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.
The New Orleans bred R&B singer’s debut album, Phase One, is musical a one-two punch. There’s not much about the burgeoning artist on the web—for now. She’s a recent graduate from Loyola University New Orleans where she studied popular and commercial music and grew up in various church choirs. In her linear notes, Chaia notes that she’s influenced by the rich gospel and jazz history of her native city and that comes through on Phase One. On single “Control,” Chaia richly sings about a fast-paced love that is about to reach its peak. Her voice has a velvety depth that pairs nicely with the track’s piano melody. The ‘90s R&B-inspired “Give U Up” sounds like a blast from the past as she smoothly sings about a reticent lover over a paired down synthy-electro beat. The final song, “Up and Down,” closes the EP on a hopeful note with a vibrating, sensual R&B melody. Phase One is a good entry to point to a new artist.
This has been a banner year for club music that celebrates the communal experience of queer nightlife, and Every Body is Welcome, the latest EP from London DJ, producer, and label boss Elkka, is a fine addition to that category. This is warm music that adds a pastoral, natural inflection to house—Elkka is far from the first person to do this, but these are limber, nimble tracks that sound delightfully fresh. (Perhaps due to her musical origins as a singer-songwriter, she’s also excellent at building a narrative across a track.) The opening title track is bright and sweet, with an intro sample that makes its intentions clear without hitting listeners over the head, and “Compromise… For What?” spins a bongo break and what sounds like a light wood flute melody up into a sparkling track that underscores its premise—the joy of making what you want to make on your own terms. Feel-good music doesn’t have to lack heft.
Amerigo Gazaway & Xiomara
A few months ago, when Diamond pitched the idea for a “Neo-New Jack Swing” list in one of our editorial meetings, my response was, “For the love of God, yes.” There is no single genre I have been dying to make a comeback more than New Jack Swing, that perfect mid ’90s combo of pop, hip-hop, R&B and funk. And while the world still awaits that renaissance on a grand scale, we at least have 1990 by Amerigo Gazaway & Xiomara to hold us over. Gazaway has built a reputation on making mash-up albums that pair the work of people like Marvin Gaye with Yasiin Bey (to use one of the more successful examples of his style), and he brings that same music historian’s ear to this project. Just listen to the opening moments of “Westside Swing”: hi-hat? Check! Synth-orchestra hit? Check! Deep-voiced narrator describing the sound of the song you’re about to hear? Check! The hook sounds like it comes from best song Bell Biv Devoe never wrote, and the whole thing is so euphoric it pulls you into the album immediately. From there, it’s all gold: “No Pressure” is a TLC-style, R&B-by-way-of-hip-hop number; “That Old Alarm” is smoky and mysterious and bears a passing resemblance to the Mariah Carey deep cut “The Roof”; and “Bounce” does exactly that, riding the same kind of stutter-step beat that powered Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills.” What’s more, it makes a case for the fact that some 30 years later, music that sounds like this can still lift spirits and move bodies.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Robin Stewart and Harry Wright describe their Giant Swan project as “a mucky brain” and an empowering movement wrapped up into one, with a stated end goal of tolerance, inclusion, self-sufficiency—”oh, and also weed and beats.” For an idea of how this chaotic co-existence translates into real life, consider the following bits of audience feedback from the Bristol techno duo’s recent show at Berlin’s Tresor club, as reported by a recent Resident Advisor profile: one attendee complained that the overpowered bass frequencies sounded off, while another had such a good time that they actually had a threesome during the set, right there on the dance floor. Drawing inspiration from punk and hardcore as well as drone and techno, Giant Swan’s eponymous debut takes the concept of PLUR—shorthand for “peace, love, unity, respect,” aka the raver’s credo—and pushes it to the extreme, with big, fat bass grooves and chopped-up samples both irresistible and unsettling. For all the hedonism powering their songs, the duo stay remarkably self-disciplined, endowing songs like “Pan Head” and “YFPHNT” with just the amount of structure necessary to make Giant Swan’s mucky-brained bacchanal navigable to newcomers. Sounds like my kind of party — and hopefully yours, too.
If rhythm is a dancer, than experimental percussionist Jon Mueller is Fred Astaire. On his new album Codex Intueri, the Wisconsin musician (who’s sat behind the kit for bands like Pele, Collections of Colonies of Bees, Volcano Choir, and others) elevates the backbeat from a supportive structure to a singular center-stage presence, a melodic vehicle capable of standing on own. After laying down various beats on drums, gongs, and other percussive instruments, Mueller passed off the recordings to guitarist, producer, and frequent collaborator James Plotkin (also of O.L.D. and Phantomsmasher), for arranging and mixing; the modular synths he adds to these tracks—most of which extend well past the 10-minute mark—buttress the melodies further, but never distract from the main event, which soothes and stuns at every turn. Give the drummer some…he deserves it.
Emily Jane White
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The gripping new record from Emily Jane White has a dual narrative. One one level, it’s about living on an Earth that is crawling its way toward being uninhabitable, thanks to decades of carelessness and apathy by its inhabitants. (Carelessness and apathy that continues to this day, by the way.) But the album isn’t simply a broadside—the other half is the way it considers that topic, through the eyes and internal lives of people living here. Take the swaying, goth-sea-shanty “Drowned.” As a string section saws mournfully behind her White, in her hushed alto, sings about diving into dark waters, and she could either be talking about the blackness inside herself, or the blackness of polluted rivers, or both. On the gorgeous and imposing “Light,” which treads a middle ground between darkambient and pagan folk, she sings of ringing church bells that signal either the end of a protagonist’s life, or the end of the world. The music throughout is bewitching—the kind of shadow-shrouded, vaguely terrifying, minor-key acoustic music practiced by people like King Dude and Emma Ruth Rundle. There are gentle nods to British psych folk (“Washed Away”) and PJ Harvey circa White Chalk (“Dew”). As the album’s title implies, it’s not a matter of if destruction will come, it’s when. White’s album is a soundtrack to the end.
Denmark Vessey & Scud One
Long before a certain rapper used Jesus as big business, Denmark Vessey told the story of Dr. Yessev, a failed MC who becomes a cult leader to gain wealth and power. The fictional tale seemed absurd in 2013, but in light of recent events, perhaps Denmark—who rapped from Yessev’s imagined perspective—saw the future for one of hip-hop’s biggest stars. On Cult Classic, he was a trash-talking false prophet who shot dice with Creflo Dollar and drank Kool-Aid with religious leader Jim Jones. He was a bully and a con man who, according to album track “Do You Believe,” wanted you to “pull out that credit card” and buy into the faith he was selling. Through sarcastic storytelling and repurposed soul (courtesy of producer Scud One), Denmark unpacked Yessev’s slow demise, to the point where he wondered if the cult was worth it in the end. “They lie and they cheat,” he deadpans on “Deception,” “and they steal, and they think that shit trill?” Gather ‘round ye children, Denmark has a story to tell. How you pronounce “ye” is up to you.