SHORTLIST The Shortlist, March 2024 By Bandcamp Daily Staff · March 18, 2024

Meth Math

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The demonic evolution of Mexican art-perreo band Meth Math knows no bounds. Since their eerie 2020 debut EP Pompi (Spanish for “butt cheek”), with its hypnotic collisions of reggaetón and ambient and its goth-y basslines, the trio has maintained a steady rhythm of forward mutation. M♡rtal, which followed, embraced hyperpop and R&B, while their highly anticipated 2024 full-length Chupetones (or, Hickeys) was a Nick León-assisted return to perreo, mixing it with gabber and nostalgic electropop. “Meth Math was born out of boredom one afternoon in Hermosillo,” says singer Ángel “Angie” Ballesteros, a native of the northern desert state of Sonora. “Even though error.error and bonsai babies were already producing music, Meth Math was the name we chose while jamming [using] lyrics by Sonic Youth, Britney Spears, and Las Ketchup.”

Those eclectic references are scattered all over Chupetones, which is whimsical and confounding all at once. On opener “Mantis,” a saccharine pop melody (albeit distorted) evokes Mexican Y2K idols OV7 and Kabah, while the strobing disco-meets-dembow of “Abducida” soars with the joyful camp of a Kylie Minogue Pride performance. For every ray of light, there’s a darkened pit to match. The icy throb of “Cyberia” explores haunting mental health anxieties, while the music videos for “Myspace” and “Axila” take their unsettling aesthetic queues from creepy pastas, augmented reality, and the dark web. “Each song is a tale different from the last,” says Ballesteros. “Even though each song exists in its own universe, they’re all quantically [sic] intertwined—kind of like when the same paint is used on different canvases. Some stories are science fiction, others are about paranormal phenomena, and others talk about quotidian experiences like sweating. We like moving between the cosmic and mundane, and studying the hypothetical possibilities that lay between.”

–Richard Villegas

States of Nature

Having mastered muscular rock churn and fine-tuned songcraft, States of Nature is just as comfortable tearing up an all-ages hardcore matinee with between-song calls-to-action as they are pounding beers and breakdowns at a sweat-drenched warehouse rager. Carrying the flame lit by indie torchbearers like Fugazi and Superchunk, Brighter Than Before is the group’s first full-length, following Songs to Sway, a collection of early material. The group is inspired by fellow Bay Area bands like Strangelight, Marbled Eye, and Spiritual Cramp, all of which temper an outpouring of passion with big hooks and open arms, expanding punk’s parameters without watering down its righteous fury.

A track like “Papered News” begs to be blasted by any modern rock radio station willing to take up the challenge. According to singer/guitarist Eric Urbach, the song “centers around feeling out of step and out of place with the world around you and finding some solace and acceptance in community.” Channeling that communal feeling, States of Nature is “putting together a mixtape with five other bands where we cover each other’s songs. We hope to release that in June.” For many of the songs on Brighter Than Before, Urbach looked beyond his local confines, “thinking about the sea and the desert, moments that evoke emptiness, light and possibility.” But any fleeting sense of placidity is interrupted by the searing “American Drone,” which indicts a nation constantly at war with itself. “God With A Gun” addresses similar concerns. Does Divine Right grant the chosen a concealed carry license? On Brighter Than Before, States of Nature is asking these kinds of questions—urgently and loudly.

–Erick Bradshaw

Koojo The Artist

Poppy Afrobeat and twangy piano-led soul alike are baked into the music of Koojo the Artist, a child of French Canadian and Ghanaian parents raised in Alberta—the “Texas of Canada,” as he puts it. Both parents were avid record collectors, and the basement stereo offered a steady stream of Fela Kuti, Sheila E., Prince, Led Zeppelin, Kenny Rogers, and Ebo Taylor. But the true root of Koojo’s globe-spanning sound stems from his nomadic adulthood, after a stint in Arizona gave way to to his pursuit of a music career in Los Angeles. An opportunity in 2017 to play a music festival in Kigali, Rwanda led to five years drifting between Rwanda, Uganda, and Ghana.

By the time he finally laid roots in Brooklyn, Koojo truly sounded like an artist from nowhere specific. The country western culture of Alberta bleeds through on “Back To Me,” which feels like a twangy cousin to Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April.” Both songs also share the weight of loss: Koojo’s song is about his mother’s recent passing, and his forthcoming album AKUA is dedicated to her memory. (His father died in 2007.) The upbeat “Keeping On” came to him while he was cleaning out his mother’s home in Calgary, then changed shape in the winter of 2023 when he visited the village in Ghana where she grew up. Koojo flew his producer Amani Greene to Accra so he could “capture the pulse and energy” essential to the song’s unique blend of Afropop, amapiano, country, and soul. AKUA is just one of records Koojo has in the works for 2024—there’s also an EP with his astro-soul 10-piece King Holiday, and he’s currently in São Paulo, Brazil working with Grammy Award-winning producer Zé—adding yet another flavor to his international sound.

–Blake Gillespie

Genital Shame

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TWBM: Trans Woman Black Metal. That acronym was coined by Genital Shame’s Erin Dawson, a riff on the four-letter constructions of several ideologically-bound black metal subgenres (“depressive suicidal black metal,” “national socialist black metal,” and “red and anarchist black metal”), and cheekily pointing to the large transfemme presence in the genre. From Feminazgul to Liturgy, Victory Over The Sun to Fire-Toolz, Lust Hag to Wolven Daughter, Diva Karr to Moss Golem, Feminizer to Antecantamentum, this contingent represents both some of the most expansive reaches of the genre as well as those who remain committed to the preserving its musical traditions.

If experimentalists and traditionalists are two poles of the genre, then Dawson’s work as Genital Shame sits somewhere between. Her riffs are razor sharp, offering contrapuntal frenzies set off by wildly cathartic shrieks. The influence of second-wave exemplars Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Ulver is apparent in the her many blazing peaks. But Dawson isn’t content to rest on a prescribed framework. Drawing from baroque and chant music, Dawson says that, to her, “counterpoint is the closest we can get to God.” She also finds room for guitar work that’s indebted to emo, post punk, and no wave and creates atmospheric passages that riff on chamber music and musique concrète.

Her lyrics follow suit. “Black metal traditionally has a lot of concern about philosophical themes and cosmological themes and I stress that so much less than a sort of interpersonal one,” Dawson says. While new album Chronic Illness Wish may approach broader ideas like conceptions of God and the self, for Dawson, the album “represents a point of transition from thinking about those really big themes to how I see myself within them. I see myself going more in that direction.” A clear instance arrives in the album’s wryly titled closer, “I Met Kerri Colby” which describes a real encounter with the transgender celebrity drag performer in an “illicit gay bar with male strippers” during what was a difficult time for Dawson. The song’s lyrics depict it as a mystical scene, almost taking the tone of a Biblical miracle. In conversation, Dawson recalls the, “contrast of secret homosexuality with dicks everywhere in this den of iniquity (misty, foggy, very black metal), and in this corner is this beacon of trans light” who she describes as carrying an otherworldly grace. In Dawson’s black metal mythos, the sublime is in our midst, embodied by queer wonders all around.

–Leah B. Levinson

Kim Krans

Kim Krans has had tremendous success over the last decade as a visual artist, an educator, and as the creator of The Wild Unknown, her self-released set of tarot cards that eventually landed on a The New York Times bestseller list At the same time, however, she felt a nagging sense of disappointment in one specific area of her artistic interests. “I thought my music had gone dormant for 10 years,” she said. “I felt I had kind of bailed on it, and there was a sadness around that. But looking back, I had actually just pivoted in my own way.” In the 2000s, Krans spent time recording and touring in the psychedelic folk act Family Band and singing backing vocals for the Northwest indie rock group Love As Laughter. Then, in the early ‘10s, she stopped playing music and instead dove deep into spiritual study, including chanting, recitations, and mantras. At about the same time, her old friend Sam Jayne of Love As Laughter passed away, reshaping her perspective on life and art. “That really fucked with my sense of how much time we have on Earth,” says Krans, “and if it’s my last day, what do I want to be doing?” Krans said. “And the answer was prayer and singing. And so I started to slowly prioritize that more and more.”

In February, Krans released the fruits of that transition: MIRRORMIRROR, a spellbinding collection of patient, dark pop with a strong spiritual undercurrent coursing through its nine tracks—most notably in the mantras that murmur beneath the surface of the songs. Co-produced with Kevin Ratterman—best known for his work with Strand of Oaks and My Morning Jacket—the album shapeshifts gracefully from pulsing, meditative drones (“Sister”) and baroque goth-pop (“Spinning Sun,” featuring Jim James) to soulful, Julie Byrne-ish ballads (“Yes”) and a restorative, chanted prayer for forgiveness (“Golden Tears”). “I had no plans to put mantras on the record whatsoever,” Krans says. “It was just, you know, some love songs and some trippy, witchy songs. And then we got in there and I started to sense some melodies and the mantras underneath the rhythm of the song. We dropped one into a song and I was like, ‘Shit, Kevin, I think this has to happen on all of them.’ And so we did that, and suddenly I could see all the circuitous paths of my life are starting to come together into one thing.”

–Ben Salmon

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