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.
Call For Location
Jess Gentile, A.K.A. Jubilee, has put in work in her hometown, Miami, and her current home of Brooklyn; it’s the reason she’s so well-regarded as a DJ, producer, and curator (her Magic City nights/compilations are legendary for bringing talented underground club voices to the fore alongside more well-known artists). Call For Location (the name is, of course, a reference to the notation on flyers for underground parties) is her first full-length since 2016’s delightful ode to nightlife, After Hours, and it continues the refinement of her signature style—incredibly crisp dance music with plenty of space inside it, all sharp beats and rave synths that often tend toward the celestial and gauzy. made not for big festivals but for sweaty club nights in warehouses and even more unconventional spaces, clearly inflected by her hometown reverence for Miami bass and dancehall. (Her partnership with Mixpak founder Dre Skull has been incredibly fruitful.) Call For Location sounds a little bit more cosmopolitan than the clear Miami love on After Hours, but that’s to be expected; she’s spent a lot of time on the road lately, and experiences can’t help but inflect one’s music, especially if one is someone like Jubilee, with her ears constantly open. (It even gets into darker, almost industrial territory, with acidic squelches; see “Liquid Liner.”)
One of her talents is bringing accessibility together with depth; it’s easy to enjoy her work even if you don’t have much knowledge of dance music, but the more you know, the better it gets. The tracks with vocal features—Maluca on “Mami,” IQ on “Fulla Curve,” P. Money on “Shots”—especially seem designed this way. Each track is clearly built to feature that specific artist; none sound alike, like some of the indistinguishable EDM that could have literally any vocalist on it. But they’ve also got a clear throughline—you can tell it’s Jubilee’s work immediately, too—and pop appeal. Her work is technical, but it is also joyful. It’s been lovely, over the years, to watch her rise and rise and rise, coming more into her own with every release.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
I do not say this lightly: “Dear Leader,” the first song on the latest LP from Little Scream, recalls nothing so much as Leonard Cohen in the ‘90s. Like “Waiting for the Miracle,” the song is a five-plus-minute rumination on the hopelessness of the present day; there’s no chorus—as with “Miracle,” the closest you get are multiple appearances of the title phrase. It’s powered by the same dense layers of mournful purplish synths. But where the connection is clearest is in the lyrics and delivery: Like Cohen, Little Scream’s Laurel Sprengelmeyer is never histrionic or sloganeering in her observations—she doesn’t write highly-charged jeremiads to rile up the already-converted. Instead, she crafts lines that are measured, focused, and surgically precise—and are all the more devastating for it. “All those racists who would kill for their law and order,” she sings, quietly indignant, “can go ahead and build their walls on every single border/ build ‘em right between the hands of a mother and daughter/ you can fix that little girl up right after you’ve bought her.” And like Cohen, she knows when to deliver an acrid punchline: “But when the waters rise, it’s gonna be you, Miami.” It’s a high bar for the record’s remaining nine songs to clear, and if none of them quite manage the highly charged poetry of the opener, they still offer plenty of cold stings and graceful melodies. The title track is a muted contemplation of income inequality, one that builds to a chorus worthy of Kate Bush or vintage Sarah McLachlan; “Forces of Spring” is pensive examination of modern love, Sprengelmeyer’s voice mirrored by a lower, distorted vocal line, leading into a refrain that could have been plucked from Mirage. Sprengelmeyer was raised in the Midwest and now lives in Canada, and as such her lyrics have both the keen eye of the outside observer and the deep resonance of lived experience. It’s a record that cuts, so that those cuts may bring healing.
talian instrumentalist Michele Manzo’s latest album, All Rise, builds on his penchant for marrying funk and jazz with hip hop, dub, and Brazialian music. With this new album, Manzo steps into the realm of neo-soul and R&B while maintaining funk and dub as guiding lights. All Rise opens with the upbeat titular track with couple Georgia Ann Muldrow and Dudley Perkins repeating “All rise, motherfuckers” (and seemingly incorporate some of the levity from this meme) in between lyrics about police brutality, and more. Other favorites include the skittering “Fly High,” that sounds like a throwback mid-‘90s R&B instrumental and the track “Robot Sunny Trip” which has a vintage rap beat with interspersed drum snares. The album closes with four bonus tracks which includes standout “Downtown Funk Stroll,” which sounds like, well, exactly that. All Rise does a good job of balancing pure instrumentals with songs featuring other artists that all come together to push the boundaries of funk and neo-soul.
The Easy Way Is Hard Enough
The past few years haven’t exactly been easy for Moon Bros. main man Matthew Schneider. He got mugged walking home from a gig in his native Chicago, incurring several blows to the head and losing his beloved electric guitar in the process; if that wasn’t enough, he was struck in a hit-and-run following his subsequent move to Los Angeles that left him with a broken leg. In spite of it all Matthew Schneider is still truckin’ — and what’s more, he considers his mugging “the best day of his life.” You see, when Schneider realized he wasn’t getting his axe back, he interpreted it as a sign that his electric days were over, and consequently, pivoted to acoustic guitar for Moon Bros.’s new LP, The Easy Way is Hard Enough. Album highlight “Footsteps” presents the band’s progressive folk-rock through an intimate, pastoral prism, a rousing campfire jam adapted for the studio: deftly-plucked 12-string melodies crackling and sputtering beneath rich swathes of pedal steel, sanded by Schneider’s gruff vocal tones. “Nasty Fresh” and “Okie” take a softer, more introspective approach with spiraling fretwork and low-end drone redolent of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, further bolstering the album’s textural appeals. You know the saying — when life hands you lemons (or beats you up, or steals your favorite guitar, or breaks your leg in an act of gross negligence)…make a great LP.
Chicago rapper Ness Heads (born Vanessa Ortiz) makes rap music that doesn’t fit neatly into categorization. On her debut EP Numb, Ortiz’s takes great care to craft a sound that melds her expertly written raps with melancholic, alternative, bedroom pop beats. Ortiz plays both the violin and the piano and that musical training background shows up on the the five tracks on Numb. On Opener, “Pull Me Up” the rapper telling a former to lover to “Pull me up to the top/Maybe I’m scared of the drop.” On the track “Lost” featuring Carolina, guitar strings play under yearning raps. Album closer “Make Me Feel” leaves listeners with “I’ve been loving me, you can’t take that away.” Numb is a good introduction to an artist that’s focused on making her own way.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel, Cassette, Other
Between Anamanaguchi‘s dungeon-crawling nerd-rock and Gaijin Blues‘ Final Fantasy-esque world-building, you could say that Japanese role-playing video games—or JRPGs, as they’re commonly known—have been having a musical moment as of late, especially in underground electronic circles. (The crossover makes perfect sense, given the critical role soundtracks play in the overall experience: when you’re running around aimlessly for hours on end, slogging through quest after quest with no clear end in sight, good music is a priceless resource. London-via-Singapore singer, producer and composer yeule—so named for a Final Fantasy XIII-2 character—crafts her immaculate, ambient dream-pop according to that same philosophy, with one major caveat; the RPG being soundtracked is our chaotic present playing out right here on earth, as opposed to the fantastical saga unfolding onscreen. Standout tracks like “Pixel Affection” and “Veil of Darkness” may sound limitless and transportive, flush with tempestuous percussion and blurry synths, but yeule’s anguished lyrics lament the very sense of digital escapism on which the arrangements are predicated (“Pour my heart into simulation/ Digital in reciprocation,” she sings on the former). Shit’s grim, but then again, what else would we expect from an artist named after a doomed seer who perishes with every passing vision?
Something Whiskered This Way Comes
The mid-week Halloween has created a conundrum for party-goers since time immemorial. When are you supposed to dress up? I went to a show last weekend, and half the crowd was in costume, which felt far too early. But I’m going to another one tonight, and if there are people dressed as Dracula, it’s going to feel too late. Fortunately, the Boston artist Cat Temper makes spooky music that feels right on either occasion. It’s also delivered with a fanged smile—if you haven’t guessed, Cat Temper is a feline-themed electronic project, and all of the songs on their latest album, Something Whiskered This Way Comes, wittily reflect that obsession. Sample song titles? “Master of Pawprints,” “Breakin’ the Claw,” “Don’t Fur the Reaper,” and my personal favorite, “Rock You Like a Furricane.” Cat Temper are more than just a clever gimmick, though: their songs have synthwave’s snarl and pounce down pat. “Detroit Rock Kitty,” with its bright, pogo-ing keys and four-on-the-floor rhythm, feels like it’s summoning vintage Yaz; “Tomcat Sawyer” is illuminated by spiraling electronic constellations, with a fat bass synth that line wriggles wormlike beneath the darting, high-end notes. And “Calicommando” flirts with future funk, a punchy drum pattern topped with big smears of hot-pink electronics. Where other artists in this genre can disappear down a dystopian rabbit hole, Cat Temper keeps things bright, bubbly, and endearing. Or to put it another way: it’s catnip.