This review was originally posted over at primzreviewseverything.com
George Clanton and Nick Hexum seem like an unlikely duo. Hexum is a multi-millionaire rockstar who has been the frontman of the iconic 1990s alternative rock band 311 since its inception in 1988. For almost three decades, 311 have played hit songs such as “Amber” and “Beautiful Disaster” to thousands of fans in stadium tours, 311 themed carnival cruises (rocking the boat but by all accounts, NOT tipping it over) and even at their yearly mega-concert on “311 Day” taking place on March 3rd (3/11). They’re hugely popular and regularly played on the radio. In contrast, Clanton is a titan of a scene which until recently, was largely an online entity.
Those familiar with Clanton are well aware of his contributions to the “vaporwave” scene. Those unfamiliar may be wondering if that’s a new type of e-cigarette. To sum it up (and to try to clear the smoke), vaporwave is a music genre that began on the internet with a combination of chopped and skewed samples of 1980s and 1990s adult contemporary music, retro video game noises, Japanese city pop and mall musak to create a sonic soundscape of nostalgia for a bygone era. The late 20th century has come and passed, leaving abandoned malls and the VHS shaped, grime soaked outlines of former “Blockbusters” signs in its path. Vaporwave imagines a world where hangouts by the mall fountain and being torn between two New Releases never ended. Clanton (under the name ESPRIT 空想) was (and still is) a staple of this scene which began in the early 2010s along with notable producers Chuck Person (Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never), luxury elite and Macintosh Plus (Ramona Xavier aka Vektroid), who is perhaps best known for the track below:
“It’s Your Move” by Diana Ross slowed and garbled beyond recognition, slowing down adult contemporary music was an early trademark of the genre
The scene has changed a lot since then. As of 2019, vaporwave has expanded beyond its sample-heavy beginnings to include lots of original vocals and instrumentation. This is perfectly reflected in Clanton’s music. Clanton is now not only a staple of the genre but perhaps its front-runner. George Clanton now makes music under his own name (which many seem to believe is a pseudonym) that is still rooted in the vaporwave sound he helped to pioneer. It also contains elements of trip-hop, acid house and 90s alternative rock – just like 311. The artists that are signed to his label – 100% Electronica, which he founded in 2015 along with his partner Negative Gemini – also have taken the genre into new directions. Artists such as FM Skyline, who makes original midi centered hypnagogic pop and SURFING, a two-piece band from Australia who create what can only be described as a combination of 80s style yacht rock meets the psychedelic sounds of a band like Tame Impala. Like 311, Clanton has launched his own festival (100% Electronicon, that has run for two iterations as of this writing) which have served as the largest gatherings in vaporwave’s history. They allowed both fan and artist alike to break the barriers of an “online genre” to meet each other face to face and even swap vaporwave cassette tapes (the primary collectible within the vaporwave music subculture) all while enjoying live sets from many musicians who existed solely as faceless online entities prior. Maybe in a few years, Clanton won’t be just driving the scene but he’ll be driving an ocean liner for a “100% Electronicruise”. The sky’s the limit.
The latest direction for George Clanton and the vaporwave movement in tandem is a team-up with Nick Hexum. Only through understanding the background of Clanton and vaporwave is it evident as to why this team-up makes sense. 311 is a necessary part of an era glorified by Clanton and vaporwave. While 311 served as the soundtrack in the era itself, vaporwave serves as the soundtrack of nostalgia for this era. This juxtaposition between both parties shines through on the song “Under Your Window” released on Friday, November 22nd. Much like starting a cassette tape in a Walkman, “Under Your Window” is a rewind to a carefree time in the 1990s of love and dating long before the rise of social media. It hearkens back to the days before liking photos and sliding into DM’s was the way to get a crush’s attention. When a lover’s last-ditch plea was a late-night bike ride, a well-trained arm and throwing a rock at a window with the hope that an angry mom or dad didn’t greet them from above.
This track is the third released by the duo. “Crash Pad” and “King For A Day” released in late September of 2019 were solid tracks but were a bit too Hexum heavy. “Under Your Window” is a perfect combination of the two. Hexum’s delay heavy guitar parts and reggae rock style singing in the middle of the song sound like they could have been off of 311’s self-titled album. Clanton’s washed out keyboards and drum production sound like they could have been released under his ESPRIT 空想 moniker. Regarding Clanton’s production, Hexum said [for Billboard.com] “There’s just a mad-scientist genius about him with the way he can manipulate and create vintage sounds that are also rhythmically and melodically interesting”. We agree!
My only gripe about this track (as well as the other two tracks released) is – where are the Clanton vocals? Through his solo project and his band Mirror Kisses, Clanton’s brooding yet loud and powerful vocals are a constant highlight. Hearing him duet with Hexum would be amazing. I’m not sure why he has only lent his production talents and not his singing talents to any of these tracks, but maybe things will change in the future.
Nevertheless, this song is a treat for fans of vaporwave and 90’s alt-rock alike. Listen and enjoy, because in this world created by the ethereal sounds of Clanton, Hexum and vaporwave as a whole – your local dead mall is back in business, Blockbusters waived your late fees and McDonald’s is serving pizza.