Every month Miles Bowe rounds up the best of Bandcamp, unearthing the finest, freshest and weirdest releases the DIY platform has to offer.
This month, we welcome some old and new favorites into the column. We have Dirty Beaches-mastermind Alex Zhang Hungtai ghosting back to reality with a new release under the name Love Theme, and White Poppy follows up the densely psychedelic Natural Phenomena (one of my favorite albums of 2015) with her most heartfelt release yet.
We’ve also got some incredible debut albums, including one from a rabid no wave trio called dog and one from a vaporwave savant building his dream mall out of Muzak. Then there’s our release of the month, a collection of chamber music, industrial and techno that I swear is goddamn haunted.
Bandcamp Release Of The Month:
Anti gone begins with such a lonely piano arrangement that the flood of irregular synth beats that burst halfway through ‘Floating world’ knocked me completely off balance. It’s a quality that Panxing, aka Copenhagen producer and pianist Pernille Zidore Nygaard, carries throughout her incredible debut album Anti gone. Her music shifts with liquid ease between Satiesque piano pieces, chamber music and the bleary industrial proto-techno of Throbbing Gristle.
The album is built around the tension that surrounds the Nygaard’s billowing darkness. Beautiful classical arrangements sink into gloomy electronic valleys midway through and highlight ‘Monday new’ sounds almost Medieval before bringing in the kind strobing synths Chris Carter unleashed on 20 Jazz Funk Great’s ‘Walkabout’.
When Nygaard adds vocals, tracks become their own haunted scenes, with distorted laughter that leaves vapor trails through speaker channels on ‘Twin’ or with the irregular rhythms of ‘Gurl’ which twist with the repeated mantra of the title.
The album’s title splits the name Antigone, famously the daughter (and sister) of Oedipus and the title character of one of the bleakest Greek tragedies. While those characters hurtled toward a predestined demise, Nygaard charts doomed paths with a dramatic and graceful beauty. Anti gone is a showstopper.
Dirty Beaches all but evaporated on the final release Stateless, but Alex Zhang Hungtai has gradually re-emerged in exciting new ways. Last year’s Knave Of Hearts brought heartbroken Satie-style piano pieces and as Love Theme, the now LA-based nomad teams with Austin Milne and Simon Frank for a grim blend of droning saxophones, pulsing drum machines and mournful synthesizers.
Thee self-titled album is split over five tracks, but taken better as two side-long distorted reflections. Opener ‘Desert Exile’ and the penultimate track ‘She’s Here’ are as glacial and romantic as Sunn O))) remixing a Wong Kar Wai soundtrack. It’s a heady atmosphere that eventually ignites in two different rhythmic epics.
‘Docklands / Yaumatei / Plum Garden’ relapses into the strung-out, Suicide-indebted highs of Dirty Beaches’ Drifters with a sleek techno centerpiece that wouldn’t sound out of place on Modern Love. Meanwhile ‘All Sky, Love’s Ends’ closes the album on a rigid drum machine while dueling saxophones rage until the whole track goes up in flames.
Love Theme is the first truly revitalized release from Hungtai since his masterpiece double album Drifters/Love Is The Devil, in part because it feels like a new step forward. While he separated his destructive and meditative sides and mastered them on individual albums, Hungtai combines these elements in new and exciting ways on Love Theme.
dog achieve a sludgy transcendence on their appropriately named debut Trash Temple, a damaged tightrope walk that threatens to snap into an even cooler trapeze act at any moment. Frontwoman Sted Turkey’s raspy, howled commandments hold everything together as the hypnotically tight noise onslaught threatens total collapse with every convulsion.
Over highlights like the throbbing ‘Great Frog Diety Of The North’ they bring to mind classic and contemporary touchstones like Daughters and Guerilla Toss by finding dynamics and tension even when every sound is pushed to 11.
The Pink Haze of Love
Psychedelic siren White Poppy aka Crystal Dorval returns on this mini album described as “a concept piece relating to matters of the heart.” Dorval explores love and loss with the same dense, kaleidoscopic sound she brought to 2014’s excellent Natural Phenomena, but the titular Haze clears things up just enough to let her vocals really shine.
The guitar plucks and synth twinkles on ‘Love Molecules’ orbit around Dorval’s sighing refrain “I thought it was love” giving it a heartbroken levity. That also applies to the album’s centerpiece ‘Red Flags’, where the softly sung “I don’t need you” comes through as clearly as the eye of a storm. But from the dizzy lovestruck highs of ‘Hypnotize’ to the cathartic closing intonation “Pink Haze / let it in / you’re enough” on the title track, White Poppy captures just how psychedelic love can be.
Euglossine makes a welcome return to Orange Milk on Sharp Time. Previous albums like Complex Playground and Canopy Stories explored a sort of Muzakosmiche, with the palette of James Ferraro and the playful bounce of David Wise’s Donkey Kong Country soundtrack. But from the menacing, precise opening title track, Sharp Time suggests a wholly new sense of ambition.
And while that proves true, 14-minute epic ‘Phenomenological Manifold’ also shows he’s lost none of his charm. The track has so many shifting passages it could alternately soundtrack a 24-hour spa, space station or a JRPG. Bizarrely phasing single ‘Sword Of Damocles’ is a disorienting highlight too, showing how pleasurable Sharp Time can be, regardless of which speaker it’s bouncing through at any given millisecond.
Mark Templeton crafts tape loop music that’s equal parts ramshackle and lilting on the final chapter of his Heart trilogy. The album shows the power of a well-trimmed piece of tape as stuttering fragments bloom into hypnotic rhythms. Though it’s easy to be mesmerized, Templeton balances it with plenty of disruption.
Loops waver unsteadily or cut out entirely, while a ferric mist of white noise covers most tracks. Yet in spite of the decay, Gentle Heart shines beautifully. ‘Range Road’ sounds like a skipping country record worn down to ambient music, while the impressionistic ‘Cab Lights’ carefully arranges blurry horn fragments. It’s as oddly beautiful as watching damaged silent film footage.
Palm Grove Galleria
“Welcome to Palm Grove Galleria! Enjoy the best shopping experience 1990 has to offer,” reads the greeting on this hidden vaporwave gem. While embracing the genre’s mutated Fourth World aesthetic, Palm Grove Galleria ditches the plunderphonics for original recordings of smooth jazz, easy listening and tropical-flavored Muzak.
In fact, the only sample here is on the ‘Ballad Of KMart’, where announcements from the superstore’s archives tumble through a delicate arrangement of piano and synth. Closer ‘Four Letter’ is also a genuine shock with its belted out vocal performance that sounds like a climactic romantic theme from a forgotten TV movie. It’s enough to make a mannequin blush.
Ben Varian and Jake Tobin
Ben Varian is no stranger to this column – he’s even snagged a Release Of The Month. But Food Updates is the first time he’s taken the final honorary spot, which is always reserved for the strangest records pulled from the depths of Bandcamp. The album documents a tour earlier this year, where Varian and his bandmate Jake Tobin ate only identical meals, in identical proportions and exhaustively recorded the results.
It’s a gloriously dumb idea, but the 73-track archive of scientifically delivered bulletins also offers an amusing look at friendship and the grind of life in the tour van. The daily stress of touring becomes a nutritional three-legged race of arguing over condiments, debating an offer for free corn dogs (a food one hates and the other loves) and counting out Triscuits (whole and crushed into powder).
Miles Bowe is on Twitter.