Every month Miles Bowe rounds up the best of Bandcamp, unearthing the finest, freshest and weirdest releases the burgeoning DIY platform has to offer.
This column is about music released in October, a time when things were so different. October is, for some, the best month of the year. You get fall, Halloween, and feeling cold is still a novelty. The candy tastes better and horror movies feel spookier. It’s also one of the best months to be on Bandcamp, as artists drop projects they’ve worked on all year, labels push out their final wave of releases, and stoned, sugar-high weirdos upload whatever the hell they can frame around a “Halloween” hashtag. I’ve said before that Bandcamp is the best digital equivalent to record-digging we have, but at this time of the year it feels more like trick-or-treating. This year we got a whole lot of treats.
In this column you’ll find a film score for an erotic zombie movie that doesn’t actually exist, a ghostly label compilation and a power-pop album as sweet as a candy apple with lyrics that cut like a razor. We also get Hausu Mountain – a label that’s given more to this column than any other, even before we named it the #2 label of 2015 – dropping a trio of vibrant solo records from founding band Good Willsmith.
Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
Lifter + Lighter
Good Willsmith’s Natalie Chami made a cloudy, wonderful debut last year with All The Way, but on her follow-up she’s pushed TALsounds to even greater heights. The album captures Chami recording live without any overdubs, which is worth keeping in mind because Lighter + Lifter has a way of making you completely forget that. Its surprising turns and flooring vocal performances are a marvel to hear in all their detail.
‘Surrender’ opens the album with familiar cloudy ambience, but its steady percussive pulse and swelling vocals give momentum towards a marvelous conclusion. Music and voice are still as intimately melded as ever, but by highlighting the latter on tracks like ‘Surrender’ and the glowing space-folk of ‘Hair’, Chami makes the relationship more dynamic than ever.
Along with the blissful closing tracks ‘Close My Eyes’ and ‘Solace’, Lighter + Lifter expands on what made All The Way so mystifying, but when Chami dives into new territory the results are even more successful. On ‘I’m Just Around,’ she delivers R&B vocals over anxious synths pulses, then fuses them with the dazzling a cappella dance of ‘I Am Why’. The track builds a spiraling 4/4 groove out of a web of layered Chamis with a chopped, hiccuping murmur taking centerstage. Only halfway through, yet so far from where the album started. It’s everything TALsounds does in the space between that makes Lighter + Lifter such a joy to listen to.
From the opening swells that conjure images of Sonic 2’s ‘Sky Chase Zone’, Walkthrough captures Good Willsmith’s Maxwell Allison delivering a video game daydream more vivid than anything before it. Released through his own label, Hausu Mountain, it’s Allison’s fourth full-length under the Mukqs moniker this year, after a split tape, a collab and one other proper album. It’s also the best. Walkthrough finds Mukqs at its most focused, conjuring a 16-bit journey which, like any sidescroller worth its fire, water or ice level, delivers a world of variety.
’20 Nyuen’ immediately shows that off with an anxious jam that brings to mind both LNS’s techno and Sam Powell’s prickly Jurassic Park soundtrack on Sega. ‘クリスティーナ’ mixes synth-twinkles through foggy pulses, which ‘V on Shenton’ picks up and carries into the total euphoria dump of ‘エリートニート’. The album ends on a gorgeous outro that brings to mind some video game I can’t place — or maybe I just think it does. It’s a great feeling, and one that Walkthrough masterfully controls throughout.
Mr. Doug Doug
SOS Forks AI REM
If Good Willsmith’s trio of solo albums offers basically everything that makes Hausu Mountain’s collective subconscious so brilliant, then Doug Kaplan’s debut album as Mr. Doug Doug is its jagged, unhinged id. SOS Forks AI REM is an hour-long funhouse ride that finds Kaplan raiding Internet Archive’s Geocities Collection and freemidi.org in order to unleash a chiptune by-way-of speedmetal attack.
On tracks like ‘Psi Aeon Hap 156’ it sounds like a sugar-high acceleration of bandmate Mukqs’ Walkthrough, while the dizzy twirl of ‘Cyan Arm Patch 384’ might be best tribute I’ve ever heard to Aaron Dilloway’s tape loop masterpiece Modern Jester. ‘Flew Astral 241’, ‘Fatal Seaway Dew 420’ and ‘Popping Whits 420’ all sound like music from some incredible lost racing game. Kaplan floors it through the first half of SOS Forks before crashing into the tape’s watery ambient second half, where its title track offers a lengthy synth cleanse. Both sides offer Kaplan at his extremes, but together, it’s what makes SOS such a great all-in debut.
Beyond The Fleeting Gales
One of the biggest surprises of last year was realizing that the whispery, intimate releases by 100% were in fact Elaiza Santos, frontwoman of Crying, a band that hyper-charged emo with a chiptune glow on the excellent Get Olde Second Wind. Beyond the Fleeting Gales, in contrast, reaches new heights of glam and pop excess over 10 songs of blaring synths and shredding guitars. That’s as far removed from 100% as you could get, yet the record shows the full scope of Santos’ ambitions.
Songs like ‘Wool In The Wash’ and ‘Patriot’ are cheery enough to play over the opening and ending credits of an anime, yet contain a prickly complexity in the details. The album’s greatest strength, however, is the one constant in Santos’ discography — a totally enveloping lyricism which hits the listener with the same emotional intensity whether it sounds like it’s coming from a quiet bedroom or, in this case, outer space.
‘Origin’, for instance, describes that often-difficult experience of visiting your hometown with rainbow synth crashes and action-movie-montage guitar leads. Look beyond the sugar rush, however, and you’ll find shattering, complex lyrics: “Mothers will expect that their daughters won’t forget what they’ve sacrificed / Leave as a villain or stay behind / To howl as a victim who’s “renounced” their pride in order to nurture.”
The only time things slow down is on the centerpiece, ‘Well And Spring’, a twisting, atmospheric eye to the album’s storm, which swells to a pretty climax before pushing further into a dark, chaotic redzone. It’s moments like that, where all the divergent ideas at play collide with laser focus, that suggest Crying are only getting started.
Geographic North Records
Death on the Hour: Aural Apparitions from the Geographic North
Geographic North nailed Halloween this year with this bewitching compilation. It kicks off with the hypnagogic lulls of Moon Diagrams, the solo project of Deerhunter’s Moses Archuleta, but keeps the promised apparitions coming throughout with tracks as suggestive as they are unsettling. On ‘Utah,’ Leech balances plinking synths and gusts of guitar feedback to make something reminiscent of both John Carpenter and Neil Young’s Dead Man score.
Elsewhere, M. Sage whispers through a wobbling ‘I’ll Put A Spell On You’, as icily removed from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ classic as possible, and Dope Body drummer David Jacober returns with exciting one-off that’s even more haunting than the ghostly marimba experiments I covered here last October.
The best surprise here is New Haven, CT act Landing’s incredible cover of Carpenter’s classic theme on ‘Halloween 2016’, featuring hushed vocals and tense guitar that would feel more at home in Suspiria. It’s the kind of surprise that made me kick myself for missing their album earlier this year, but lo and behold they have another one out this month.
Casino Versus Japan
Erik Kowalski hasn’t given us a new album from his vintage IDM project in six years, but he made up with it on the nearly three-and-a-half hour wellspring of Frozen Geometry. Kowalski began these 80 zero-gravity guitar experiments with the intention of using them to make something else, but at some point he realized they stood on their own. It was the right decision, as the album ends up being one of Casino Versus Japan’s most distinct and alluring releases, seeping with nostalgia while never reaching into his own glowing back catalog. It’s an album you’ll want to get lost for hours in – and that you actually can get lost for hours in.
This soundtrack to an imagined ’80s erotic zombie movie is even better than you could imagine. With glassy synth tones and proggy ambitions, this gem channels John Carpenter (another one) and Fabio Frizzi while using its titles to suggest a plot that would probably work better sketched out than completed (‘Opening Credits’, ‘Corpses Attack The City’ and the obligatory ‘Love Theme from “Necrophiliac Among the Living Dead”‘).
Congratulations Terrortron, you win Halloween.
Miles Bowe is on Twitter