Hi Bias: Notable Cassette Releases on Bandcamp, May 2017

Hi Bias

Welcome to Hi Bias, a monthly column highlighting recent cassette releases on Bandcamp, and exploring the ideas behind them with the artists who made them. Rather than making sweeping generalizations about the “cassette comeback,” we prefer here simply to cover releases that may escape others’ radar due to their limited, cassette-focused availability.

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Better Know a College Radio Station: West Virginia University’s WWVU

WWVU

Illustration by George Greaves

For many obsessive fans who grew up in the pre-Internet era, a passion for music was sparked in the dingy basements and dark booths of college radio stations. Despite sound boards that are decades out of date and rapidly-changing tastes, that tradition has endured. The best college stations remain dedicated to delivering music that falls outside the purview of Billboard-charting mainstream radio.

If anything, the shifting climate has caused student station managers and music directors to work harder at keeping their stations relevant. And with good reason: at the radio station, they find comrades with whom they can trade mixtapes and stay up late into the night raving about life-changing B-sides. Bandcamp speaks from personal experience: even if our first shows were at 4am on Tuesday nights, they were the best two hours of our entire week.

In this feature called Better Know a College Radio Station, we spotlight the programmers, music directors, and general managers who make sure the “On-Air” light never burns out. This month, we chat with the staff at West Virginia University’s U-92: Media Director Jackson Montgomery (DJ Montbummery); Music Director Nick Koban-Hogue (DJ Kobes); Program Director Emmi McIntyre (DJ Emmi or Lance Jr., from the great Courtney Barnett song); General Manager Matt Fouty; Marketing Director David Kessler; and Hip-Hop Director/DJ Daniel Robbins.

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The Best Metal on Bandcamp: May 2017

Best Metal

Pride in one’s local music scene is something that unites fans of all genres and all backgrounds. Any time a band who is important to you gains national attention, it feels special.

Kenoma is one of those bands for me. As a teenager in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, I saw the band almost every time they played, until I went away to college. Now, more than a decade later, they’re finally releasing a debut album. It makes me feel as if I’ve just stepped out of a sweaty basement show, clutching the LP I picked up from the merch table. That Kenoma record now sits alongside gloriously cheesy Euro power metal, introspective post-black metal, and battlefield-ready melodic death metal as one of this month’s best releases.

[View the Best Metal on Bandcamp Archives]

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Album of the Day: Como Mamas, “Move Upstairs”

Ester Mae Smith, Angela Taylor, and Della Daniels grew up together in the segregated town of Como, Mississippi, in the 1950s. In the half-century since, the three have remained best friends and Como residents, regularly singing together at their childhood church, Mt. Moriah. It has only been in the past decade, as the trio has entered later age, that they have solidified their friendship into a musical ensemble—the Como Mamas.

After a chance encounter with Daptone Records producer Michael Reilly, the Como Mamas recorded their 2013 debut, Get an Understanding, at Mt. Moriah; its 13 tracks were comprised solely of their voices. Offsetting gruff and gritty howls with sweeter tones, the album was rich in both texture and melody.

Move Upstairs, their follow-up, is immediately distinct from its predecessor: it features a full band. But instead of diluting the trio’s magnetic voices, the arrangements, recorded live in the studio by Daptone Records’ “family band,” give the songs momentum and energy. While the band’s contributions are at times minimal—like the sparse percussion on “Glory Glory Hallelujah”—they can also pivot on a dime, delivering a walloping proto-blues romp. Lead single “Out of the Wilderness” swings like a long-lost Otis Redding track, and the title track features an infectious call and response.

Thematically, the album is grounded, fully, in the culture of the church. As Daniels recently explained, “In Como, church is it,” and these songs, all of which are interpretations of old traditionals and spirituals, focus on themes of redemption, gratitude and the glory of a higher power. Yet it’s hard to approach these sentiments solely through the lens of religion; the Como Mamas lived through segregation in a largely impoverished town, and have seen tough times become, at least on surface level, less so. As Smith explained recently, she’s “infinitely grateful to God for giving her the resources to raise two kids who never had to pick cotton, wear clothes made from old flour sacks, or go hungry in lean times” like she did. The Como Mamas’ music is both celebratory and redemptive.

Max Savage Levenson

The Unorthodox Violin Work of Darragh Morgan

Darragh

Photo by Frances Marshall.

Though he first picked up the violin in the context of Irish traditional music, and undertook classical music studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Darragh Morgan has long specialized in “new music.” It’s a vague term that encompasses 20th and 21st century music for orchestral and chamber instruments, but can also incorporate virtually anything else.

Over the years, Morgan has become a well-known figure in Europe’s new music community. In addition to his work as both a solo artist and a guest with various ensembles, he’s also a member of the Fidelio Trio with pianist Mary Dullea (to whom he’s married) and cellist Adi Tal. He’s recorded works by Philip Glass, Morton Feldman, Toru Takemitsu, Arnold Schoenberg, Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Michael Nyman, and many contemporary Irish composers.

Morgan’s latest album, For Violin and Electronics, is exactly what it says on the cover: six pieces, all by living composers, on which his instrument either converses with, floats in and around, or battles with electronic soundscapes that can be quite beautiful, or abstract and harsh, sometimes shifting from one to the other at a moment’s notice. “All the tracks have a fully notated, often virtuosic, live violin part which I had to approach learning just as I would Beethoven’s Violin Concerto,” Morgan says.

But each composer has taken a different approach to the electronic element of the work. In the cases of Jonty Harrison and Ricardo Climent, the composers of “Some of Its Parts” and “Koorean Air” respectively, the use of tapes requires Morgan to coordinate perfectly or fall out of sync. “Some of Its Parts” features scraping, rumbling, and percussive sounds, like someone rolling fist-sized iron balls around inside a piano as it’s wheeled back and forth across the stereo field. “Koorean Air,” by contrast, is all high-pitched squeals, chitters, and zooms, with Morgan’s violin offering horror-movie scribbles and scrapes.

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