Acid Test: Brazilian Psych, Modular Synths, Video Game Music, & 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 hear a cult composer’s first stab at a horror film score, modular synth ragas, the revival of a legendary vaporwave project, and a new compilation series exploring one of avant-garde music’s most sacred historical texts. Find all that and more below.

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Various Artists
Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One

The legendary “Nurse With Wound list” has loomed over experimental music as a document that feels equally historical and occult. Compiled by Nurse with Wound mastermind Steve Stapleton and early members John Fothergill and Heman Pathak, and included in the project’s debut album Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella, the 291 entries included a gateway into avant-garde and experimental artists, many of whom were obscure then and are virtually forgotten now. This all makes Finders Keepers’ new compilation series Strain Crack & Break a sort of codex, unpacking and exploring the list in regional sections. Diving into the ‘70s French avant-garde scene, the first volume contains everything from 20-minute free jazz jams, musique concrete, psychedelic rock, and dark cabaret pieces like opener Jacques Thollot’s unforgettable “Cécile.” It’s a groovy start to what already feels like an essential series.

W00dy
My Diary

Pittsburgh producer W00dy spills her rhythmic guts over the four relentless epics that make up My Diary. The frenetic pace never slows for a second, guaranteeing that you won’t stop moving for the entirety of its 27 minutes. It hits such an endless high by the time album closer “We All Want The Same Thing” speeds its way through, that the only way to top it is to start the album up all over again.

ose
With & Without

In the liner notes for her brilliant album With & Without, San Francisco-based singer and modular synthesist Arushi Jain explains she originally set out to reinterpret the Hindustani classical ragas she grew up singing via the modular synth music she studied as an adult. However, these four sprawling tracks transcend any sum of their influences sounding ancient, modern, and futuristic all at once. Rather than sticking entirely to the rigid compositional structures of raga—or club music, for that matter—Jain follows her intuition from soothing ambience to trance-inducing rhythms to the stunning vocal showcase of “just a dragonfly.” The result is one of the most unique, creative, and personal modular synth albums of the year.

Guaxe
Guaxe

Named after a bird they liked the sound of, Brazilian psych duo Guaxe make beautiful songs of their own while maintaining an eerie atmosphere on their self-titled debut. Opener “Desafio do Guaxe” walks a narrow line, subtly working anxious minor chords through its bright psych-rock. Darker drifts, like that song and the interlude “Rio Abaixo” that leads into folky centerpiece “Nilo,” are counterbalanced by bright melodies on songs like “Pupilxs” and “Onda.” Though members Dinho Almeida and Pedro Bonifrate have both spent some time in the Brazilian music scene, Guaxe still feels like a warm introduction.

Coatic Sequence
Coatic Plates

This sinister collection of modular synth recordings by the Manchester duo of Darren Adcock and Tasha Whittle was conceived as both a musical and visual project. Created with a self-made synth dubbed “Glen,” what’s curious about Coatic Plates is the way the colorful and often pretty, pointillistic drawings included with the release pair with its crushing six-part soundscape. Passages crackle and spark threateningly, but they always engage and pull you in with ear-tickling sound design and throbbing, dissonant rhythms.

Ben Babbitt
Paris Window

Ben Babbitt has worked with Eartheater, Weyes Blood, and Angel Olsen, but to many he’s best known for his one-of-a-kind score to the beloved cult adventure game Kentucky Route Zero. That otherworldly series, which still has a final installment on the way, gave Babbitt a musical playground that includes sparkling ambient, Lynchian sound design, bluegrass, and android synth-ballads. Equally exciting is Paris Window, an upcoming thriller that delivers what feel like Babbitt’s first horror score. Twisting many of the avant-garde elements that make KRZ so welcoming, Paris Window veers through hovering drones, threatening atmospheres, and some bone-rattling percussion. It’s a testament to his skills that some of these tracks on this could fit cozily into the uneasy company of the previously mentioned Nurse With Wound list

Complete Walkthru
Scrolls

Introduced through the curlicue electronics of his early project MCFERRDOG, Max McFerrin has embraced his talents for dance music only further as Complete Walkthru. He makes a welcome debut on Numbers with Scrolls, a brisk collection of thoughtful and absorbingly esoteric club sounds. The album gently swerves from ambience like “Leavin’ Church Early” and the arresting “Just Like We Like It,” to the elastic vocal workout of “Getting Ridiculous” and the house belter “Family By ’22.” It all makes for a knotty, colorful showcase of McFerrin’s evolving talent.

Saint Pepsi
Mannequin Challenge

The beloved and long-retired Saint Pepsi project seemed like it would remain a memory of the early days of vaporwave, especially after producer Ryan DeRobertis found genuine pop success as Skylar Spence. It makes  Mannequin Challenge, a throwback to the infectious cut-up grooves DeRobertis made as a teenager, all the sweeter. Play it, and it’ll feel like 2012 all over again.

-Miles Bowe

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