Tag Archives: Experimental

Hi Bias: Notable Cassette Releases on Bandcamp, July 2017

Hi Bias

Welcome to Hi Bias, a monthly column highlighting recent cassette releases on Bandcamp, and exploring the ideas behind them with the artists who made them. Rather than making sweeping generalizations about the “cassette comeback,” we prefer here simply to cover releases that may escape others’ radar due to their limited, cassette-focused availability. Continue reading

The Cosmic Consciousness of Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler

Shabazz Palaces

Photo by Victoria Kovios.

For more than two decades, MC and producer Ishmael Butler has built a diverse and challenging body of work, exploring the nuances and potentialities of Black American music. In the early ‘90s, he helped infuse hip-hop with deep jazz sensibilities and Marxist philosophy as a member of the Grammy-winning rap trio Digable Planets. He spent part of the 2000s diving deeply into minimalistic psychedelic funk with the band Cherrywine. And as frontman of the avant-garde hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, Butler’s practice of open experimentation and exploration continues. Working in Los Angeles and back at home in Seattle, the group has created two separate but complementary albums to be released together: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. Both are the products of this adventurous approach to music making. From the rolling, bass-heavy soul groove of “Shine a Light” to the minimal electronic percussion and glittering synths of “Julian’s Dream (Ode to a Bad),” both albums traverse a broad sonic territory, inviting in guests like producer Erik Blood, singer/bassist Thundercat, and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas.

We spoke with Butler from his homebase in Seattle, where he discussed this ambitious body of work, how he blends the concrete sensibilities of hip-hop with the outermost regions of space, and why both lend to his music’s complete and cosmic whole.

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Big Ups: Horse Lords’ Favorite Artists on Bandcamp

Horse Lords

From the outside, Baltimore can seem like a churning cauldron of weird, noisy, artsy dance music. Electronic composer and postmodern lord of the dance Dan Deacon calls Baltimore home, and it’s there that synth-pop standard bearers Future Islands found their footing. And while the Baltimore experimental group Horse Lords  admit that this is accurate, that reputation doesn’t accuratley capture day-to-day life in the city.

“I would say we most often reflect on Baltimore when we’re on the road and we’re asked about what’s it like living in Baltimore,” says Max Eilbacher, who plays bass and electronics in Horse Lords. “There’s local shows and it’s cool, but it’s not a super-happening place all the time.”

On the day of this conversation, Eilbacher and saxophonist/percussionist Andrew Bernstein were fresh from a short Horse Lords tour. This jaunt took them through the traditional route of bars and venues, but also it also landed them in a teen center that had been repurposed for the night, and a rock ‘n’ roll hotel in Boston where, ironically, guests got the show shut down for being too loud.

Horse Lords’ members have a high level of technical musicianship, but they apply it to mutated and ever-evolving forms of popular music. (For a perfect example of their combination of the everyday and the academic, read the description of their 2016 LP, Interventions. It’s as if a beat poet wrote a musicology essay.)

Horse Lords

Horse Lords’ protracted jams are accessible and groovy enough to be at home in rock bars, but are oblique and technically complex enough for the art gallery. It’s a band neither Eilbacher nor Bernstein feel could have happened anywhere but Baltimore. Like any scene, says Eilbacher, Baltimore ebbs and flows, but there’s always a solid baseline of experimentalism, which is supported by festivals like High Zero or venues like The Red Room.

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Chuck Johnson’s New Album Is Partially Inspired By An Injured Dog

Chuck Johnson

Photo by Andrew Paynter.

For some people, breathing deeply while visualizing a calm place is enough to stay grounded. For Chuck Johnson, an experimental guitar player and composer, all he needs to do is listen. A student of Pauline Oliveros’s deep listening program, Johnson has honed his ear for tuning, resonance, drone, and pitch-seeking through explorations on the six-string guitar, modular synthesizers, and most recently, the pedal steel guitar.

His latest release, Balsams, is his most meditative work yet. It’s an instrumental record featuring his first primarily pedal steel compositions with song titles that reference healing and relaxing substances. “In spiritual terms,” Johnson says of the album, “…it’s sort of like seeking. Trying to find a unity of some kind, to reconnect with something bigger than you, or deep inside.”

Composed while he was caring for Bubbles, an injured dog, Balsams is inspired by the science of alternative tunings and Johnson’s years studying Oliveros’s deep listening techniques. As the name suggests, Balsams is a salve to the stress of today’s unending press cycle, a breath of fresh air for the listener to stop, relax, and regain control.

The Balsams listening experience, as with previous Johnson records, is both otherworldly and strangely familiar. The tonal shifts, accentuated here by synth bass, feel like they were written in the stars at the beginning of time. These six tracks feel less like pieces composed in a traditional sense; instead, under the direction of Johnson’s deft ear and smooth instrumentation, they feel more like sounds found on a direct channel hidden deep within the human experience. “I think there are a lot of universal reasons why humans are drawn to it,” Johnson says of drone music, “…universal, meaning something we all have in common in our DNA.”

We talked with Johnson about the many meanings of balsams (and Balsams), applying previously learned concepts to a new instrument, music as meditation, and one of his earliest sonic memories.

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Piratón Records Fights Stereotypes Through Compilations



In 2015, Carlos Huerta, formerly known as electronic/rap artist Josué Josué, and currently a music journalist, founded Piratón Records in Mexico City. Huerta had no intention of focusing on any particular genre, but wanted to create a platform for experimental outlier-type artists. He chose the name “piratón” (“pirate”) for the label to reference the idea of illegal recordings as well as the Spanish-language sense of something that is underground.

The first two releases focused on experimental rap and hip-hop beats, but the following veered into different territory. Titled No Hay Más Fruta Que La Nuestra and featuring only female artists, the label announced that the compilation sought to “break away from segregation, centralization, prejudice, machismo, double standards, classism, cultural exoticization, and other anachronistic expressions.”


Planta Carnivora

Highlighting the work of artists from all over Spain and Latin America (Mexico, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic), that first compilation and its followup, released in May 2017, share a wildly varied and fresh range of musical styles—folk, experimental electronic, hip-hop, punk, psych-pop, noise, and shoegaze.

Both compilations’ titles, which translate to “There is No Fruit Other Than Ours,” are a play on words riffing on a famous quote by revolutionary Mexican muralist David Siqueiros: “No hay mas ruta que la nuestra” (“There is no other route but ours”).

We caught up with Huerta in Mexico City to chat about the curatorial path from Piraton’s first release to the compilations, which also took him to create a column for Thump/Vice called “El Eterno Femenino (The Eternal Feminine).”

The conversation with Huerta took place in Spanish, so we share both the original discussion and the English translation below.

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