Bandcamp gets bigger, better and weirder every year. Here are 20 releases that set the bar for 2018.
For those of us tired of surprise releases, exclusive streams and all the other nonsense the music industry exhausted us with this year, Bandcamp remained a welcome escape. The community-driven music platform continued to cultivate artists from throughout the musical spectrum while we observed it like a musical terrarium. Bandcamp even used its growing presence to enact real world change, putting its own profits towards organizations like the ACLU and the Transgender Law Center, inspiring countless artists to do the same in the process.
Below you’ll find our picks for the 20 best Bandcamp releases of 2017 in alphabetical order. There were plenty of releases we loved that didn’t make it and there’ll certainly be a few more uploaded by the time you finish reading.
(Colloquial Sound Recording)
One-man metal institution Damien Master revived a dormant beast this year by releasing his first Alluring project in six years. Unlike his black metal-influenced A Pregnant Light (whose Rocky was our favorite Bandcamp release of 2016) and the hardcore sound of Aksumite, Alluring is a towering doom relic from Master’s early days with Colloquial Sound Recordings. He’s revived the moniker with a volcanic self-titled release that sounds more apocalyptic that ever. Master wrote and recorded the album over two or three days. “I had to wait for the spirit to come,” he said in a recent interview. It was worth the wait. MB
Chattanooga rapper bbymutha first caught our attention on LSDXOXO’s 2014 track ‘Black Widow’. While she dazzles on queer club tracks (their ‘Ha’-imbued collab on LSDXOXO’s debut full-length Fuck Marry Kill is also a stunner), bbymutha’s own work is tried and true Tennessee. Glow Kit is short and sweet, full of deft innovations on the southern fried menace made popular by groups like Three 6 Mafia. Clever and unflappable, we can’t wait to hear more from bbymutha in the future. CL
Boy Band’s sole creator (just “Jeff”) sings odes to acid, candy, queerness and “you”, whoever you are, “because you’re beautiful” over acoustic guitar and fuzzy electronics that sound like a cross between Katie Dey and The Microphones. The tone is best captured in a song dedicated to H. Jon Benjamin’s bitter, alcoholic Home Movies character Coach McGuirk that repeats a gentle assurance: “God loves you more than you could ever guess.” It’s exactly that balance of playfulness and earnestness that makes Boy Band such a touching listen. MB
These Sunny Days
Brazilian trio Devilish Dear’s debut These Sunny Days is the product of over a decade’s worth of work. Originally released in 2015, but “reissued” by São Paulo label midsummer madness earlier this year, the album reimagines what shoegaze can sound like. Their music can hinge on the subgenre’s classic textures, like on the title track and ‘Face Without Eyes’, but it can also tear those ideas into shreds with aggressive vocals (‘3am’) and assertive synths (‘I Wanna Do It’). The group has never played a show – and doesn’t plan to – and the album is free to download. This may just be a hobby for the three band members, but the album is all business. CL
Weighing Of The Heart
CDMX duo Espejo Convexo make darkwave synth-pop with a refreshing take on performing genre nostalgia. Like Nabihah Iqbal, fka Throwing Shade, and her debut full-length Weighing of the Heart, Ruina Circular so nimbly navigates the past, it is transportive – they’re not building on something old to make it sound more “now”; they’ve inhabited it in a way that makes you feel like you’re listening to some forgotten gem of the past unearthed for the first time. Gauzy and bright, Espejo Convexo’s 2017 LP reminds that post-punk and its neighbors don’t mind the sunshine. CL
This collage-friendly release by FIN, aka New York-based multimedia artist Rebecca Fin Simonetti, maintains the Hausu Mountain tradition for mind-melting album art while also staying true to the Chicago label’s weirdly wonderful psychedelic core.
A swirling, foaming, radiant sound bath of ambient drone, hypnagogic pop and everything in between (erm, frailtech, anyone?), Ice Pix contains one of the best reimaginings of The Temptations’ ‘Just My Imagination’ you’ll probably ever hear – ‘Chickenshit’ – which is as sweet as a beehive but definitely less dangerous to anaphylaxis sufferers. ACW
YØU CAN’T KILL US
In a year when transgender rights and lives feel more threatened than ever, HIRS compress volcanic rage and life-affirming mantras into the 5-minute grindcore opus YØU CAN’T KILL US. It’s a record where not a single second is wasted — every blast beat, guitar rip, heartfelt lyric and scream hurling them. They envision a world where kids come out of the closet “armed to the teeth” and fight for the day a headline that reads, “Trans woman dies of old age.” It’s delivered with the life-or-death intensity this subject deserves, because it really is life or death. MB
When Alex Zhang Hungtai wasn’t playing the Roadhouse with Riley Lynch and Dean Hurley as part of the excellent Twin Peaks band Trouble, the globe-trotting sax experimentalist had a great thing going as Love Theme. A new project with Austin Milne and Simon Frank, the group and their self-titled debut explore the darker side of their namesake. Dueling saxophones make way for melancholy synths and drum machine throbs. There is no bed of roses here, just the drone that comes at love’s bitter end – and it’s just as morbid and surprisingly lovely. CL
Music can often transcend language and it does so on this hypnotic release from Malian rapper, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Luka Productions. Taking its cue from a sci-fi concept album called Uchronia, while tapping into elements of New Age and library music, it’s an album bursting full of lush kora and balafon-powered dreamscapes.
“This is one of the most leftfield recordings to ever come out of Mali,” wrote Luka Production’ label Sahel Sounds, whose owner Christopher Kirkley produced and arranged the release. Featuring vocals from Nafatouma Keïta, Manace Guindo, Nema Guindo and Guindo himself, Fasokan spans a universe of dreams, realities and brave new worlds to unravel with your ears. ACW
Listening to Melanie Velarde’s Parcel is like getting your time machine stuck in the primordial soup. Heady nature recordings seep through the automated pulse of her analog synth to form a record that’s prehistoric and futuristic all at once. Velarde flips between hypnotic textures and playful bursts of bright melody, but both prove to be fine ecosystems for her to fill with bird calls and clanking found objects. It’s a science-obsessed record that’s as approachable and fun as a trip on The Magic School Bus. MB
London-via-Leeds DJ Mina was one of our club producers to watch in 2016 because of her incredible global vision. She maintained her diasporic touch with last year’s Sierra Leone-inspired Kabala EP and continues to explore afrobeats and dancehall on Sentah which features a UK funky slant and vocalists from Peru, Italy and Ghana. (It also features one of the most successful Nokia-influenced beats in recent memory: ‘Ringtone Riddim’.) Mina’s party may not be intentionally political, but her international purview is proof that a borderless world isn’t just more humane, it’s way more fun. CL
As Panxing, Pernille Zidore Nygaard enacts an unholy union of chamber music, techno and industrial on her chilling debut Anti Gone. The album occupies a haunted world of its own while conjuring images of the sounds of Erik Satie, Throbbing Gristle and Hype Williams echo through the smoky atmosphere. It’s mix of dread and beauty made for one of 2017’s most elegant balancing acts and unforgettable debut. MB
(Not Not Fun)
Tokyo’s Unknown Me subtitle each track on Subtropics with a different city giving an album that already feels like an out-of-body experience a globe-trotting charm. Instead of realistically portraying Shanghai or Buenos Aires however, these songs follow an internal dream logic with gentle mixtures of ambience, dub techno and exotica. The group’s members vary from a DJ to a visual artist to ambient producer H. Takahashi (who released an excellent album of his own this year), but each offers an essential role in this truly special collective. MB
Sorry, Please Forgive Me, Thank You, I Love You
Mexican producer Jessica Smurphy – who is part of Mexico City’s N.A.A.F.I. collective – has lived with chronic pain and arthritis for several years and this ardently titled release explores the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono, which she has “learned and applied to heal her diseases.” On Sorry, Please Forgive Me, Thank You, I Love You, Smurphy reminds us that music can be a powerful tool for healing.
The EP, which “brings this healing technique to the context of club music,” puts two Reebok-clad firmly feet in the rave for a hyperactive love letter to techno, breakbeat and dub that also pays tribute to the victims of the 2017 Central Mexico earthquake. ACW
Seed & Synthetic Earth
This wasn’t the year Vektroid finally delivered her long-awaited project No Earth, but she continues to make that wait entertaining. Seed & Synthetic Earth is subtitled “The Second Prelude” and is so good you won’t mind if she drops a third or fourth. It finds the original queen of vaporwave light years from the genre she pioneered, honing her one-of-a-kind sound with warped drum patterns, cyborg midi-funk and inter-dimensional elevator music. There’s even a welcome reunion with rapper Siddiq after last year’s wild Midnight Run mixtape. Pair this with her reimagined/reissued debut Telnet Complete and a mind-melting FACT mix and you have Vektroid’s best year yet. MB
(Not Not Fun)
Wading through a sand-dusted fantasia of “salt haze, cerulean water, and smeared, siren keys,” this latest release from the shadowy Florida producer known as Wave Temples was inspired by “notions of Polynesian paradise and the Māori underworld” and was recorded live at Hawaiki, which is the traditional Māori place of origin.
I’d hazard a guess that most of us would rather be lounging on a tropical beach right now irl rather than stuck in front of a desk listening to a recorded transmission, but the gently-lapping seascapes of Isle Enchanted are very nearly the next best thing. Dive in and zone out. ACW
The Pink Haze Of Love
White Poppy blows away the lo-fi dust of her earlier work with a long, sad sigh on this gorgeous heartbroken release. The psychedelic glow of excellent releases like Natural Phenomena remains, but Pink Haze offers sharper melodies and clearer vocals that bring us closer into Crystal Dorval’s mind than ever before. With tender lyrics and a powerful voice, she takes us on a cathartic journey as enveloping as her alien guitar textures. It’s an album that shows just how trippy falling in and out of love can be. MB
Reflection is a reminder that early vaporwave found power in simplicity making it one of the most essential records of the year for anybody interested in the genre. It uses fragmented, endlessly repeated samples that morph like a Magic Eye for your ears. Expanding the Eccojams blueprint OPN wrote years ago, 아버지 wrings rhythms, textures and powerful emotions out of every cycling sample. If you need a shortcut, this video for the epic showstopper ‘Tomorrow’ will do the trick. MB
What do you get when you deliver a 42-track compilation featuring a global cabal of some of the best producers including Elijah, Via App, rRoxymore, UMFANG, Shyboi, Octo Octo and Yaeji? A great way to fight fascism, or “a middle finger from the underground to the future powers-that-be” from Physical Therapy’s Allergy Season, Discwoman and a crew of their friends. Proceeds from the comp benefit non-profits like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but don’t use the minimum-fee name-your-price to snatch this gratis – it’s not just for a good cause, it’s a reminder that community is essential and a great way to support the fostering and building of an international network of some of the best producers and DJs working now. CL
Memories Overlooked: A Tribute To The Caretaker
There’s always been a hauntological link between Leyland Kirby’s dusty Caretaker deconstructions and the manipulated mall Muzak of vaporwave, but it’s never more explicit than on Memories Overlooked. The producer fielded a massive call for Caretaker-inspired music before the release of this 100-track comp, a labor of love organized by Nmesh, to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. Even Kirby sent a donation and thank you to its makers. The carefully-sequenced collection moves seamlessly and sounds as if it’s crumbling apart in real time. It’s an impressive and emotional trip, and a true testament to how influential Kirby’s music has become in this sphere over the last decade. MB
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