Welcome to Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend crucial new albums that were released between last Friday and this Friday, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.
What Are You Waiting For?
Daisies, featuring members of CC Dust and Trans FX, bill themselves as an updated electro-flip on the classic ‘80s Paisley Underground sound; while there’s nary a jangly guitar to be found, this label actually makes a fair amount of sense. Their debut album, What Are You Waiting For?, has the same balance of breeziness and pop melodicism, with an oddball psychedelic tint, as The Dream Syndicate or Opal. Washes of synth, delicate melodies, bouncy minimal drum machine lines, and sweet vocals make for an effervescent confection on tracks like “Nightengale” and “Just Yesterday;” lest this seem a bit too sunny and sugary, tracks like “Anyone’s Style” and “Everything Now” have a shadowy heart, a trembling strangeness to them, repetitions and layers giving an effect like heat warping the air. A perfect record to capture the surreality of summer.
Tonally and spiritually, the Perth group Erasers feel like distant relatives of storied Philadelphia synth weirdos The Nightcrawlers. Their songs have that same low-lit, horror-film, ghost kosmische sound: minimalist, murmuring synths wheezing out creeping, minor-key melody lines. The duo of Rebecca Orchard and Rupert Thomas keep everything at a low hum: the buzzing bass tones that undergird “Heavy Words,” the synths that cascade across the somber “Pass You In the Night,” the short, baleful electronic phrases that comprise the 7-minute “Leave A Trace.” All of it works together to conjure a mood that is decidedly spectral—if you ever secretly wished Music for Airports felt more threatening, Pulse Points is the answer to your prayers. Orchard is the group’s secret weapon: her affectless alto matches the glazed-over drone of the synths perfectly; the way she stretches out the three-syllables in album opener “No Wonder” makes it sound like she’s calling up spirits from the underworld. Pulse Points is music for the dead of night; every note is hypnotizing.
The latest curiosity to emerge from Newcastle upon Tyne, England’s thriving experimental scene (see also: Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Blóm), Fax Machine is a new collaborative project between David Turnbull (also known for his work in post-punk outfit Okay Champ) and producer Will Thorneycroft. On their debut album, Soup, the duo serve up high-concept, poppy art rock steeped in the absurd, as well as the abstract. One minute, they’re chanting obscene love letters to a villain from the Street Fighter video games series (“M. Bison”), the next, they’re drifting into the psychedelic void, blissful even as the static swallows the sonic space whole (“Mintra”). “I always had this idea to have an album starting in a place that is almost comical and goofy and moving gradually to another that is dark or sad so it descends and goes through some kind of metamorphosis,” Turnbull recently told NARC of the record, “which I think we did achieve on some level.” We fully co-sign that assessment: this one’s not just a trip, it’s an odyssey.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Summer is finally here and so is the dance party record we’ve been waiting for courtesy of D.C. party punks, Gauche. A People’s History of Gauche is as bold a statement as its title promises, offering progressive politics via a playful post-punk cacophony that’s striking in its immediacy. The addition of Downtown Boys saxophonist Adrienne Berry to the band’s line-up since the release of their first EP in 2015 has kicked their innate party vibes into an even higher gear, filling out the sound and adding a stylish sheen to their raggedy-but-structured approach. Gauche also isn’t afraid to make splashy musical choices, whether it’s embarking on a jazz odyssey mid-record with “Surveillance Society” or kicking off the record with the jubilant “Flash,” a song that has both a saxophone solo AND a drum solo.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
The music on Jesca Hoop’s stunning fifth record is sourced from the past—British psych folk most noticeably, but there are also hints of Appalachia and plainsong. But the album’s concerns are decidedly contemporary: Hoop uses the music of the past to take a scalpel to modern-day gender inequities and hypocrisies. On “Outside of Earth” with Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, she seems to be exploring the relationship between technology and the male gaze; “Old Fear of the Father” opens with the chilling couplet, “I love my boys/ more than I love my girls,” which Hoop delivers in a high, creaking soprano. The production—by frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish—is dry and spare, amplifying the ghostliness of the songs. The instrumentation is breathtaking throughout: the way the chorus of “Shoulder Charge” arrives like a defeated exhale two-and-a-half minutes in, Hoops’ voice flooding into the song in unison with Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, who have never sounded better than they do on the pair of songs to which they contribute here. There is a journey-like quality to the album—you begin impatient on “Free of the Feeling,” with its dry-wood rhythm and wriggling melody line, and end with an elegy on “Time Capsule,” with Hoop burying her memories in the ground. Every step along the way is magic.
KOKOKO! is a musical outfit from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital of Kinshasa. Known for their DIY approach, the band regularly makes use of scrapyard items to create instruments. Producer Débruit describes the collective’s latest album, Fongola, as “like a giant electronic puzzle with pieces that don’t fit and no blueprint.” The songs on Fongola are certainly exciting electronic puzzles. Opener “Likolo” is a brash, booming introduction to the album and the exuberant bass and brass of its melody sets the tone for the album. Throughout Fongola, KOKOKO!’s sound is industrial and futuristic. Standout “Buka Dansa,” is brimming full of raging strings and hard synths and the psychedelic “Identité,” is bursting of electric guitar strings and a trippy chorus. The single “Malembe” is a vibrant track with its upbeat guitar riffs. Fongola is full of tracks that should only be played with the volume turned all the way up.
Kimi No Youni Ikiretara
A dreamy gem released back in May, Kimi No Youni Ikiretara is the debut album from Uchuu Nekoko (aka Universe Nekoko), a Japanese duo formed in 2012 who just might be the most kawaii shoegaze band to exist. They don’t have any press photos, and are known instead by the doe-eyed anime avatars gracing their various releases, peering back at would-be listeners with soft, expectant stares. That swooning aesthetic carries over to the album’s tender-hearted arrangements on highlights like “Timeless” and “(I’m) Waiting For the Sun”, built around honeyed, cooed vocals, both in Japanese and English; cuddly twee melodies, and warm, hazy guitars you can practically swim in. Once again, Japan is killing it with the MBV vibes.