Elevator music gets a bad rap—unfairly so. Like wallpaper, it asks nothing of you, not even that you pay attention; it’s just there to help you pass the time. It’s easy to connect that particular strain of soft, inoffensive jazz with the unpleasant experience of waiting or being put on hold. Muzak’s association with actual elevators is an inherited cultural memory at this point, but a bitter aftertaste still lingers.
Chicago’s Angel Marcloid is best known as Fire-Toolz, but with Nonlocal Forecast, her vaporwave-indebted side project, she’s dispelling some of those negative connotations. Last year’s Bubble Universe! riffed on ideas of background music with a fizzy blend of new age, prog, and paint-by-numbers jazz. On the follow-up, Holographic Universe(s?)!, she leans so hard on pastiche that she breaks through to the other side, embracing cheese wholeheartedly. This is full-on waiting-room-core, with guitars that moan, saxophones that mewl, and synths that twinkle like costume jewelry.
Marcloid cites the boilerplate jazz fusion that used to accompany Weather Channel broadcasts as an inspiration for the project, but Holographic Universe(s?)! has a way of feeling immediately familiar even without that particular reference point. For me, it calls up the supremely kitschy Mall Tycoon soundtrack and the strange, polygonal dreamscape of the Chao Garden in Sonic Adventure 2. These are sounds from the background of your life, Marcloid suggests, and they’ll find their way back to you as you listen; the lingering presence of those hazy, half-formed memories is crucial to the experience of the album.
As Fire-Toolz, Marcloid juxtaposes happy-go-lucky electronics with the anguish of screamo. And though the Nonlocal Forecast moniker is mostly a hub for the former, the music plays with opposites in its own way. The bright, jumpy “Imprinted, Encoded, Shone (Emergence)” gives way to samples of thunder and rain in its final seconds. True to its title, “The Bubbling Up of Duality on an Autumn Night by a Forest Stream” builds something gleaming and plasticky on top of a nighttime field recording. The world of this album is almost homeostatic: Things never get too hot or too cold, too extreme in one way or the other.
The album isn’t exactly kidding about any of this (the Kenny G-ish sax tones are completely straight-faced), but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny. “We’re Smeared Across a 2D Surface (Part 1)” opens with a ridiculous koan delivered in a thick New York accent: “She encounters and falls into a super hot soup of bits at the horizon.” There’s also a track called “My Big T.O.E.” and a sister song called “My Incomplete T.O.E.” on which Marcloid credits, uh, Fire-Toolz as a featured artist. Rather than feeling arch or insincere, this surreal, comic edge only enhances the feeling of riding the metaphorical elevator to a plane where goofiness is inherent and there’s space to let your mind wander.
Marcloid’s respect for that goofiness, and that brand of mid-grade pleasantness, is what makes it all work. “I think Nonlocal Forecast is very safe music, and that’s intentional,” she told the Chicago Tribune. A lot of music under the general rubric of vaporwave is “about” capitalism in a way that can be pedantic or reductive, but this album’s lack of ironic distance keeps it out of that trap. Smooth jazz may have been co-opted by customer service hotlines, but there’s no reason why we can’t just enjoy it for what it is, rather than what it means. Rescuing these sounds from corporatist purgatory, the free-associative daydream of Holographic Universe(s?)! ennobles the safety of leisure time.
Buy: Rough Trade
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