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 look at albums merging nature and electronics that range from spiritually cleansing to chemically polluted, a look back at the hardcore early days of some iconic experimentalists and one of the greatest vaporwave albums of all time finally coming to vinyl.
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Emily A. Sprague
Water Memory/Mount Vision
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Emily A. Sprague approaches her music like a cartographer. Using modular synth and piano, she maps an expanding natural and emotional world. Song titles like “Dock,” “A Lake,” “Huckleberry,” and “Your Pond” become guideposts over the course of the vividly imaginative Water Memory and Mount Vision. Reissuing the two albums in a single volume only increases their strengths. These are songs that meander in the best sense of the word, their winding path always leading to some new, wondrous discovery. The way the music steadily progresses makes the journey from Water Memory’s shoreline into Mount Vision feels seamless, but Sprague ties them together even further with a pair of short poems that make old editions without them feel incomplete. It’s hard to say what lies beyond the mountains in Sprague’s music, but after listening to this definitive release, you’ll be ready to follow her wherever she leads.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Luke Younger tapped into something wholly new on his 2015 album Olympic Mess. A veteran of noise from his duo Birds Of Delay (with Steven Warwick aka Heatsick), Younger captured the loop-based pulse of Balearic dance music through a bruised industrial lens. Four years later, he’s expanded that subterranean sound with the immaculately constructed Chemical Flowers. True to its name, it’s a record equal parts natural and polluted; sounds of birds, flies, and water rush throughout the tracks, alongside synths that buzz uneasily, like a Geiger counter. After drifting from the smoggy miasma of “Capital Crisis (New City Loop),” the first instance of deathly strings surface on “I Knew You Would Respond,” bringing to mind the elegant doom of Earth’s recent work. The strings come courtesy of J.G. Thirlwell, aka Foetus, who takes a similar role here as he did decades ago when he was Steve Stapleton’s right-hand man on many of the classic Nurse With Wound albums. Even more extreme in its queasy sound design, Chemical Flowers finds Younger’s solo career expanding with deadly potency.
Narryer Gneiss Terrane
Kentucky artist Noelle Johnson delivers a stunning second album as Bath Consolidated with Narryer Gneiss Terrane, her first release on Orange Milk. Sharing a name with the 1927 Michigan school bombing—which remains the most deadly school attack in American history—Bath Consolidated uses a spectacular range of sound to channel the life-or-death stakes of being young today. Careening from tranquil ambient sounds to video game music to harsh noise, Johnson’s tracks never end up in the same place they started. The 10-minute “Medulla (Cloister Of Trials I)” opens with tender piano melody that naturally gives way to glittering synths, then heavy surges of Prurient-inspired industrial noise. Meanwhile “The Great Filter” begins in a whirlwind of vocal loops ranging from death metal to Kanye-style, before cracking apart to reveal a delicately recorded acoustic guitar that gradually builds back up to thrashing hardcore. Narryer Gneiss Terrane is full of moments like that over its four dense tracks. It’s a sustained tightrope walk between staggering beauty and relentless terror.
The Fluid Computer
Floris Vanhoof’s playful computer music compositions are an essential part of Antwerp’s experimental scene, alongside the work of artists like Lieven Martens (aka Dolphins Into The Future) and expat Spencer Clark. The Fluid Computer, his new LP for long-running experimental label KRAAK, begins with laughter—a flurry of giggles, guffaws, and breath-catching sighs that melt into ear-tickling bleeps, setting the foundation for this pair of 20-minute synth improvisations. “Fluid” is the key word; Vanhoof’s synths flow smoothly, with the A-side sliding between bubbling overloads and sparse soundscapes. Those extremes reach equilibrium on the B-side, which begins a gradual slide toward darker territory. By the end, Vanhoof’s warm synths become chilling; nobody is laughing then.
Vinyl LP, Cassette
Drag City is entering a historic summer with the simultaneous returns of Bill Callahan and Silver Jews mastermind David Berman. But don’t sleep on Mike Donovan, formerly of San Fran noise rockers Sic Alps, who’s steadily building a brilliant solo career. Fine-tuning his previous band’s noise from scorched to sunbaked, Donovan is undertaking a solo career at an ideal juncture: He knows his core sound well enough to start messing with it. The best example of this confidence is on “Iwata-Wise,” a tenderly sung acoustic folk tune that just happens to have a distortion-drenched guitar solo blasting through it. It’s also how we get gems like the gentle folk of “Stone,” which comes dappled with tape-looped birdsongs, the neon garage rock of “Digital Dan” and “Wot Do Rich People Do All Day?”’s beautiful acid-trail fog. They’re jigsaw pieces that shouldn’t fit, but Donovan coaxes them together, and the mosaic he creates is as beautiful as it is messy.
When Black Dice began capturing attention via their appearances on early DFA compilations, it was with spacey epics that drifted from New Age to noise rock (a sound they later perfected on their debut Beaches & Canyons). But dig back to their earliest singles, and you’ll discover a brilliant ‘90s hardcore band that eventually mutated into ‘00s experimental greats. The searing compilation Natty Light captures Black Dice in this primordial form, while offering glimpses of where they were going. Tracks like “Narcissus and Echo” and “Ten Days” hit in short, brutal blasts, with most tracks burning up after 30 seconds. Others, like “Long Arm” and the trance-inducing closer “Sleeping Giant,” offer the earliest example of a band learning to stretch tension out in ways they would soon perfect on songs like, “Things Will Never Be The Same” (from Beaches & Canyons). Now fully remastered, it’s the definitive compilation of the overlooked era of Black Dice.
St. Augustine College, English 109
Spring 2019 collects spoken word pieces from two students named Ariana and Silvia, which they wrote as a part of a spring semester assignment from an English 109 class at St. Augustine College. The pieces range from everyday instructionals—like recipes for enchiladas and pozole—to profound personal reflections. In one of them, Ariana tells the story of visiting her family in Mexico, and the joy of celebrating Christmas and her grandfather’s birthday, followed by the sadness of having to return to the U.S. In another, Silvia writes a letter to her great-great grandchildren, saying that, though she likely won’t live to meet them, she hopes that they will remember their Mexican culture. Though this release isn’t musical, it’s a deeply touching glimpse inside real lives, and one I feel lucky to have stumbled onto. I don’t know who these people are, but I’m glad I listened to their stories. You will be, too.
Luxury Elite / Saint Pepsi
Late Night Delight
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Other, Vinyl LP
Though its brand-new vinyl reissue has sold out nearly as quickly as it appeared this month, I’ll never pass up a chance to sing the praises of this all-time vaporwave classic. The legendary split album remains the platonic ideal of vaporwave’s easy listening aesthetic. Both would move on to greater success—Saint Pepsi’s Skylar Spence project is signed to Carpark Records, and Lux Elite maintains arguably the highest quality run of albums in all of vaporwave—but Late Night Delight remains the moment when this weird microgenre began to connect with a wider audience. It’s flawlessly balanced between Saint Pepsi’s Avalanches-inspired dance party and Lux’s chillout-meets-waiting-room Muzak, and remains the best vaporwave “gateway drug.” It also deserves credit for inadvertently bringing McDonalds’ failed ‘80s mascot Mac Tonight back from the dead; he now reigns as a vaporwave mascot for all eternity.