Welcome to Seven Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend six new albums, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.
Dead Hero, La Vida Continua
Dead Hero are a punk band from Bogota, Colombia who take a kinder approach to the concept of punk—all of the songs on their excellent full-length debut La Vida Continua are shot through with sunny, sparkling melodies; no matter how jagged the guitars get or how throttling the rhythm, the songs are all grounded in a sturdy tunefulness. On their Facebook page, they cite British Oi as an influence, but most of Continua recalls the gutsy West Coast punk of groups like The Weirdos. “Otro Dia” swings between gang-shouted backing vocals and Paula Suarez’s rugged, barking leads. In its closing 30 seconds, the guitars leap up the octave and pull the song into the stratosphere—it’s big, boisterous, and triumphant. The opening riff of “Por Siempre” sounds like hair metal played on the wrong speed, and the song quickly launches headfirst into tense, punchy punk, Suarez joining the group shouts on the chorus, every single syllable landing with the force and determination of an upraised fist punching the air. And “Perdiento El Tiempo” is a wild-eyed, corkskrewing song, Suarez hollering out the lyrics from the eye of a guitar hurricane. Continua is a big-hearted, bloody-knuckled blast of energy, one where brutality and melody coexist marvelously.
ESPRIT 空想, 200% Electronica
ESPRIT 空想‘s warm, reverb soaked ’80s piano choruses feel more sophisticated than what we’ve come to expect from vaporwave. 200% Electronica is a long strange trip. The video for “Flounder” begins in a video-game-simulated, totally destitute floor of office cubicles, evoking the movement and wall structures of GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64. Our protagonist, wearing a “100% Electronica” sweatshirt, takes the elevator to the the basement and enters a desert world where he climbs onto a giant purple eagle and proceeds to fly around, eventually ending up at a tall tower that looks a whole lot like Orthanc (where Saruman imprisoned Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films). It goes on from there. A similar all-over-the-place, imaginative spirit permeates the entire record—at points, Enya-like crescendos fall into acid breakdowns. Pop artist George Clanton is behind the ESPRIT 空想 moniker, taking the chugging slowness of vaporwave samples and adding expert flare. He’s been touring the world with just a Roland SP 404SX sampler in tow, but armed with a whole slew of new source material (a lot of it from his own previous work) there are no limits to his imagination.
The Golden Boys, Better Than Good Times
Here’s how the latest record from Austin honky-tonk punks Golden Boys begins: “I’m on drugs/ hanging on for dear life/ and I can’t go to the hospital/ and I can’t tell my wife.” That, in and of itself, is a decent sketch for The Golden Boys—now 12 years into their career—as a whole: feeling too old to party, but still feeling too young to care. Every song on the excellent Better Than Good Times is a little bit creaky, a little bit achy, but still full of fire and still sporting plenty of rough edges. Case in point: “So Cowboy” a woozy boot-stomper that feels like it’s going in and out of focus, John Wesley Coleman’s guitar clanging away as his voice weaves up and down the octaves; when Sarah Houser of Austin group Lowin arrives for verse number two, she matches his woozy delivery note for note. “Kick the Can” is a sauntering piano ballad that eventually erupts into a bleary sing-along, complete with boisterous horns and a rowdy, gang-hollered refrain. And the title track is a white-knuckle rollercoaster, smoky riffs and avalanche drums circle around yet another Golden Boys mantra: “Sitting around the house/ getting fucked up all day.” Better Than Good Times delivers on its title’s promise, straddling the intersection of punk, garage, and Southern Rock, ice-cold six-pack in hand.
Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black
On the surface, one might think the new album from Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black, speaks only to the struggles of living black in America. And while she does delve into that topic, her focus is broader than that: the legendary singer embraces everyone, pushing us all to protect humanity. Throughout the LP, the singer implores her listeners to focus on the good, to somehow look past the onslaught of negativity and find some sort of respite. Produced in full by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, Black is a stripped-down country soul record with strong Southern roots, its scant sonic palate offering a nice canvas for Staples’s iconic voice. On “Little Bit,” the singer tells the all-too-real story of a black male shot and killed by police for no good reason. On the title track, Staples encourages you to look beyond skin color and get to know the person: “I’ve got love to give / I’ve got natural gifts / I’ve got perspective.” It’s a resonant message from which we all can learn.
The She’s, All Female Rock and Roll Quartet
Bay Area band The She’s take a straightforward approach to ’90s alt-rock on their sophomore LP All Female Rock and Roll Quartet, a record that softens its raw tones and emotional vulnerability with sweet vocal harmonies, and extended—often delicate—guitar interplay. Despite its snarky title, this is a record is primarily about love and heartbreak, which the band explores over 12 sophisticated songs of guitar pop that elegantly fold in elements of surf, doo-wop, and shoegaze. All Female Rock and Roll Quartet is an adventurous release from a band that are more than simply what the title implies.
Various Artists, For the Dead in Space
This sprawling, gorgeous, three-disc compilation, put together by experimental luminary Jeffrey Alexander (The Iditarod, Black Forest/Black Sea, Dire Wolves, Jackie O Motherfucker), gathers together some of the most interesting contemporary voices on the psych-folk side of the experimental spectrum to pay tribute to Tom Rapp. Rapp was the leader of Pearls Before Swine, the ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture group that made the map for many of these artists: politically confrontational and fiercely literary, Rapp and Pearls Before Swine joined the less traditional side of folk rock with avant-garde minimalism for an adventurous, convention-breaking sound. Rather than strict readings (Rapp would hate that), the artists here all truly interpret these underground classics with fresh and inventive eyes. Flying Saucer Attack, Marissa Nadler, Thurston Moore & Mike Watt, Alastair Galbraith, Damon & Naomi, Oren Ambarchi, and many others reveal the depth and breadth of Rapp’s vision and the spiritual, eternal nature of its imprint on generations of artists.
The Cowboy, The Cowboy LP Cassette
Featuring members of Homostupids and Pleasure Leftists, The Cowboy’s debut has really wormed its way into regular listening for me. This is brash punk with earworm riffs that lay at an angle across a brisk, punchy rhythm section—blown-out where it needs to be, clean where it needs to be. Think a slightly more unhinged yet efficient version of early Hüsker Dü. There’s a little menace to The Cowboy’s swagger on tracks like “Beyond the Yard,” but a little playfulness as well —the band is obviously having a great time (catch the laugh at the tail of “Small Rider,” which makes me love them all the more.