One of my favorite ways to pass time these days is to go on Bandcamp or Soundcloud and simply get lost. Like walking through a city you’re not familiar with and discovering some wonderful bar or strange shop, some of my favorite music of this decade has come from strolling down these obscure avenues. It’s a trend that’s grown to massive proportions since the beginning of this new decade — artists without any label or connections that just got brave one day and decided to share what they’d been working on. The recent example has been the explosion of interest in vaporwave, a sort of catch-all for a music community that seems truly birthed by the internet. Even the name sounds like an obnoxious, trolling put-on.
Only loosely connected with that other “-wave” that was so popular several year ago, vaporwave took the hypnogogic pop sound originated by artists like Ariel Pink and James Ferraro to an experimental extreme. This new music reinforced what critic David Keenan meant in his article on hypnogogic pop for The Wire1 when he referred to it as indicative of a “post-noise” movement. Mashing the chopped and screwed plunderphonics of Dan Lopatin (Replica as Oneohtrix Point Never, and Eccojams: Vol. 1 as Chuck Person especially) with the nihilistic easy-listening of James Ferraro’s Muzak-hellscapes on Far Side Virtual, artists such as INTERNET CLUB, Mediafired, and Vektroid (especially under the Macintosh Plus moniker) sounded completely alien despite building music from familiar sounds. Last year these young artists took the overwhelming amount of access to music and exposure the internet provides, combined with near-complete anonymity, and a fuck-all attitude for what people perceive as good or bad taste and turned elevator Muzak into the most punk art of last year.
This context helps, but what makes Ryan DeRobertis’ project SAINT PEPSI so exciting is that you don’t really need to know all of that to appreciate how addictive and fun this music is. Empire Building, his excellent album early this year was a vibrant record that chopped, screwed, and reapproprited hip-hop, disco, and pop into something challenging and exciting. Empire sounded like something that fit right in with the scene that it came out of, but now six months later you can hear the title track off his free newest album, Hit Vibes, and clearly tell that DeRobertis has moved completely beyond anything you can pin down with a simple genre tag. With its Powerpoint-esque cover the music brings to mind everything from the Avalanches to Daft Punk’s recent cheese-into-gold experiments, with the kind of swagger that makes you wonder how great this would sound over someone rapping2. Tracks like “Strawberry Lemonade” and “Fantasy” are disco at its most warped, “Miss You,” makes for a surprisingly touching comedown, and there’s nothing quite as grin inducing as the orgasmic gasp that tears through the middle of “Better,” the album’s first single. In fact, since releasing his first proper album in January of this year, and with a new one every couple months, the evolution of DeRobertis’s music gives the impression he could reach an audience beyond the tight-knit core of genre fans. Every release has garnered more attention and acclaim, college radio play, and some recent praise from CMJ. But what SAINT PEPSI has as well, is a downright hit, courtesy of Carly Rae Jepsen.
The heartbreaking “Call Me Maybe (Edit)” has garnered a pretty solid 20k plays since its release on Soundcloud two months ago, and seems to perfect what so many artists at Tri Angle3 Records have been trying for years. The track is torn apart and then rebuilt into a sprawling seven-minute slow jam; Jepsen’s voice is pitch-shifted to a deep, male level, as the track initially floats on midi chirps and coos. Jepsen’s cheerful flirty delivery becomes slowed and almost painfully vulnerable, creating a massive pay-off when the chorus bursts to life more than two minutes in. It also acts as a sort of modern tribute to experimental producer John Oswald, who coined the term “plunderphonics” with his dizzying collages built from pop samples. Oswald remains a massive influence on anyone who’s fallen under that umbrella, from DJ Shadow, the Avalanches, and Girl Talk to James Leyland Kirby’s haunted ballroom music as the Caretaker, and Oneohtrix Point Never. Oswald’s infamous treatment of Dolly Parton’s “Pretender,” gradually slowed her voice to a man’s level; DeRobertis accomplishes the same with his Jepsen edit, but with the added bonus that you could easily play it at a party. It’s worth noting that in no way does DeRobertis ever seem to be mocking, or acting ironically, rather he captures the pining obsession the original uses (to a really funny result in the video) and explores the desperation and longing, building it to a sweeping rallying cry by the time it reaches its explosive peak. Even after hundreds of listens, it’s by far my favorite song of 2013.
Following SAINT PEPSI’s growth since his first mixtapes has been one of the most exciting things I’ve witnessed in music this year, and it still feels like he’s moving towards something even greater. Here’s hoping he gets there soon, but until he does, I’ll happily enjoy the fantastic work he’s got now. Below you can stream all of Hit Vibes as well as the “Call Me Maybe (Edit).” Keep up at Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
1. That would be the influential experimental music magazine rather than the TV show. ↩
2. This thought must not have been lost on Ryan Hemsworth who opened last year’s Fact Mix with Wacka Flocka Flame laid over the after-school-special drift of 情報デスクVIRTUAL, one of the many pseudonyms (along with Macintosh Plus) for the artist Vektroid.↩
3. A label that in 2010 released “Let Me Shine For You,” a gloomy EP of covers from Lindsey Lohan’s ill-fated music career. It featured the likes of the now popular Autre Ne Veut, Laurel Halo, and Oneohtrix Point Never.↩