Every month Miles Bowe rounds up the best of Bandcamp, unearthing the finest, freshest and weirdest releases the DIY platform has to offer.
One of the best things about starting a new year is anticipating the music you’ll hear over the next 12 months. Whether it’s finding yourself drawn to a new genre, appreciating an old classic or reconnecting with a forgotten favorite, the possibilities seem endless.
January was a fruitful start to 2018 no matter what music you’re a fan of. Below you’ll find bracing noise, delirious club music, hypnotic synth-pop, unclassifiable weirdness and an early contender for best video game soundtrack of the year.
Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
After the rave euphoria of 2016’s Body Work, Lindsey French angles Negative Gemini in a powerful new direction on the Bad Baby EP. Here, French adds more live instrumentation to her arsenal, splintering the project into a range of new styles and emerging with many of her best songs to date.
Sure, ‘Bad Baby’ offers a quick bump of everything that made Body Work spectacular club music, but it reaches its climax with pounding garage rock drums. ‘You Weren’t There Anymore’, meanwhile, layers a propulsive drum beat and ethereal electronics with French’s intimate songwriting and sounds not unlike Bradford Cox’s solo project, Atlas Sound.
If Body Work vividly captured Negative Gemini, the producer, this EP makes a distinct case for Negative Gemini, the one-woman band. INabihah Iqbal took a similar direction last year after shedding her Throwing Shade moniker and penning Weighing of the Heart. Bad Baby may just be an EP, but it’s an essential stop on French’s journey.
Over a string of excellent releases, Phoebé Guillemot, aka RAMZi, has grown a sonic world as lush and unruly as a jungle — or maybe a petri dish. On Pèze – Piton, she cultivates sounds influenced by Jon Hassell’s Fourth World and grows them into a batch of humid, delirious club music that might be her best yet. These songs are overgrown with trippy atmospheres, alien sound effects, maze-like rhythms and disorienting dead ends.
There’s a danger you could end up lost, but Ramzi’s twisting pathways eventually lead to major highlights including the psilocyben-drenched dembow of ‘Fly Timoun’ and the kaleidoscopic tropical lilt of closer ‘Ptite Zelda’. It’s an album that comes on in fits and starts like a fever dream; you’ll be reaching for the poisonous mushroom again and again.
Good Willsmith member Maxwell Allison’s Mukqs project is like a kaleidoscope of chiptunes, glitchy noise and soothing ambience. You’re never quite sure how the next spin will arrange the component parts, but the resulting combination is always a pleasure. 起き上がり roughly translates to “Get Up”, which is a fitting title for an album that lands in pleasantly clubby territory. In fact, it’s hard to believe that Allison recorded all these tracks live without overdubs: ‘ゾッド’ is a mosaic of the project’s strengths arranged using the structure of a 10-minute dance track and has to be heard to be believed.
起き上がり’s more dissonant moments are just as impressive. ‘Ronaldo Kuriki’ (named after a character from the game series Shin Megami Tensei) begins as a tense combination of droning MIDI organ lines before bursting into a flurry of stuttering staccato stabs reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘I Bite Through It’. Meanwhile, ‘Redfield’ ties Resident Evil 3’s iconic save room theme into loopy knots. As if this already wasn’t perfect enough, the track length is 4:20.
You need to remind yourself throughout Phew’s Voice Hardcore that every sound you’re hearing is generated by Hiromi Moritani’s voice. It’s easy to forget that fact once you’re wrapped up in the Japanoise veteran’s layers of hellish drones, heavenly chorales and garbled transmissions channeled from beyond the void.
Moritani explores every possible extreme on Voice Hardcore. She distorts herself into a gaseous fog on the opening ‘Cloudy Day’ and returns to human form for the hypnotic incantations of ‘Scat’, a song title which references a capella jazz riffing while nodding to the seedy fetish imagery of noise and industrial music. Like Throbbing Gristle, Phew uses stillness and space to create something vastly more threatening than any screamed onslaught; on ‘In The Dog House’ she evokes both the deadened delivery of Genesis P-Orridge and Sleazy’s freaky tape manipulations all at once. It all makes for unsettling and thrilling sonic self-portrait.
Water From Your Eyes
All A Dance
Chicago’s Water From Your Eyes return after first surfacing in this column with a “tear stained” self-titled cassette that was reminiscent of Stereolab and Deerhunter without ever feeling indebted to them. That EP was a blueprint for what the duo, who are now based in NYC, do so well on their first full-length, All A Dance, a welcome addition to Brooklyn label Exploding In Sound.
Like the EP, the album is only six tracks long, but every song is deeper, longer and more mesmerizing. There are wistful pop gems on ‘Out Of Town’ and hypnotic motorik jams like the sprawling title track but the finest moments are a perfect balance of the two, like on ‘That’s The Girl’. It’s a confident and self-assured next step.
On an earlier release, producer Emmett Feldman suggests Suryummy is “best enjoyed between an ocean and a skyscraper”. It makes sense for an artist working from the increasingly mechanized bay of San Francisco, but it also offers a sonic ideal for Photon Slobber where technology and nature blur beautifully.
San Francisco’s new age spirit runs deep on Suzanne Ciani-indebted tracks like ‘Seasonal Waves’ and the mesmerizing ‘Working In A Diamond Mind’, but its most energetic moments echo the euphoric IDM grooves of Casino Vs. Japan. That balance was what made Prismatic Escalator so dynamic and by amping up both the modular experimentation and offering bright, bombastic highlights like ‘Sunrise March’ and ‘Melting Conservatories’, Photon Slobber is even more rewarding than its predecessor.
If a chillout room was haunted it might sound something like Nasadiya Sukta by Certain Creatures. Nasadiya Sukta refers to the Hindu “Hymn Of Creation” from the text Rigveda and was popularized in the Western world by Carl Sagan in his popular TV show, Cosmos. It’s one of those great Sagan moments where ancient religion and futuristic cosmology come full circle and almost seem to touch. Certain Creatures’ latest release offers a similarly heady experience over six epic tracks that are best absorbed in one sitting.
Celeste: Original Soundtrack
Lena Raine’s soundtrack to recent indie hit Celeste is worthy of as much praise as the game itself, which is already attracting accolades for its simultaneously controller-breaking difficulty and first-timer approachability. Her score blends dense atmospheric drones, evocative piano and the occasional chiptune earmworm, sometimes in the same epic song. Take the 9-minute ‘Resurrection’, which is all Final Fantasy VI piano until distorted synths and a loose hip-hop rhythm unexpectedly burst through. It’s a score filled with surprises and at over 90 minutes (and with a B-sides and remix album on the side) it’s a gift that just keeps giving.
Miles Bowe is on Twitter.
Read next: The 20 best Bandcamp releases of 2017