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.
On May 1 we were surprised with the first official release from PC Music. That was followed by a sold out NYC debut and the first real sparks of a backlash. It was inevitable, but it doesn’t bother me much now. That’s because of another album that came out this month from another web-based genre, albeit one that already faced its own (far rougher) backlash a few years ago. That album is our Release Of The Month and it reminded me that our own fickle interests, like a brush clearing forest fire, aren’t always bad. It takes the focus off and relieves pressure, it lets new things grow. PC Music is going to be OK. Everything is going to be OK.
This month we look at a project inspired by some of the great killer worm monsters in media, a fantastic LP from a hardcore band that’s already broken up, and what may be the missing link between The Residents and Hype Williams.
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Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
Death’s Dynamic Shroud.wmv
I’ll Try Living Like This
For anyone who may have written off vaporwave years back, please let Death’s Dynamic Shroud.wmv’s messy, marvelous new album pull you back in. Vaporwave went through some ugly years after its time in the spotlight. There were a lot of factors: over-saturation from a flood of less-than-inspiring releases; a pushback from its conceptually weighty origins; a few brick-dumb articles that introduced it to wider audiences as a punchline. In their own ways each of those contributed to creating an environment that was intensely, defensively closed-off to the point of asphyxiating itself. Yet lately there are releases popping up that show vaporwave growing and evolving in ways that are really exciting.
That’s part of what makes I’ll Try Living Like This such a blast. It doesn’t try to subvert any of the current trends in vaporwave, it doesn’t try to hearken back to the intensely conceptual qualities of the early days. I’ll Try Living Like This does one single thing: it fucking bangs — hard and consistently — for a dizzyingly complex and immensely pleasurable hour, and then says good bye (the last track is literally called ‘Good Bye’). It feels like a part of this genre’s strange lineage, yet never feels tied down by it.
The opening ‘너 땜에 맘이 맘이 맘이 맘이 괴로워요’ eases you in with breathy, slow-motion R&B accented with crystal synth stabs, but the following ‘Loving Is Easy’ is when DDS first begin to pack their songs with hooks, bizarre samples, and subtle touches like some kind of sonic pick ’n’ mix. That one starts as kawaii-robo-funk before burning up into a churning loop of the titular phrase. Eventually that rips itself apart into complete noise, only to gradually pull itself back together as an even stronger version of how it all started. Later, on ‘Somebody Home’, DDS spends the last minute playing sampled voices, chopped into unintelligible syllables like some kind of babbling piano solo. People often cite Dan Lopatin’s Eccojams as a sort of rosetta stone for this music, but if DDS are taking a page from anywhere in the Oneohtrix Point Never playbook it’s in the recent form-breaking overload of R Plus Seven.
Looking at the wider picture, DDS have sequenced I’ll Try Living Like This expertly. ‘이보다 좋을 수는 없겠어’ is a tender mid-album relief, its molasses-slow vocals pitched down to accentuate their stumbling vulnerability. ‘시원한 파도소리 좋아요’, meanwhile, is all angelic vocals looped to infinity and thundering drum crashes. It helps push the album into its final stretch, as does the following ‘내 마음은 떨고’, which would be welcome on some reimagined soundtrack to Streets Of Rage II.
It all comes to a finish with ‘난 괜찮다고 또 웃으며 Good Bye’, a glittering, impossibly layered send-off filled with sampled vocals that sound as optimistic as they are poignant: “So many things that we’ve been through”, “You’ve got to keep the dream alive”, “You have to survive”. A quick Google informed me that it’s actually a pretty tacky song from the abysmal Sega Saturn game Sonic R. It’s literally a failure within a failure within a failure — but Death’s Dynamic Shroud make it mean so much more than that. In ways big and small, that’s something I’ll Try Living Like This does a lot.
Almost no information to go on here whatsoever. What information there is remains tantalizingly oblique, though not nearly as oblique as the minimal sampler and drum machine workouts exercised on Handling Business. Apparently this is only his third release since 1996. The few mysterious lines provided only raise more questions (“I’m growing independently as an artist and there’s much more out there for independents than when I first got started,” he says – but when did he get started?). So we’re left with no answers and a collection of songs that sound so brilliantly alien that they couldn’t possibly exist in any space outside of this Bandcamp page, which is clearly a portal to another dimension where the missing link between the Residents and Hype Williams is alive and well. This is exactly the reason why I love Bandcamp.
Holding New Cards
Keita Sano has appeared on many labels recently with multiple strong releases. Still, Holding New Cards, his gargantuan album for 1080p, feels like a definitive statement. Part of that comes from the size — the indulgent personality of Sano’s dance music benefits from the album’s 70-minute runtime, allowing room for tracks that could have made an EP feel lop-sided. A good example is the seven-minute ‘Search’, which lurches with off-kilter funk and echoing vocals before the producer slides in an unexpectedly crisp (but oddly welcome) drum fill. It’s moments like that, and the title track’s paranoid shuffle, which give weight to Sano’s many flights of fancy – including ‘Onion Slice’, which “woos” and “yeahs” itself into a delightful flurry, or the acid-drenched pairing of ‘Escape To Bronx’ and ‘Insomnia’. Sano has releases that arguably feel more airtight — his recent Sweet Bitter Love EP doesn’t have a bad track on it — but Holding New Cards is the kind of sprawling, grand statement that cements him as a young producer worth following.
New Paltz, NY hardcore band Wet Petals unfortunately broke up by the time this self-titled release dropped a few weeks ago. It’s a real shame too, because these 15 minutes find a band capable of far more than just combining a few good riffs you can thrash and scream to. The short album manages to span a huge dynamic range — the acidic one-two punch of ‘Cascade’ and ‘Afterpastures’ is cooled down by acoustic strums and sampled voice on ‘Interlude’, while ‘An Echo In The Carnage’ spends nearly half its length focused on a lone guitar melody before the drums start crashing and the screams start bursting. Here’s hoping the musicians behind this turn up in some other bands – Wet Petals have proved they’re too good to go to waste.
Into The Light
Appearing in 2012 during the initial burst of vaporwave producers who brought attention to the genre, Infinity Frequencies didn’t hit his/her stride until a year later with Computer Death. It was timely though, as those lonely loops and empty soundscapes felt like the final word of that era. As vaporwave shifted and changed, Infinity Frequencies stuck around and now sounds more singular than ever. The anonymous producer’s newest album, Into The Light, is a collection of bleary eccojams and Caretaker-esque repetition spread over 21 brief vignettes.
The fuel for these loops comes in many forms. There are the repeating string swoons of ‘It Was Once Here’, ‘From Inside’ and the opening title track. In other places ‘Together’, ’Curves’, and ‘In The Still Of The Night’ indulge in the sort of late-night public access funk that lulls you into a state of comfort where Into The Light’s best moments can really shine. Elsewhere there’s the skipping bliss of ‘Faces’ and ‘Passed By’, which take a few seconds of fluttering lounge music and allow you to patiently take them in from every angle. A lot in vaporwave has changed over the years, but Infinity Frequencies’ reliably great hauntings haven’t.
All The Way
TALsounds is the solo project of Natalie Chami, also of the band Goodwill Smith. Her new tape for Hausu Mountain (who put out previous Release Of The Month, Metalepsis by Eartheater) is one of the growing label’s most distinctive releases. All The Way is a collection of meditative songs that sound slaved over, but are in fact raw recordings without any overdubs. Tracks like ‘Mind’ find Chami conjuring foggy melodic foundations, delivering a powerful vocal performance, and finding ways to tweak it all at once. Those qualities shine on album highlight ‘Reach’, which shuffles through murky industrial clangs before gradually rising towards an angelic conclusion. It’s an album that feels methodical and curious all at once.
Named after the indestructible worm monster in Final Fantasy VI, this bizarro little side project from Alex Koenig is the shot of adrenaline needed to pull you back from his mind altering four-hour-plus Welcome To The Warp Zone mix as Nmesh (our Release Of The Month in April). Applying similar editing techniques to death metal, Koenig loops guttural croaks and blasting drums while splicing in samples focused around his killer worm theme (Dune and Tremors pop up, and of course Triangle Island is the home of the dreaded Zone Eater itself). Crucially, this never sounds like metal-as-dance-music or remixed metal or any other equally unpleasant combination of the two. It’s worth noting Koenig starting out drumming in metal bands before he did anything else, and his understanding of how this music flows is clear. Of course, that drummer did grow up to be Nmesh, so you can’t help but smile when he slyly mixes a little elevator music into the closing track.