ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: Y2K era inspired teenage vaporwave from Australia.
‘(email)’, the eponymous opening track on the third full collection from Hatena, begins with the a dial up internet connection tone. It’s kind of the perfect sound to encapsulate the tensions that make listening to vaporwave as a genre fun.
On the one hand, it’s immediately nostalgic. I hear that tone and immediately connect it to my first lap top in 2004, sitting in the living room, unplugging and replugging the phone line to download giveaway Sigur Ros mp3s from Amazon. On the other hand, it’s an atonal squall of noise. The track develops with a voice saying ‘you’ve got mail’, before settling into typing effects over an ambient soundscape that maybe reminiscent of a cd that’s got stuck. You just don’t know with vaporwave. It’s a subculture of micro-genres of experimental electronic music that constantly plays at fraying the tensions between the surface and the subtext, always alive to the possibility that there may not be a subtext. If the listener chooses, EMAIL could be an impressively perceptive conversation on the ways in which the promise of connection that sold the internet to the world was disappointed.
‘INTEREST’ and ‘SOULLL’ lay the ground work for the rest of the album. ‘Interest’ kicks into Y2K era disco pop while ‘SOULL’ samples the international symbol for a smooth 80s banger, the alto sax. ‘INTEREST’ does that effect that sounds like someone’s in a club and they’ve just gone outside or into the toilet, only to find that they’ve disappeared down a phoneline into the Matrix. ‘SOULLL’ becomes the first of multiple tracks on the album that gradually slow to a grinding halt in the saaaame way asssss this sent&6e£4^:”n…+.. While Hatena draws heavily on the heyday of house music for influences, any sense of golden age nostalgia gets consistently undercut, like an old raver who went to Ibiza but only got chronic sunburn.
As the mix develops, Hatena concocts a satisfying blend of joy and irritation. There are moments when the party kicks in, like on the hedonistic ‘LOVELETTER4U’ or the heavy beats of ‘KEEEEEP’ that reach towards the Chemical Brothers. Hatena knows how to build a strong pop hook and its possible that sensibility might sustain them moving forward. It also feels really important to the EMAIL experience that it is irritating. The way, for instance, ‘(Vß3)’ gets lost in an experimental labyrinth before finding a way to escape into ‘GO’, or the headache inducing ‘iN;’[TE,RRReEs.t’ demonstrate parts of this collection are not an easy listen.
And nor should it be. And neither would you want it to be. For at its heart, Hatena is a teenage bedroom project and teenage bedroom projects have the prerogative and responsibility to annoy. Sometimes EMAIL feels deadly serious, sometimes it is mucking about. That you can’t be sure which bit is which suggests maybe something endearing and clever is going on.
Like a lot of vaporwave, EMAIL feels disposable and momentary. That’s appropriate for an album existing primary as a digital entity in a genre that seeks to subvert hazy misremembered visions of golden ages. Hatena shows signs too of being a prolific artist, as this is their 3rd full release in 14 months. At 18 years old, with brains and pop sensibility, there is a world of possibility ahead of Hatena.