m on anesthesia, hypnotizing me at every beat. Building a general sense of uneasiness, like I’m in a corrupt politician’s pool room, circa 1985, as I’m about to drown him for some information leading to the arrest of KGB agents hiding in New York City. The next track, “Holograffiti”, visits emotions only expressed in fits of pure ecstacy. The grooves on this track are deep, and it reminds you how much throughout the album that Blank Banshee uses reverse buildup percussion and how well it works. The drums fit so well with the melody of the song that it’s easy to get lost. That’s Blank Banshee’s true art, not being able to differentiate between the two. You get so lost to the point where you finally start to find a glimmer of what the hell is going on, you get thrown into the next track. Which happens to be “XENOS”, which takes what I just said into the heavens. This is where the album starts to border on space shooter game from the 90’s OST. It’s so catchy, you feel that the buildups lead to a point where you want to build up again, and it does. Over, and over, and over again. Yet, it’s so calm, so serene, so CLEAN. Blank Banshee’s devil hides in his production. Such transparent production, that magnifies the ideas and emotions Blank Banshee wishes to express. Another zinger here for Blank Banshee.
“Sandclock”, is my favorite song off the album. That hi-hat is, by all 90’s terminology: dope as fuck. Coupled with the marimba melody and warbly borbly doos, creates a linear yet guided experience. It visits parts of your soul, one by one, attaching all the pieces through string, like a supermodel performing dick surgery on an abandoned island. It’s also the most subtle of all the tracks, which I believe is Blank Banshee’s strong point. Another example of this is the next track, “Hungry Ghost”, a vocal melody carefully layered over a minimalist percussive section with ever-so-lush synths, demanding a sense of urgency but asking for peace of mind. The winding synths in this track can bring out the purest ecstacy of souls once thought to be hard and brittle. Bass in this track could perform heart surgery on a fly, it being so precise. Excellent track, definitely my second favorite. The following song, Web Ring, I feel is somewhat of a love song. This is the point in the album where I believe the atmosphere only becomes thicker. The choir, the poppy synths, the Metal Gear Solid Codec samples, it’s a masterclass of auditory pleasure. Like a hot detective fucking you up the butt or something. “Meteor Blade” has arguably the largest sense of urgency throughout the track. I felt like “Samus Aran” looking for some Chozo Cholo ass motherfucker who stole my shit and I need to fuck his mom up in her face or something. Or like, I need to tell the government about some shady shit going on. Lovey dovey shit. You know, the type of Meg Ryan movie that has some inane plot followed by god awful acting. But in a way that it makes you nostalgic because there wasn’t anything else on. This track revisits those memories, for better or for worse. “Juno”, (nothing like the movie) takes you to a distant jungle somewhere on an alien planet where pina coladas are available on tap. You have long conversations with the locals about space in thick fog on a hill side that looks like the black hills in the Dakotas. There’s something calming about the color gray, whether you see it in fog or on the side of a computer tower. It just sort of takes you away, makes you somewhat, bored. Boredom is a great thing that most people never realize. It can release the mind in a number of ways, relax it. But that’s neither here nor there.
Penultimate track “Cerulean” builds off the atmosphere “Juno” built, very calm but somehow brooding, and with a much deeper meaning than what’s suggested. The synths build an overflow of vividness, once visited on a couple of Blank Banshee’s albums. Overall, this track is somewhat uneventful, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less significant than any other track on here. It’s a nice laydown track, something to sort of take a break with. Very relaxing and calming track.
“EXOS”, my second favorite track off the album, reprises the entire album. The heavily bass driven reprisal seems to include all the elements from the previous tracks into one. The echo is amplified by lightyears of chaos and envy of a man yearning for life outside of normality, followed by deep grooves laying down the foundry once laid by the album before “MEGA”. Blank Banshee did a wonderful job crafting this album, giving me memories that will lay with me for, seemingly, ever.
FAVORITE TRACKS: “Sandclock”, “EXOS” NOT-SO-FAVORITE TRACK: “Gunshots
I still have a hard time writing about vaporwave. Last time I was in this position, I tried to write some kind of extended metaphor about cityscapes and the “death” of vaporwave. It was… sort of pretentious! But I digress, because we’re a year older and I’m once again knee deep in another JRPG fever dream of hot pink and Microsoft loading screens.
Blank Banshee is a sort of cult favorite in the field, having documented the vaporwave scene with two genre hallmarks: Blank Banshee 0 and Blank Banshee 1. He’d largely disappear afterward, hinting at some third, fleeting tape. Three years passed, and now I’m staring at a fuchsia square in my iTunes, a vague image of Final Fantasy VII’s climactic meteor leaping across its bow. “Blank Banshee’s back!” it screams at me with added fluorescence. (I didn’t even know Blank Banshee was gone…)
Well, Blank Banshee’s back, alright, and in a new world. More precisely, Blank Banshee is in a world where Garden of Delete happened. I’ve been wrestling with how I should make this point without sounding dismissive; I’ve never been one for asserting a hierarchy to music, and I very much want to talk about Blank Banshee’s MEGA on its own terms. It deserves that, damn it!
But when I hear the chopped vocals manipulated into percussion and the rapid tone shifts, I can’t help but think back to Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete. Garden of Delete and MEGA share that philosophy, as far as songwriting goes. Yet, on MEGA, those shifting tones, those violent shifts in sound and those discordant voices strung throughout sound tame. Songs with that kind of arsenal shouldn’t come across as so stagnant, but it’s hard to think of MEGA as anything else.
And by that, I mean these songs, as they jump between disembodied howls (“My Machine”) and dystopian space-age ambience (“Sandclock”), never really harness the potential dynamics and drama buried beneath all of these sounds. While Blank Banshee throws a ton of sounds at the listener, the bulk is hard to discern from your standard definition of “vaporwave.” Of course there’s Windows loading sounds blipped into long stretches of synthesizer samplings. There’s also the occasional horn, warbled arpeggios and cut-to-holy-hell vocal samplings. You’re more likely to remember the Windows loading sound.
That’s just how a lot of these songs are set up, though. They’re built around vaporwave tropes, virtually inseparable from the phased out sounds the genre outlined years ago. A few moments stand out, such as “My Machine’s” rampant mental breakdowns (which sound a little grating, but are memorable) and the acid-dipped boy band backtrack of “Cerulean.” And when Blank Banshee fully embraces a song as a genre piece, like in the incredibly dense “EXOS” and “Frozen Frame,” MEGA can sound as unsettlingly smooth as the mall themes of vaporwave dystopias.
But maybe that’s what Blank Banshee wanted out of this album? Vaporwave was supposed to sound disturbingly even, like mass consumption served up on a stainless steel platter. There’s supposed to be lulls that drown out the individual spikes. But these moments provide the album with personality. Garden of Delete used these moments to present the breakdown of that dystopia. MEGA… sounds like another vaporwave album.