ACID TEST Acid Test, July 2023 By Miles Bowe · August 10, 2023

Bandcamp’s outer limits continue to be a rewarding place for psychedelia, experimental club music, noise, vaporwave, and the wholly uncategorizable. In each edition of Acid Test, Miles Bowe explores its far reaches to dig up hidden gems and obscure oddities. This July, we find ghostly voices describing their vacation in detail, a TikTok prank shared by an unexpected source, and half of an album so good, you’ll wish the other half existed.

Mark Vernon
Call Back Carousel

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Vinyl LP

The first noise you hear on Call Back Carousel sounds almost like a cassette being popped into a tape player, but on closer inspection, could also be the sound of slides clicking through a projector carousel. You hear that click a lot on Call Back Carousel, a remarkable album by Mark Vernon that beautifully builds from a unique source of found footage: reel-to-reel audio commentaries from lost collections of vacation slides dating to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. What we’re left with on each track is a recording of a description of a picture of an experience had by a stranger. The images are long gone, and the people probably are too. There’s only the impression of an experience, heard in descriptions of weather, pointing out people we’ll never find in backgrounds we’ll never see. Vernon treats the audio with the kind of care and respect reserved for ancient fossils as he restores them through wonderfully descriptive soundscapes and vivid foley design. And gradually, through sound, a picture begins to develop.

These fused audio treatments create a ghostly sensation that brings to mind The Caretaker or even Nurse With Wound—it’s a haunting experience, but Vernon crucially makes it a moving one, too. Call Back Carousel is so seamless, it can be easy to forget the immense labor in applying these sounds or the time spent with these lost voices, trying to hear and see what they saw. At one point in the recording “Torquay, 1969,” a man describes stumbling onto a cave before admitting with audible regret that it was too dark to really photograph, even with the flash. He didn’t even have the right type of film for that with him. Who can plan for that? But Vernon chooses to fill the moment with the sound of dripping water, echoing footsteps, and an atmospheric coldness that must have been deeply inviting in the heat of that summer. It’s like you can see it just as the speaker did 50 years ago. And it doesn’t matter anymore that he forgot the right kind of film, because for a moment, you’re right there with him, and the cave is full of light.

Fragments Vol. 1

Detroit-born producer Malcolm MacLachlan has released a steady string of singles and EPs as Appian over the course of the last decade, all of which reflect a playful musical style that touches on techno, boogie, and house. His new release, Fragments, arrives in two parts—one this year, one next year—which feels appropriate when you consider how much of a sea change has occurred. Appian drains most of the drums away here while embracing the most evocative synth sounds of his career to create an album that feels restless and peaceful; grounded and interstellar. But the most exciting thing about Fragments Vol. 1 is it sounds as far removed from a techno album as it does an ambient album. Those moments exist as poles—the GAS-like opener “Shimmer,” or the brittle, penultimate “In A Dark Room,” which recalls Actress and Parris—but Appian prefers to leave us in between, in the swirling melodies of “Tourmalines,” the glassy “Lost On The Edge,” or the industrial drift of “Silhouette.” Each delicate track feels hypnotic, but quietly propulsive. They all revolve around the massive eight-minute centerpiece “Into The Cycle,” a dizzying kosmische epic that shoots into space before a subtle chord progression guides it back. It’s a good encapsulation of Appian’s own current trajectory as we sit between two halves of this brilliant album—the destination is uncharted, but he’s in complete control of his craft.

Black Weirdo

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
✓ following
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
✓ following

Philly producer Kilamanzego’s delivers a sweeping statement with Black Weirdo, layering nimble breakbeats, impassioned MCing, and maximalist blasts of melody into a brilliant head rush. The four-track release continually unfolds with excellent turns like opener “Remember Myself” veering through sharp drum programming before resting on a dramatic piano coda, or the moving vocal performance on “Irregular,” or the processed guitar that roars throughout, delivering blindingly bright melodies that bring to mind Rustie. Black Weirdo’s four tracks make up an immense release, one that feels emotionally stirring and physically bracing.

Sam Scranton
Body Pillow

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Percussionist and electronic composer Sam Scranton lets his musical talents collide on the alluring Body Pillow. The palette is remarkable—chirpy synths, live percussion, whiplash sound processing from contact mics and soft plunks of wood—as it becomes pleasantly impossible to pick one sound apart from another. Highlights like the lively “Big Glider” or the pointillistic “Drip Drop” seem to shoot off in every direction at once in a way that might seem cacophonous if it wasn’t so pleasant. Just as enjoyable are the moments when Scranton snaps into tightly wound rhythms such as “Ten Bucks” or the playful “Tricks In The Air.” It all gives Body Pillow a rubber-band elasticity while staying as warmly inviting as its title.

Daryl Groetsch
Gardens In Glass & Frozen Waste

Whether releasing music as Pulse Emitter or under his given name, Daryl Groetsch approaches synth music with a tremendous sense of scope. That’s especially true with this month’s simultaneous releases, Gardens In Glass and Frozen Waste, two albums that land on the softer end of Groetsch’s spectrum, but nonetheless feel a world apart. Gardens is best captured by the warm stillness of “Suncatcher,” where synths shimmer beautifully over steadily shifting drones. Frozen Waste offers its own stillness, shaded in icier tones. Tracks like the unsettling “In Blackness” and starry closer “Snow Covered Landscape” manage incredible tension, while still keeping a quiet sense of wonder. The albums make an excellent pair and two more vividly realized worlds in Groetsch’s ever-expanding universe.

Jim O’Rourke
Steamroom 61

Jim O’Rourke’s long-running Steamroom series has allowed the legendary composer and producer a low-key outlet to release albums that feel like diary entries. It’s often felt too big and prolific for this column, but the spectacular Steamroom 61 feels too good and strange to let it slip by. Its sole track, titled “Lazy Evaluation,” leaps across sounds during its 38-minute expanse of processed field recording, orchestral drones, and bright electronics. At times, it feels like a tour of O’Rourke’s bottomless sound, but with a surprise or two genuinely best left unspoiled. And before you ask, no you didn’t leave an extra tab open.

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