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Bandcamp Picks: April 2024

Federico Mosconi, Elliott Sharp, Sparkle Division, + More

Jacob J + Chris H + Eldar T + Ryan G · 04/05/24

It's that time again—Bandcamp Friday is here! Falling on the first Fridays of most months of the year, Bandcamp waives their share of sales on all music, meaning that all proceeds go directly to the artists and labels you love. So whether your favorite band dropped a new EP or there's been something on your long-standing "to buy" list, there's no better day to grab it than today!

Need some recommendations? This article offers a selection of what we've been listening to recently.

Federico Mosconi: Slow Motion

In the latest release by composer and guitarist Federico Mosconi, Slow Motion encompasses 48 minutes of gradually evolving drones across three tracks. Ambient music can sometimes be criticized as "formless" or "repetitive" (though one could argue that these are key traits of true ambient music). However, Mosconi actively composed these three tracks to contain subtle variations within every repeating cycle, aiding the listener in maintaining interest and imparting loose structure of form in dynamic and timbral shifts.

The opening track, "First Story in Slow Motion," begins with sustained, reverb-drenched guitars, though over time introduces elements of swelling noise, field recordings, and faintly ringing harmonics. Multiple murky layers establish a somber tone, even as the noise and field recordings build to peak intensity. Listening to this track I can't help but imagine myself experiencing slow motion within a bustling city or above crashing waves on a cliff—simultaneously feeling dissociation from your present self, yet still experiencing the sounds of reality around you.

"Second Story in Slow Motion" is an immense 31-minute track—nearly two-thirds of the entire album's runtime. Though on the surface there may not be much in common between this and a progressive rock epic beyond the run-time, "Second Story..." features plenty of slow-moving twists and turns. This track rewards the ambient connoisseur for their patience though, as rumbling bass and rhythmic field recordings are introduced nearly 20 minutes in to shift the track in a new direction. But once this segues back into a more typical ambient direction, you'll find it's a completely different space than where it started.

As for the "Third Story in Slow Motion," overlapping loops build and release over each other, with interjecting field recordings and solemn chords ringing out as the album wraps. Compared to "First Story..." and the first half of the second track, I gather a stronger sense of stability and presence in this final piece. Not to say anything of detriment to the rest of the album, of course, but it always feels satisfying to end with a resolution—and this was undoubtedly a consideration in Mosconi's mind when preparing the album.

In short, Slow Motion is an expansive collection of ambient music traversing multiple moods and sonic spaces. There's a lot to discover in deep and repeated listening, and the variety in sounds across 48 minutes offers a lot to digest.

Check out Slow Motion on Bandcamp!

Sparkle Division: Jupiter Lounge

Just in case you missed Sparkle Division’s FOXY last October, the electrified trio is back to remind you why they remain at the forefront of acid-fried-electro-disco-funk. A collaboration between tape-music avant-gardist of note William Basinksi alongside Preston Wendel and Gary Thomas Wright, Sparkle Division is like a lounge act playing exclusively from the inside of a time machine, bending and blending genres into their signature funky shapes, always with a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) dose of weird to keep things interesting. The concise, three-track Jupiter Lounge EP offers you a taste of the dog’s hair to help you wash down your FOXY hangover, with a triple threat of groove-heavy, style-blending bangers to get those toes tapping into springtime. The perfect remedy to warming bones as winter subsides, Jupiter Lounge is packing serious heat with inventive melodies, snappy drums, and limitless vibe.

The titular track “Jupiter Lounge” begins the album, swelling into focus with a lush pad before establishing a deep pocket groove. Immediately apparent is a great deal of detail in the synth work, with constant subtle modulation to filters and other timbral parameters leaving no moment untweaked. Sparkle Division doesn’t let this get in the way of the groove though, keeping an easy-going balance between forward motion and little details worth scrubbing back to hear again. Another example of this in “Jupiter Lounge” are the quick bursts of resonant, 303-esque bloops that interject rhythmically on the constant groove, instilling a sense of fun and surprise within the infectious percussion.

The synth sound which begins “Voyetra 818” invokes daydreams of 80s procedural crime drama, with its washed out guitar-synth tone and spacey delay giving way to a hard-hitting, focused rhythm. Melodies spin in and around the drums as sudden pauses or fills direct transitional states of energy. At the apex of the track, a ratcheting, rubberized tone sneaks in and above the mix, somewhere between a timestretched harpsichord and a glitching Hal 9000, before releasing into a fade that concludes the tune.

“Come on Baby” is the final track on Jupiter Lounge offering a forwardly house-influenced jam at an easy tempo that pairs great with smiles and good weather. The instrumental parts on the track are the most conventional blend of the three, with most of the exploratory sounds saved for the recurring vocal sample coaxing you to join in on the fun. A churning techno bassline carries the track to its end after asserting itself halfway through, adding the final bit of genre-blending groove to get you wherever you’re boogying to next.

Short but sweet, Jupiter Lounge has been a welcome treat of new sounds for me, and made me dig back into my digital stacks to pull out FOXY once again. If you have yet to hear what Sparkle Division is up to, you are sorely missing out. Uncompromisingly focused on fun with an effortless ear for juicy sounds you’ll want to slap into speakers again and again, download Jupiter Lounge today!

Check out Jupiter Lounge on Bandcamp!

Elliott Sharp: Hyphae

Elliott Sharp is a well established name in experimental music, appearing on tons of recordings spanning various genres and styles since the late 1970s. Most associated with the legendary Downtown scene in New York City, Sharp’s work as a multi-instrumental performer, composer, and technologist continues to thrive in search of new modes of music making and artistic experimentation. Sharp’s list of collaborators reads like an intro to the last four decades of avant-garde music, with tireless releases under labels like John Zorn’s Tzadik, Greg Ginn’s SST, and his own outfit, zOaR.

zOaR’s latest release is a solo work by Sharp himself, entitled Hyphae. Over the course of 8 tracks spanning around 42 minutes, Sharp inhabits a sonic world of organic development, capturing live-processed, unedited performances using a live looping setup with his alto saxophone and electronics. In the liner notes for Hyphae we learn the basic signal chain is his saxophone into two microphones, one processed by an Eventide H90 and a Soniccake looper, using two speakers set to the brink of live feedback. While occasionally the looping nature of this configuration is audible, Sharp instrumentalizes the looper for something far outside typical repeated phrases with overdubbing, instead using constantly morphing loops of harmonized material to create spinning textural backdrops that underlie further improvisatory playing.

In the third track, “Katallasso”, this textural looping effect is pronounced. The opening figure sets the basis for the track’s main thematic material, a spritely high register figure which kicks musical energy into motion before gracefully floating into a bed of textural material. As memories of past melismas circle Sharp’s meditative playing, an increasingly dissonant musical landscape constructs itself, not in stacked layers, but rather fractal growth from a nascent cell. Sharp’s music often explores such organic metaphors, and the variety of mycorrhizal track names on Hyphae clues us in that this work is no different.

Throughout Hyphae, Sharp’s conception of musical form betrays traditional linearity, opting instead for what feels like a cyclical or iterative process of interaction between Sharp and the musical environment. In this case, the musical environment consists of the complex network of sound interactions possible via the simple combination of loopers, harmonizing and delay effects, and the presence of live feedback creeping into the signal flow. Perfectly suited for Sharp’s improvisational expertise, the musical forms of Hyphae feel organic and lively, like being given a window into other forms of life.

On “Filaments” we can hear this sort of living, process-like structure. As with much of the music on the album, sax gestures are interspersed with bell tone interruptions, as if activating some spectral presence in the ambient air. The piece largely exists in two sonic areas or states-of-being, one chaotic and bubbling, the other seemingly electrified by the amassing energy into a rhythmic flourish of stereophonic bleeps and blips. The movement within and between these sections demonstrates the organic quality in Sharp’s playing, seemingly operating within simple constraints of activity with a hefty dose of chaotic divergence, until the context demands radical change in the musical environment at large.

Spore is another standout track on the album, specifically for how it breaks the fluttering energy of the preceding tracks with an unrelenting, undulating drone texture. Reedy long tones and pillowy masses of feedback envelop the stereo space as if put through a taffy puller. All the while interjections of familiar resonant metals return, often lower and gong-like, regularly repunctuating attacks before subsiding into tuneful, supportive decays. Sharp’s saxophone patiently adds additional tones over the course of the piece, culminating in a rich dissonant drone that fades away as quickly as it appeared. Much like the rest of the album, it leaves me wanting to spend a bit more time in the state-of-being Sharp creates, feeling out its tendencies, and keeping me coming back for another listen.

Check out Hyphae on Bandcamp!

Rafael Toral: Spectral Evolution

Rafael Toral, a Portuguese artist and musician, has been crafting mesmerizing and awe-inspiring soundscapes since the mid-1990s. While often involved in projects as sonically diverse as ambient, rock, free jazz, and experimental electronics, two major themes represent most of Toral’s solo career before Spectral Evolution. The first, beginning with the release of Sound Mind Sound Body in 1994, is defined by a large body of deep and evocative guitar-based drone compositions. The second, framed by the artist within the Space Program, features a series of works based around various home-grown experimental musical instruments, modular synthesizers, and modified amplifiers. What the two share is, underlying it all, the artist’s close attention to silence and space. The ambient side of the works possesses a lush and expansive quality, enveloping you like a warm, cozy blanket. The space series pieces place you in sonic dimensions populated by chimerical creatures that communicate in an unusual, idiosyncratic free-jazz vernacular.

Spectral Evolution marks a new chapter in Toral’s work, bringing together the signature guitar drones from the artist’s early albums and the mutable sounds of electronics that permeate all 13 years of the Space Program. Here, Toral beautifully merges these two identities into nearly an hour-long surreal sonic ecosystem. Consisting of twelve distinct chapters, the album unveils a gradually unfolding continuous transformation from one sonic realm to another, layering slowed-down jazz guitar harmonies, organ-ish drones, synthesized bird songs, and other semblances to organic life, as well as transmuting electronic tones—all keeping in tune with each other. At one moment of Spectral Evolution, you find yourself at an oddly charming junction of a time-frozen free-jazz ensemble; minutes later, you are transported to the desolate fields of Tarkovsky’s universe; shortly afterward, you are carried through an enchanted forest of magical beings, eventually settling in David Lynch’s dream theater.

As a reader of our blog, you may also appreciate the fact that many of the animalistic sounds, along with a few other prominent synthetic tones on the record, are created with a small Doepfer A-100 setup that the artist calls the Echo-Feed and that he describes in technical terms as “a delayed feedback circuit with theremin-controlled dynamics and a joystick-controlled filter with random LFO modulation.” If you are curious about other instruments/setups used by Toral, look here.

Spectral Evolution excels in its challenging task of marrying together seemingly disparate sonic spaces, making genre definitions ineffectual. It exists in-between: free jazz and ambient, delicate and powerful, sparse and dense, and, to borrow musicologist Michael Spitzer’s framework, human and natural. The human side emerges in structured harmonies and melodic constructions that underline the pieces. The natural side comes out as a collective effect of practiced and intuitive gestures and the inherently chaotic behavior of feedback systems, on which many of Toral’s instruments are based. Importantly, as far as I understand, there are no field recordings of actual natural environments here. However, what will ultimately keep the listener is the uncompromising emotiveness of the record—everything else set aside, the music simply moves.

Check out Spectral Evolution on Bandcamp!

Sarah Belle Reid: MASS (Extended + Remastered)

Originally released in March of 2021, our friend Sarah Belle Reid's MASS is a showcase of the creative possibilities a musician can pull out of a simple set of instruments. Primarily featuring the Make Noise Strega , high brass instruments (trumpet, flugelhorn), and voice, the original MASS was a c. 30-minute long journey through murky soundscapes reminiscent of classic tape music, grindcore textures, and horror soundtracks.

Described by one listener on Bandcamp as "A cosmic horror movie for the ears..." and by another as "Miles Davis sitting in with Suzanne Ciani", MASS combines classic electronic music aesthetic with free improvisation and modern modular synth music sensibilities.

However, the original EP was self-released and only distributed digitally. In celebration of MASS's third anniversary, Reid has partnered with Aurora Central Records to present this work in a new form: an extended, remastered version of the original, available on vinyl, cassette, and digital formats. Released today, MASS (Extended + Remastered) expands the original content with two all-new tracks, making a full-length whirlwind sonic experience.

The new tracks "Vessel" and "Sublimate," despite being recorded over two years after the original material, mesh seamlessly into the remainder of the work. Opener "Vessel" sets the pace and tone of the album with nearly whiplash-inducing changes in style and atmosphere—opening with explosive blasts and rising vocal tones, passing through an expansive space with an anthem-like brass/synthesizer choir, and ending in a lurching, deformed, and otherworldly reimagining of dance music rhythms and bass lines. "Sublimate" takes a different approach: while it certainly carries on the album's embrace of gestural, noisy collages and rapid changes in dynamics, it features much longer sequences of evolving textures. You'll hear overlapping layers of crackles coalescing into unpredictable rhythms—radio interference breaking apart into melting typewriters and ratchets, gradually intensifying drones masking pitches screams, and chattering textures that expand to reveal mysterious and mischievous creatures all around you.

MASS is not for the faint of heart. However, if you're intrigued by highly dynamic electroacoustic music where any sound is valid—if you're fascinated by seemingly self parodying intersections of industrial textures and "serious" electronic music—and if you're delighted by timbre-forward compositions that straddle the line between horrific and absurd—then you'll be in for a treat.

Check out MASS (Extended + Remastered) on Bandcamp!