One of music’s chief pleasures is the way it conjures up a sense of the now, of displacement from the rest of the world into moods and grooves and hooks and melodies. But nowness isn’t just about sonic immersion, it’s about timeliness, and Los Angeles-based Doom Trip capture both on their annual Doom Mix compilations. For the past five years, label head Zac Emerson has brought together acts from his eclectic roster and elsewhere to showcase a wide array of today’s underground electronica. The results have been ceremonious because they’re an obvious extension of Emerson’s tastes; these artists are his chosen family, and pressing play on these albums can feel like peering into a cheery reunion.
As with all traditions, Doom Mix, Vol. V provides comfort in familiarity—some artists here have appeared on previous editions—but this collection is both sprawling and cohesive, providing a survey of contemporary vaporwave and similar zones. This balancing act is accomplished through astute sequencing, and the one-two punch of Fire-Toolz’s “More Spirit Spit Please” and Skylar Spence’s “Kratos in Love” is the most exquisite example. The former is a dazzling melange of screamed vocals, glittery video-game ambience, and saxophone wails that shift from free-jazz skronk to endearing melodicism—a constant pummeling of emotional release. The latter serves as the necessary comedown: a disco edit that’s breezy and light, its bunny-hopping bassline as amiable as its slick-sweet guitars.
The tracklist also features Keith Rankin and Maxwell Allison, co-founders of Orange Milk Records and Hausu Mountain, respectively. Both labels have been pillars of experimental electronic music throughout the past decade, and their inclusions point to a camaraderie in the scene at large. Rankin dons his Giant Claw moniker for album highlight “Gummy Scrub,” a collage-aesthetic pop song featuring a dizzying array of sounds: hardcore synth stabs, a warped J.Lo sample, even a hint of new jack swing. Allison’s track as Mukqs is a plunderphonic swarm of voices, its stuttered rhythm and synthetic sheen like his own take on a reduced Carl Stone track. As it progresses, a ramshackle beat works its way into the mix; it makes for an amelodic close to the album, wrapping up with a final moment of stupor.
There are long-standing vaporwave artists here as well, including Nmesh, Luxury Elite, and the aforementioned Spence. Nmesh’s “Rms Ephratha Pa (Cloud Bath)” takes samples from various movies, including Andy Sidaris’ Malibu Express, and lays them atop a ’90s downtempo beat. Its ambling bassline and skittering vocal edits provide scatterbrained introspection, standing in stark contrast to Luxury Elite’s “Psychology of Desire,” which locks you into its cozy funk-lite rhythm from the start—more than other tracks here, it’s confident in riding out a single idea across its entire runtime.
Given how disparate the artists are—“AM,” for example, features Hundred Waters’ Trayer Tryon—it’s a marvel the way Doom Mix, Vol. V manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Few tracks on this compilation are among their respective creators’ very best work, but that’s hardly an issue on a release that delights in juxtapositions. The shimmering jazz fusion of VAPERROR’s “Thickedge” rubs up against the nocturnal synth pads of Sangam’s “Broken Sky,” and the retrofuturism of Diamondstein’s opening “Heaven in Two Parts” differs from the attempts that follow. For a definitive statement from Doom Trip, you couldn’t do better than Doom Mix, Vol. V, which is emblematic of the label’s wide-ranging yet overarching ideas. But more than that, it accomplishes something that compilations rarely do so successfully: It feels like a network of artists celebrating their own niche, growing and learning and existing with each other, as friends do.
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