Acid Test: Ambient Music, Surrealist Club Sounds, Solo Piano, & More

Bandcamp’s outer limits continue to be a rewarding place for psychedelic music, noise, vaporwave, and the wholly uncategorizable. In this volume of Acid Test, we navigate a new compilation from one of post-exotica’s finest explorers, hear turntablism sharpened to a noisy, experimental edge, and find a dream pop album running a dangerously high fever. Find all that and more below.

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Lolina
Who is experimental music?

In her work as Lolina, Inga Copeland continues to dive deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Though last year’s The Smoke felt like both a culmination of the Hype Williams co-founder’s solo work and a peak of her elusive songwriting, her new EP proves that her evolution is still in progress. Who is experimental music? opens with one of Copeland’s best tracks yet, the sprawling seven-minute “Let go,” which showcases Copeland unmistakable deadpan vocals, which call out into the void before a jittering, glitchy beat kicks in behind her. The scrambled production only keeps mutating over shorter tracks like “Skipping,” “Glitching,” and “Strobing,” which all flow into one another, creating a winding breadcrumb trail into the unknown. By the end of the album, you feel even more disoriented—that’s one of Copeland’s greatest skills. But even though she never directly answers the title’s abstract question, she proves that whoever “experimental music” is, she’ll always be 20 steps ahead of them.

Erasers
Pulse Points

Perth duo Erasers make dream pop with a dangerously high fever on their dark, foreboding, and wholly absorbing new album Pulse Points. Each of these six sprawling slow burners (beautifully mastered by ambient legend Lawrence English) conjure images of seances and exorcisms through a focused fusion of analog synth, lively drum machine rhythms, and singer Rebecca Orchard’s low, commanding delivery. It all ignites on the penultimate “Pass You In The Night,” an unearthly swirl of romantic longing and vaporous guitar work. It already feels like the band’s definitive song on what deserves to be a breakout album.

Shabason & Gunning
Muldrew

Taking a vacation from the tender familial exploration of his last solo album Anne, saxophonist Joseph Shabason headed into the Canadian wilderness with his friend and fellow musician Ben Gunning for the collaborative project Muldrew. Though Shabason helped define the sound of major releases like Destroyer’s Kaputt, as well as leading the underrated synth pop band DIANA, he’s made the best music of his career by leaning into his experimental tendencies. While Muldrew is less focused and thematic than his previous efforts, this works as a strength, allowing Shabason and Gunning to focus purely on creating majestic, heartrending soundscapes. Electronically-treated saxophone lines disperse like mist, and synths flow like water, while curiously unidentifiable found sounds punctuate key tracks—like the delicate clinking and clanging in “Lowland.” Even comparatively darker moments, like the eight-minute highlight “Crocodiles,” fit in due to the sheer creativity and careful restraint Shabason & Gunning bring. It may have been made in a cabin in the woods, but Muldrew rarely sounds of this world at all.

Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus
11 Items

Pontiac Streator and Ulla Straus began their potent collaboration last year on Chat EP, released on Huerco S.’s West Mineral Ltd., but that feels like a mere introduction for the heady hour-long journey that makes up 11 Items. Each of the simply titled “Items” is a hypnotic dive into shuffling beats, gurgling synths, and tightly looping vocals. Like its best artists, West Mineral walks a tightrope between ambient and dance music, but for all its soothing pulses, 11 Items fits better in the latter category. The loose percussion and humid atmosphere of highlights like “Item 3” and “Item 7” (which brings to mind the brilliantly spaced-out and innovative U.K. bass music of Soundman label boss Parris) is beyond chill. But for every time your mind wanders, you’ll snap back and find your body moving.

Mariam Rezaei
BLUD

Turntablist Mariam Rezaei tears through sound itself on her alternately bracing and beautiful full-length BLUD. Right from the whiplash-inducing scratches and micro edits of opener “9 Darted Line,” Rezaei turns brief samples into rollercoasters of accelerating and decelerating tones. “EYE EMOJI” accomplishes this using only the human voice, creating a flurry of grunts, gasps, scream, and murmurs. The almost percussive sound design works even better when contrasted with BLUD’s gorgeous, bare centerpiece “MAD,” delivered as an a cappella by Rezaei with an apocalyptic coda from harpist Rhodri Davies. Whether experiencing BLUD in its airtight original form or diving into the looser live performance on the B-side, Rezaei sounds masterfully in control of her unique craft.

Wildlife!
Ballads

When he’s not producing pop tracks for artists like Popcaan, Wildlife!—aka producer Samuel Riot—often aims his work towards the chillout room. That quality is in full force on the gloomy and glowing comedown music of Ballads. Haunted by garbled vocals, glassy beats, and neon-lit synths, the record sounds weary and depleted—in an utterly luxurious way. Even with guest spots from Gaika and Ian Isiah, Riot never loses that atmospheric hold on you. Best heard it in that grey area from late-night to early morning.

Lieven Martens
Gardens, Fire and Wine

In the decade since he retired his Dolphins Into The Future moniker, Lieven Martens has taken a fascinating journey into uncharted waters. That trip is perfectly captured on the new compilation Gardens, Fire and Wine, which features new work and commissioned pieces from 2011–2019. And though all of the songs here were made on large modular synths (and generously dappled with field recordings), they feel as naturalistic and ancient as pencil sketches of flora in an old journal. The mood varies throughout—glowing opening drone “A Village Scene” feels like a burst of sunshine, while other moments recall the eerie, intoxicating musique concrete of Nurse With Wound. For those looking to navigate Martens’s far-flung experiments, this compilation is the best map he’s provided in years.

RXM Reality
DEViL WORLD WiDE

RXM Reality burst from Hausu Mountain’s wonderfully weird womb last year with Panic Cycle, a highlight for the label, and one of the most fun experimental club albums of the year. Chicago producer Mike Meegan’s kinetic productions merge heavy bass music, jagged IDM, aggressive surges of noise, and sugary melodies alike. On the new DEViL WORLD WiDE, Meegan cooks that combination down into an even more concentrated concoction. It’s shorter, but more intense than his previous work. Take “Addict” or the standout “I’m a Switch,” which hammers you with industrial drums while glistening synths and a flutter of flute are woven through each thudding hit. For all the wildly different artists Hausu Mountain has introduced over the years, it’s never quite fit into the “club music” conversation; that changes permanently after this second volume of fiery and joyous chaos.

Celeste Evans
Excerpts from The Fool’s Journey

A solo piano album where each piece is inspired by a different card in the tarot deck, the amount of care evident in Excerpts from The Fool’s Journey is heartwarming. Each track includes its own individual image with the chosen tarot card (taken from the Universal Waite and Salvador Dali decks) superimposed over underwater photography and notes about coincidental occurrences during the performance (a garbage truck signals the end of one piece for example). It was released on July 25, considered the “day out of time” in the Mayan calendar, and presented without any further context. This is everything I love about the internet.

-Miles Bowe

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