Ghosts of Americana



Liam Murphy

April 16, 2023

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

The clear skies and fertile lands of 20th century USA are revealed as ghostly and hollow through a powerful utilising of vaporwave's sonic characteristics on this release

The US was the overwhelming force of the 20th century, especially following World War Two. On a global scale, the country built itself as the primary superpower, acting – in the eyes of its leaders – as guardians of liberal democracy, but – in the eyes of countries who fell foul of its desires and idea for how the world should be – as a merciless war machine. The US also infiltrated the world at large through means of culture. By and large, a much less sinister phenomenon than its military actions, US TV shows, music and media spread outwards, enjoyed and consumed by people all over the globe to this day. US technology has also been adopted as, in many instances, the primary choice of people across the world as well, especially when considering the monopolistic presence of companies like Apple and Alphabet.

Technology and media are often the main considerations in vaporwave. With its name originally derived from fictitious products that never actually existed, vaporwave’s main strand explores the hollow nature of technological advancements made pre-2000 and how, looking back with the knowledge we have now, these signalled a dissociation of people from themselves, goaded on by idealistic simulations of life and the world around us perpetuated through media – the legacy that the US left as we entered into a new age. So, if we are to think of vaporwave as a critique of rampant consumerism that happened under the watchful eye of US supremacy and its championing of capitalism, where would we end up if we traced its source back a couple of decades? “The good old days”, and this is exactly where we find ORACLE.02000’s Ghosts of Americana.

This 15-track album supplies listeners (and viewers, with its well-made visualiser) with a window into Americana. But rather than this being a quaint window pane above a neatly painted wooden sill sporting an apple pie with loving warmth radiating from it (as is often the case with romanticised views of the US), this one provides a darker but more realistic version of the American Dream, informed by our strange and haunted modern world.

Humans, or at the very least, a human presence is largely absent from Ghosts of Americana, save for snippets of samples and voices that emit from tinny speakers, repeating endlessly. It is as if the listener sits in an unending warehouse while audio innovations spew voices unhindered and nonsensically, further asserting a feeling of isolation. At the beginning of Route 66, the listener is greeted by a juddering and defunct promotion for the road-ruling Chevrolet, before being led down a dark ride of ghostly murmurings, disembodied piano and fragments of impassioned vocals littering either side of our theme park ride cart.

Elsewhere, the worsening situation of climate change slides into view, Polyester Palm Trees showing idyllic holiday destinations and houses next to engulfing flames and freak weather. Grainy and seemingly endless layers of noise swell and break, horrific waves of sound as voices and dissonance pulse together like swarms of ghosts. The track Flooding seems to infer a double meaning, with strange, discordant samples washing over each other endlessly and submerging the landscape in a formless and ever-spreading body of sound set to images contrasting 1960s holiday clips with the devastation wrought by unstoppable flooding. These comparisons are harrowing, as ORACLE.02000 perfectly displays those two sides to the US, one that is idealised and the other that is nightmarish.

This idea of a simulated and inauthentic life is touched on, the split personality that characterises a country that now finds itself in a slow and radioactive self-destruction. Manufactured Nostalgia is a title that certainly gives more than a nod to notions of golden age syndrome inherent in modern American rhetoric, from the idea of the “good old days” to the more politically-charged making America “great again”. The track itself begins with soft bells, like those of an edutainment video, before looped voices are lost in a soup of feelgood strings and piano, broken up and left formless. A laser sound pierces through for a moment, as a dizzy collage of casino lights can be seen in the visualiser. A sense of identity lost in the heady lights of hedonism and disassociation.

The end of Ghosts of Americana bares many similarities to the end of that rose-tinted period of US history. Lift Off and Spaceport Dreams both embody the transcendent excitement that gripped the country when they considered the future, undoubtedly and – in their mind – inextricably tied to space travel and exploration. Searching notes wander, a little uncertainly at first, into the landscape as a voice echoes, gesturing to the disorientating and unearthly nature of the 'world of tomorrow'. Overdriven guitars soundtrack the space launch, as the Soviets and the US launch rockets into the sky, desperately trying to beat eachother into space. The clips of the US rockets seem to be of Thor-Agena series, rockets carrying clandestine payloads used for military reconnaissance. But, the simple vision of space launches make one think of the more public-facing side of the space race, as two superpowers deluded themselves, purportedly exporting peace and democracy to reaches far beyond the pale blue dot. 

Being that vaporwave is largely an exploration of modern consumerism, it seems only fair that it should reach back, past those well-worn divets of post-70s artistic exploration. Ghosts of Americana, goes back closer to the origins of the country and employs the genre’s tools of erosion and extraction of substance to reveal the harrowing and ultimately hollow beginnings of the American Empire. This empire founded nothing more than destruction and simulated pleasures, ending with lacklustre intergalactic exploration and contentment, instead, to explore the burgeoning world of cyberspace, giving rise to the technological world birthed in the 1980s. ORACLE.02000 expertly weaves a prologue to the land of opportunity that much of vaporwave successfully critiques.