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 month in Bandcamp is a mix of new and old faces, with exciting debuts alongside worthy follow-ups from artists featured in this column last year. Labels likes Dream Catalogue and Orange Milk deliver some of their best releases in recent memory, and a Bandcamp great makes a rare appearance with a new album.
Our release of the week is a blend of old and new too. It’s an artist who has appeared in this column and even topped it before, but here they explore something new entirely. In a sad coincidence, our release of the month is uniquely tied with the last — the gorgeous dream pop album Psychopomp from Japanese Breakfast. That album captured the grief of a daughter losing her mother, and now comes an entirely different sounding album written from a son to his late father. Listen to that and plenty more below.
Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
A Pregnant Light
“Love is not a burden / Love is a sun”.
These might not be lyrics you’d associate with metal, but A Pregnant Light has never made typical metal music. Damian Master has always described his project — which can encompass black metal, hardcore, shoegaze, noise, folk music, and more — as “purple metal”. Master’s a very funny guy, and the name, to me, has always felt a little self-deprecating, like a play on “purple prose” and the emotionality of his music. But the lyrics above are not delivered sarcastically; they’re screamed in unflinching honesty in the midst of Rocky, an outpouring of grief, rage, sadness, and most importantly, love.
Rocky is Master’s 21-minute tribute to his father, who recently passed away. Delivered on a cassette tape scented with the last bottle of his dad’s cologne (“His scent, the scent I grew up with”) it focuses the vast range of A Pregnant Light into the best metal recording I’ve heard all year. It moves in volcanic fits of pain before giving way to acoustic passages that convey a gentler, quiet grief. Those sections reach immense instrumental beauty on ripples of delicate guitar and shakers before the next dive back into blasting drums, guitar and screams.
Master’s voice echoes through Rocky’s heaviest moments as an essential textural instrument. As with most good metal, he’s channeling feeling more than lyrics. When you do read what he’s singing, the words offer a picture so brave and sincere that the difficulty in making them out is almost a gift: “Dad, if somehow you can hear me / I’m sorry that this song isn’t all it should be / I love you so much,” he howls, though in writing we take it more as a tender eulogy. Rocky closes with one single moment of vocal clarity: a voice message from Master’s father from the morning of his death, made so intimate and upsetting simply because of how ordinary it sounds. “Just thinking about ya,” he says. How many times have you gotten that call? How many times have you made it?
Rocky is billed as a tribute to both Prince and DJ Screw, artists who also chose purple as a symbolic color. Both a symbol of gay pride and one of the sacred colors of the Catholic church, purple made sense for Prince, an artist who melded queerness and divinity to such profound ends. Rocky‘s vulnerability makes me think about that “purple metal” descriptor as something more meaningful. Metal has always been a genre of purple prose, of ornateness and grandeur. Master’s work is so cathartic, so devoted and so singular it truly earns the color — the color of requiems and mourning and Prince. “Love is not a burden / Love is a sun,” goes the lyric before he screams, “I see the purple light”. Listen to Rocky and you will too.
Coming off the chintzy Home Shopping Network soundscapes of last year’s Complex Playground, Euglossine’s stupid-good follow-up Canopy Stories is almost Wonka-esque in its silliness and ambition. That becomes immediately clear on the nine-minute opening title track on which Whitehill rides busy melodies like a vine; right when he seems to have hit a dead end, he pulls some sonic backflip and leaps to the next. It never lets up and continually buzzes with ideas that could have inspired entire songs.
Canopy might be some of the most unique chiptune music around, bringing to mind David Wise’s Donkey Kong Country and the genre-hopping genius of Peter McConnell. And like Wise’s ability to match a video game’s constantly shifting environments, Canopy is enormously diverse. Take ‘Super Orphism’, with a drop that sounds like it’s landing on one of Mario’s mushrooms, or album highlight ‘Star Optics’, with its dramatic stabs that sound spliced in from some final boss theme. ‘Tapestry Of Nothing’ is all ambience and slow shimmer, while ‘Paradise Kiss’ sounds like drum ‘n’ bass in a club for Miitomos. Most importantly, it all fits as a focused album. The best kind of album, too: one that turns a project you like into one you love.
Left Side Trilogy
Trilogies tend make us think of something large, something grand, but Halifax-based singer and producer Sarah Denim’s debut Left Side Trilogy is only a brief three-song EP. It’s a deserving title, since each of Denim’s tracks suggests a wide-ranging artist just spreading her wings. Her dreamy pop songs balance gloom and shine, slipping in little curveballs, like the anxious synth squiggles buried in ‘Finding Out’ or the ghostly hums strobing in ‘Dead Stars’. As a vocalist we get effervescent coos and spoken deadpans, but she sells them both. Even better, she has a real knack for using her songs for her fan edits of Miyazaki and Hitchcock classics.
Death’s Dynamic Shroud.wmv
Death’s Dynamic Shroud’s I’ll Try Living Like This grew from a Bandcamp column oddity to a staff favorite, eventually earning a high spot on our year-end list. That album’s sound was based in vaporwave while being amplified with a maximalist energy and romantic spark. But as soon as you hear the eerie vocal come-ons and screams of ‘Do You Like Me?’, the opening track of Classroom Sexxtape, it feels like the work of a different artist — and that’s because it is. Not all DDS.wmv releases are made by the same people, but this one is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor.
Following the kinky uneasiness of its opener, Classroom Sexxtape takes a somber but grand approach to its chopped ‘n’ screwed mayhem. ‘Rare Emoji Collection’ glides on minimal skipping voices before building to a massive, sparkling drum loop, while ‘Thigh Gap’ makes its sad, tender singer more and more ghostly as it builds to an echoing climax. There isn’t anything as chirpily energetic as ‘Loving Is Easy’, but this iteration of DDS finds its own unique peaks – case in point being the absolutely towering ‘SIDE ℬÆ「究極のカタルシス’, which is a better M83 epic than anything M83 has made. It’s a piece of music that makes you feel small and special and filled with wonder in ways that no one really expects from this kind of music. It’s followed by the closing ‘My Wife, Who I Still Love’ which turns Juice Newton’s country classic ‘The Sweetest Thing’ into a heartwrenching minimal echo. It’s hilarious, weird and unexpectedly affecting — it’s vaporwave, and no one is making it with more vision and ambition than this collective.
One of the most curious memes in internet music recently is hardvapour, the wrestling-style heel that the already context-heavy vaporwave scene has spawned, but DJ ALINA’s MANIAX doesn’t require any prior knowledge to enjoy. Using its aggressive throb to sneak all sorts of sugar-sweet melodies through, songs like ‘Strike Spin’ and ‘Bloodline’ hide a sparkling undercurrent between all the haymakers. As much as hardvapour’s creators stress the brutish, thought-free “hardness” of their sound, the conceptual weight and subtext is a lot to follow. ALINA ultimately smashes that with MANIAX – it’s a damn good record whether you’re in on it or not.
YYU remains one of the most unique artists to appear on Bandcamp and has produced one genuine masterpiece with 2012’s TimeTimeTime&Time. That album’s obsessive repetitions and otherworldly beats wed to acoustic guitar bridged a gap between many disparate sounds (footwork and folk music?) to make something alien and inspiring. Four years later, my favorite album of 2012 still sounds like nothing else, including YYU’s own material. 2014’s Room Music focused on the meditative, acoustic side to the project, and now the more electronic Karaoke appears with a rush of busy, frenetic energy.
The album begins with a somber piano loop that evokes Erik Satie, but quickly bursts into the jerky rhythms and syllabic vocal shards that we haven’t heard from the project in years. Many tracks expand on YYU’s trance-inducing repetitions and move with a newfound momentum. The stilted ‘Flashee’ brings to mind the aggro-footwork of DJ Diamond, while tape-looped sound storms like the penultimate ‘Smileyy’ scatter sounds like D/P/I one second and fall into lush Field-like loops another. There’s overall less beauty than on previous releases, but that’s made up for by the two-part title track, which floats on dreamlike pads and jazzy bass before delivering the fragile, emotive voice that defines many of Time and Room Music‘s best moments, mostly appearing here pitch-shifted. Like everything from YYU, Karaoke marks another unpredictable move, but it only makes this project feel richer.
Perfection served three ways, this inevitable combination of meme-du-jour and vaporwave is better than anyone could have anticipated. Will there be a day we grow tired of all this before the internet swallows us whole? I don’t know, but this is not that day.
Vaporwave is dead.
Vaporwave will never die.
We’re all doomed.
Here comes dat boi.
O shit waddup.
Song of the year.