Sunday, 27 September 2020
RISE, GO OUTSIDE BITCH 
My choice for the song that defines the year 2020 was decided very early on, by the end of March. Furthermore, it was was actually released on 20th December 2019, but reviews raved about it into the new year. “Sick & Panic” is the first release by the electronic music artist Ramona Xavier to use the pseudonym Macintosh Plus since the seminal 2011 album “Floral Shoppe,” a cornerstone of the vaporwave genre. Xavier usually releases under the name Vektroid, so the use of Macintosh Plus this time caused immense anticipation.
For the uninitiated, “Floral Shoppe” is a cut-up of mostly Eighties tracks already drenched in keyboard and saxophone, that are sped up, slowed down, looped and distorted, giving the impression that you have unearthed a cassette tape with no known history, and the tape itself is worn and ragged. The standout track is “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー" (“Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing”) – Japanese text is a big feature in vaporwave song titles and album design – which spins out the first ninety seconds of the Diana Ross album track “It’s Your Move” into a seven minute meditation on the idea that time is running out, with the line “I'm giving up on trying to sell you things that you ain't buying” rendered iconic. Vaporwave is a genre defined by hauntology, a longing for a future that never came, and wherever that future went, “Floral Shoppe” is what it left.
In comparison, “Sick & Panic,” released as the precursor to a new Macintosh Plus album later in 2020, is like playing the cassette found stuck inside an old Sony Walkman that was itself found in the back room of an abandoned branch of Currys, after they moved out of the town centre. It gets stuck, it stutters, it has snatches of lyrics, and some melody comes up that may sound familiar, but it is then distorted and enveloped back into itself. Classical vaporwave has to smash through modern EDM noise first. It could be dismissed as noise – twelve and a half minutes of noise, in the same way that The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” is eight and a half minutes of noise.
You may start to pick out patterns, because that is how the mind works, but that is only so you can find a hook, an anchor, something to hold. The choppy lyrics, like “Face, face, don't, face” and “Goes, goes get you,” will suddenly make a whole sentence: “I don’t need my body anymore” and “go outside bitch.” The song’s cover art, which sends flying the Apollonian bust from the original “Floral Shoppe” cover, reads, “Rise From Your Grave.” When the drum machine and MIDI sampled keyboard kick in at the half-way mark, it is almost comforting, but the cosy nostalgia that vaporwave hopes to evoke is quickly snatched away again, but this is not the time for that.
Why “Sick & Panic” sounds the way it does may not truly make perfect sense until the rest of the album is released, but it sounds like something unknown is about to burst, and you are being implored to fight its effects. The two-word description of the track on Xavier’s Bandcamp page (https://vektroid.bandcamp.com) is “NO WAR” – from your perspective, you have either not seen the war coming, or you have to start picking which battle to fight. This is vaporwave designed to agitate.
It would have been easy enough to choose “Sick & Panic” as my song of 2020 based solely on the title, but when 2020 is finally talked about in the past tense, it will be as a difficult year to have lived through, the world itself having changed, and with the future having finally arrived. Making sense of the noise is like brushing your teeth these days.