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.
Experimental-soul fans might recognize drummer Clever Austin as a member of Hiatus Kaiyote, the enigmatic, Grammy-nominated Australian quartet praised by everyone from Erykah Badu to Animal Collective. On his debut solo album, Pareidolia, the self-taught percussionist shapes the genre-bending mindset of his primary band into a more rhythmic, beats-driven MO that combines experimental hip-hop beats, skittering jazz breakdowns, and future-soul flair. The guest appearances interwoven into the textured thick are some of the biggest highlights: “You Are All You Need,” my favorite track, finds powerhouse singer (and Bandcamp favorite) Georgia Anne Muldrow delivering one of her most intense performances yet; while “Catapult” and “Mother Ship Strip” showcases Aussie up-and-comers Laneous and Cazeaux Oslo. Give the drummer some, and he (and his friends) give you plenty back in return. Hey, Austin doesn’t call himself clever for nothing.
Drop what you’re doing and listen to Dexter Story’s Bahir. The heavily East-African influenced album is a sonic delight. Story took care to meld the work of musicians working in both Los Angeles (home to the United States’ second largest Ethiopian community outside of the Washington, DC area) and the Horn of Africa to build this project. Ethiopian producer Endeguena Mulu is behind the psychedelic titular song, “Bahir”. On the groovy Ethio-jazz influenced “Gold”, Los Angeles-based Sudan Archives takes the spotlight. On the traditional sounding “Bila”, Story collaborated with the Los Angeles-based Ethiopian artist Kibrom Birhane. The album is a groove-melding pot that should be added to your queue immediately.
This Is How You Smile
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP, Poster/Print
Roberto Carlos Lange’s work as Helado Negro has always been grand of scale yet delicately crafted and incredibly human—call it ship-in-a-bottle music—and This Is How You Smile is his most magnificent work yet. It’s warm and intimate, folk music not just in some sonic conventions but also in the most holistic sense of the word—oral histories and community knowledge, in song-size bites. These are personal pieces from Lange’s own internal depths, with specific references to family (“Seen My Aura”) and musings on relationships (“País Nublado,” “Imagining What To Do,” “Running”) elbow to elbow with more surreal work (“Fantasma Vaga,” “Todo Lo Que Me Falta”). The album’s also interspersed with several collage pieces that include field recordings both from Lange’s life (“Echo for Camperdown Curio,” “November 7”) and some of his friends’ lives (“My Name Is For My Friends”). Both when he reaches to the bottom of his rich baritone and for the elegant quaver of his falsetto, Lange’s voice is beautiful here, perfectly nestled amid each song’s smart arrangement. Acoustic guitar lines are buttressed by rhythmic piano accompaniment, winged by sweeping strings, swathed in burbling synths—but no element feels out of place or overwrought. Breathtaking and emotionally affecting, this one’s really stayed with me, a welcome guest.
The Sound Of Lasso
Part of the joy of each new record from the excellent L.A. rapper Lando Chill—there have been three of them, all outstanding—is hearing how his longtime producer and collaborator The Lasso has reinvented his sound this time. Chill’s most recent LP, Black Ego, was a deep dive into intergalactic Funkadelic-style grooves—a far cry from the psychedelic hip-hop that defined its predecessor. Giving The Lasso a full 41 minutes to stretch out on his own is a logical next step, but the perils of beat tapes and producer-driven records are many; the laziest of these follow a specific formula: loop some old library LPs, splice in some B-Movie dialogue, call it a day. Fortunately, The Lasso has no interest in formulas. Instead, The Sound of Lasso is an exercise in what could best be called “world-building,” playing out more like a film soundtrack than a collection of rhythmic odds and ends. The Lasso recruited 13 musicians to help realize his vision, and that careful craftsmanship is apparent. Every single second of The Sound of Lasso is meticulously composed and arranged; the way the quick bursts of organ seem to tiptoe across the back of the bassline in “Pier of Dreams,” followed by distant backing vocals and a twinkling marimba line. Or the interstellar iciness of “Rippling Mirror,” the way that weird Milky Way ribbon of synth adds an undercurrent of uneasiness, or the way a few hiccups of brass suddenly appear after the two-minute mark. Or the full-on wooziness of “Closer,” with its strange ASMR-like vocal snatches and jittery electronic squiggles (or that haunted piano that shows up one minute in!) Most importantly, no one passage ever repeats itself—these are songs, not sketches, with discrete beginnings, middles, and ends, and The Lasso approaches them from a composer’s mindset. New elements enter every song as they go on—the end of “Across a Reflection” is vastly different from the beginning—and each one continues to offer surprises across the length of its runtime. With The Sound of Lasso, The Lasso has established himself as a visionary, an artist fascinated by the possibilities of sound, and restlessly exploring every single one of them.
Off My Mind
Pro-tip for all you readers with fan accounts: Den Tapes is a solid micro label to follow if you want to know what’s good in Seattle, as their Bandcamp page is essentially a living document of that city’s especially healthy and musically diverse scene. While all of their tapes are worth a listen, their latest release, Tourist Activities’ Off My Mind, might just be Den Tape’s first instant classic. Blasting straight out of the gate with the “Crystal River,” a glittering indiepop gem for the ages built around a bright guitar lead and an adorable chorus, Tourist Activities reach for the melodic heights of Alvvays and the of Say Sue Me—and completely hold their own. Seriously, Off My Mind is non-stop hits. From the swooping alt-rock of “Sauce” and the classic Slumberland Records-sound of “Calamine” to the subtly banging “Hatchet” and grungey/gauzy closer “Swim,” there is no song on this tape that isn’t a total delight. Tourist Activities is the kind of discovery that can melt the heart of the most jaded music fan, a welcome reminder that there is nothing in this world like a great pop song and that the kids really are alright (especially in Seattle.) Don’t think, just buy it. Trust me on this one.
Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel, Vinyl LP
Its cover art might depict three bound, naked women in risqué poses, awaiting their grisly demise at the cloven claws of a hideous goat beast, but make no mistake: The latest effort from Portland blackened-thrash crew Weregoat is actually a celebration of sex positivity, with a sinister twist. Which is to say, these eight songs are mostly devoted to capital-F fucking — blasphemed unions between succubi and killer women with “nuclear cunts” (now that’s what I call pussy power!), gore-stained orgies and nocturnal hunts. The incendiary, Bathory-esque riff onslaughts and howled, lycanthropic vocals on standouts like “Invoke the Black Oblivion” and “By the Light of the Moon” similarly bely their staunch devotion to the id, wasting no time to get to the down and dirty. Light the candelabras, bust out the flogs, pour you and your sweetie two tall glasses of blood, and get cozy.
Long running Glasgow band Bis have always been a love ‘em or hate ‘em type of band, but I’m squarely in the love camp and was delighted to see the trio finally make some of their discography available on Bandcamp. This band that was dragged mercilessly in the 90s and beyond for their childlike aesthetics, self-generated “Teen-C” mythos, and feminist politics but the music has held up quite well overall, especially when compared to how bro-y and dated a lot of Bis’s Britpop contemporaries sound in 2019. Transmissions on the Teen-C Tip! is the band’s very first release and is a good entry point to their colorful discography, the songs a fizzy blend of riot grrl attitude, bouncy pop melodies and, unusual for the time, krautrock beats. Okay, so they get a little heavy-handed with the blanket political statements here and there, but the band were practically still children when the EP was recorded so let’s forgive the limited purview, and anyway what’s not to love about a song called “Kill Yr Boyfriend”? Now that indie music fans are more accepting of having dance and electronic elements mixed in with their candy punk, I think it’s time for everyone to Give Bis A Chance.