While writing and doing research for my dissertation, a strange and perhaps pretentious thought had crossed my mind, and caused me to temporarily postpone the moratorium on blog written I was aiming to impose on myself. The subject of that thought was on 2814's Birth of a New Day, the classic vaporwave album that marked the genre's transformation from mere internet meme to a legitimate art form, and as I would argue the defining art movement of the 2010s. Well, I say that, I was more specifically thinking about its opening track 恢复 (roughly translated as "Recovery"). I have come to the view that, aside from being arguably the greatest track of the 2010s, that it is perhaps the track that, within just shy of six minutes, represents the decade in which we now reside.
To make sense of how, let's first take a look of the song itself. It opens with a ghostly procession of whispering voices and drawn out piano chords, the perfect intro for a concept album set in a dystopian future world that seemingly apes that of Blade Runner (whose Vangelis composed score provides the inspiration for the track's all-pervading synth lines). After about a minute in we're treated to some bouncing drums and a heavy bass track, and these pervade over it for the next few minutes, along with droning synth lines, and then the last minute or so is a reprise of the desolate piano intro, expect now you hear a passing ambulance siren, followed by a blaring car horn near to the end.
What does any of this represent? I think it is beyond question what it represents. It represents life in a modern city under late capitalism (and judging by the album cover I'd say 2814 had an East Asian city in mind), and all the alienation that comes with it. Let's first consider the intro. It, more than any other part of the track, conveys a deep sense of lonelieness and alienation that is prevalent in modern life. That being said, I think it is best represented by the music video made for the track by Anise Mariko (shown below).
Also take into account the society that I think 2814 is reflecting on, which at the level of the base structure hasn't really changed since 2015. To put it bluntly we are living in the twilight of neoliberalism, or rather its zombie phase. Despite the thorough discrediting of free market neoliberalism in the wake of the Great Recession, somehow the failed neoliberal project still keeps limping along in spite of this, but not without deep austerity cuts. It is an age guided by the doctrine of capitalist realism (the belief that there is no alternative to free market neoliberalism), and as a result, even the general public cannot conceive the end of capitalism is a tangible possibility, let alone one that would be better for us all in the long run.
Let us also consider the rise of social media, which has allowed millions, if not billions of people across the world to talk to one another, but has ironically isolated us more and more from the real world. My generation, the millennials, are notorious for the amount of time we spend on the Internet and smartphones, and particularly on social media. Unsurprisingly, we are more narcissistic, anxious and depressed than our parents were when they were our age.
And lastly, let's consider the state of music. We live in a time where the new pop music is utterly disposable, forgotten just as quickly as it is made, packaged and sold. David Russo (a.k.a. Hong Kong Express, one of the brains behind 2814 and founder of the label Dream Catalogue), in a 2014 interview for Red Bull Music Academy, made the following remarks:
Culture is so fast-paced now that all this music is just passing noise — disposable, almost — and I like that aspect of it a lot. I love going on Soundcloud and just listening to the stream, knowing I may never hear these songs again, and they will just disappear into the wind.
Vaporwave in general has both satirised and lived out this trope with the sheer number of releases vaporwave artists have released within a year alone. Both HKE and Telepath have been amazingly prolific artists, having made countless albums within the past few years under a wide variety of different aliases. In a way, Recovery reflects on the disposability of modern music with its trance-inducing urban ambience, waking you up with the blaring car horn at the end.
In conclusion, for a decade of bleakness, stale and disposable pop culture, and resignation to the forces of capitalism realism, Recovery is the appropriate anthem, an ambient track that captures the depression of mundanity, and the atmosphere of daily life under neoliberalism.