Dragon Soul is a landmark release in Russo's discography. It comes through Olde English Spelling Bee's 200 Series subsidiary instead of Dream Catalogue, and it even had something of a pre-release campaign. This is notable for an artist who seems to put out music on impulse. (It's also being pressed on vinyl, another rarity in the dream music world.) Opening with the orchestral "Dragon Blood," Dragon Soul is the equivalent of a big-budget film following a series of made-for-TV movies. Across the album, synth overtures explode like dazzling fireworks displays. Quieter, more contemplative passages follow, as though the light has faded. His songwriting style isn't too far removed from post-rock, moving through a series of loud-quiet-loud passages that emphasize tension as much as they do pomp and circumstance.
Dragon Soul is full of depressive synths, wounded vocals and grandiose crescendos. The bubbling trance synths that weave through "Inverted Sandtimer" are among the album's prettiest sounds, while the sad drift of "Alone Together" is a convincing stab at Burial melodrama. Ambulance sirens and far-away speech samples ghost through several songs, while "Dragon Circle" has all the brass of an action movie soundtrack. "Eternal Return" features an achingly sad melody that shows HKE can do simple emotion as well as grand gestures. These three-note phrases become a leitmotif throughout the album's second half, leading to an explosive closing trilogy that makes good on the LP's cinematic promise.
Since the beginning, vaporwave has existed in a sort of internet quarantine, confined to Bandcamp pages, YouTube uploads and MediaFire links, with many dismissing the scene as a bunch of detached, bored kids. Dream Catalogue and others emerging from vaporwave's wake are starting to dispel that notion. Instead of slowed-down swing and lo-fi samples, dream music is all about the spectacular and the epic. Dragon Soul isn't a complete home run, but it shows continued growth from a producer whose best work lies ahead of him.