September 7, 2017

TEST SPIN: Kitty — Miami Garden Club

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Miami Garden Club is the kind of album that makes you want to wake up at 2 p.m. and spend the rest of the day playing Animal Crossing and taking selfies in your Calvin Klein underwear.

Kitty’s been laying the groundwork for such an album for a while. In her earlier tracks, the Daytona Beach-based rapper mixed goofiness and sadness with occasional glimpses of stark honesty. She’s at her most evocative dropping lines like, “You apologize to me when I see you do a line, but like/I’m open-minded and it’s fine/I don’t do that shit but I don’t really mind it.” But with tracks like “Give Me Scabies” and “Ay Shawty: THE SHREKONING, ” Kitty long fronted her tumblr tongue-in-cheek detachment over her vulnerability.

I first fell in love with Kitty’s “Florida.” Over a shimmering beat by Hot Sugar, Kitty spins out emo hometown angst. “And I promised I’d be gone and forget it by 2012,” Kitty raps, “And I thought if I got out I’d never visit.”

It’s bittersweet to have a favorite song. It’s wistful to wish that were more songs that elicited the same feelings and, resigned, to replay the track until the novelty wears off and you grow to hate it. I played “Florida” in moderation, careful to preserve the first few shimmering sections.

I knew I’d eventually overplay “Florida.” What a song, what a shame.

Then Miami Garden Club dropped. It was a long time coming. Kitty launched a Kickstarter to fund the album on August 10, 2015. She raised more than $50,000 in less than a month. She seemed poised for a tour-de-force: enough money for an album and a tour, as well as an engaged online base.

But life got in the way. As Kitty related to Noisey’s Emma Garland, a slew of setbacks hit her in quick succession: she lost the album’s draft in stolen luggage, a professional relationship disintegrated, she faced stresses in her personal life. Kitty headed back to Daytona Beach.

“I sat on my dad’s porch for days at a time watching Florida wildlife, and realized the story I wanted to tell was right there,” Kitty told Garland.

Over two years passed between the start of Kitty’s Kickstarter campaign and Miami Garden Club’s release. I followed Kitty on Twitter sometime in the middle. Mixed in with tweets about playing Overwatch and her marriage to Teen Suicide’s Sam Ray, Kitty feuded with and assured fans who started to doubt that the album would ever come out. I didn’t have much skin in the game. I was always down for more Kitty’s tracks, but if none materialized, que sera sera. Two years and 15 days later, the album dropped.

Miami Garden Club is, in a strict sense, transcendent. It is, like “Florida,” grounded in Kitty’s descriptive dread (and seemingly now acceptance) of her home city. Yet, the album also ascends to a realm of Internet-based aesthetics. It’s a master class in vaporwave done right.

Trying to describe vaporwave is like trying to describe memes: super lame. In short, vaporwave calls back ’80s and ’90s aesthetics — early personal computers, smooth jazz licks, pink-and-turquoise, corporate logos — to instill a sense of nostalgia. For many millennials, vaporwave is a genre of liminal space. Just recent enough to remember, but not recent enough to remember well.

Think of the scene in Dope when Malcolm and Dom joust over “old school” hip-hop. The wiser Dom bests Malcolm, pointing out that most of his beloved ’90s tracks were recorded in the ’80s and the 2000s. Vaporwave requires suspension of disbelief, or intentional mis-remembering. You have to travel not backwards, but sideways, to an alternative conception of the ’90s that sort of existed, maybe, for some people.

Kitty repurposes and reinvigorates the vaporwave aesthetic on Miami Garden Club because she crafts songs that reveal that vaporwave is, in fact, grounded in the mid-aughts Internet, not some half-forgotten history.

The album sounds unified. The Florida wildlife that Kitty recounted watching shows up throughout the album — birds chirp at the beginning of “2 Minutes,” and “Overpass” opens with gulls calling. Kitty works with a cohesive set of luscious, bubblegum-y synths. The album sounds great in my upstate New York collegetown house, but I can’t help but know that it would sound a hell of a lot better on a Daytona Beach balcony with an ocean view.

Kitty takes that sound profile, though, and explores a vast variety of emotions. There’s the sweltering, urgent rush of new love in the insistent beat of “2 Minutes.” The goofy, earworm-inducing bump of “Mass Text Booty Call.” The overwhelming, washed out haze of “Running Away.” And, of course, my new fave — the forlorn placidness of “Overpass.” Kitty took the angst of “Florida,” simmered and distilled it down to make a track that feels at once grounded and embodied, but also lost and carried out to sea.

“Hidden planet, pretty hands, you take mine, melting me down/Whisper sweet, you’re wishing me a safe night, and sending me out,” Kitty raps.

Miami Garden Club marks a star turn for Kitty. The playfulness and openness that first endeared early fans are still present, but Kitty has revealed herself to be a top-tier songwriter with an excellent ear for glamorous melodies and replayable hooks.

Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].