Review Summary: learning from mistakes
Will any influential album ever be widely understood for what it is and not just its impact? Probably not, but I can try. Since Daniel Lopatin released the incredibly creative album Eccojams Vol. 1
there's been a lot of discussion about its impact on vaporwave, which I'm not denying. One clearly inspired the other. But in doing so, critics have forgotten that most important impact that music can have - the listener's feelings. We should focus less on the whole "not many people heard Eccojams
, but everyone who did formed a bandcamp" ideology and more on the reasons that it inspired so many people to create, along with all the others who were inspired to do something else with their life, or even just given the motivation to keep going.
The most frequent narrative to this explains it as some sort of "well, someone had to do it" art project, like an artist who paints a dot on a canvas and sells it for thousands of dollars. There's clearly something more to it, though. Look at the samples. Most of them are largely forgotten deep cuts from somewhat forgotten eras of music. Nothing here is an obvious contender for something that apparently concentrates more on technique than actual meaning. In fact, the opposite is true. The album was released in 2010, far earlier than the real wave of poptimism, yet it uses samples from JoJo, Ian van Dahl, and nu-jack-swing-era-Janet Jackson, none of which scored him any points in the scene. It's clear to me that he was doing this for more than some ironic look at the destructive look of capitalism in the 21st century. I see that as something largely created by critics trying to easily fit him into a narrative that connected artists created. Instead, Daniel has made something genuinely comforting and inspirational.
In 2015, he explained his general teenage state of mind: "I was perpetually this B-minus kid vacillating between eagerness and depression. I wasn’t a bad kid, and I definitely wasn’t aggressive, but I was a sad kid." Eccojams
declares this just as much as Garden of Delete
, if more subtly. Take some of the sampled dialogue - "hurry boy, she's waiting there for you," "angel please, don’t go," "be real, it doesn't matter anyway, you know it's just a little too late," "do you ever see in your dreams, all the castles in the sky" - even just those sections of the original song, unmodified but removed from their context, are uncannily accurate representations of longing. Instead of taking the much more well-known "Rhythm Nation" for A6, he used "Lonely," much more of a heartbroken song, one that someone would listen to while they were feeling down. This whole time, things have been getting less and less steady, more twisted and uncannily looped in awkward, unusual ways. A sense of subtle misery rises to the forefront by the end of side A, dissolving into a completely chaotic static noise, hitting rock bottom, just as we do.
After this fall, we begin again with another twisted dream - the only clear messages are "but you just don't" and "nothing." Awaking from this, a light appears suddenly in the form of Kate Bush's voice, telling us "don't give up, you know it's never been easy." On my first listen to this, I wanted to loop the whole track over and over again. Not many repetition-based albums can create this longing for more.
From that moment on, nothing is quite as hopeful, but everything's a lot better. Samples loop in more day-to-day ways, like something stuck in your head instead of a guilty thought continually hurting you. There's still difficulty - "another year and you'll be happy, just one more year and you'll be happy" on repeat represents the challenge of keeping hope through the grind of life better than perhaps any lyric I've ever heard in contemporary music - but it's a regular trial now, not a gradual destruction. The strains of life are now come and go, not descents from sanity. Something has changed for the better.
That's what Eccojams
is about, really. Far too many invested music listeners are in the state of mind of side A. Our lives are loops of simple, sad longing for more than we are, are simple, sad hoping for more than we are, are simple, sad wishing for more than we are, are simple, sad begging for more than we are. I believe that art is simply the artist's feelings and experiences reflected onto a medium, and while Daniel's mirror may be fractured and complex, it is certainly polished and clear. My writings on Eccojams
are based pretty much solely on my life experiences with it. I'm probably grasping at straws here, but I believe that the reason Daniel even decided to transform songs into these echoing jam sessions in the first place was because life was teaching or had taught him that grasping at straws is better than the easier, more realistic repetition of unhappy patterns.
Finally, with one last crystallized cry of "woman in chains," it's over. Eccojams is done - do you select "loop all," or do you stop?