In the past, Azusa Suga’s Shortcake Collage Tape project has drawn a feeling of longing for the past…whether experienced or nostalgia for an idea of older times…from samples. His still-absorbing Spirited Summer used clips from an array of sources (anime, YouTube pre-roll ads, classical music) to build an out-of-time listen, more or less a vaporwave album eschewing irony in favor of honest-to-goodness emotion. It also all sounded like it was recorded to a VHS tape (in a good way).
“In Your Gentle Rain,” his latest, shows Shortcake Collage Tape doesn’t have to sound like a tape found in your parent’s attic to hit a nostalgic sweet spot. It is a very clear recording…it is piano, guitar touches and (most vital to the sense of this being disrupted in time and space) electric sounds gurgling beneath it all. It is a straightforward song, but emotionally evocative all the same. Listen above.
This isn’t the first time non-sampled vocals have appeared on a Shortcake Collage Tape – but this is the first time the words have really drilled in. “Del Mar” finds Azusa Suga (also of For Tracy Hyde) sampling at least part of a song from last year’s Town Age album by Sotaisei Riron, submerging it in hiss and speeding it up ever so slightly. Yet that’s not the real exclamation point here – the singing is urgent, and adds a drama to this song that has never really been clear in this project (last year’s majestic Spirited Summer, for example, got way more mileage out of soaking itself in nostalgia than trying to be ever-present…and it certainly worked). “I’d rather see him drown then make you his wife,” goes the most pointed lyric, and the whole thing is so clear and present it’s sorta eye-opening coming from a project dabbling primarily in chillwave/vaporwave sounds. Listen below.
I mean, its definitely a misleading title on a lot of levels, mostly because to reduce Shortcake Collage Tape down to being just “chillwave” does a great disservice. Yeah, the adjectives that comes to mind for this (Mogwai-referencing?) song fit…hazy, blurred, chilled out. Yet it owes just as much to vaporwave, and even dropping something like that is misleading because what Shortcake Collage Tape does so well – as demonstrated on the still-fantastic Spirited Summer – is always stay above genre-related stereotypes. So yes, this is a slowly unfurling electronic track featuring vocals inspired by Chuck Person AND a closing blast of saxophone…but the bulk of “Chillwave Will Die” is an absorbing, atmospheric listen, where the only real intrusion comes from the beat. Though that sax sounds sweet. Listen below.
So…vaporwave. It is (was?) one of those Internet-spawned genres that sounds interesting written down…accelerationists! Trash music! Capitalism!…but gets confusing fast when you start trying to figure out what vaporwave actually sounds like. Even if you settle on a sonic definition of what it is…to me, I consider it music built out samples taken mostly from cheesy sources, like old Japanese commercials or corporate videos…oftentimes the actual songs just aren’t that good. Take an old disk ad, distort the vocals a bit and…song. There are good pieces of music constructed out of this idea, but also a lot of bad ones.
Tokyo’s Shortcake Collage Tape is similar to a lot of vaporwave, but he sets his music apart on his first full-length collection Spirited Summer by creating actual songs out of his samples. Save for the song “Meet Me In Your Dreams” – which takes a sample of a commercial that was inescapable if you used YouTube in Japan last summer and manipulates it (and is great in a different way if you hated that ad, like I did) – the music on this album isn’t content to rest on its samples. Instead, the voices, taken from commercials and also anime, are reconstructed into hazy new songs that recall the past without being a slave to them. Shortcake’s best track remains “Polaroid Full Of Kisses,” which is present here and continues to wow with its woozy memories, anchored by a cartoon sample in the song’s second half. As the title hints at, Spirited Summer is an album obsessed with memories of the warmest season, and cuts like “Summer School” and “Waiting In The Afterlife” create a blurry, sun-drenched sound that Shortcake writes “is ideal for midsummer chillouts” yet sound appropriate for chillouts already past. His warmest moments come on the early one-two punch of “Empire Beach” and “Painted Ocean” which generate images of the coast via breezy synth and horn samples. And, importantly, a beat that pushes everything forward. Spirited Summer generates nostalgia, but never forgets to also squeeze emotion out of his sounds…or to make it more than a showcase of a cool sample. It’s 2013’s first great Japanese album (which, yeah, is a technicality given we are a week into it). Get it here for free.
Shortcake Collage Tape sounds best when his music seems recorded straight to VHS. New song “✈Empire≈Beach☼” (sorry, no symbols from here on out) resembles the excellent “Polaroid Full Of Kisses” from earlier this year, as SCT filters the whole track through fuzz. It has a tropical vibe to it, “Empire Beach” sounding like it could double as a theme to a well-worn copy of a beach resort promo. The key moment, though, comes at the minute-forty mark, when a smooth-jazz sax slides in. It is a fantastic sound that I wish lasted a little longer. It sticks around to accompany what I presume to be an anime sample, but vanishes as the song warps to an end and a voice mentions Okinawa. Listen below.
Also worth checking out…at the very least for some laughs…is the month-old “Meet Me In Your Dreams.” It is a nice enough track, but the real reason it sticks out to me is that it’s just a Japanese ad from this year manipulated into this glitchy little creation. Specifically, SCT samples this really fucking annoying Gillette ad that played before every YouTube video I watched this summer starring Serina The Gillette Gel Genie. The fact SCT made her sound interesting is damn impressive.