Name Your Price: February 2015’s Best Bandcamp releases
FACT’s Miles Bowe takes the reins of our Best of Bandcamp column this year, unearthing the finest, freshest and no doubt weirdest releases the burgeoning DIY platform has to offer.
Near the end of 2013, Bandcamp released a blog post announcing they had hit the $50 million mark in fan-to-artist transactions. Not content with simply celebrating the post set a challenge for the future: Bandcamp would double that number in 18 months. Just a few days into March this year, they hit their $100 million goal – and it only took them 16 months.
In the time that’s passed, Bandcamp has grown into an essential part of how we consume, release, and discover new music. The sheer amount of releases appearing on a daily basis can be overwhelming, and if anything it will only grow more saturated. So besides celebrating this recent milestone, it also made me think about the direction this column should go moving forward following its debut last month.
I have conflicting feelings about guides boasting that they’re “the best”. It’s really an issue with objectivity, since it’s obviously implied these are opinions. When I wrote a column on the 10 best songs by The Beta Band I didn’t mind that it pissed a lot of people off when ‘Dry The Rain’ wasn’t right at the top, because I knew every song by that band by heart (and c’mon ‘She’s The One’ is obviously the better). But it’s different trying to acknowledge the best of Bandcamp when it would be impossible to properly gauge that.
So we’ve added a new name to this column that embraces the unique experience granted by the ocean of releases which you can dive into daily just by clicking the ‘discover’ button. “Name Your Price” is one of the most common phrases associated with Bandcamp. It represents the commitment artists take with their work and the trust they put in listeners as they give something away for free and hope it inspires a purchase. It’s how Bandcamp hit that $100 million mark two months early, and it represents the zero-risk quality that has inspired some of the medium’s most daring and exciting music. No risk, no strings attached, just click play.
Here you’ll find the best things I came across while stumbling through the hundreds of thousands of releases Bandcamp dumped on us this month, including a reissue of the best sampledelia album you’ve never heard, a rapper’s violent and sexual concept album about Bill O’Reilly, and the music behind the incredible piece of artwork above. But first, head to the next page to meet our Release Of The Month.
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Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
I’ve written before about Eartheater and Hausu Mountain, but still Metalepsis deserves extra attention. Not just a powerful debut, the album sits atop Hausu’s already impressive collection. Though Alexandra Drewchin has a track record of great psychedelic work (and an impressive voice) with her other band Guardian Alien, left to herself under this aptly named project, there’s nothing to hold back her imagination.
The range of Eartheater gets laid out in the one-two punch of ‘Macro EV’ and ‘Homonyms’. The former opens the record with delicate harmonic strums that would fit with the kind of shimmering dissolve you see when characters in movies fall into dream sequences, and gently falls into a wordless collage of Drewchin’s voice. It’s amorphous and lovely, but not entirely a sign of what’s to come, as ‘Homonyms’ confidently proves. Once the opening guitar strums cut through, Metalepsis begins to show what a spacious record it can be. Drewchin enters singing, gradually splitting into multiple tracks, each showing a different unique wrinkle to her voice, whether that be a touching lyric, a melismatic pirouette, or simple a natural beauty. It’s a promise to expect anything and it delivers in full.
Song structures begin to melt as rapidly and drastically as the surroundings of someone about 90 minutes into an acid trip. It leads to moments like one on the creepy folk burner ‘Put A Head In A Head’, when the bleepiest, bloopiest synth solo shrieks through, sounding unlike anything else in the song but feeling like a proper emotional conclusion nonetheless. Even stranger, the psych-rock of ‘Youniverse’ gets interrupted by a field recording of rappers, before Drewchin re-enters singing a charming, though entirely different, song. It’s such a trip, the penultimate 10+ minute drone jam ‘Orbit’ becomes a welcome decompression – without it you’d probably get the bends.
It sets up the surprise ending to Metalepsis with ‘Infinity’. Suddenly all the weed smoke and funhouse mirrors clear and Drewchin puts herself up front and center with only a gentle oscillating synth and her soft guitar strums to accompany her clear, untreated voice. You’re given four minutes to fully take in that voice and clearly appreciate the dreamy poetry as she ponders and celebrates inner and outer space. It’s in those final moments that Eartheater sounds like she’s done just what her world0destroying moniker might imply, and is simply gazing out beyond at what’s to conquer next. We’ll probably have to wait a while to find out, but after Metalepsis you’ll want to follow her anywhere.
Prince Metropolis Known
One of the first jobs I ever had was working in the box office of a large theater. It was a nice job, but the worst period of it was a season I spent selling hundred of tickets for a Bill O’Reilly live talk. Maybe it’s just the sick retribution for the teenager of my past getting treated like trash by snobby one-percenters wanting to get their Bill-O on, but Kill Bill, the new mixtape from Kool Keith protege Prince Metropolis Known, feels like the perfect kick-him-while-he’s-down release, coming in the same month the ultimate Fox News loudmouth finally got called out on years of public lies.
O’Reilly is the central subject of Kill Bill, a tape where Metropolis turns himself into the repulsive, dangerous, overly sexualized image the pundit has often blindly accused all rappers to be. It doesn’t mean much for a rapper to say “fuck Bill O’Reilly” these days, but on ‘Spread’, Metro spends over five minutes talking about literally fucking Bill O’Reilly.
Throughout, Metro targets O’Reilly, his family, girlfriends, ex-wives, coworkers, and even the politicians he’s supported until they’re all just one writhing sexual mess on par with the classic dirty “Aristocrats” joke. And like that, the tape only works because Metropolis completely commits to every absurd scenario. In other words, Kill Bill isn’t great because Metro says he’ll “shit all on your face”, it’s great because he adds he’ll be eating “cinnamon with rice ’n’ Ex-Lax so it got a sour taste”.
A Distant Fist Unclenching
It’s a little odd to think that experimental rock band Krill’s dynamic, funny, furious and nakedly sincere third album A Distant Fist Unclenching is only now coming out in February. For folks involved in the current Brooklyn scene, these were songs that had already been memorized and cheered back at the band during their explosive live shows before 2014 had bowed its ugly head. Now the finished product has finally arrived through a joint release from Exploding In Sound and Double Double Whammy, the two labels that have done more than anyone in the last couple years to turn the words “indie rock” into something you don’t want to roll your eyes at.
It’s a testament to how successful A Distant Fist Unclenching turned out that Krill have finally made a record that channels the cathartic power of their live shows. For over 45 thrilling minutes it fulfills a promise to those fans singing along at the packed DIY venues and acts as a care package to anyone missing out on the best Brooklyn has to offer.
They accomplish this mainly by taking all the ugliest aspects of their messy, charming debut Lucky Leaves and leaning into them fully, picking at the scabs till blood flows. Songs like ‘Mom’ and ‘Torturer’ mix uncomfortable metaphors with painfully confessional lyrics, leaving the listener to sift through the pieces. Meanwhile Jonah Furman goes for broke on his warbled vocals, perfecting a balanced delivery of existential despair and warm humor. Sitting right in the middle is the seven-minute ‘Tiger’, which finds drummer Ian Becker and guitarist Aaron Ratoff laying out a spacious, atmospheric foundation for Furman’s sadly funny parables of animals carelessly eating animals before building to a surging, explosive peak.
It hasn’t been the norm to find an indie rock band in this column, but this is the Best of Bandcamp, and Krill are truly one of the best rock bands we have right now.
Constellation Tatsu started 2015 on an unbelievably strong note by dropping three albums at once right in the crossover between January and February. Only Forever by [Physics] ended up on here last month, but the crystalline tones of Memory Drain by Opaline is the best of their Winter Batch series (the third, ʕ•̫͡•ʕ•̫͡•ʔ•̫͡•ʔ•̫͡•ʕ•̫͡•ʔ•̫͡•ʕ•̫͡•ʕ•̫͡•ʔ•̫͡•ʔ•̫͡•ʕ•̫͡•ʔ•̫͡•ʔ♡, is also worth your time and not just because of its awesome artwork and title).
Memory Drain features heavy synth massaging, but always skews towards wonder and warmth over coldness. Tracks like ‘Emerald Pavilion’ and ‘Memory Drain’ could ripple into infinity, and taken in one sitting it’s a nicely laid out adventure that’s over far too quick. It’s like looking up at the stars, but without all those pesky thoughts about death and insignificance.
Euglossine couldn’t have named Complex Playground better for an album where such intricate craftsmanship makes up something so light and fun. More than anything it brings to mind the pseudo-easy listening of modern Nintendo music. Picture chiptunes if they were inspired more by the sounds on the Wii Store and less by the 16-bit games you’re actually buying on there.
From the tones and title of opener ‘Welcome!’, Euglossine rides in on the sort of cosmic elevator music that label Beer On The Rug have nailed, but Complex Playground quickly explores different avenues. There’s the bright guitar chintz of ‘Nucleus Pilot’ and the warped digital tropicalia of ‘Silver Knot’, but best of all is ‘Miraculous Ornament’, which opens with the kind of melody that would soundtrack a dream sequence in an SNES Final Fantasy. Finally, Complex Playground also earns massive props for being Powerpoint music that comes with an actual Powerpoint for liner notes.
Sweet Mellow Cat
On ‘La Chat Noir’ Brazilian sound artist Liz Christine loops sloshing water, cat meows, Bogart’s “Here’s looking at you kid” line, and a whole collection of Foley bumps and rings until every sound is firing off at once like the sound in a good pinball game. ‘La Chat Noir’ is only 40 seconds long, but on Sweet Mellow Cat Christine can do this for over 10 minutes without losing any of the impact. Whether she’s making delicate miniatures or building entire worlds, she blends and loops with a deft hand and a wide-eyed glee.
This happens early on with ‘Dinah’, whose echoing “I loved him so” samples blend with slide guitar and shuffling percussion to emerge with something almost like Hype Williams going country. On ‘C Caterina’, Christine cherrypicks self-important orchestral flourishes and simply lets them bump into one another while murmured coos skip over the top. She lets the track float like that for over five minutes before shuffling drums and claps break in and pull the whole thing into a tight locked groove. Often, she will let sampled voices interact and talk to each other and it puts the same image in your mind of a creative kid building entire stories with their toys.
Now, I’m cheating a bit here because the label Flau are only reissuing Sweet Mellow Cat, which saw an extremely limited Japanese release in 2012 and surfaced in America over a year later to almost no attention. It deserves a mention on here regardless because not enough people listened the first time. Fingers crossed that if more do this time she’ll make another record.
Sometimes an album comes along with artwork so amazing the music behind it couldn’t possibly hold up, but on really rare occasions it does. The only thing better than MilkMakerz’ beat tape is what could come once rappers actually start using it.