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.
Mykele Deville’s Maintain EP is a bouncy, poetic ride through anxiety, love, Chicago’s West Side, and our country’s political realities. Deville hits listeners hard with luscious writing and expert production with EP opener “Whispers”. My favorite track is “Type Love” featuring the silvery vocals of Daryn Alexus. The track is a delightful trip through a love story with smart lyrics and airtight production by Montana Macks. It seems impossible to prevent your head from bobbing while listening to “Type Love”. The smooth production continues throughout the entirety of the project. Other standouts include “Kalief” (a nod to Kalief Browder) and “Free Soul”. Deville is a rapper, poet, and educator and he masterfully makes those identities clear on Maintain. This is windows-down, riding around summer time Chicago music. Deville is one to watch.
Earth On Heaven
Take the title as an indication of the contents: HOTT MT’s gorgeously euphoric Earth on Heaven feels like it’s set on some far-off planet, one that’s a lot like ours, but just different enough to feel mildly unsettling. All of the songs are submerged in milky, churning synths, which HOTT MT’s two members, Spooky and Ashi, undergird with steady, subtle rhythms, making the whole thing feel like some kind of Martian ambient record, rich in texture and wide in scope. But closer inspection reveals meticulous attention to craft: Ashi’s measured, breathy melody on the hallucinogenic “California Sunset” tugs the song forward at a perfect pace; she stretches every syllable out until they start disappearing into the pink-and-purple bands of synth that surround her. On “Climbing and Reaching,” they knit together a rope ladder of acoustic guitar and drape it in tinsely electronics, allowing Ashi’s voice to float ghostlike between the rungs; the bassline roves and meanders, a snatch of acoustic guitar appears behind the veil of synths, and Ashi glides above it all serenely. But the best way to take Earth on Heaven is start-to-finish, putting it on, settling in, and letting it wash over you until you vanish into the strange new world HOTT MT have created. Earth on Heaven is a sci-fi fairy tale, a gateway to a celestial kingdom too magical to resist.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Winnipeg’s Living Hour transform themselves from a solid dream pop band into something altogether more lush and considered on latest full-length Softer Faces. A sprawling and sophisticated effort, Softer Faces takes everything that initially made the band compelling—their knack for surfacing sly hooks when you least expect them, a sense of melancholy stripped of self-pity, and Sam Sarty’s rich, impressionistic vocals—and doesn’t so much crank them up as melt them down into more nebulous forms that shift like shadows in a half-lit room. The band takes their time and takes up space here, cleverly finding ways to fill every nook and cranny with sound without sounding busy or over-produced. On the supple “I Sink, I Sink,” layers of circuitous vocals and guitar lines softly tumble over each other in delightfully impossible-to-follow loops. “Before You Leave” is almost prog-like in its precision, its competing melodies, and unpredictable rhythmic changes. Best experienced as a whole album, Softer Faces is a fitting title for a gentle record that invites the listener to sink in and stay awhile.
Thanks to the spread of capitalism — more specifically, the ubiquitous sociopolitical marriage plays within most modern society — humanity has long regarded love as a finite, organically-sourced commodity, like food, water, or oxygen. For Lovers, the vibrant new EP from house producer Maya Bouldry-Morrison, aka Octo Octa, who identifies as polyamorous, argues the opposite: not only is there more than enough love to go around, there’s no limit to how, or in whom, that affection may manifest. Accordingly, these three, sensuous anthems galvanize new relationship energy into the musical equivalent of a cuddle pile, the producer flirting wildly with house, dub, and rave all at once. I’m a cynical loner, myself — and yet, as I sit here beholding the cathartic gravity of “Bodies Meld Together,” with its gloriously-messy omnipresence, I swear I felt my heart skip. Maybe our hearts really are bigger than we know.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
I have to admit, I was intrigued by London’s Snapped Ankles when I first became aware of them in 2017—it’s hard not to be fascinated by an anonymous costumed collective, performance artists turned Actual Band, making peculiar motorik post-punk that is as inspired by ancient myth as it is our late capitalist hellscape (this is a band that makes synths out of logs, which—god, if there was ever a thing that was designed specifically for me to be into). But the music itself didn’t quite gel with me until right now, with their second LP, Stunning Luxury. I am loath to make breezy comparisons to other bands (“it’s like [name a band] on acid!”), but I am a deep and lifelong Wire fan, and Stunning Luxury has both the acerbic nature of that band’s early years and the experimental approach of their later ones. It does not sound like Wire so much as it has an altar to their flickering images, chopped up and overlaid the way Snapped Ankles use film in their performances. Stunning Luxury is a pointed, toothy record—aimed at gentrification, but with none of the usual platitudes or imagery. I can’t imagine anyone else trying to deliver the opening line to “Tailpipe”—“Suck a, suck a, suck a tailpipe!”—with such malicious glee. “Three Steps to Development” and “Drink and Glide” are the Disco Not Disco outtakes of my dreams. Snapped Ankles claim that if on their debut, Come Play The Trees, they were emerging from the forests in all their wildness, on Stunning Luxury they’re infiltrating the development companies who tore down their wooded homes. In these meta-disguises, perhaps, they’re even more effective at what they do.
This Lake Is Pointless
It’s not often I find myself describing a record as being funny, but This Lake is Pointless, the latest full-length from art punks the Staches, possesses an acerbic and appealing sense of humor that sets it apart from other bands doing the Live at the Witch Trials-style minimalist post-punk thing at present. Named in half-baked homage to their onetime hometown of Geneva, Switzerland (where there is a large and apparently pointless lake), the band go full cuckoo on nearly every track here, throwing out garbled synth lines, skittering mechanical drums, and dryly delivered lyrics that range from the crassly comical (“I touch my pussy for medical reasons only”) to the nearly literary (“Those kids are not mine, but they have crowns on their tiny heads, too”) like so much ear candy. The track listing is also in on the joke, breaking up the artier songs with blasts of noodly noise that probably don’t need to be there, but hey, why not? The Staches seem like true weirdos in a genre severely lacking in them and This Lake is Pointless will probably annoy as many people as it pleases, which only makes it better in my opinion.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Post-rock is subliminal by design, but let’s be frank: there’s a lot of uninspired shit out there. Don’t get me wrong , an earth-shattering breakdown is an earth-shattering breakdown. But sometimes I find myself wanting something less obvious, less expected. And that’s when I reach for Différance: the 2012 debut from South Korean trio Jambinai, and one of the most razor-sharp, richly-constructed post-rock records ever made. These nine songs might be built on the genre’s foundational elements — dissonant, control-detonated riffs, algebraic time shifts, brainy tempos, and immaculate crescendoes galore — but the band’s classicist, Korean-folk stylings render their experience anything but textbook. (When’s the last time you heard Mogwai break out the haegeum, piri, or geomungo? Thought so.) A cover-to-cover listen is obviously the way to go with this one, but if you’re short on time, just spend some quality time with the mercurial, speaker-melting “Grace Kelly.” You won’t regret it.