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Bandcamp Picks - March 2022

Stop Doomscrolling and Listen: Hainbach, Shiroishi & Tobias, and More

Perfect Circuit · 03/04/22

Another month is upon us—and we're taking another look at some of our favorite recent music on Bandcamp. Take some time today to support independent music; with even a little bit of digging, you'll likely find something new that you love. Here's what we've been blasting recently!

Stop Doomscrolling: Hainbach's Eighteen and Everyone

If you're reading this blog, you're most likely familiar with German artist Hainbach. Likely best-known for his YouTube channel, Hainbach is an adventurous, playful, and thoughtful electronic musician well-known for exploring the quirks and character of forgotten (or nearly-forgotten) sound-making technologies. Using everything from test equipment and tape loops to audio-based teaching technologies, analog computers, and peculiar consumer devices, Hainbach breathes new life into old tech—often with a sentimental and patient touch that blends the noisy and chaotic with an underlying sense of stillness and peace.

Hainbach's most recent single "Eighteen and Everyone" emerged quite recently after the beginning of the present ongoing Russian military invasion/attack of Ukraine. He, like many of us, have been shocked, learning details about the conflict from a distance, bit-by-bit—getting caught in a constant loop of doomscrolling and incremental processing. This short track was one of his ways of processing all this information: and its patently Hainbach-style combination of abrasive noise and slow-moving underlying harmonic evolution feels at once like an acknowledgement of the state of the world and a hopeful wish for change.

Hainbach is donating all proceeds from this release to the German Red Cross, who are actively helping Ukrainian citizens in duress.

Shrill Shrieks and Extended Silences: Patrick Shiroishi & Jeff Tobias

Patrick Shiroishi and Jeff Tobias have independently been unstoppable forces in America's DIY experimental music community for more than a decade. Both are so prolific that even keeping track of their releases can be quite a challenge, nevertheless, a rewarding one—as each record they participate in will present a radically different musical perspective, given that at the very core of their practices is a collaboration with fellow artists. While on some records Patrick and Jeff lend their unique sound and musical language to larger ensembles, duets are particularly interesting as they allow for a special opportunity to really zoom in on the work of each performer, and their interaction with each other. With only two players involved, such records let us focus on what each has to say (musically speaking) as if we are eavesdropping on a private conversation. And that's the subject of today's review: the appropriately-titled duet album Patrick Shiroishi & Jeff Tobias.

The duet of Shiroishi and Tobias is a result of a first-meeting improvisational encounter during Jeff's visit to Los Angeles in May 2021. Both artists used sopranino saxophones for the recording—one of the smallest, and least common members of the sax family, with a range an octave higher than the popular alto saxophone. The album, consisting of three tracks, starts with a full intensity attack of trills and arpeggios as if the floor under the listener suddenly disappeared, and the performers are providing an apt soundtrack to a rapid fall into the abyss. Then, more than halfway through the composition, sustained drones start to enter the sonic space, indicating an inevitable collapse. The second composition, "A2," showcases the sopranino saxophones used at the very extreme of the instrument's range, where it occasionally sounds closer to a feedback noise than an acoustic instrument.

In "B1," the closing piece on the record, artists fully engage in utilizing extended techniques, crafting an eerie sonic universe with breathy noises, clicks, and pops. By the middle section of the piece, the inputs from the performers get increasingly minimal, creating tension with extended moments of silence where even a distant sound of what is presumably an LAPD helicopter becomes a noticeable intrusion. The quiet eventually gives way to the stressfully unstable wails of the two saxophones that last up until the very end of the record. All in all, this is an excellent record for any fan of improvised music of adventurous nature, and what is yet more important in the current times is that the artists donate all the proceeds from the album sale to NovaUkraine—an organization that provides humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and raises awareness about the country, and its culture in the United States, and around the world.

A Global Concrete Collaboration: Floating Tape

Floating Tape is a concept envisioned by Chinese artist Zhu Wenbo, who runs 澡眠夜 (Zoomin' Night), where three other musicians and label heads collaborate on a series of 4 releases. Anne-F Jacques (presses précaires), Bardo Todol (Bolinga Everest Records), and Chemiefaserwerk (Falt) along with Zhu all contribute the the releases, but the roles change: 2 contribute sounds, 1 arranges and mixes, and 1 packages and releases on their label. There will be a total of 4 cassettes in this collection and so far there have been 3 releases. Looking at these as a whole makes sense and helps to complete the picture so let's go through them one-by-one.

Part 2 was released on Beijing's 澡眠夜 Zoomin' Night label and features Anne-F with Bardo Todol contributing sounds, mixing by Chemiefaserwerk, and Zhu Wenbo packing/releasing. This iteration features two long-form tracks both entitled 飘浮的磁带(piāofúdecídài)meaning floating tape. Similar to the first iteration, we are greeted with a collection of sounds reminiscent of musique concrete—indeed, looking at the instrumentation in the linear notes reveals that motors, objects, tapes, mics, and surfaces are our main forms of sonic expression. Each sound is realized with vision and clarity making use of space and silence appropriately: the tendency when using objects at the sound source is to take up as much sonic space as possible forgetting that the absence of sound is just as important. These two musicians sound as though they are engaged in a show and tell, a mutual exploration of sound collecting and exploiting satisfying sounds in a way that isn't fatiguing. Wholly satisfying, the second collection is not to be missed.

Part 3 was released on Argentine label Bolinga Everest and at the time of publishing this, the personnel is not noted, though we can presume that Zhu Wenbo and Chemiefaserwerk contributed sounds, Anne-F mixed the pieces, and Bardo Todol packed/released the album. All of these musicians have a similar approach to creating sound pieces and use found objects or field recordings as opposed to traditional instruments. The variety of worlds that we hear given these similarities, however, is fantastic. You can tell that there are overlaps in musicians, of course, but the environments that they prefer are different; in this collection we are transported to a fairly soft, gentle world of close sounds that can feel like ASMR at times. The second track "Paper Bags" (~4m04s) starts with a wonderful collection of sticks that rustle which remains constant throughout. The sparseness and minimalist approach is far from cloying and feels very satisfying, especially in headphones. The next track, "Secret Tunnel," is an evolution of the small sounds, using a music box wrapped in silence, punctuated by a soft brass instrument. The remainder of the album continues with this close sound, silence-wrapped focus that works wonderfully as a focusing tool for writing or other work. The digital version of this collection comes as a single album recorded directly from cassette and is a great evolution of the series.

At the time of publishing this article, Part 4 is unreleased, but will be out on Falt and will certainly slap just as hard as the previous 3. Enjoy this series of interconnected experimental musicians from China, Canada, Argentina, and France each with their own mother language, but a shared musical vernacular.

Guitar-Driven Experimental Ambiences: DARK

Revisiting an artist that you listened to years ago and discovering a trove of music they've released in the interim is a real treat. It's even more exciting when their sonic identity has evolved in a similar direction as your own taste in music, given that the cosmic chances of such a likelihood occurring are slim.

Combining extended range guitars with electronics and ambient tendencies, DARK is a spinoff from Roopam Garg's other project, The Surrealist. Although beginning as a continuation of progressive guitar music in the style of early Animals as Leaders, Plini, and others from the early 2010s, Garg's music slowly transitioned into more electronic territory, foregoing the modern prog sound and embracing more experimental textures. Though in some ways, Garg's technical proficiency of the instrument would later inform the music of DARK, particularly in his usage of harmonic techniques. As such, the tonal purity of guitar harmonics in comparison to regular fretted notes lends itself to a different palette of sounds, especially when processed and layered in the context of electronic music with dark ambient tendencies, and it's used to great effect in the music of DARK.

Many of the tracks on dark_1 were originally shared as single releases by The Surrealist, though perhaps for the sake of keeping artistic identities distinguishable, they've now been grouped together and released under the DARK name. It's clear from the opening of "perfect dark_" that traditional guitar tones won't be the primary vehicle for the instrument on this release. That's not to say that purely clean or driven guitars won't be found here, but there's worlds of nuance and expression to be found by embracing noise and grit in unorthodox ways. Other tracks like "ava_" and "terminal_" are shining examples of this approach, to the point where the guitar is so disguised that it's nearly unrecognizable as a guitar, yet it's the perfect way to seamlessly blend the guitar with background textures.

If you'd like a clearer look at Garg's musical journey over the years, simply compare the 2017 version of "Lux" as released by The Surrealist, and the version (retitled as "lux_") at the end of dark_1. Context is key in the presentation of a composition, and even with the guitar gymnastics at play here, the removal of heavy prog drums results in genre ambiguity and allows the same track to feel cohesive within the context of an album that's otherwise heavily rooted in dark ambient and experimental music.

Highly technical playing aside, it's easy to see how Garg, whose style originally developed as a way to stand out in the crowded space of progressive instrumental guitar music, eventually found himself with the means to turn his music into something rooted in texture. A common thread exists between his musical identities, but it's clear that the music of DARK is something deeper, reflective, and darker.

Doom Rave in a Can: Slikback's CONDENSE

Centered around the brilliance and artistry of Nairobian electronic music producer Slikback, CONDENSE is a collaborative album showcasing a wide selection of club-defying bangers and mystical atmospheres. Each track shares the cohesive and underlying characteristics of Slikback's brash sound design, fragile ambiences, and dance-floor ripping grooves, and because of the stacked roster of fifteen amazing collaborators, CONDENSE branches into multiple sonic territories while staying grounded by aural annihilation. Labeling CONDENSE's genre in any traditional way wouldn't suit it well as it takes from all over electronic music, all the way from techno & club to idm & progressive to trap & underground, and that makes sense considering not only all the talent and influence included but also purely based off the album's name.

CONDENSE presents a duality of realism and fantasy that breaks down further into dreadful energy and ethereal mourn, always opposing yet complementing one another track by track. Pieces such as "TYRANID" and "FOG" present a jarring and catastrophic sonic representation of Journey to the Center of the Earth, tunneling through the dark and grungy crust just to pass through the scorching mantle. Diametrically, the supernatural & alchemical pads and vocalese found in "UENDELIGT" and "WATCHING ME" push a laid back and more traditional melodic context, all while retaining the rugged bass stabs and percussion.

To describe this album absolute fire or pure heat would be an understatement, as each and every track presents some form of blistering basses, face-melting samples, and earth-shattering kick drums forcing you to get up and at minimum nod your head. "IN DA BACK" is an absolute club-ready, bounce-off-the-wall banger full of speed and dirt while the more warehouse-driven crowds can rely on a track like "HYAKKI YAGYOU", offering only the hardest and most steady techno grooves for head-banging goodness. Slipback and his guests slow things down and add a more syncopated groove with tracks like "TURBULENCE" and "AVALON", showcasing fluttering trap hats, grimey textures, and big distorted basses. CONDENSE even dives into doom-heavy vibes introducing menacing elements such as blast-beats and feral-like grunts with tracks like "PAPER TRAIL" and "MIRAGE".

I find this album to be quite self-explanatory in it's overarching theme, but truly digging into the intricate dynamic control, distortion, spatialization, and many other production techniques prove there is much more to CONDENSE than utter destruction. It is no easy thing to work with a variety of artists to make a cohesive-sounding album, but Slipback achieved it across fourteen tracks of raging, multi-genre music. I found myself hopping back and forth between tracks, seeing similarities in any way I played the album back, but start-to-finish in the order presented is by far the best way to listen to CONDENSE.