FACT’s Miles Bowe takes the reins of our Best of Bandcamp column, unearthing the finest, freshest and no doubt weirdest releases the burgeoning DIY platform has to offer.
This month on Bandcamp was full of surprises. First there was a literal surprise — a new album from Krallice out of nowhere ready to sucker punch your ears. We also got a release from some artists we know better for the label they run than the music they play. Meanwhile, a borderline rock star supplemented his new record with a spontaneously recorded release specifically written to soundtrack their BBQ.
Those are all on here, but the biggest surprise might be our Release Of The Month. It comes from an artist who has drawn from some familiar inspirations to make something I’ve never quite heard before, something I’m still excited about after many, many listens. Check that one out after the jump with plenty more surprises to follow.
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Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
Part Of The Y’all
I found it oddly prophetical that the same year Jim O’Rourke returned with an acidic new pop album we also heard murmurs that David Berman was beginning to work on new material for The Silver Jews. Those two don’t have much in common, but they always fell into a sort of lineage in my mind. From Lekman to Tillman, we’re rich with clever songwriters that write sad songs with their tongue ever so slightly in their cheek, but the best all feel singular in a way where you can acknowledge comparisons without lumping them together. That’s because of a complexity in their lyrics and commitment in their delivery that hints at something deeper than the simplistic aphorism above. That tongue is often there because it won’t stop bugging some psychic canker sore. This is the kind of quality that Ben Varian — a very clever songwriter and producer following in this tradition — taps into on the wonderful Part Of The Y’all.
You’ll notice it too on opener ‘(Sun Sets On) The Furniture District’ as soon as he starts deadpanning lines like, “The custom is you get high, but you don’t act high” and “Never thought about it that way, Lord help me if I start too”, but you’ll probably notice the music behind it first. Thing is, Varian wraps these lyrics in glitzy, gauzy lounge music like some kind of bastard child of Father John Misty and Leisure Suit Larry. It’s esoteric, sure, but Varian pulls it off by constantly challenging himself and never letting it fall into a gimmick. It finds a soul in the center of the empty cocktail lounge.
On ‘Hung Up On My Song’ Varian uses pitch shifting as his narrator slides into a pool of slo-mo drunkenness in the song’s neon glow. ‘V-Blender’ makes peaceful ambient drones out of what sounds like popping bottles and the hum of a tiki-drink blender before snapping back to reality in ‘Szechaun Palace’ (which sounds like the kind of place that with a killer tiki menu). ‘Szechaun Palace’ bounces around wildly knocking into several excellent grooves without ever committing to either a chorus or verse.
Part Of The Y’all is a small album at roughly 25 minutes, and feels like a glimpse into the potential this songwriter has. The big exception to this is ’Throw Away My Hair’, a grand slam of humor, tenderness, and bile. Less a breakup song than a “Please, stop. We already broke up” song, it begins with an organ flourish and Varian falling down a flight of stairs trying to call his ex with the sympathetic, but insistent plea of the title. There are shots fired (“You’re doing your best / To confirm my working theory / That it’s always a little worse than I think”), but the song earns both intimacy and humor by depriving the listener of details. Near the end he inexplicably tells his ex that it’s finally time to throw out those plastic bags under the sink, whispering “go ahead” before an erupting drum fill snaps the moment away. It manages to move from funny to arresting to touching at an almost subliminal speed. It’s the finest moment from an artist who sounds like he’s bursting at the seams with ideas, jokes, melodies, and stories. I really can’t wait to hear more of them.
With their generally short cycle of recording to announcement to release, it’s no shock that surprise album releases fit metal bands just right, but it’s too bad more haven’t. That’s exactly what New York metal destroyers Krallice did with their crushing new album, Ygg Huur. Recorded at the beginning of July and released just at the tail end, the record matches that immediacy right from the start. ‘Idols’ opens relatively slowly, but that’s just Krallice igniting the pilot light to the face-melting machine that makes up the rest of this. The surprise is fun, but it’s hardly all there is to it. Even if Ygg Huur had been given a “proper” release (which it will this fall through Gilead Media) it would still end up one of the best metal albums of this year, it’s that good.
Paths We Take
Brian is a musician and visual artist best known for creating and soundtracking videos that delve deep into the uncanny valley. He first gained attention last year for the equally nauseating and mesmerizing clip for ‘These Are The Things We Do’, a track from his self-titled debut. Now he’s returned with Paths We Take, a release paired with two videos that use semi-human digitally rendered grotesques to tell a story that’s startling in its humanity.
The story is laid out simply: two creatures meet, fall in love, build a life and have a child, but Brian uses his video work to shade in the details. ‘Paths We Take (Mazes)’ captures the overwhelming anxiety of picking which path to walk, and what person to walk it with. That’s captured in the video as the male creature runs from the home he’s made with his partner into an endless maze made of his own flesh. His body twists into impressionistic new shapes as variations on his face line the walls. It’s only when the EP and the video reach a cathartic conclusion with the gentle ‘Lullaby’ that Paths We Take really clicks as a whole. By then it’s clear he’s not out to show us the beauty in these creatures, rather he lets us witness the beauty they see in each other. That’s a significantly harder thing to do.
Snake Person Generation
This is the first time Good Willsmith have appeared on FACT, but the trio behind this band have been all over this column and FACT in general. They are Natalie Chami (who appeared in this column previously under her moniker TALsounds), Max Allison and Doug Kaplan (the team behind beloved Chicago label Hausu Mountain).
Though HausMo’s earliest releases were for Good Willsmith, the band’s been on the backburner for a few years. They’re getting back into the swing of things with Snake Person Generation, a tape that collects two recent live shows. The first show is captured entirely on 18-minute opener ‘Real Wet Feet Get Real Wet’, an extended dive into watery ambience, chattering voice samples, and the same otherworldly vocals that Chami deploys in her solo work. It sets the bar high for the next album, but considering the impeccable track record of these three in 2015 that won’t be a problem.
Listening to Houti Kush, the new album from Phoebé Guillemot’s RAMZI project, is like traveling through space only to land on a planet with rainforests even more lush than those found on Earth. It reaches into the cosmos even while digging its feet into the soil. After setting up a sonic base camp on opener ‘Ramzi Prophecy’, Guillemot explores the edges of her sound over the following 10 tracks. There’s the mutant drum circle found on ‘Kombat’, the glittering mood piece of ‘Balani’, and even a lively party (‘Tcha-Moun’) before she lifts back off into space on the closing ‘Houti Kingdom’.
Constellation Tatsu are usually best at generating cosmic meditation music (another release sums up their approach with a trio of tags: “weed”, “weeed”, and “w33d”), but Prismatic Escalator is one of the liveliest things to float out of the label all year. ‘Couch Creekin’ is an early highlight full of warm synth flourishes, dripping percussion and garbled voices — and no, that doesn’t sound particularly original, and yes, I can see you conjuring the Geogaddi artwork in your third eye. Put it away, because Prismatic Escalator quickly balances itself with chirpy, focused peaks like ‘Lazer Ballistics’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Schoolyard Galaxy Cake’. It’s a great example of how Constellation Tatsu has consistently imbued a sense of joy into these genres and a promise of more to come from this producer.
Some Other Ones
Mac DeMarco has over a quarter million fans on Facebook and just released a new record to mass attention, so he shouldn’t have any place in this column – yet here he is for the same reasons that made him a Bandcamp success story in the first place. Some Other Ones is a collection of easy-going instrumentals recorded in the days leading up to a charity BBQ the musician held at his house for fans a few weeks ago. It’s unassuming by design, but there is something genuinely special here that speaks to DeMarco’s immense appeal.
Some Other Ones popped up on the Makeout Videotape Bandcamp which hadn’t been updated since 2010 when DeMarco still used the moniker. Listen to these songs that were thrown together during a few summer days as you look through some of the other releases. Read the descriptions: “Recorded by Mac in the garage”, “Recorded at Mom’s house in Edmonton by Mac some week in 2011 while Keira was at work”. If you stumbled upon this page you’d simply think this was a talented guy making songs for himself who came back after a couple years off — and hey, he learned some keyboard parts in the meantime. You’d never know he became a rock star in the time between, and that’s precisely why he did.