Album Review

Haircuts for Men, Macroblank, and the new vaporwave aesthetic

Vaporwave is distinguished by its R&B influence and use of somewhat outdated aesthetics. Many songs which receive enormous amounts of praise are merely slowed down versions of old R&B music. As a matter of fact, the song which introduced me to the vaporwave genre, MACINTOSH PLUS - リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー | (MACINTOSH PLUS- Lisa Frank 420/ Modern computing), was one of these. The song samples “It’s Your Move” by Diana Ross. And by samples, I mean that it simply plays a section of the song beat without any alteration, save for slowing down the music and adding some reverb.

While it is valid to say that many vaporwave albums don’t necessarily require much in terms of musical talent, it would absolutely be invalid to label the songs as being unoriginal based on that alone.

These two songs are very different pieces of music looking to appeal to two different demographics. It’s Your Move by Diana Ross is, in my opinion, a rather forgettable R&B tune from 1984. In altering her song, Macintosh Plus was able to create a feeling of a dreamlike-faded memory of childlike curiosity. It's the feeling of being a little kid on a bulky, white desktop in your dad’s office dialing up weird, badly designed websites in the couple of minutes you have before school starts. This kind of music, centered entirely around providing a feeling through instrumental alone, is what captivated those 11 million people who came to tune in to the song, and is what continues to captivate vaporwave listeners today.

However, for a while, vaporwave didn’t move too far out of its comfort zone. The songs were all weird little explorations of late 90s-early-2000s nostalgia, but it got boring. The album ダウンタンブルと死にます (Down-Tumble and Die) was released by Haircuts for Men in 2018 and became their most successful album to date, with 1.3 million views on YouTube. Depicted in the album’s art is a series of Greek and Egyptian sculptures, tying its aesthetic DNA back to Macintosh Plus while twisting it in a few interesting ways. The bright pinks and purples of Macintosh Plus’s Floral Shoppe are instead replaced by the melancholic blues and blacks. The tracks featured by Haircuts for Men also were much less vocal heavy when compared to other staples of the genre, and often carried a much wider variety of emotions than the, at this point, overplayed ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s nostalgia.

As an example of this is the way Haircuts For Men uses sampling in his song 人生の半分 (Half Life). The song makes heavy use of the song Perspectives by Christian Scott; however, it also changes many of its beats in order to better carry forward the song’s overall melancholy tone. The distortion imbued into the piano and trumpet throughout along with the slowed pace of the music itself highlights the subtle melancholy of the original sample. It is as if the undertone to the original song is brought out to center stage with the droning melody of the piano growing to overcome the trumpet as the music goes on.

Haircuts for Men brought a new energy to vaporwave. While the classic Macintosh Plus style would continue to hold relevance within the community, this new musical emotion for vaporwave would become more and more popular as time went on.

This year, I’ve been particularly excited by the entrance of a new player onto the scene by the name of Macroblank. Macroblank is very similar to Haircuts for Men in terms of the samples chosen and overall vibe of the music. Albums like Macroblank’s Flesh and Soul have a much more calm and comfortable quality than many of the songs produced by Haircuts for Men. As Haircuts for Men continues with the ancient Greek and Egyptian aesthetic, Macroblank goes a different route and instead branches into medieval aesthetics, with Flesh and Soul featuring a picture of a man in chainmail on its cover, and a Nazgul ring-wraith from Lord of the Rings on another.

Vaporwave is an extremely emotional genre of music. The music is all about communicating a feeling to the audience. One which, outside of the realm of their music, is extraordinarily hard to express through instrumental alone. Rather than communicating emotion actively through lyricism, vaporwave opts to have the music slowly creep into you, allowing for a greater complexity of emotion to be achieved. It’s incredibly interesting to me the ways in which vaporwave has changed over the last decade, and as time goes on, I am looking forward to seeing how this genre continues to change.