Dream Catalogue, the label behind some of the greatest vapor and dreampunk records of all time, finds itself in a strange limbo. It’s still solid, existing as a “destination” for underground vapor culture, but its fourth dimension, the neon-drenched tesseract covered in scrawled kanji and low-res photos of megacities, has passed on. Late last year it was announced that Dream Catalogue would cease to function as a label from early 2021 onwards, with a packed schedule of final releases.
One of these final releases is “Painted with Voices” from w u s o 命 (referred to from here on out as simply wuso), an longtime musician with a criminally low profile. In 2018 wuso came through with the remarkable “Don’t Forget Me”, an album tightly wrapped in the conventions of the genre and, in places, expansive in its approach to bittersweet farewells. “Painted with Voices”, by comparison, is like an assurance that there are yet new barriers to break, a grateful goodbye to a legendary world.
Nowhere is this gratitude felt more than in the second track “Unknown Substance”, which offers a strange mirror to the work of several DC mainstays, though 2814 are the first to come to mind. Where the later duo used ambient samples and pounding drum rhythms to create a blurry canvas of urban decay, wuso’s applications are more personal. A door creaks open, floorboards break, speech is only slightly occluded in the background. Kicks land at a pace closer to a heartbeat than the heave of rush-hour pavement. About a minute in the song begins to dissolve and collapse into nearly overwhelming synthesiser tones, and the immediacy of the drums is slashed – what’s present is already past.
Dreampunk as a genre has always had a fascination with memory. The scene was born from vaporwave, dragging the sample-heavy nostalgia of that world into ambient originality. However, “Painted with Voices” steps beyond the genre’s typical tropes and, subsequently, steps beyond fascination. wuso memorialises memory, the very act of remembering, on songs like the hypnotic “Where Did You Go”. Dense reverb and daggering harmonies blend with more acute sounds to net these long-gone scenes and bring them aboard the deck of reality. And beyond all this metacommentary, the bass burns, the synths cut, the pads soar. Beauty is not locked behind context.
The album focuses more on pure sonics in its second half. “Escape from the Hit” taunts the listener with its title; it’s a stormy barrage of resonating bass and striking percussion, compressed heavily as to not be torn apart by rogue saw waves. “Get Out” quakes in a cyclone of feedback before emerging digitised and vengeful. Arpeggiators are employed furiously, as are harsheners like bitcrushers and white noise. Closer “The Forest in Your Dreams” turns back and bathes in purity. If anything’s to be taken from the dreampunk world, it’s a deep appreciation for texture and timbre – wuso demonstrates both.
Ultimately dreampunk won’t fade with the closure of Dream Catalogue, but it’s hard to not feel a little moved by its retirement. By issuing this record, though, the label has secured itself from time’s drag. It’s not the final release DC will see, but has every element of a closing chapter. It’s a work that pays deep homage to the past and looks opportunistically for the future.
Listen to “Painted with Voices” here.
– Jamie (⅓ @108mics)