Tag Archives: Hidden Gems

Hidden Gems: Vendredi sur Mer, “Marée Basse”

In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Born and raised in Geneva, Charline Mignot, aka Vendredi sur Mer, now resides in Paris; it’s a fitting home for a musician who makes electro-pop indebted to Serge Gainsbourg, Renaud, and other chanson superstars. The title of her debut EP, Marée Basse, translates to “low tide” and, like her own nom de plume (which translates to “Friday on the seaside”), it captures the sensuous nature of these six tracks. Producer Lewis OfMan is a crucial part of this success; his synths are as elastic as they are assured, radiating with a pastel glow that suits Mignot’s poised delivery. While the 21st century has seen French artists like Fauve, Luciole, and Grand Corps Malade utilize spoken word, Mignot is far more intentional, ensuring that her voice is neatly woven in with the rest of the instrumentation.

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Hidden Gems: Cheché Dramé, “Mogoya”

In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Malian singer Cheché Dramé’s second album, Mogoya, made her a superstar in West Africa. She had the most popular ringtone in Mali in 2010, the year it was released, and she seemed poised to go on to a long and successful career. Unfortunately, while on tour supporting the record, she was killed in a car crash. She was only 26.

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Hidden Gems: Anna Makirere, “Tiare Avatea”

HG-Tiare-Avatea-1244.jpgIn our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Cook Islands singer Anna Makirere, daughter of singer/composer Te’atamira Makirere, was just 18 when she released her sole album as a regional cassette in 1981. Little Axe, which specializes in world music obscurities, reissued it in 2017. Tiare Avatea, or “Afternoon Flower,” features Makirere’s open-throated vocals backed by sweet harmonies and a guitar style that touches on both slack-key fingerstyle and flat-picking.  Her laid-back singing (mostly in Cook Island Maori) provides a sharp contrast to the driving instrumentals, especially on tracks like “Peu Tupuna,” a jittery island shimmy that vibrates so fast it sounds like the playback speed got misadjusted.

“Uuna Koe” is a slower ballad, with Makierere drawing out the mournful melody as the accompanists strum soberly, only occasionally throwing in an exuberant flurry of ornamental notes. “Little Girl” is the sole English-language song, and it’s a jaunty ode to unfaithfulness which sounds more like celebration than lament. “She asked me to spend all my money / To buy her a new diamond ring / She put it on her finger on Sunday / Monday morning she left me,” Makierere sings with nursery rhyme inflection, as the stinging guitar rocks and rolls along. The album’s sound quality is somewhat tinny, but that only adds to the air of sunny nostalgia. Tiare Avatea sounds like a magical transmission from some distant, but oddly familiar, shore.

Noah Berlatsky

Hidden Gems: Lifafa, “Jaago”

HG-Jaago-1244In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Surviving in New Delhi, India’s capital city, is no easy feat, especially considering its dismal air quality. The realities of modern life (crop burnings, idling cars, industrial emissions that often go unenforced), combined with certain geographical and meteorological misfortunes keep the city constantly in the red zone; on many days, you can’t make it too far without coughing or wiping your stinging eyes. It is against this backdrop, with his harmonium at hand, that producer-singer Lifafa, aka Suryakant Sawhney, opens his second album Jaago (which means “wake up” in Hindi). His diagnosis is less than optimistic: India is drowning not just in atmospheric toxicity, but existential dread: “Doob raha hai / Yeh desh yahaan,” which translates to “This country is drowning out here.” Continue reading

Hidden Gems: Haco, “Secret Garden”

HG-Haco-1244In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

In the years following her rise to prominence as the lead vocalist of ’80s art pop band After Dinner, the Japanese artist Haco has maintained a prolific output, releasing a handful of microsound experimental recordings and collaborating with musicians as varied as Terre Thaemlitz, Ikue Mori, and Sachiko M. Though many of Haco’s albums conjure up fantastical soundscapes, 2015’s Secret Garden has a stronger focus on that aesthetic; each track plays a role in making sure listeners feel like they’re in some wondrous, vibrant world. Secret Garden was remastered by Haco earlier this year, and now stands out even more as one of her most meticulously crafted releases.

The immersive quality to Secret Garden is achieved through a combination of elements. Haco employs charming vocal melodies and lyrics reminiscent of fairy tales—consider this line from “Linked in a Dream”: “Even after turning into a star, she just kept on sleeping.” The consciously otherworldly tracks never scan as cheap attempts at emotional manipulation, though. By incorporating hazy, enigmatic electronic atmospheres into the mix, Haco balances euphoria with wistfulness, and fleshes out the escapist feel; from the reverb-laden “Whitening Shadows” to the droning mystique of “Waves and Illusions,” Secret Garden evokes a sense of being on the precipice of a dream world, perpetually stuck in a hypnagogic state. It all culminates with standout track “Never Get Over,” a song that astutely samples Stuart O’Connor’s “A Watchful Eye.” In its final minutes, a compounding wall of clipped noise and breathy vocals brings a sense of completion to the album. “(I Won’t) Leave a Trace” closes Secret Garden on a quieter note, allowing for a moment of reflection. “But they haven’t found me yet […] And I won’t leave a trace,” sings Haco. She’s invited us into her own Eden, and we leave knowing that it’ll be just as enchanting upon our return.

-Joshua Minsoo Kim

Hidden Gems: Silla + Rise, “Silla + Rise”

HG-Silla-1244In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

In recent years, diverse indigenous artists from all over Canada are transforming the country’s music scene—from the edgy Tanya Tagaq and influential Tribe Called Red to the irreverent Snotty Nose Rez Kids and defiant pop star Iskwē. Joining this club of hitmakers, who bring their folk-inspired beats and vocal prowess to genres as diverse as rock, hip-hop, and EDM, are the trio Silla + Rise.

The group—comprised of throat singers Cynthia Pitsiulak (Kimmirut, NU) and Charlotte Qamaniq (Iglulik, NU), and DJ, producer, and dancer Rise Ashen—first appeared in 2016, with a self-titled debut that paired the ancient vocal stylings of Inuit throat singing with ultramodern, seductive dance beats. The atmosphere of the record shifts from sexy to glamorous to menacing, and Pitsiulak and Qamaniq’s commanding throat singing feels deeply narrative. Each track is sonically breathtaking—rich and enchanting. On “Kuuq (Flood),” their voices float above Rise’s brassy percussion. “Atausiq (One)” is built for the dancefloor, with slinky beats, sensual synth lines, and halting vocal melodies.

Skeptical listeners may be tempted to write off Silla + Rise as a studio creation, but a quick glance at the band’s spellbinding live shows proves otherwise. Onstage, Pitsiulak and Qamaniq perform as if in a rap battle, challenging each other, responding, and switching up vocalizations in an instant. They pull all this off while remaining in sync the entire time, Rise’s beats making the floors quake with their rhythmic ferocity. This masterful debut was nominated for Canada’s Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year. Nearly three years later,  it still sounds light years away from anything else.

-Chaka V. Grier

Hidden Gems: Various Artists, “Rien Ni Personne—A French Compilation”

HG-Rien-1244.jpgIn our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

In 2016, Tristan Koreya released Rien Ni Personne [“Nothing and Nobody”]—A French Compilation on his Ivory Coast-based Nostalgia de la Boue label. It is intended to be a definitive survey of the French experimental underground scene—including, as he puts it, “artists living in France whatever their nationality and French artists living abroad.” The result, at 91 tracks and nine hours’ running time, is both overwhelming and glorious.

Most of the music was recorded in the 2010s, though many of the performers, such as Bernard Hilpetti of Art & Technique and Axel, and Mitra Kyrou of Vox Populi!, have been recording since the ‘70s or ‘80s. In any case, the stylistic breadth is enormous. On one of the two tracks titled “Rien Ni Personne,” Nantes-based Airworld locks into a minimalist electronic groove: cool atmospheric menace, interspersed with angry clattering synth spikes. The Amor Fati Trio’s “Danse Sacrale,” by contrast, is improv free jazz for drums, guitar, and sax, which alternates between sparse, tenuous passages and blasts of broken funk. Enigmatic performer Internal Fusion, aka Éric Latteux, comes through with a dark keyboard dance track that sounds like it was beamed down from an extraterrestrial Renaissance Faire. The ambient New Age throb of Strangelucid morphs into the cold wave melancholy of Black Egg, which turns into the echoing ambient electro-acoustic noise art of Benjamin Aït-Ali, and follows on to Carroll Catcher’s beat poetry-mixed-with-Turkish-psychedelia. Most of the music on the comp is released here for the first time, so there’s plenty even for those well-versed in the French underground. And for new initiates, Rien Ni Personne is determined to introduce you to the entire scene, in all its dizzying depth and breadth.

Noah Berlatsky

Hidden Gems: El Plvybxy, “Abya Yala”

HG-Abya Yala-1244

In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Like an EDM Janus, El Plvybxy’s Abya Yala EP faces forward and back, pairing post-club production with a pre-Columbian mindset. Released on Houston’s MAJIA label, it’s an intricate hybrid of techno, trance, and traditional South American rhythms. El Plvybxy—a founder of the visionary Buenos Aires netlabel/collective AGVA—drew on his Argentinian and Brazilian roots for these tracks, which the producer crafted amid his travels through both countries.

Field recordings—captured by El Plvybxy in the Regiao dos Lagos region of Brazil— feature heavy into the mix. On-site wind and water sounds are translated into melodic synth parts and combined with regional percussion patterns and fragments of human voice. These techniques ground the production in living history and physical terrain. The title itself references land; Abya Yala is the name used by the Guna people to refer to their region, both before European colonization, and today.

The album, however brief, abounds in sonic detail: the percussive lattice and mournful sliding techno driving “Febre,” the adrenalized ecosystem humming  with life on “Lazos,” the relentless static coursing through “Veneno.” Elsewhere, “Paraiso Entre Rocas,” a collaboration with the vocalist Morita Vargas, finds the producer deftly uncoiling tightly-wound synths as if on autopilot; naturally, the accompanying remix, from Lao, delivers a sprawling, trance-like listen, too.

The eye is drawn to the EP’s evocative cover image: sun, moon, owl, and planet, stylized in black and white. It’s a flag inspired by indigenous symbols, forming a perfect visual for the production’s sense of reverence and style.

-Mike Pursley