Welcome to Seven Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend six new albums that were released between last Friday and this Friday, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Jazz-metal hybrids are nothing new under the sun, but usually the net result of that cross-wiring results in a product that alters fundamental aspects of both genres in order to make the pairing work. Not so Imperial Triumphant: their stunning new LP Vile Luxury is both fully jazz and fully metal, in the most literal and direct possible ways. Opening track “Swarming Opulence” kicks off with a melancholy horn chart before corkscrewing downward into a thrash metal abyss. The percussion—courtesy of sometime John Zorn sideman Kenny Grohowski—never stops hammering, firing machine-gun-like blasts through Zachary Ilya Ezrin’s scorched-larynx vocals. The flayed riffing that arrives two-and-a-half minutes into “Gotham Luxe” are full-on acid-coated free improvisation—albeit drenched in distortion and amped up to 10. Five minutes into “Cosmopolis,” the bassline starts walking and a flood of piano enters the mix, rolling and tumbling like a Bill Evans hologram sitting in with Pig Destroyer. The aptly-titled “The Filth” is scabrous, detuned death metal at its most vicious. Vile Luxury keeps on whipsawing from one extreme to the next, and its hairpin turns make it one of the year’s most marvelously confounding listens. By the time Andromeda Anarchia’s operatic vocal turns up in “The Filth” it’s hard to be surprised—by that point, Imperial Triumphant have created a world where anything can happen, and usually does.
Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham)
If you’ve followed L’Orange’s recent tweets, you’ve seen the producer’s sheer excitement over his new album, Marlowe, created with his long-time friend Solemn Brigham. “I always have fun making records but I got to make this new one with one of my oldest friends,” the Seattle composer wrote this week. Marlowe marks a change in direction for L’Orange, who broadens his range for the North Carolina rapper. The beats sample ‘60s rock and Asian psych, and Brigham—a relative newcomer—easily navigates the soundtrack to discuss religion, anxiety, and the road ahead. Marlowe is both an active rap exercise and a quick look into Brigham’s aspirations, full of rapid-fire flows that properly introduce the MC without hanging around too long. Though Marlowe is a quick listen, there’s still plenty to absorb.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Haifa-born and currently residing in Berlin, Miss Red’s version of dancehall, though clearly indebted to and reverent of pioneering vocalists like Sister Nancy and Lady Ann, is something entirely its own. K.O. was produced by her longtime collaborator The Bug, one of the earliest to experiment with the potent mix of industrial and dub/dancehall, and the beats and atmospheres here are appropriately grimy and clangorous, with Red’s nimble flow in her own version of patois providing counterpoint—on tracks like “Slay” it sounds like she’s dancing amid the ruins. “War” sounds like the unwinding of the Doomsday Clock; on “Dust,” it sounds as if she’s stepping carefully on the ground to evade unexploded grenades. Red’s spoken critically of the Israeli government, especially their present rightward momentum, and there is a good deal of politics in her work, the grey-shaded textures of her music greatly suggestive of a constant state of war and the themes she explores in her lyrics explicit in both her critiques of current affairs and her wishes for a better world, one where borders, cages, and guns don’t control how we interact with one another.
On the utterly infectious Mechanical Injuries, Melbourne’s Pinch Points blend the best elements of early Wire, The Fall, and Kleenex into a barbed-wire coil of sound that’s as loose and springy as it is dangerously serrated. Familiar elements abound—the warring spoken/sung male/female vocals, the obtuse-angle guitar lines—but it’s been years since they’ve been combined in a way that has felt as nervy and fresh as they do here. There’s a sense of anxious energy coursing through the tracks—like a band running at top speed to stay ahead of a bridge that’s collapsing beneath their feet. Take album standout “Jellybrain”: a few breathless apostrophes of guitar, some quick, slashing riffs, and then belted-out lyrics about the deadening effects of TV, all of them hurtling desperately toward the finish line. On “Teflon,” a guitar line flits and spasms over a rock-steady drum line, and on the manic closer “Ground Up – System Failure,” they stretch a single hiccupping riff across to the breaking point, fully collapsing at the one-minute-thirty mark before pulling out of the lurch and starting the cycle up again. What comes across on Injuries more than anything is a pure, unfiltered sense of joy; make no mistake: the machine that’s causing the titular injuries is capitalism, and the band is far from thrilled about it. But they’ve found a way to merge protest music with party music—think “Rock Lobster,” if it were about overthrowing the government. Pinch Points put the “riot” back in “riotous.”
Other, Cassette, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
If Young Scum have written an album about the quarter-life crisis (see below), Wimps write songs about the crisis that comes after that, in your thirties, when worries about money and general stability have been replaced with more pressing concerns such as: being too tired to go out, feeling overworked, disliking birthdays, and staying up all night fretting about the endless piles of garbage being created by humanity and what the hell is going to happen when the bees disappear. These heavy topics are all on the band’s third LP, Garbage People, but it’s far from a depressing listen. Though Wimps have always been Seattle’s premier punk grouches, they’re also great at writing concise, memorable songs that counter the doldrums by staying upbeat and hooky—far too much fun for anything but a righteous pogo. Garbage People is the band’s sharpest record to date, subtly upon their sound with the addition of crunchier guitar tones, blasts of no wave saxophone, and even more incisive and funny lyrics. A highlight is “Mope Around,” wherein Wimps pull the classic pop move of making up their own dance craze, the mope around. I’ll bet you already know all the moves.
The midlife crisis might get the most play, but every age has its own way of dealing with the realization that time marches on regardless of whether or not you do. Young Scum’s self-titled full-length uses pitch perfect indie pop to sketch out the contours of the quarter-life crisis, the one that hits somewhere in the mid-20s when you’ve lived just long enough to have a past and can, maybe for the first time, start to comprehend how actions (and inactions) have consequences that cannot be undone. The band sets the tone with opening track “Wasting Time,” which features a mess of jangly guitars and wistful lyrics lamenting lost time: “Can I sleep knowing there’s another missed chance?/ No I can’t.” Throughout the record, Young Scum treat youthful regret with a similarly light touch, hewing close to indie pop’s core qualities of intimacy and vulnerability but also offering a self-aware maturity that sounds modern when paired with the traditionally structured guitar pop songs. There’s a determination and forward velocity about Young Scum’s that crystallizes in “Itchy Sweater,” a gently climbing pop track that’s as close to “shambling” as the band gets on the record, and showcases their talent for lyrically navigating the porous borderlands of the interior and exterior worlds: “Itchy from my sweater/ I hope this gets better/ I spoke to remember/ You spoke to forget.”
Roy Brooks & the Artistic Truth
In Swahili, the word mjumbe means “messenger.” It was also an alias for Roy Brooks, a legendary drummer from Detroit, who—as leader of The Artistic Truth—crafted Afrocentric blends of jazz and funk. “That’s my spiritual name,” he once said from his drum set. The declaration opened his 1973 album, Ethnic Expressions, which was recorded live at Small’s Paradise in Harlem during the Black Empowerment era, and has become a highly sought-after release that fully captures the raw percussive essence of Brooks and his band. A mix of spiritual jazz, bebop and swing, the record embodies the organic spirit of early ‘70s soul, splitting the difference between the like-minded artistry of Albert Ayler, The Midnight Band, and Pharoah Sanders. Those musicians used their work to address the triumph and struggle of black life in the inner city. Equally celebratory and educational, “Eboness” delves into the meaning of Kwanzaa. “The Last Prophet,” with its booming horn section and cascading drum fills, is the best composition on this set. Though Brooks’ legacy can’t be held to one release, Ethnic Expressions brought the drummer’s grand abilities to the fore.