For better or worse, hip-hop music generally conjures up images of a certain type of locale, i.e., one that’s gritty, rough, and decidedly urban (e.g., New York’s mean streets, South Central L.A.‘s projects). But then you come across a release like City Girl’s Neon Impasse, which is filed under “hip-hop” on Bandcamp and certainly contains some hip-hop elements (e.g., crisp boom bap-ish beats, head-nodding grooves), but conjures up a decidedly different type of locale.
If you’ll allow me to wax a bit otaku for a moment, I like to imagine that Neon Impasse is the type of album a protagonist in a Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, 5 Centimeters Per Second) melodrama would listen to on their headphones whilst wandering through one of the director’s colorful, intricately detailed urban environs. Probably while waxing nostalgic, pining after a lost romance, or pondering their life, as is Shinkai’s wont.
I went back and forth between Neon Impasse and the more recently released Celestial Angel for this review. Both are excellent collections of chilled out, jazzed up grooves that soothe as much as they move, and both are highly recommended — especially if you’re looking for something that contains vaporwave’s evocative tone but feels more organic and less kitschy. But on average, I’ve probably listened to Neon Impasse a bit more since discovering City Girl’s catalog; its more contemplative and melancholy tone gives it a bit more heft, but your mileage may vary.
Highlights include opening track “Ji-eun’s Sunset” with its snappy guitar licks; the silky smooth manner in which synth melodies, jazzy basslines, field recordings, and sparse piano blend together on “Velvet Garden” and “Obsidian Skyline”; the gentle, ghostly electronics on “Slipping into Ash Filled Streets,” which is one of the most haunting songs I’ve heard from City Girl to date; and the pensive Clientele-ish guitar melody that emerges during “Palette.” Finally, I’d be greatly remiss if I didn’t mention the title track, which moves into dreampop territory with shimmering guitar textures à la Treasure-era Cocteau Twins laid over a stripped down hip-hop beat.
Hip-hop purists might scoff at City Girl’s songs as too light, dreamy, and ethereal, but that’s precisely what I like about them. The album’s beats and atmospheres work together so well: the former anchor the latter and give them some oomph while the latter shade and color the former, and make the songs’ vibes smooth and effortless. It certainly doesn’t hurt, either, that City Girl’s production is topnotch. Whatever their flaws, these songs sound fantastic — which is particularly great because I’ve been unable to stop listening to them since discovering City Girl earlier this month.