BEST OF 2024 The Best Albums of Winter 2024 By Bandcamp Daily Staff · March 29, 2024

These are our picks for the best albums of the last three months.

Frances Chang
Psychedelic Anxiety

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Frances Chang’s endlessly creative Psychedelic Anxiety is a study in contrasts, from the way its sonic textures equivocate between pebbly indie rock guitars and cooly celestial synths and its rhythms alternately skitter and drag, to how the subtly hooky melodies meander along purposefully without purpose, pausing here and there to poke at a half-submerged musical idea that has been bobbing unnoticed alongside all along. Bedroom pop as a genre naturally trends towards solipsism, which is why most of it is flat and boring. Chang understands that any public excavation of a personal experience is by nature something of a magic trick and leans into the illusion, creating music that feels meticulously artful even in its messiest moments—and, no, not just anyone could do it.

Read our Album of the Day on Psychedelic Anxiety.

Mariana Timony

Discovery Zone
Quantum Web

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Weaving together luminescent strains of contemporary radio pop, experimental electronic, internet music of all stripes, and the more blissful (some might say too blissful) side of ambient, multimedia artist JJ Weihl’s Quantum Web alternately soothes and unsettles, creating an atmosphere that’s super chill and subtly incorrect, as if the music were being broadcast from somewhere just behind us in time, or perhaps somewhere in the future. Yet an objectively good pop song (one assumes) is objectively good no matter what dimension it comes from, and Quantum Web is full of ‘em, Weihl’s breathy vocals floating through a post-consumerist wonderland like the ghostly scent of pretzels from the mall food court that hasn’t existed in decades.

Mariana Timony

DJ Kolt
Verdadeiro

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Vinyl LP

After a decade behind the boards, Lisbon’s DJ Kolt—aka Adjalme Noronha—is ready for his gold watch. Verdadeiro is Noronha’s swan song after work both on his own as well as with the trio Blacksea Não Maya, and it fulfills the time-honored showbiz dictum “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Though it clocks in at just about 20 minutes, it makes ample use of every second, from the pulverizing rhythm that wrests control at the two minute mark of “Fiqexpert” to the deep, house-y bass synths that propel “BATESTE.” It almost plays as if Kolt is trying to get everything out of his system all at once; songs go through multiple phases, rarely ending the way they began, and playing like a history of regional dance music as they unfold. Case in point: “VUGUVUGUU,” the title of which roughly translates to “Movement.” It opens as icy industrial music, then unfolds to become a booming house number before somersaulting into a kind of warped strain of techno, synths going off like kettle whistles. Play Verdadeiro on a loop and you’ll notice something different every time.

J. Edward Keyes

Hannah Francis
Keeper of the Shepherd

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Hannah Frances has described her third album as a meditation on the cyclical nature of life and death—emphasis on the nature. Dedicated to the singer-songwriter’s late father, Keeper of the Shepherd sublimates her personal struggles into a collection of orchestral, multi-scaled folk songs with palpable animist undertones; think Joni Mitchell by way of Henry Thoreau, all spiraling acoustic figures and earthy romanticism. “Floodplain” is a particularly affecting highlight, contrasting homespun Americana instrumentation (violins, acoustic guitars) with some of the most complex, vivid snapshots in recent memory: “The birch tree bark stripped bare/ The bones and the bodies decay there naked/ As the moss grows over in time/ As the loss goes through the dam to/ Loosen you in my heart through the vein.” Still, for a record born of trauma and powered by the death drive, Keeper of the Shepherd isn’t as morbid as one might think; rather, she regards oblivion as the original miracle, the primeval price we pay in exchange for life, love, and in her case, phenomenal art.

Zoe Camp

Kim Gordon
The Collective

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt

Everyone’s forgotten how to behave; nobody can shut the fuck up about anything; everything is fake and if it’s not fake, it’s an advertisement; platitude, platitude, platitude; lie, lie, lie. Leave it to our collective ice queen Kim Gordon to cast a cool and detached eye on all this fuckery and tell it like it is: a packing list set to sounds that are both annoyingly caustic and appealingly blasé because you aren’t actually supposed to like this, you clown. The sardonic and totally misread The Collective earns its place on this list by being the only honest soundtrack to the collapse of society from someone who is reflecting your own spiritual poverty right back at you. Let them eat Prada. You can’t afford it? Kim can.

Mariana Timony

Hulder
Verses In Oath

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette

Marz Riesterer, who records as Hulder, first fell in love with black metal as a 13-year-old, pining for her home country of Belgium after her family relocated to California. “It was an auditory portal to the dreary medieval surroundings I craved,” she explained in an interview last year, “and invoked a sense of nostalgia that felt like coming home.” That—coupled with the fact that she had been listening to Enya just a few months before—should give you a good idea of what to expect when you press “play” on Verses in Oath, Hulder’s first full-length for metal titans 20 Buck Spin. In short, Hulder returns a sense of mystery to black metal, dusting its wild-eyed riffs with layers of gothic synths and forlorn choir vocals, situating it in a realm that’s not entirely of this world. The heaving “Hearken The End” is the perfect example: its pipe organ keys sound like someone playing a requiem mass alongside a Darkthrone record—even moreso when the choral vocals drift in. And there’s a severity to “Cast Into The Well of Remembrance,” with its razor-edged riffs and Riesterer’s hellhound rasp that chills to the bone. It perfectly captures the spirit of the genre’s early days, while adding some new incantations to restore its devilish potency.

J. Edward Keyes

JLin
Akoma

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2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

After the increasing experimentalism of her last few outings—2017’s brilliant Black Origami was followed by a pair of collaborations on which the Chicago producer flexed new musicals—Akoma feels like a return to the familiar structures of dance music. But this is JLin we’re talking about, and “familiar” by her standards is still leagues beyond her closest contemporaries. Which means we get tracks in which Björk’s inimitable vocals, Philip Glass’s piano, and the Kronos Quartet’s orchestrations are whittled down to tiny flecks of sound that JLin scatters across her compositions in the same way she does drums and synths. Tracks like “Iris” and “Open Canvas” demonstrate a new sense of brightness to JLin’s work, the former lit up by big, blinking, strobe-like keys, the latter a madcap drum & bass workout that stops to catch its breath with a strategically placed section of grandfather-clock-like pads before diving back into the fray. Akoma marks the intersection of JLin’s avant-garde vision and her genius for cutting edge dance music. It is a full-on blast of joy.

Read our Album of the Day on Akoma.

J. Edward Keyes

Kim Krans
MIRRORMIRROR

The title of the first release from Kim Krans in a decade calls to mind the words the queen in Snow White speaks into her magic looking glass, and while Krans’s motives are far less nefarious, that sense of mysterious enchantment remains. MIRRORMIRROR casts a gorgeous sustained spell, Krans’s gentle alto turning ghostly pirouettes over snowy layers of synth and twinkling guitar. The Jim James duet “Spinning Sun,” which arrives early in the record, is the kind of song that demands you stop what you’re doing and pay attention, its heart-stirring chorus of “You spin me round/ With you, I go upside down” arriving like warming morning sun over a distant horizon. Indeed, Krans’s voice is the glowing star around which the entire album revolves; simultaneously eerily still and strikingly hypnotic, it makes the chanting that arrives at the center of “Dead Stars”—drawn from Krans’s own spiritual practice—feel as comforting as they are mysterious. Trying to capture MIRRORMIRROR is like trying to pin down smoke—it’s too spectral, too strangely translucent. Instead, just sit still and let it surround you.

J. Edward Keyes

Ratigan Era
Era

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Jamaican dancehall—particularly the strain that broke through internationally in the early ‘00s—gets a hyperactive update on the first full-length from Uganda’s Ratigan Era. Backed by what’s essentially an all-star team of Hakuna Kalula producers (Scotch Rolex, Chrisman, The Kampala Unit‘s Jonathan Uliel Saldanha—the list goes on), Ratigan lays his shapeshifting voice over an icy tower of electronics and earth-rumbling rhythms. The thread back to artists like Beenie Man and Buju Banton is clear in songs like “Baman Style,” where Ratigan’s rubbery flow isolates words to their individual syllables and bounces them like a handball across the pogo-ing rhythms. But the deeper in you get, the more thing start mutating. Leap ahead to “Cool & Deadly” and you’ll find something like industrial grime, with the kind of harrowing electronics that wouldn’t be out of place on a Hospital Productions release groaning ominously behind Ratigan’s frenetic delivery. Era is aptly named: It’s 100,000 styles and epochs colliding at once to create something bracingly original.

Read our Album of the Day on Era.

J. Edward Keyes

Rosali
Bite Down

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Cosmic American Music with a gleam in its eye and a sense of play often missing from the self-serious singer-songwriter canon, at the heart of Rosali’s exuberant Bite Down is the rather revolutionary suggestion that the process of self-discovery needn’t be a matter of suffering and loneliness: it can be a party and you can invite all your friends. As she did on 2021’s terrific No Medium, Rosali Middleman once again teams with Omaha’s David Nance-led Mowed Sound for a joyful collection of stomping folk and country-inflected rock music that feels newborn and alive despite its well-worn provenance, a fearless dive into unknown from a musician who is undoubtedly hitting her stride.

Read our interview with Rosali.

Mariana Timony

SLIFT
ILION

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt

It’s not every day that a little-known metal band from Toulouse, France signs to Sub Pop. But as their previous albums have shown, SLIFT aren’t your garden-variety heavyweights; taking abundant cues from kraut rock and ’60s psychedelia, their creative philosophy takes the heady with the heavy, prioritizing atmospheric tension over unbridled assault to arrive at a surprisingly graceful power stance. On ILION, the band expand upon that transcendent, high-velocity palette with a sharpened melodic focus, rendering their strung-out futurism more earthbound and, thereby, more immediate. Thrills of note include the Neu!-meets-Mastodon tumult of “Nimh,” as well as the 11-minute title track, a whirling-dervish of an opener that assembles distorted voices and industrial textures into an apocalyptic rock symphony. It’s a record with mass appeal, emphasis on the mass, and as expected, the band reap huge rewards.

Read our Album of the Day on ILION.

Zoe Camp

The Smile
Wall of Eyes

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

When news first broke of The Smile—the trio of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner—in 2022, fans and critics were quick to classify it as a Radiohead offshoot. Imagine their surprise when their debut, A Light for Attracting Attention, dropped later that month, complete with an eccentric, ultra-rhythmic sound that, with emphases on Afrobeat percussion and jazz figures, bore little resemblance to anything else in the alternative icons’ catalog; a fusion-powered pocket dimension. The follow-up, Wall of Eyes, adopts a similarly adventurous approach to structure and groove, its soundscapes bursting with character and contrast: on “Teleharmonic,” Yorke’s phantasmal vocals drift over Greenwood’s neoclassical strings and byzantine riffs as Skinner patters around in the background, discovering pockets in the unlikeliest of places. Other highlights include “Bending Heretic,” in which the band embark on a doomed, eight-minute joy ride through Italy that careens from neoclassical bliss to hard-rock tumult, and “Read the Room,” a labyrinthine rock anthem that assembles and deconstructs itself continuously, Rubik’s Cube style. We said it the last time around, and we’ll say it again: The Smile are no footnote but a force to be reckoned with.

Zoe Camp

Rafael Toral
Spectral Evolution

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

From the minimalist drones of his early days to the jazz-inflected Space Program (an ongoing experiment in homemade electronic instrumentation that’s been his primary creative focus for the past 13 years), Portuguese guitarist Rafael Toral has consistently been at the forefront of instrumental ambient. After spending the past decade-plus in prolific board wizard mode, deconstructing structure and sound through a digital lens, Toral reunites with his first instrumental love on Spectral Evolution, his first proper “guitar album” in ages. It’s also the perfect entry point for newbies unfamiliar with the ambient icon, condensing the various chapters of his sprawling creative journey thus far—the improvisatory axeman, the jazz player, the Space-Age architect—to 47 minutes of immaculately plucked six-strings and howling modular synths contorted so cleverly, you’d swear that a pack of wolves had somehow made it into the mix. It’s a welcome return to form for Toral, as well as a conclusive step forward: an instant essential.

Zoe Camp

Chelsea Wolfe
She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She

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Cassette, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Chelsea Wolfe has spent virtually all of her time as an artist working from—or, more accurately, lurking within—the shadows, releasing six albums of delicate yet diabolical siren songs over the past 14 years. On She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She, she makes her long-awaited ambush, sublimating all the sinister sounds she’s mastered thus far (lo-fi folk, doom metal, noise rock, gothic pop, experimental electronic) into a career-spanning magnum opus. Some songs, like “House Of Self-Undoing” and “Salt,” encase Wolfe’s delicate soprano within hellbound synths and airtight drum loops; others, like “Tunnel Lights,” indulge in murky trip-hop à la Portishead and industrial-electronic mayhem à la Nine Inch Nails. Producer and TV on the Radio guitarist Dave Sitek (Weezer, Foals) and engineer Shawn Everett (Slowdive, SZA, Alvvays, the Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) temper the music’s lethal force with mass appeal in the form of lush textures and unbridled dynamics that lend Wolfe’s music a heightened sense of sharpness, and with it, seriously mass appeal. When she declares, “I’m in your dreams/ I’m in your song,” in the closing moments of “The Liminal,” she’s not talking figuratively. This is deliciously dark music that’ll be stuck in your head for an eternity.

Zoe Camp

Chiyomi Yamada
Songs of My Land

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD),

A passion project for Japanese soprano Chiyomi Yamada, who studied Western classical and early music in Europe before returning to Japan and noticing surprising parallels between the musical traditions of her homeland and those of her education, the beautiful and unique Songs of My Land features traditional Japanese folk songs arranged in a Western style more akin to records by Bert Jansch or Linda Perhacs. The result is music that doesn’t feel placeless so much as timeless, haunting without any hint of a ghost. Resisting any cliché of music being a universal language, the uncanny beauty and haunting atmosphere created by this record is most notable not as a reminder of human commonality, but as a shining example of human creativity.

Read our interview with Chiyomi Yamada.

Mariana Timony
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