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Bandcamp Friday December 2020

Five Albums of Acid, Noise, Improvisation, Ambience, and More

Perfect Circuit · 12/04/20

In the continuing tradition of Bandcamp Friday, Bandcamp has opted to waive their revenue share in sales made today—leaving artists and labels with 100% of the profit from their sales. As such, we'd like to take the opportunity to share a few albums that we've been enjoying recently, from acid to experimental improvisation. Take some time to explore these and other releases on Bandcamp today: your new favorite music might be just a few clicks away.

Acid for 2020: Aftawerks's Superjovian Tracks

Acid Waxa is an elusive internet label, to say the least. If you go hunting for information on its stable of artists, or its mysterious label boss "Michael," you're not likely to come up with too much in the way of interviews or flashy brand marketing & management. That leaves us with simply their large catalog of music to tell us what these folks are all about, and the music tells us that they're all about 303s and having fun.  The self proclaimed "Amateur Electronics & Fun Label" is best known for being home to Roy of the Ravers, one of the past decade's stand-out acid artists, but they're also host to a slew of other equally exciting artists, including one of our personal favorites, Aftawerks.

Aftawerks has been almost completely radio-silent for upwards of four years, but last month they exploded back into our hearts, dropping acid bombs all over November with the release of Superjovian Tracks Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and the promise of volume 3 soon to follow. We're going to focus on Superjovian Tracks Vol. 1, which explores and pushes acid music to the edges of the genre, occasionally spilling over into IDM territory, flirting with vaporwave, and exuding an attitude of unapologetic fun that fans of the label will immediately recognize.

In the opening track "URL Acid," Aftawerks demonstrates an impressive mastery of their 303 and delay pedals with elastic riffs bending, morphing, and rhythmically dancing between breaks that fade in and out of swirling cloud of reverb and stuttering effects.  Other tracks like "HD 1133337B" and "Iced Gem" would feel right at home as alternate tracks to the Rainbow Road courses from MarioKart, with playful percussion reminiscent of so many N64 sessions, and lush saturated pads blurring together with ever-present liquid melodies that dances throughout the entire tape.  Aftawerks' personal style of acid is probably most present on the tapes final track, Gobleki Tape. Here we see what feels like a condensed and refined reflection on the styles and sounds from their previous tape, Isle of Dogs, and it becomes apparent how much Aftawerks has grown as a musician in the four years since we last encountered them.

Superjovian Tracks Vol. 1 and Vol.2 are out now, and Vol. 3 is slated to hit the net before the end of the year. So, go grab a tape or a shirt, check out the immense catalog of acid jams, and show some support for this group of musicians trying to spread some positivity and fun in this uneasy time.

Noisy Drum + Voice Improv: Black Pus's Def Vespers

Brian Chippendale's side project Black Pus is back with another album filled with spastically flying hyperkinetic drum beats that pound like war drums for a forgotten subterranean army. Chippendale, best known for the noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt, combines drums, vocals, and drum synthesizers with a litany of effects pedals to create swirling and evocative walls of sonic mayhem. Def Vesper is a new look into the mind of this noise pioneer. The songs are improvised, growing and evolving as they seep out of Chippendale's head, hands, and feet.

The artist and musician came up in the noise rock scene that blossomed in Providence, RI in the 90s and early 2000s. A former RISD student, his artwork combines drawing and silk screening with influences from comic books and fantasy that play out in surreal vignettes. He provides the album art for Lightning Bolt and Black Pus releases. The same bizarre energy that he pours into his musical endeavors shows through in his artwork.

This album embraces a first thought/best thought attitude with reckless abandon. Chippendale finds a groove and runs with it. Small snippets of drum synth or voice are captured, looped, and reinvented into new sounds. These snippets combine to create thick walls of noise punctuated by frantic drums. Chippendale's drumming is rhythmic but often lacks a discernable beat to nod along to that one might expect from a band solely made up of a drummer. His drum sticks careen wildly across his drums and cymbals, punctuating the noise with maniacal rolls and fills.

The vocals come not from a traditional microphone but a contact mic, sewn into a mask, collaged together from scraps of fabric. Don't expect any vocal hooks to sing along to; the vocals become another aspect of the overwhelming cacophony. Recorded at the end of February, this album is Brian Chippendale's last thoughts from a pandemic-free reality about to shift dramatically.

A New Traditional Music: Sote's Moscels

Up until the last few years, the blossoming and vibrant Iranian experimental music scene has been mostly invisible to the outside world, and while there are many adventurous artists that deserve attention, perhaps the spread of awareness of the scene can be in large part attributed to the relentless experimenter Sote, aka Ata Ebtekar. This Hamburg-born, San Francisco-educated, and Tehran-based composer developed a custom sonic blend of abrasive noise, and abstract electronics embossed with the flavors of Persian musical tradition, which earned him interest from such legendary labels as Warp, and Sub Rosa, as well as fellow artists like Mark Fell and Rashad Becker.

Although Ebtakar spent a lot of time in some of the central hubs for modern music, peculiarly his career started gaining momentum only upon his return to the motherland of post-revolution Tehran. Since then, he has put out several significant releases, including the joint release with the pioneer of Iranian avant-garde Alireza Mashayekhi, aptly titled Persian Electronic Music, Yesterday And Today 1966​-​2006. It is perhaps this very journey itself that largely defines Ebdekars music, that can be seen as a fusion of the past and present.

Moscels is Ebtekar's latest release, which came out earlier this year on Opal Tapes—and unlike Sote's previous releases, the record is void of any acoustic instrumentation, and the focus of exploration is devoted entirely to physical modeling synthesis paired with Sote's signature harsh use of oscillators. In fact, the name of the record is a portmanteau of two words: models and oscillators. Even in absence of traditional Persian instruments, Moscels still retains that underlying theme of reconstructing Ebtekar's ancestral heritage. The santoor you hear may be synthetic, but this fact doesn't obstruct the authenticity of the message, and maybe even takes another step in making the traditional equally valid to the context of the modern musical landscape.

A lot of attention on Moscels is given to textures and continuous morphing of sonic spectra. At times the record takes you into territories that compared to previous releases of Ebtekar are surprisingly accessible even to an unprepared listener—such are found in an uninterrupted ethereal flow of "Moscels O," and in the nostalgic digital symphony of "Moscels Z." Even the opener "Moscels X" starts with a simple melody, but then quickly transforms to almost Autechre-ish mesh of time-stretched and heavily modulated rhythmic synths. "Moscels Y" and "Moscels Q" are perhaps the most raucous pieces on the record, that create a disorienting effect through pulsing repetition and continuous morphing of textures—as if you are anxiously running through a maze.

A maze is perhaps a good word to describe this record altogether, and being the architect himself, Sote is a guide that takes you through it by stitching the tracks together into a captivating narrative that never ceases to astonish and perplex up until the very last moments of the final track. Repeated listening is rewarded.

Melancholy Textures: Austin Rockman's Plum God

Personally, something about the winter months inspires me to immerse myself in ambient and textural music. Whether colder temperatures and earlier nightfall have formed some subconscious link in my mind to slow-moving drones and sparse arrangements of clicks, pops, and hisses, or if my rotation of musical preferences has simply lined up with the calendar purely by coincidence, by mid-to-late November each year I find myself gravitating towards this kind of music without fail. It's this time of year where my mind feels most open to the intricacies of sound as an art form. A continued entry in my rotation this year is the debut album from sound composer Austin Rockman, entitled Plum God. Clocking in at about half an hour in length, this record is fairly easy to digest over the course of evening meditations, late-night drives, and focused listening sessions.

Melancholy textures abound throughout the tracks found on Plum God. Sweeping single-note drones morphing into subdued chord progressions and back again, and light layers of hazy, distant samples are masterfully woven together. Listeners won't find typical rhythmic elements on these tracks, with Rockman largely favoring sustained sounds. Any appearance of rhythm is as a textural element, such as the intermittent bursts of noise and transients heard in the opener "On Awash," or the infrequent pulses hiding in the mix on "Home and Haunts." "Tell Tide" is a standout track for me, using irregular periods of silence as a motif. The opening reverberant drone is segmented a few times by ducking the audio, and additional layers suddenly appear after the third time to add counterpoint and fill out the audio spectrum. This theme continues throughout the remainder of the track, used as a method to facilitate transitions and the introduction of new timbres.

Plum God seems to convey the more complicated sides of the human experience. Complex emotions can be felt across many of the compositions here, offering a sonic representation of the precariousness between the comfort of stability contrasting with uncertainty and anxiety. This is an album which rewards the listener for tuning out of their external environment and focusing on the delicate layers of sound. Different sounds jump out to me on every listen, and I find myself honing into different sounds depending on my mood and environment, making it an engaging experience each time.

Synths, Saliva, and Space: Chen & Scott's Hiss and Viscera

I'm a sucker for improvised music—something about hearing dynamic musicians think on their feet and respond to one another with significant intention provides a fun and unique listening experience. With the right performers, improvised music can be like running through a treacherous labyrinth, or like watching a peculiar, abstract dance emerge before you. Of course, with electronic music, the instrument itself can sometimes act like a performer in its own right—and as such, hearing a gifted solo electronic performer wrestle with their instrument can be similar to hearing an ensemble of autonomous performers.

The Berlin-based label Sound Anatomy, organized by modular synthesist and all-around electronic performer Richard Scott, offers a wide host of improvised sound-based music. You're not going to find typical jazz standards and solos over changes here: the music from Sound Anatomy is about exploring spontaneous relationships between sounds without the necessity of traditional rhythm, melody, or harmony. Sound Anatomy has published work featuring experimental trumpeter Axel Dörner, daxophonist/guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi, EMS Synthi performer Thomas Lehn, and plenty of others—incluing many solo works by label operator Richard Scott himself. While every release from Sound Anatomy provides a compelling and unpredictable, evolving interplay of sounds, one of my recent personal favorites is 2017 release Hiss and Viscera, featuring vocals from the remarkable Audrey Chen and electronic textures from Scott.

Hiss and Viscera is a collection of dynamic yet sparse interactions between voice and synthesizer—with gestural, textural sounds from each layered on top of an almost tangible silent backdrop. With Chen's dynamic use of all of the odd quirks of the human voice, from ingressive gasps and glottal fry to textural rasps, squeaks, and frenzied murmurs and Scott's masterful, organic, and often spastic interaction with modular synth, this record plays like a series of peculiar vignettes...secret, inhuman conversations happening behind a veil beyond which you weren't meant to look. From the swelling, glitchy, FM-and-saliva textures of "they're always throwing in the air" to the all-too-real wet plops and breathy physically-modeled tones of title track "hiss and viscera," this album is a remarkable showcase of the peculiar things that can unfold when two masterful and uninhibited performers sit down for a musical conversation.

Hiss and Viscera isn't exactly an easy listen—but if you're ready to sit on the edge of your seat following an otherworldly exchange between two sometimes-hushed-yet-sometimes-frenzied wild animals, then this remarkable and simply unique release is probably perfect for you.

Today is the last Bandcamp Friday of the year—and there's no official promise that it will continue. Take some time today to find music by independent artists: no doubt, there's something perfect for you out there, still waiting to be heard.