The month in Bandcamp: James Ferraro’s new opus, perfect punk and literally just Floral Shoppe backwards
Every month Miles Bowe rounds up the best of Bandcamp, unearthing the finest, freshest and weirdest releases the burgeoning DIY platform has to offer.
We recently published our Second Quarter Report selecting the best releases of the last three months, and the Bandcamp Release Of The Month I had originally planned for this column — the unreal debut by Helena Celle — got promoted. I left it out since it felt better to make room for something that hasn’t been covered yet, and it’s far from the first time that’s happened this year. Bandcamp releases are appearing on the site more than ever before and I couldn’t be more excited.
As listeners pay more attention to self-released projects, artists are turning to the platform in droves. A case in point: experimental godhead James Ferraro has just self-released his latest album, Human Story 3, on Bandcamp. I’m almost glad Celle got snatched up by the Quarter Report (seriously though, get on that), because Ferraro’s album is a reminder of his place as one of the most singular artists of this generation.
Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
Human Story 3
Far Side Virtual turns five this year. That’s not a huge milestone, but feels more significant given the album’s zeitgeist-tapping horrorscapes. Ferraro’s self-released Human Story 3 is perhaps the closest he’s come to that sound since. That’s hardly abnormal for him – Ferraro preceded Far Side Virtual with Troma-inspired bubblegum on Nightdolls In Hairspray, following it with NYC Hell 3 AM, a modern take on Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours etched with dreamlike poetry and charred hip-hop. What no one could have predicted was how Far Side Virtual would inspire enough underground musicians to spawn its own genre, or that its unique attack on our collective musical tastebuds would prove so enduring.
Human Story 3‘s bright melodies and blatant product placement (delivered by disarmingly pleasant voices summoned from the same uncanny valley that gave us Siri) certainly echo Far Side, but the album builds on various qualities found in Ferraro’s discography, dragging familiar sounds into exciting, unknown territories. After years focusing on his own singing and manipulating computer-generated voices on records like the LA-focused Skid Row, Ferraro wields these new talents on ‘Neotenous Smart Car’ with a well-earned precision. Stream-of-consciousness murmurs (“IKEA”, “GPS”, “Air…bag…airbag”) move with jerky rhythms that complement Ferraro’s obsessive, spiraling collages of woodwinds and strings.
Those arrangements — orchestral and verbal — are dizzying, but when paired with the angelic choirs that shimmer throughout the album, Ferraro creates a disorienting clash between technological anxiety and spiritual relief. Ultimately, Human Story pushes toward the latter, and many of its best moments – ‘GPS & Cognition’, ‘Ten Songs For Humanity’ – marry the blissful ambience of Marble Surf with the awkward cacophony of his more recent material.
Though Human Story 3 carries plenty of biting cultural commentary, it’s also one of Ferraro’s most uplifting works. His democratic treatment of sound – from vacuous jingles to dense, passionate orchestral arrangements – could even be compared to Charles Ives, arguably the first great American composer. Ives saw the high and lowbrow sounds of his time — from hymns to ragtime to European classical to pop to folk traditionals — as equal, worthy of coexisting on the same canvas. It’s a philosophy that still resonates in 2016 and Human Story 3 captures this better than any of Ferraro’s releases to date. In all its beauty, horror, stupidity, wonder and immense grace, it’s truly American music made by one of this generation’s great composers.
Pup’s 2013 debut album is among the best feel-good-about-feeling-shitty rock albums, and it’s been an inspiring ride watching the Toronto punk band rise from lovable underdogs to genuine winners. I first saw them in 2013, playing in New York to maybe 10 people, and last month they filled LA’s Echo to the brim with fans already shouting along every lyric to their new album. It makes sense when you hear the record: The Dream Is Over amplifies all the frustrations and anxieties of early tracks like ‘Reservoir’ and fires them like a cannonball at the trope of the “difficult” sophomore album.
Though it begins by clearing inter-band tension with the perfectly named ‘If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will’, Pup lean on each other for support with songs that sound triumphant even when they’re about awful (or nonexistent) day jobs, broken relationships (the stunningly miserable ‘DVP’) and depression. Singer Stefan Babcock shows a lyrical vulnerability that sticks in your head long after the moshpit sweat dries off. They’re also not afraid to be funny, as the penultimate highlight ‘Familiar Patterns’ proves; acting like the creative fruit to their hilarious “what the fuck are we doing here?” social media observations from a previous stint on the Warped Tour, it’s a biting look at the pitfalls of touring which saves the hardest critiques for themselves.
Babcock has said the album’s title is a quote from his doctor, who told him his vocal chords would be permanently damaged if the band kept working at their reckless pace. The Dream Is Over proves they’ve earned a breather, though I doubt they’ll bother taking one. It may sound like it was hell to make, but it’s a fair trade-off for one of the best rock albums of the year.
Yan Hart-Lemonnier meant for Modern Values to be more “mature”, but the 42-year-old also concluded: “[I] feel dishonest when I try to do something a little too dark, or adult”. That’s fine – there’s enough dark and adult music out there, but nothing quite like the jittery pop found on Valeurs Modernes. Bringing to mind the wonky computer-funk of Max Tundra, Stereolab’s zany peaks and ‘90s video game soundtracks, Hart-Lemonnier’s record is bold, bright and a tremendously fun.
‘L’hymne du comité’ nails the tone, sounding like a particularly sunny level in Sonic The Hedgehog (probably Tropical Something-Or-Other Zone). Moments like that and the bouncy ‘Futur Futur’ complement vocal pop experiments like ‘Je Ne Peux Pas Danser’ and ‘We All Run’, which fit more comfortably into the chanson-inspired indie pop that French label La Souterraine should be getting way more attention for. Despite being in his early 40s, this is only Hart-Lemonnier’s second album. Here’s hoping he starts making up for lost time.
Aussie band Surfing never intended to be associated with vaporwave. Like many of the best artists to spark the scene, the group were just doing their own thing in 2012 when they made Deep Fantasy. It became a beloved record in the community, earning a growing affection and culminating in 100% Electronica’s loving reissue. It’s understandable that Surfing’s MOR-psychedelia would speak to the same kids sharing Macintosh Plus’s Floral Shoppe in chatrooms, but Deep Fantasy stands apart.
First off, it’s very much the work of a band, which gives the damaged easy listening loops of ‘Your Touch’ a richness and energy that most vaporwave wasn’t focused on. That places Deep Fantasy’s adult contemporary mutations in a unique position. The glittering rush of ‘Lifetime’ shows the band’s influence on the work of Saint Pepsi and George Clanton (which makes sense, since it’s his label that’s reissuing it), while ‘Moonlight’ shows Surfing carrying the torch of unsung hypnagogic pop greats Rangers. Deep Fantasy may be an outlier in an already defiantly outsider niche of the music world, but that hasn’t stopped its reputation from growing with each year.
On Viscous Positions, Boston-based producer Isabella unleashes raw analogue techno with an emphasis on the acidic. There’s plenty of gurgling Roland TB-303 goodness to be had, but each of these tracks also carries a sinister edge that stings in just the right way. The intro ‘Living Accents’ gets it across before its all-too-brief fade, but it immediately picks up with the following ‘Schuld’ and shows the gleefully unhinged techno that Isabella has made her calling card. “What do you know about acid house music?” a disoriented voice asks on highlight ‘Cheap Acid Boots’. She never needs to answer that question — Viscous Positions makes the answer abundantly clear.
While clipping. vocalist Daveed Diggs has seen his prospects skyrocket since landing a role in Broadway musical Hamilton, fans of the caustic noise-rap project were understandably worried about their future. But the morning after he snagged a Tony Award, clipping. dropped this EP to assure us they’re not going anywhere and that their sound is as savage as ever.
‘Intro’ kicks off with Diggs’ rhythmic motormouth skipping over silence flavored by only a police siren, and also finds the group welcoming more guest vocalists than ever before, including Cakes Da Killa and ANTWON – an exciting prospect thanks to William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes’ bizarre textures. It’s a statement of intent that makes clipping.’s next move their most exciting.
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