Today’s review is a journey. Much like the introduction to the most famous version of Eric B. & Rakim’s single “Paid In Full,” this is a journey into sound — a journey which along the way will bring to you new color, new dimension, new values. This journey begins In Portland, Oregon with Ramona Andra Langley. Some of you may know her better as Vektroid, but it’s equally possibly that even more of you know her by another odder alias: Macintosh Plus.
I stumbled across the vaporwave genre almost entirely by accident one night in the 2010’s surfing YouTube. It’s likely the algorithms behind recommended videos picked up on my love of both rap music and vintage electronics (particularly computers and gaming consoles) and concluded that “Floral Shoppe” was a perfect match. One song in particular has become synonymous with both the term vaporwave in general and this album specifically. In fact it’s likely that if you search for “Macintosh Plus Floral Shoppe” track #2 will be the first result. Despite often being labeled as the title track it’s actually called “Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing.”
What made this particular song grab the public’s attention? I’d argue the exact same things that made DJ Screw tapes so popular, and why “chopped and screwed” versions of Southern rap albums became a cottage industry unto themselves. “Lisa Frank 420” takes something familiar and slows it down to an almost perverse degree, that being the voice of Diana Ross singing “It’s Your Move.” While the original was an upbeat pop number telling her would be suitor to step his game up and get on her level, slowing down the music and vocals gives it a deeper and darker tone. Vektroid freely chops up and repeats her words, layering the song upon itself multiple times in the process, giving spliced up phrases like “don’t say no” an ominous overtone. It’s about as far removed from the sweet stylings of the Ross original as possible.
It’s this pastiche of the familiar and the strange, the seductive and the sinister, and the deeply masculine way Ross now croons “I’m giving up… on trying/to sell you things that you ain’t buying” that transport you through the wormhole. You can’t listen to the original “It’s Your Move” without hearing echoes of “Lisa Frank 420” in it afterward. The song is an insidious earworm that lodges itself in your brain with no hopes of it ever coming out. It’s deeply polarizing as a result, and that’s why it’s a perfect introduction to the vaporwave genre. You’re instantly going to love it or hate it. The people who loved it played it so many millions of times that whenever one copy got pulled offline, another upload quickly took its place. Perhaps that Diana Ross sample wasn’t cleared properly, but the internet is indefatigable when it comes to asserting what it loves. No matter how many times “Lisa Frank” got pulled, it was always going to come back.
Now even though I can hear the hip-hop and the screw ‘n chop in “Floral Shoppe,” there are going to be some bridges too far for rap listeners to cross. When I hear songs like “Mathematics” (track #7) I’m not reminded of anything close to a Screw tape. It has more in common with the ambient, new age music I used hear on Hearts of Space growing up. It’s music, yes — not music you can sing along to or bop your head to though. It might be good for meditation. It might also be too noisy for it. Some of the saxophone samples remind me of Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City” and some remind me of nothing at all. It exists in a cloud of formless gasses, a true vapor wavering between solid and liquid, never quite settling on a form.
The actual title track of “Floral Shoppe” is nothing like the song that made it famous in the best way. It’s electronic and disjointed, speeds up and slows down at unexpected moments, and the closet thing I can compare it to (albeit unfairly) is Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. It has all the hallmarks of what some have dubbed a “micro genre” of music, one that’s too small to become a mainstream phenomenon but too big to be ignored entirely. It arguably peaked at around the time Vektroid made this album and then became bogged down by imitators trying to copy her success. For a brief period of time though it was as though pop culture was on trip of cough syrup mixed with LSD. Perhaps that’s the best argument for listening to this release — you can trip out without ever having to take any drugs at all. Experience the synesthesia for yourself.