Voyage / Embrace by 2814 (Review)

The vaporwave duo returns with another release that moves far beyond “traditional” vaporwave ideals.

In my review of 2814’s magnum opus, 2016’s Rain Temple, I wrote that HKE and Telepath — the two quasi-enigmatic figures behind the 2814 moniker — had exchanged the post-modern kitsch that typifies the vaporwave genre for ​“a sonic palette that’s deeper, darker, and more complex and intriguing.”

The two songs on Voyage / Embrace move even further into that realm as the duo strip their music down its barest elements. Despite being composed by two of the most influential figures in the vaporwave scene, it’s difficult to think of the EP’s two long ambient pieces as ​“vaporwave” beyond the most basic of stylistic similarities. (This isn’t the first time the duo have flouted the genre they helped establish; 2018’s Pillar / New Sun saw them beating Burial at his own game with minimal-yet-spacious dubstep, and apparently perturbing some fans in the process.)

Voyage” is the stronger of the EP’s two tracks, a long, contemplative piece of otherworldly ambience that clocks in at nearly sixteen minutes. HKE and Telepath take their time here, slowly weaving together sparse beats, melancholy synths, and ghostly vocals against a backdrop of gentle yet omnipresent rain (which, on headphones, is as disorienting as it is engrossing). While those ghostly vocals imbue ​“Voyage” with an eeriness, it’s nevertheless calming and meditative à la something Roy, Pris, and the other replicants might listen to whilst mourning their too-brief existence. Or stepping into the real world, it’s a perfectly mournful soundtrack for drone videos of the burnt Los Angeles sky.

Embrace” may very well be 2814’s most minimal and sparse track to date. Gone are the ghostly vocals and rain sounds, leaving behind only layers of wavering, undulating synth drones. It’s almost as mournful and melancholy — and disorienting — as ​“Voyage,” but if fans were upset about the duo’s dubstep explorations on Pillar / New Sun, then this particular evolution of 2814’s ​“dreampunk” might be too much for them.

It may seem like vaporwave’s time in the zeitgeist has passed (though it’s still pretty active if Bandcamp’s ​“vaporwave” tag is any indication). I still have a certain fondness for the genre, no doubt rooted partially in my nostalgia for ​‘80s shopping mall culture, but I also find it fascinating how the genre evolves and fragments as different artists themselves evolve, even beyond the genre entirely. With Voyage / Embrace, 2814 continues to prove themselves exemplars of this process.