As we venture into February 2022, Bandcamp has revived Bandcamp Friday: the first friday of the month, in which Bandcamp waives their revenue share in favor of giving all proceeds to the labels and artists whose music is sold. We spend a lot of time digging through Bandcamp to discover new music—and frequently, our most exciting discoveries are from musicians we've never heard before. We strongly encourage you to spend some time on Bandcamp today...and if you'd like a starting point, here are five of the Signal staff's recent favorite albums.
Flashes of Memory: No Translation's Inner Distance
Inner Distance is an introspective, expansive journey through familial dynamics beautifully rendered by No Translation (Emma Palm). The latest in her dreamy, textural explorations is a personal investigation into the relationship with her mother, who lives in Taiwan. Before recording this album, it had been 4 years since the two spoke and Inner Distance is designed to be "...a healing space where the bold sun of Joshua Tree can reach the city lights of Taipei." What results is a gorgeous, hypnotic collage of found sounds, deep drones, and lush synth melodies that are perfect for accompanying your day of errands, afternoon of study, or evening of reading.
"Momentary" is the first track on the album and initiates us into the world we are about to observe and absorb. Distant piano and voice float in the background while dense pads accompany us throughout with found sounds bubbling up reminding us of the world outside, but we're never released from the warm clutches of the atmosphere. About halfway through a warm, washy, vocal-like synth line starts to weave in which feels like a greeting beckoning you come in.
As we enter, the palette becomes clear: as though we are ducking in and out of vignettes, flashes of memory come up and you can grasp onto fragments of the expertly quilted field recordings, but you never get the full picture. Until you zoom out, that is. Greater than the sum of its parts, each track feels like it's not a moment or a memory, but an encapsulation of remembered feelings; an amalgamation of separate moments in space and time that come together to create a mood. "Moon Hours" is a great example of this with hypnotic evening sounds and the soft footsteps of a night stroll. The heady, psychedelic synth lines play call-and-response with woozy spoken word in a way that is familiar with late nights, intoxicated or otherwise.
The final two tracks leave us with a taste that is well defined and wholly realized: "When It's Raining" features a voice recording of Palm's mother explaining a familiar feeling of just sitting with the sound of the rain, noticing the stress melt away. Throughout the piece there is a lovely backdrop of rain while a satisfying sound of, perhaps, a marble in a ceramic pot rolls around, or pebble gets placed in a clay container. In the album notes it's mentioned that her mother struggles with paranoia and bipolar disorder; I can't help but feel like this somehow captures what it must feel like to simultaneously be desiring calm, while the looming shadow of a troubled mind darkens the edges.
We end with the eponymous "Inner Distance," the longest at about 9 minutes, but possibly the most satisfying. In this time we get a durational story that moves in careful shapes and breathes, with moments of density acquiescing to the stillness of eternity. We can hear this around the 3m 45s mark when a dense, high drone tucks itself away as a soft melody line starts to interject itself. Soon thereafter, several field recordings weave their way in and the piece builds again. Around the 5m mark we start to get pitched up variations of the melody line that bring us higher, leading us to the close of the track and the album. Inner Distance is a wonderful collection of ambient pieces that could easily loop several times, with each listen giving you a different perspective and journey.
Metaphysical Sonic Landscapes: Angel Hunt's Apparition Floor
Sculpting a world of wonder and mystery while still presenting a solid foundation is a difficult balance to strike, but Angel Hunt does so with ease and purpose in Apparition Floor. A musical interpretation to the late metaphysical artist and writer Giorgio de Chirico's novel Hebdomeros, Apparition Floor takes the listener on a journey through wild sonic landscapes of dancing melodic synths, glitchy found sound, and ever-changing textures complimented by grounding basslines as well as stable yet grooving rhythms. This trip into the metaphysical world is easily noticed through the portrayal of unstandard mix practices, hyper-distorted timbres, and wildly stretched vocal lines weaving throughout each piece. Although these tracks will hit just as hard on the dancefloor, Apparition Floor juxtaposes energetic beats with gloomy and enigmatic timbres for a solidly warped listening experience.
As you might assume from the title, Apparition Floor presents some quite ghoulish tones from synth pads, swells, and most importantly, voices. The use of vocals used throughout are majorly processed, be it chopped, distorted, tuned or stretched, and their implementation is often disturbing, inquisitive, and in some cases oddly alluring. Ritualistic chanting can be heard throughout the track "Skulp Haunt" as if in progress of summoning, while in the middle of "Valley Perfume" and "Ghosts in Windows", you can hear a raspy stretched voice trying to send a message out. In the beginning title track and ending track, "Ghosts in Windows", you can hear a subtle but monstrous low growl, painting an unsettling and worrisome sonic mise en scène that is carried out one way or another throughout the album.
Moving away from a contextual point of view, tons of Apparition Floor leans left of center when it comes to musical form and traditional structures of harmony. Usually hovering around one tonal center throughout the piece, the dynamic changes in sound choice, use of effects such as filtering and modulation, and tons of other sound design choices easily replace the need for standard harmonic progressions. Simple motifs and basslines make for tons of room to play with the frequency spectrum and insert musique concrète stylings of random samples and synth stabs in a linear fashion. Something that grounds you throughout the album is the use of drums with solid placements of kicks to hold you center—be it simple four on the floor dance or half-time. The auxiliary percussion lends itself nicely to this solidified beat, especially the use of hi-hats and hand drums, but in the absence of such a heavy foundation you can start to feel lost in all the layered synths as if the floor was pulled out right from underneath you.
Apparition Floor takes fantastically well-known elements from classic electronic music genres, including those from electro, dubstep, and techno, and weaves surreal sonic tapestries with both subtle and outrageous patterns that will peak any listener's interest.
Optimistic Ambiences: Paul Tyrell's Duskbirds
Depending on your personal definition, "ambient music" has come to mean a lot of different things over the past several years. Evolving from its humble roots in albums like Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports, it's become something of a catch-all term for anything that predominantly relies upon space, texture, and gradual gestures as compositional centerpieces. Indeed, almost to its detriment, there's so much music out there under the ambient umbrella these days. Until some sub-genre-style categorization comes along, I'll refer to music in the style of Eno as "classic ambient," and that's precisely what I would pin my Bandcamp pick for February into.
The latest release from Australian musician Paul Tyrell, Duskbirds largely consists of delightfully meandering piano and guitar lines layered over sustained loops, effects, and field recordings. While some ambient music places less emphasis on any sense of timing or pulse, like Music for Airports, the tracks presented here rely upon passages of notes and the spaces between phrases. Though I would argue that unlike Eno, who has described that particular record as purposefully absent of emotion and intended for a presence just in the background of consciousness, Tyrell's work here is anything but that. The titular opening track's sustained chords convey a subtle sense of harmonic direction and emotional guidance for the listener, amongst the sound of falling rain in the background. While Eno composed his music to be a blurry element of background/foreground awareness, Tyrell creates a space in his music for the listener to focus in and transport themselves to another place. In a way, this is crucially indicative of how ambient music has become a fully fledged style of music, rather than a compositional mindset, and it's important to maintain that perspective in comparing these works.
But rather than going on about comparing two releases of highly subjective art, let's focus more on the actual music of Duskbirds. I'm personally drawn towards releases where each composition has an individual identity, yet also maintains a sonic thread from track to track, unifying the music as a whole package. "Witches Fall" is a cinematic excursion, with hints of something ominous as low, swelling drones are introduced. Later tracks like "If not now, when" and "Plummet" rely upon delicate interplay between fluttery guitar loops and gentle piano lines, which themselves are layered in with drones and noisy textures, while "Peaks 1982" treats the guitar as a pad element, with buried spoken word dialog in the background, as if to symbolize a distant, hazy memory of a conversation with a friend.
As someone who enjoys and composes a lot of ambient music, there's a lot to like and be inspired by in Duskbirds. We all need some gentle and optimistic music from time to time, which is precisely what can be found here.
Object Ritual + Drama: L'ocelle Mare's Sans Chemin
Thomas Bonvalet is a Spanish-born France-based artist whose career began in the late 1990s as a guitarist for Cheval de Frise—an inventive duo that played a peculiar blend of baroque and math rock with a sprinkle of noise. After the band went on hiatus, Bonvalet founded his solo project, L'ocelle Mare, in which the artist journeys well beyond intricate guitar riffs and arpeggios, employing a variety of instruments, and objects…rarely using them in conventional ways. L'ocelle Mare's sonic arsenal includes electric and acoustic guitars, amplifiers, mini-amps, body slapping, metronomes, tambourines, pianos, banjo, smartphone, telephone, flutes, and much more. Practically, the artist demonstrates that all objects possess a distinct sonic identity that can be extremely effective in a musical context.
Yet the objects themselves are not the primary focus in Bonvalent's work, but it is rather the very specific way that he interacts with them. As the artist mentions in the liner notes of his most recent record Sans Chemin: "I don’t write music, it’s an assemblage of gestural memories”. The gestures that Bonvalent talks about manifest themselves in the music as precisely coordinated, and nearly ritually rehearsed physical interactions with carefully selected objects or groups of objects. Nonetheless, the spirit of playfulness, and spontaneity doesn't leave the scene for even a second.
Another major aspect of L'ocelle Mare's work is the space where the performance and/or recording take place, which is evidenced by the fact that many if not all of his music is recorded in very special locations including a forest, a wooden cabin near a pond, churches, and caves. Natural reverberation of the environment combined with Thomas's very distinct and eclectic electro-acoustic instrumentation, plus perfectly executed gestural control, endow the music with uncommonly organic quality even during bursts of squeals from glitching out electronics.
While the names of compositions on Sans Chemin seem to be nearly utilitarian—listing instruments, and objects used in the process—the record itself has a very narrative feel to it. From the beginning of the rapidly intensifying "Flûte, Tambourin, Membrane, Piano Ouvert..." to the very last moment of the symmetrical finale "Flûte De Pan, Tambourins, Membrane, Métronome...", Bonvalet stitches little overtures and longer compositions together into a quirky, yet deeply emotional sonic drama.
As personally, I am particularly fond of music where artists deconstruct traditional approaches towards playing instruments and composing music, I certainly believe that Sans Chemin will resonate with people who share a similar infatuation with adventurous musicianship. With that said, I also feel like there is also a layer of emotional subtlety, and nearly folklorish sensibility in this music, that really can be enjoyed by anyone.