Bandcamp Navigator is a column dedicated to a fan favorite Bandcamp practice: tag-hopping.
Sometimes you’ll hear a piece of music that affects you in ways you don’t immediately realize. One day you’ll just be going about your business, cleaning the kitchen, walking to work, and you realize that you’ve had a phrase or melody from a song bouncing around in your head for a while, just sort of quietly making itself at home in the background of everything else going on in there. This week we’re going to start our travels with a record that worked that way for me. I really didn’t think that much about it until I realized that, well, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Ecovillage’s style of ambient electronics features the expected transcendent chords and meditative drones, but at the core of their creations is a spirit of playfulness and joy. Evocative at times of the more ambient work of artists like Aphex Twin, Ecovillage also possess a reverence for liminal spaces and half-heard field recordings, the kind heard in the “mallsoft” recordings of 猫 シ Corp. That’s not where the vaporwave influences end, either. On “Sunshine Maker,” Ecovillage combine the glittering arpeggios of the Ultraworld-era work of The Orb with the sonic sun-drenched misplaced nostalgia that’s one of vaporwave’s hallmarks. As on their previous releases, New Reality features several collaborations with other electronic artists including sometime-Constellation Tatsu labelmates Loris S. Sarid and X.Y.R. It’s an impressive feat to craft an album so dense and layered that never feels heavy.
Seems like more artists would make use of the #fun tag. I mean, music is fun, right? Even the dour, grim, surly artists who insist that their music is not fun are really kind of fun in their own way. There are enough artists on Bandcamp, though, who are willing to admit it, and this tag has a lot of, uh, fun stuff going on in it, like our next artist.
i aM a viBe
Zaya T.A’s voice is fascinating. It kind of sounds similar to a few rappers I’ve heard before, but not enough that I can actually pin down who those rappers are. This, combined with his effortless staccato flow makes listening to his work compelling. It’s a voice that demands attention. This would all be for nothing if the beats supporting the voice were no good, but that’s not the case here. Lo-fi, DIY beats with deep rounded bass (some of the drops remind me of the “ultra-low bass” on Techmaster P.E.B.’s Miami bass classic Bass Computer) elevate Zaya’s rhymes while remaining minimal enough to enhance rather than overshadow them. The centerpiece of the album is the excellent “Precise,” a perfect snapshot of Zaya T.A’s aesthetic, starting with cascading chimes and gradually adding in beats, deep bass, and deeper, bell-like tones. What starts small gradually builds to a climactic and satisfying conclusion, much like the album as a whole.
The #inspiration tag is, as you may imagine, filled with religious and motivational spoken-word releases. I have nothing against either of these genres, although I do tend to steer clear of the latter category for the purposes of these journeys, as it’s a little difficult to write about the musical attributes of a release that solely consists of someone talking. So, we’re sidestepping those obvious entries and ending up as I often do, listening to power metal again.
Czech power metal band Rebel haven’t released a full-length album in a few years, but this three-song EP proves that they’ve been busy. Trinity of Inspiration offers a single song from three planned upcoming releases, each showcasing a different style. “Within Demons” kicks things off with a sound that mixes a metalcore influence with the sound of early 2000s power metal. There’s even a little Soilwork-style melodic death thrown in for good measure. It’s ambitious, but Rebel have the riffs to pull it off. “Zakletá” slows things down a bit, offering a more gothic metal-inspired sound with a strong melody, orchestral accompaniment, and grandiose choruses. Closer “The Savior” comes at you strong with a bouncy opening riff and freight-train drumming. This last track is the most loyal of the three to the classic power metal sound. Trinity stands strong on its own as a short release, but it’s even more exciting when you think about these songs as parts of upcoming albums. I can’t wait to hear them.
Just like “fun,” the #good tag seems like it’d get more use. Most artists think their music is good, right? Seems like everyone would be using this tag. Maybe it’s too obvious. Luckily, everyone isn’t using it, though, because that makes it a tiny bit easier to find the next stop on our travels.
Whettman Chelmets’s latest commemorates the March anniversary of the shelter-in-place and lockdown orders in the United States with a work that echoes the passing of that year, presenting extremes but transitioning gradually between them. The opening two tracks, representing autumn, offer drones and the sound of rain, a peaceful feeling that turns ominous with the arrival of winter. Spring brings wordless vocal choruses and fluttering strings that gradually dissolve into the harsh brightness of summer. Like the past year, this is a work that ranges in mood from idyllic to discordant, from joyous optimism to grim abrasiveness. The next few years will see no shortage of art inspired by a year of pandemic-related isolation, introspection, and uncertainty. The beauty and honesty of For… sets a high standard.
If a band calls their music #post-rock, can it still also be rock? That’s a fun riddle to try to figure out while scrolling through our next tag, filled with rock bands, like this Czech quartet, that have experimental influences.
Combining elements of the frantic indie rock style of artists like Art Brut and The Futureheads with dashes of Sonic Youth-style buzz and just a little bit of ‘90s emo guitar sound, February’s Hyphen War is an infectious record that is almost impossible to listen to just once. Even the slower, more subdued songs are filled with surprising features like the burbling drum machines of the tense “Scolytinae” or the huge wall of guitars in the wistful “Jejune” that bear repeated listening. February’s real strength lies in the band’s playful use of unexpected sounds and song structures. It’s a tough task to pack so many ideas into a record without the result becoming ponderous and overstuffed, but it’s a task that that February have accomplished with delightful results.
They give us our first geographical tag this time around, too, with #Ostrava, a city near the Czech/Polish border.
Ani Metr Ženy
It’s rare for an artist to come right out and say “Look, my record? It might be a little difficult,” but right there in the notes for this album, Marný Ňežný describes it as “adventurous listening with occasional inconvenience.” That’s absolutely correct. There’s the whimsical abandon of “Sweet Sweet Bulbs,” which takes a bluesy classic rock guitar riff and stretches and twists it as if it had been transferred onto Silly Putty. That’s not the only deconstruction of rock tropes here. Later, we’re treated to the halting, stilted “Hard Rock Music Description – Mono Demo Version” (which is absolutely in stereo). Another highlight is the just barely arrhythmic synth almost-melody of “Learn to Float.” This collection of works probably isn’t something you’re going to throw on to unwind after a hard day, but if you’re willing to dig in and expend a little effort on it, there’s quite a bit to discover.
Regardless of how obtuse or straightforward they are, there’s no doubt that Marný Ňežný’s songs are perfectly suited to the #guitar solo tag, one that intersects nicely with our next artist, taking us from the Czech Republic to China.
In the absence of lyrics or song titles, my mind grabs onto any information available to help contextualize what I’m hearing. I think that’s a pretty common experience. When approaching this intense, often punishing work from Chinese guitarist 假体自缢 (Jiǎ tǐ zìyì), that title is all there is to hang onto, like the survivor of a shipwreck clinging to a cracked section of mast. This work, one long piece broken into seven almost equal sections, begins calmly, slowly building in intensity to a climactic, ear-splitting roar, echoing the howl of a tempest that would smash any ship to pieces on the rocks of a shore. It’s hard sometimes to believe that these sounds are made mostly with an electric guitar, often sounding like experimental synthesizer music found in the noise and power electronics genres. Blending menacing, adventurous sounds with field recording-style samples, 假体自缢 has created a troubling, at-times-terrifying work that is not for the faint of heart; I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.
And while we’re exploring (not even barely scratching the surface of) music in #China, I really need to tell you about this amazing Kazakh folk album recorded live at Shenzhen’s Old Heaven Books.
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP
IZ, or “IZ Band” as they are credited on this release, is a mystery to me, made more difficult to solve that there is a K-Pop band also called “IZ.” This is definitely not the K-Pop band. What IZ (which means “footprint” in the band’s native Kazakh) is, is repetitive, meditative, ritualistic folk music accompanied by low-register, chanting vocals. This is one of the most curious, captivating, and alluring records I’ve ever heard. Even before the end of the first track, I was completely lost in the sonic landscape IZ creates with just a few voices and traditional Kazakh folk instruments. Throughout the course of this live record, musical themes are repeated, toyed with through improvisation, and allowed to run their course only to pop up again in a slightly altered form in a later song. That moment of slow déjà vu is a feeling that IZ delivers here several times over the course of this nearly three-hour work, which includes structured songs as well as free-form improvisation.
IZ uses #Kazakh folk traditions in their music, which allows us to explore other music Kazakhstan has to offer, like our next artist, a DIY electronic producer from Almaty.
As you can probably imagine, I do a lot of thinking about “genres” and “subgenres” and the usefulness and restrictions of these concepts. What fascinates me most are the works that live on the shifting borders of what we think of as “genre.” Kók is definitely an artist who is familiar with this border territory. Riding the currents of post-punk, darkwave, rave, pop, house, and probably seven or eight other labels, Qoǵam is, ultimately, an utterly delightful album of lo-fi dance music. A track like the pulsating “Mysyq (The Cat)” feels straight out of a ‘90s movie that takes place at a fashion show. Album opener “80” exhibits a strong post-punk influence from heavy hitters like The Cure or New Order, and robot vocals straight out of the Kraftwerk textbook.
The most obvious path, in this case, kók’s #electronic tag, is often the best path forward. As we’ve seen before, there’s never been a shortage of excellent work waiting for us down this road which takes us this time to our final stop in Iceland.
Pínu Litlar Peysur
Channeling the piercing buzz of early ‘90s Jesus and Mary Chain, Iceland’s Pínu Litlar Peysur’s latest EP is a collection of rough-hewn, sharp-edged pop gems. “Sweet Revenge” wraps bedroom-pop aesthetics in a static-charged little sweater of distortion, dissonance, and wailing vocals. The Kim Deal-esque bass riff that opens “Spítt í Kaffið” is soon joined with bright, cascading guitars, the two forces held together with a relentless drum machine beat. There’s lots to like here. PLP EP is a charming listen, showcasing a group with a proficiency in pop songwriting who wraps their songs in a layer of lo-fi DIY grit, as if giving the listener something to grab onto. Album closer “Maggie Thatcher” uses a mid-paced, driving bassline accompanied by shrieking walls of sheet-metal guitars to deliver a definitive political statement about the late UK Prime Minister (hint: the band are not fans).
From Ecovillage (where that village actually is, they never really told us) to Iceland isn’t a bad day’s journey. Some paths may be becoming more familiar, but that familiarity is deceptive. Even if we’ve seen the road before, it can always lead to new, surprising, and exciting destinations.