There could not be a better time for Macintosh Plus to make this reappearance.
On December 20, 2019 electronic musician Vektroid tweeted “I wrote another Macintosh Plus album.” Vektroid, aka Macintosh Plus, aka, New Dreams Ltd., aka Laserdisc Visions and several other monikers is actually Ramona Andra Xavier, a Portland, OR based producer. What made this particular tweet important for those who have followed Xavier’s prolific output over the past decade is that she has not released anything under the Macintosh Plus name since 2011’s seminal Floral Shoppe, the album that, along with one or two other releases, enjoys the dubious distinction of having invented the subgenre known as vaporwave.
Vaporwave is often dismissed as just one of a million micro-genres fueled by Tumblr, YouTube and file-sharing that popped up in the early ‘10s and disappeared just as quickly as it arrived. Characterized by its appropriation of corny Greco-Roman sculpture, VHS fuzz and ‘80s shopping mall-neon, vaporwave was written off as part meme, part display of millennial shallowness. The sampled and slowed down pop and muzak – supposedly easy to make in free or pirated music production software – was a perfect punching bag for the critical establishment. The fact that the genre’s leading artists also positioned it as a critique of so-called “late capitalism” was the pretentious proof-positive needed to rule on vaporwave’s insignificance.
But musicians kept making it anyway. More than just empty-mall mixes of Toto’s “Africa,” adherents made innovations in something they considered ripe for expansion, mining music’s past forge a different kind of future and critiquing the system that had produced such a glut of detritus. It turned out that what a born-digital artform needed was born-digital criticism. The late, great Tiny Mix Tapes was one of the subgenre’s fiercest champions, singling out Xavier and Floral Shoppe, in particular, for praise. Vaporwave could never have emerged before its peculiar moment, but it took a long time for the legitimacy of that moment to be recognized. Pitchfork, to their credit, gave the album an 8.8 in one of their retrospective Sunday reviews last fall.
So almost 10 years later (though it feels like 100), Macintosh Plus has resurfaced in this brave new world to give us Sick & Panic, a 13-minute single/EP that portends the release of a full-length album – aptly titled Rise From Your Grave – later this year. But Xavier isn’t content to simply take an easy victory lap, trading on one of the most revered monikers in vaporwave. Gone are the gauzy textures of Floral Shoppe, the dripping pop melodies and the future-nostalgia. Looping and repetition have always been deeply embedded in the DNA of vaporwave, and Macintosh Plus is no exception, but on Sick & Panic these elements are accelerated – often beyond sense. It plays like a free-jazz version to vaporwave’s cool.
The release consists of a single title which Xavier explains will not appear in its present form on the eventual album. “Sick & Panic (First Mix),” starts out with stuttering synth pads and frenetic electronic percussion before building into a chaotic, loping dirge which is then punctured and destroyed by singular repetitious sounds, its origins increasingly unclear. As if nodding to the past, the track then interpolates the synth chords and rhythms usually found in the cheap Japanese-made keyboards that define vaporwave.
In 13 minutes, the track flips moods at a whim, an improvisational mélange of loops and textures that bring in vaporwave standbys like saxophone as readily as dubstep or hip-hop beats. There are handclaps and a synthetic harmonica. It sounds like both a warm-up for something new and an exciting return to form. As a preview of what’s to come from Xavier as Macintosh Plus, it is both intriguing and not enough. It is a compliment to say it leaves the listener dying for more.
There could not be a better time for Macintosh Plus to make this reappearance. Vaporwave is consummate indoor music. It has always been 3 a.m. internet wormhole music. Late capitalism keeps getting later and later and Sick & Panic is future music in the same way Floral Shoppe was nearly a decade ago. By taking the past and dragging it through the hellish prism of the current moment, Xavier performs a recombination of pieces that, in their reassembled state, construct a vision for the future as it might have been, as it might still be. But between 2011 and now, it seems that even this imagined future has succumbed to an ominous chaos.