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Slow down.

I don’t do new year’s resolutions. However, this year, as December 31 approached, I kept seeing things in my online feed that pointed distinctly towards one idea: bring more offline into my life. Now I appreciate the irony of this idea being expressed via an online music column dedicated to music available to buy through the digital ether, but bear with me.

The article that best summarises this idea and vibe is from The Atlantic, titled The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested. Take five, read it, it’s worth it. There were other things I came across during the month that reinforced this idea of taking things offline or recalibrating our attitude to the internet – like the artist who explained that he wanted to continue using digital technology and make digital music but without actually connecting it to the internet, thus keeping it offline (I forgot the article or author, sorry!).

Chances are, if you’re reading this column, your online consumption and behaviour fits within the scope of what the Atlantic article touches on. And chances are you also like music, just like I do. You really like music. And let’s face it, how much music do you engage with today? Truly engage with, not just online via likes, RTs or shares, but offline via conversations, headphone journeys, silent listening sessions, live shows?

I stopped looking at my promo emails about three or so months ago, not out of choice but as an accident (Gmail’s new tab system means I don’t see them in my inbox anymore). I’ve never felt better in years. I’ve listened – actually listened, not skimmed, not one-listen-and-then-never-again – to more music than I have in the previous year in that time, and most importantly I’ve engaged with that music. I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of albums. You get the idea.

What does this have to do with Bandcamp? Everything and nothing. Bandcamp remains a great ecosystem for music discovery and for artists to take control of their work and earn from it. But it certainly suffers from the same problems as other such ecosystems: there is simply too much to go through to remain sane. And that’s why this column is one of my favourite writing and listening exercises of recent years. It provides a filter to you the reader and/or Bandcamp fan. It provides me with a challenge, to find music I can engage with (not always, I won’t lie) and share it in the hope that those who read and listen find a way to connect with it. And it connects us back to the idea of the internet as a network of many times, not just the now.

This month’s column features electronic beats and soundscapes from Montreal, Ann Arbor and NYC, dubbed out Rai, a time capsule and a splendid bit of archival work. Happy new year!

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NOO-BAP
Crowd Move

You know we’re living in the future when artists can camouflage their creations in a linguistic shroud and your brain doesn’t even think twice about it. Case in point: don’t let the Japanese language on the page fool you – Noo Bap comes from Montreal, doesn’t look remotely Japanese (if that is him on the artist photo) and all track titles are translations of English words/sayings, like ‘Oi!’ on Track 2.

Crowd Move is a 7-track EP that sits neatly within the landscape of the city’s burgeoning electronic scene. There’s a little bit of everything on there, and while that can sometimes mean nothing much worth remembering, Noo Bap pulls off the various styles he indulges in – house, beats, electronic jams – well enough to create a vibe you want to get acquainted with over repeated listens.

Available as digital.

CHARLES TREES
For You

Ann Arbor’s Charles Trees is one of the city’s best kept secrets. A versatile producer, DJ and musician, he’s been quietly grinding for years, supporting those around him and releasing music on Mood Gadget and Fulgeance’s Musique Large among others.

For You is a free album of 12 tracks that delves deep into Charles’ varied musical upbringing and leanings, showing his ability to capture the essence of each without feeling forced. Ambient, dancefloor jams, beats…For You is a tapestry of sonic landscapes that mutate as you daydream. The album has two tags: electronic and Ann Arbor. It needs nothing else.

Available as pay what you want.

FERAL
Haymaker

Low end rumblings and bouncy rhythms from New York’s Feral on this first release for the Big Hurt label. The five tracks on offer here touch on the sort of dancefloor tropes that are too easily abused these days, but thankfully Feral clearly knows what he’s doing. I’m not even mad at the pitched drums on ‘Sweatlodge II’.

Dark and moody, this is music to get down to or alternatively annoy your housemates / co-workers / fellow commuters with.

Available as pay what you want.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Wonderwheel 10 Year Time Capsule

We stay in New York City with this compilation by Wonderwheel, a label run by established DJ and producer Nickodemus, also responsible for the legendary Turntables On The Hudson parties.

This compilation brings together 11 tracks (other labels please take note: less is so much more these days) from the label’s extensive back catalogue including joints by Nickodemus, Quantic, Zeb and more. The vibe is upbeat and full of sunshine: disco, house and dub clashing with worldly influences to get the party started. Best enjoyed with a rooftop and a cocktail.

Many of NYC’s underground movements have not always received their due credit outside the city, or even within it, and this time capsule certainly does a great job of rectifying that for those who didn’t know.

Available as a free download.

EL MAHDY JR.
Rai Dubs

Regular readers of this column may remember El Mahdy Jr from last July when I highlighted his debut, The Spirit of Fucked Up Places, for the Portland-based Boomarm Nation. Since then the North African producer, now based in Istanbul, has been featured in The Wire and has just popped up on Deep Medi alongside Gantz.

Picking up where they left off, Boomarm Nation are starting the year with Rai Dubs, a four-track EP of collaborations between Mahdy, label owner Gulls and French producer XJ (who first put me onto Mahdy) that explores the subtleties of Rai, a traditional music from the Maghreb that’s been often namechecked and sampled in French hip hop – and, if I’m not wrong, has also been celebrated by the likes of DJ/Rupture in his own inimitable style.

The three sample Rai from old cassettes and Youtube rips before deconstructing it and rebuilding it in a dub style, taking the North African vibes into space and back. So-called world music doesn’t get much better than this.

Available as limited edition 10” vinyl.

Available as digital.

PYE CORNER AUDIO
Black Mill Tapes Vol. 4

I can’t for the life of me remember how I came across this, but it’s pretty special. Described as the fourth volume in a series of “1/4” and cassette tapes sourced and transferred by our Head Technician” it comes with the subtitle ‘Dystopian Vectors’ and provides exactly what it says on the tin: engrossing soundscapes for a future that wasn’t quite what we were promised.

Having now googled it quickly, it appears that FACT’s been a fan for a while, but as I’m brand new to the man’s work, I’m hoping my editor lets this one slide.

Available as digital.

LONNIE HOLLEY
Just Before Music

Dust to Digital is another great example of how the Bandcamp ecosystem can be used to propagate carefully crafted archival work and musical curios without the need for big promotional budgets. The label is self-described as a “producer and curator of a wide variety of projects, which combine rare, essential recordings with historical images and descriptive texts to create high-quality, cultural artifacts.”

Lonnie Holley’s Just Before Music is a perfect example of this, a surreal musical collage of traditional struggle music – blues, gospel – improvised on the spot and layered until it no longer resembles its sources and becomes something entirely new yet entirely known. The man’s story is in itself deeply fascinating.

Available as digital.

Searching for the perfect tag

JANUARY ELH
Rose

For this month’s tag search I looked up ‘January’ – not the most inspired idea, I’ll grant you, but it turned out to be a good one.

January Elh is an Austin-based songwriter whose Bandcamp is made up of colour-themed releases that showcase the sort of pop-minded songwriting you wish the charts were better at putting forward.

Rose contains two love songs, with Elh’s syrupy voice delicately balanced on catchy rhythms and floating melodies. It’s really quite good.

Available as a free download.

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