It feels increasingly odd exhorting our readers to spend money at the moment when so many people are struggling and going without. But, if you’ve got it, and you haven’t already blown your wad on a Smart Christmas Tree®, which I’m told is actually a thing now, then why not drop a few coppers in the direction of the musicians you love via the magic of Bandcamp Friday.
As regular readers will recall, for the last several months, on the first Friday of the month, Bandcamp has waived their fees, which means that every penny you spend there goes to support the artists. This is apparently the last one. My heart wants to say something meaningful and valedictory, but my head thinks we’ll all just be back here next month with our hands in our pockets mumbling something ineffectual about saving the music industry.
Writing this column was a total blast. I’ve enjoyed our time together and it’s been an interesting exercise to condense the experience of an artist’s release into these little reviewlets. I hope you’ve found stuff you’ve liked and weren’t too bored or frightened by the stuff you didn’t. For myself, I remain fascinated by the eco-system that Bandcamp have created, and might have more to say about it in another form in the future.
Tony Njoku’s 2019 LP, Your Psyche’s Rainbow Panorama, was championed by the likes of Gilles Petersen and Tom Ravenscroft and had a fresh-faced avant-garde energy to it that made it hard to pigeon-hole and I don’t believe Njoku would want it any other way.
Positioned somewhere on the complex interstices that exist between funky Lagos and Thom Yorke he’s put out a series of rather excellent download only standalone tracks and EPs this year, the latest of which is ‘Death by Dmitri’, which he describes as “a slow cruising trap-influenced track about the enlightening qualities of intense psychedelic experiences.” This rather undersells the work – his lyrics paint an impressionistic tone poem of life’s unceasing march toward death redeemed through the attainment of the psychic cavern where the soul dances unceasingly. Who could resist?
You can dig deep into this guy’s work and find endless, unexpected rewards – he’s on a vital journey of self-actualisation and synthesis. Essential tunes.
Note: if you’re looking for a stocking filler for those difficult-to-buy-for types, you might be interested to know that this guy has a couple of reasonably priced slabs of vinyl for sale. Nice!
Not Quite So
47 Minutes is an album that boils down the essence of the north-south divide like no one else before. It turns out that northerners can’t explain their obsession with serial killers while, equally, southerners have no rationale for their propensity to cut giant horses with huge genitalia into chalk hillsides. If like me, you find that observation oddly moving then you may well be about to discover one of your favourite albums this year.
Not Quite So’s T Ernest Wilbey litters his writing with moments like this – the marginal scribblings and fever dreams of a social worker. Distressing case notes cut-up with nudge unit wellbeing bullshit, delivered as a gentle, understated backdrop to Janek Hendrich’s cold, electronic atmospheres. Imagine the soundtrack of Tarkovsky’s Stalker bleeding into an Alan Bennet revival in a damaged brain. It’s quite a magic act – bleak, perceptive and with a gallows humour and humanity that allows us uncomfortably close to its grim subject matter.
Heat Death of the Sun
Cheapskates: may I share with you one of the most astonishing deals Bandcamp has to offer? I may? Excellent. You can get the entirety of Cruel Nature Records’ back catalogue to download or stream in perpetuity for just £9.80 or pay-what-you-like. That’s like a hundred and something albums, which is a Spotify-esque level of viable-business-self-eviscerating cheapness. What’s that? You can just listen to it all for free on Bandcamp anyway? You monster.
Cruel Nature specialises in putting out micro-runs of experimental music on cassette and mostly consisting of stuff like the excellent Drinking Oil from the Black Fountain by Heat Death of the Sun, a thirty-minute track recorded live at the Cluny in Newcastle last year. Some unidentified keening noise, which might be a violin, it’s hard to say, wends its mournful, Silurian path across a terrain of indeterminate bleeps and creeping, surging drones, before running up against something that could be Popul Vuh covering the soundtrack to Get Carter. Majestically brilliant. And there’s hundreds more like that. Tip of the bleedin’ iceberg.
Still not convinced? Try a bit of Ballpeen on for size.
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Habibi Funk have a plethora of still-twitching merch for sale today and it’s the business. My favourite is a tee proclaining that THE FUTURE IS FEMALE in English and Arabic. Proceeds go to the Egyptian organization Mother Being who offer classes on women’s reproductive and sexual health.
Released today, Kinbote’s Shifting Distance is an icy blast of bedroom pop made on equipment largely acquired from Glasgow’s charity shops. The songs have a journal-like quality – records of winter walks, bad moods, sudden epiphanies and snatches of life on the hoof. It’s direct, intimate and packed with downtrodden glitchy beats. There’s a sardonic tone to the jobless nihilism of ‘Shopping Channel’ and the maudlin taunt that is ‘In the Rushes’ (Chorus: “It tastes like ashes / the sun is pissing me off”), but there’s an everyman quality to Matt Gibb’s songwriting that just about keeps it this side of self-pity. There’s also real artistry in the found sound collages that underpin all this, reminiscent of the luminous music of Haiku Salut, a wondrous mixture of organic and retro-futurist noises, which wriggle about in the low tide of his songs like mutated little rock-pool biotech-beasties.
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Pick up that Keeley Forsyth record you’ve had your eye on since January in a bundle with her new EP for just £21.99. Then be the envy of your friends with a bunch of remixes of material from her collaborator Matthew Bourne‘s moogmemory plus LP: ‘All proceeds will go towards a round of drinks with each artist as soon as the pubs open again.’
King Hannah come from Liverpool and their spaced-out, Mazzy Star-inspired brand of scuzzy Americana is inflected with the surreal, quotidian humour you’d associate with fellow northerners Half Man Half Biscuit or even John Shuttleworth. We’re not quite pondering ‘Two Margarines on the Go’ on their debut EP (or is it an album?), Tell Me Your Mind and I’ll Tell You Mine, but there is a song addressed to the spider in their new apartment and a yearning, sensuous vocal that suggests a more than culinary desire for ‘Crème Brûlée’. Sublime stuff. They’re on City Slang, which is also the home of Kurt Wagner’s Lambchop, which perhaps explains a thing or two as well. King Hannah will cover you like Sherwin Williams.
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Sometimes The Leaf Library remix other bands’ stuff and today you can buy all of that nob-twiddling goodness in one digital drop for the price of a small donation to the Tressell Trust to help fight poverty in the UK. Featuring Bryde, Firestations, Black Peaches, Hologram Teen and Smile Down Upon Us and many more.
I’m not sure if I don’t actually hate Powys 1999. I keep on with it though, despite the knowingly silly punning lyrics and euphoric glow-sticks-aloft synth runs. Somehow, like Pet Shop Boys, who Stats clearly and correctly adore, it’s rather more than the sum of its parts. And I wonder, can they even leave the house without tripping over a great chorus?
Stats’ Ed Seed describes it as a homage to the generation of city-dwellers who came to Wales in the ’70s to pursue what we might summarise as alternative lifestyles. Powys 1999 is infused with ambivalence – a tale of belonging neither to the English nor the Welsh, to the country or the city, the LP relates the artifice and mental contortion arising from our coexistence with the human-made fiction of nature. And it’s all delivered with such a joyous rush of fun you hardly notice the conundrums he presents you with.
there are no birds here
there are no birds here present Ulkfell’s Land, a ‘collection of drones, scrapes and bleeps inspired by the Suffolk landscape.’ Not sure how this went under my radar in September as it’s just the sort of thing I go a bit silly for – clanking, droning evocations of the pastoral as a zone of post-industrial alienation and amorphous threat. The countryside loses something when posited as merely an idealised middle-class playground, particularly now, when for many of us it’s become a kind of sanctuary from our homes. We should resist robbing it of its true character as the denuded, poisoned wasteland it so obviously is. There really are no birds here. Bravo fellas.
At time of writing, there’s a few copies of the cassette left at Hream Recordings or pay-what-you-want for a download direct from the artist.
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Nyege Nyege Tapes have announced pre-orders for a limited edition vinyl reissue of the best LP of 2020.
Whole Lotta Roadies
Rob Jones from Idlewild has put this project together as a benefit for Scottish road crews left out of work by the pandemic. Noting that many roadies are also amazing musicians, Jones had the idea of getting members of the live crew to perform cover versions of songs by their respective bands and has also got the various singers in question to come along and provide new vocals.
There’s no music to share with you as yet, but the involvement of such rambunctious stalwarts as Mogwai, Arab Strap, Kathryn Joseph, Honeyblood, The Proclaimers and Belle and Sebastian is surely your guarantee of quality. If you’ve any cash left over after your generous donation to the local food bank, this looks well worth a punt.
It’s not out for a few weeks yet, but today’s when you’d get the most bang for your charitable buck, so it’s a good day to pre-order. And if you must have something, anything, to download RIGHT NOW, then The XCERTS have a cover of Starship’s ‘We Built This City’ downloadable for just a quid, for one day only, via their Bandcamp, with all the cash going to Whole Lotta Roadies. An acoustic cover of an ’80s rock anthem isn’t something I’d normally countenance but at least they’ve promised to take it down in 24 hours time, the little scamps.
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Bristol’s Specialist Subject Records are clearing out some old label t-shirts. All printed on organic cotton, pick a size, get a snazzy new tee for just £8.
I do go on a bit about these rather conceptual ambient albums, but I’ve found the experience of not being able to get the bus to London to gawp at mostly bad art every few weeks has been oddly liberating. Case in point: 83% Invisible from Belgian sound artist Nathalie Garcia, aka Natali Kruger. It’s a binaural feast of natural history field recordings and minimalist EDM. Before all this, it might have seemed somehow extraneous. Right now though, craving sensation, it feels essential.
Kruger / Garcia is engaged in a complex synthesis of therapeutic and aesthetic concentrations of perception, creating a vivid 3D sound-world where, “snakes move & whistle on the walls, tigers run to the four corners of the room, it rains, we are caught in an earthquake…” And she knows a thing or two about how to get a ton of goodness out of the low end. That bass is a real growler.
Interestingly, the LP is vinyl only, (unless you want to stump up 999.99 Euros for the download) with a silkscreen printed cover, poster art and in a numbered edition, but you can, of course, hear the whole thing online, at least for now. Pop the headphones on, lay back, and let wildlife unfold.
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Firestations have a sale on. Pick up their acclaimed LP The Year Dot on blue vinyl for just a tenner.
The kids all dig Surgeons Girl, and well they should. Her new EP, A Violet Sleep, is out now on Bristol’s Livity Sound, and it’s a well-tempered evocation of dream-like nocturnal clarity. FFO Deep analogue synths and staying up all night drinking tea. There’s a classical sense of structure to this work – counterpoint between hesitancies that build and resolve themselves into something more certain while they elsewhere fall away. The processing of pure emotion in a diurnal rhythm.
Emotion of the raw and unprocessed kind can be found on Lachrymal Heartflesh by Melvl, aka Armand Carnelian Fortin, founder of Virginia’s Grimalkin Records. Released a few weeks ago to coincide with International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance in honour of trans people who have lost their lives in transphobic acts of violence, proceeds from the album go to the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (TAPVA).
The recordings weren’t originally intended for us, having initially been made by Fortin as a purely private emotional release during one of the lowest points in his life – but considering the circumstances of the album’s creation it’s a remarkably measured piece of work, both angelic and demonic, abstract and completely particular. ‘Isobella’ is seraphic and otherworldly while ‘Cut (Maim)’ occludes all of that beneath a blizzard of sharpened knives. It’s not easy to look away.
There’s a ton of similarly experimental LGBT oriented DIY artistry on the books at Grimalkin Records, and if that’s is your bag (and it most surely is – see for example ‘Hyperstitions‘ by Hunting Dog below) then they have a Patreon where you can subscribe for a more than reasonable $5 a month.
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A lesson in marketing innovation: Box Records have announced a Shy-Talk tee / tote / vinyl bundle which includes an actual piece floor vinyl. “The vinyl,” say Box Records, “is luxuriously screen printed and can be used on a floor or an attractive wall hanging, it also has a wipe clean surface should you get too excited and spill stuff on it.” Apparently there is also an album somewhere.
50% of profits donated to Newcastle West End Food Bank. Does that make this shameless consumerism all right though? Does it?
Somehow failed to get this into either of the previous two roundups. Mera Bhai (meaning ‘my brother’ in Hindi) is the solo project of Karthik Poduval, better known as one-quarter of the genre-melting Flamingods. The debut EP, Futureproofing is exactly what you’d hope for: one damn dance floor banger after another. Sweaty, low-slung house beats writhe about with Arabic and Indian vintage disco stylings. The blissed-out festival vibe of ‘Mañana Groove‘ is just what these long winter evenings call out for, while the title track feels ironically, defiantly nostalgic – is the past another country where they do things differently, and if so can we go back there in good faith?
More nostalgia, this time of a more cerebral nature, from Chicago’s Oui Ennui. “A dodgy saudade,” explains the artist bio, “(nos)+Algebra is me acting as my own tour-guide in a museum that I didn’t build, but filled.” We’ve been wrestling with electronic music as a manifest longing for a lost future since Switched-On Bach, and the tracks here stalk a delicate line between our shared sense of pandemic related grief and whatever particular ghosts Oui is personally communing with. The tracklist is illuminating only in so much as we’re told the titles mostly refer to places near where he grew up in Pasadena: The Glendale Galleria, 1063 Prospect Blvd. and Camp Cedar Falls. Again from the bio: “Though there’ll never be a reunion of the broken parts, maybe we can still set these bones.”
It’s the hope that gets you. Close your eyes and feel the sunlight. Or the rain, depending.
Pulled By Magnets
It is with a tear in my eye that I pen my final #BandcampFriday recommendation, at least for 2020, and in many ways it’s the summation of all we’ve done here. I leave it to Pulled By Magnets 4-time Mercury nominated Seb Rochford, who says, “every moment is an opportunity to deepen your understanding… learning is a life-long process and some things take time to realize in your active life. To me that patience within learning is also a teaching in itself. I think that is what I would say for the whole EP as the titles can be read together as one sentence.”
Tracklisting? I’m afraid you have to click to find out. Bring your wallet. But yes. I think I’ve finally found it. A jazz / grindcore EP that looks at you ruefully, nods and says, you know what, Col, maybe the real adventure was the friends we made along the way.
Have a peaceful holiday everyone.