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George Clanton - Slide Music Album Reviews

The “vaporwave opera” tag is a red herring: The electronic musician formerly known as Mirror Kisses has grown into his most fully realized vision of pop yet.

George Clanton is exactly the kind of artist chillwave could have used a decade ago. The Virginia-born artist’s faded synth pop hits all the right 1980s-indebted notes, but as a singer Clanton is anything but chill. Starting under the moniker Mirror Kisses in the late 2000s and continuing on 100% Electronica, his 2015 debut under his own name, Clanton has let anxiety, joy, lust, insecurity, and a sharp sense of humor run wild through his music. While many chillwave artists struggled to bring lasting personalities to match their early internet fame, and while vaporwave champions anonymity, he couldn’t do either if he tried. Like Ariel Pink before him, Clanton throws himself into his music without any self-conscious concern for cool—and throws himself about in breathtakingly physical live shows that bring to mind a young John Maus.

Though Clanton’s pop sensibilities are undeniable, he’s proven just as adept at navigating the surreal world of vaporwave with his project ESPRIT 空想. The moniker, an outlet for his more experimental production work, has captured a woozy magic all its own. Like much early vaporwave, ESPRIT 空想 chopped up Muzak and other seemingly tasteless samples into foggy soundscapes, a sort of exotica for the digital world. That project culminated in last fall’s companion album 200% Electronica, a psychedelic treasure trove built on stretched-out samples of his own pop songs. Clanton makes an even greater leap on Slide, a self-described “vaporwave opera” and his first album under his own name in three years. By channeling his most dynamic production ideas through his best set of pop songs yet, Slide aligns all of Clanton’s strengths at once.

That expanded range is immediately apparent. Opener “Livin’ Loose” begins as pure vaporwave as a chintzy synth chime intertwines with hypnotically stretched-out sax samples, unsteadily warping in and out of tune. Clanton’s voice rises up and everything locks into place under a lively beat as the melting atmosphere solidifies into a driving dance track. These are sounds Clanton has nailed in the past in different projects, but he blends them here with an effortlessness that’s new. It’s a feeling that only grows over the album even as individual songs fire off in unique directions.

The enormous “Make It Forever” is one of Clanton’s first songs to capture the relentless energy of his live shows, where he’ll scream and thrash in front of a self-made wall of LED lights. The crashing drums and shimmering synth make for one of the biggest hooks on the album, but even that feels small next to his heart-on-sleeve shout, “When you come back again/We can convene/Make it forever.” Other songs, like “Monster” and the title track, find emotional resonance in softer moments, revealing a more vulnerable side as Clanton’s voice explores a higher register. It comes full circle beautifully on “You Lost Me There,” which offers a somber reprisal of “Forever”’s big chorus, elevating both songs in the process.

In a recent interview, Clanton describes his decision to return to his own name as a spontaneous one. He had intended 100% Electronica to be a Mirror Kisses record before he decided to drop the alias altogether. On the other hand, “Slide is the first album that I’ve written from the jump as myself,” he says, and the distinction feels crucial: Stepping out from behind the alter ego has clearly changed his music in palpable and exciting ways. Whether you’ve followed his sprawling discography over the years or are only discovering him now, Slide feels like the true introduction to George Clanton.

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