Bandcamp Picks: March 2024

New from Sissy Spacek, fendoap, Patricia Taxxon, & More

Perfect Circuit · 03/01/24

That special day has come again! That's right, it's Bandcamp Friday—the semi-regular music lover holiday where Bandcamp waives its fees and puts all proceeds directly toward the independent artists and labels whose music you buy. So if you've been meaning to grab the latest record from one of your favorite artists or your friend's new mixtape, today is the day.

Need some suggestions? There's tons of music out there, but as always we're here to share with you some of the music that's been grabbing our attention recently. Check it out.

Sissy Spacek: Cosm

Cosm is the latest release from Los Angeles noise outfit Sissy Spacek. Released under member John Wiese’s own Helicopter label, the album features Wiese on organ alongside longtime collaborator Charlie Mumma on drums, with Masahiko Ohno of Solmania joining in on guitar. The album’s name, as well as the names of its three movements ("Oumuamua /1," "Oumuamua /2," and "Oumuamua /3") conjure associations of visiting celestial bodies from beyond our solar system. The name “Oumuamua” itself refers to the first interstellar object discovered passing through our solar system, an oblong comet steeped in strangeness. The music of Cosm embodies the same celestial strangeness, evoking the otherworldly through its extreme timbres and alien structure.

Listeners familiar with the group’s noisy oeuvre will immediately recognize in Cosm’s 37 minutes a likeness to prior releases, not necessarily in strict sonic character, but rather in the group’s unflinching approach to brutalistic soundscape exploration. Charlie Mumma’s drumming harkens to the heydays of brutal prog, with unyielding barrages of linear fills interspersed between blasted-out rhythms in an angular collage of hyperactivity. Contrasting from this cacophony is Wiese’s organ playing, which bathes the low end of each track in heavy wallops of blown-out bass tones that uncaringly morph into rich squelches in the high register. Juxtaposed against Mumma’s rapid, percussive aggression, Wiese’s comparatively restrained pace suspends the energy of each track inside an extended moment of instability. Within this charged space, Masahiko Ohno’s guitar moves in screeching tones around the perimeter with near-subatomic levels of improvised reactivity, simultaneously exploding and gluing together the ensemble sound through interactive gestures. While maintaining their ethos of unabashedly noisy experiments, Cosm delivers a fresh palette of tonal colors and textures that feel unique from prior releases.

"Oumuamua /1" opens the album with an enveloping blanket of low end that sizzles at its edges before being ripped apart by intervening drums and guitar. For much of its 11 minutes the ensemble engages in similar passages of mutual musical destruction, rarely giving more than a moment or two without an interactive gesture that pushes one or more players into new sonic territory. Despite the chaos of this highly reactive interplay, each performer’s playing takes on a clearly defined energy signature that returns between musical freak-outs. This creates a form that feels inherited from some chemical experiment. It is as if we are hearing reactive chemicals mix to create dangerous new compounds, seemingly alchemical, yet no less rule-bound.

A favorite moment from "Oumuamua /1" is around 7:20, wherein the texture evaporates to leave Mumma’s drums sputtering slower and slower, suddenly alone in one of the album’s few starkly sparse sections. This vacuum of energy pushes the ensemble to react, with Ohno’s glassy distorted guitar tone climbing alongside Mumma as the energy is recharged towards maximum tension. Around 8:15, the system relents to this buildup of energy, giving way to another deep, growling bass from Wiese’s organ that feels organically earned and essential.

The subsequent tracks continue to unravel the inner workings of this otherworldly ensemble, crashing through moments of electrified stillness and unapologetically explosive improvisations. Living in the world of the album for its relatively short runtime is still enough exposure to get lost in its erratic movements, to incorporate them into your own, and start to assimilate into its strange system of unceasing reactivity. As described by references to the titular space rock, encounters with Cosm feel like receiving a message from an alien organism, its explicit communication incomprehensible by typical earthling standards, yet with a logical movement and exchange of energy denoting life not wholly unlike our own.

Check out Cosm on Bandcamp!

Patricia Taxxon: TECHDOG 1–7

We've written about Patricia Taxxon before—Taxxon is a deeply creative artist who uses digital technologies to create sprawling soundscapes that combine aspects of mainstream dance music with experimental textures and abrasive electronic noise. All that to say, it's right up my alley.

For this Bandcamp Friday, we're honing in on 2023' TECHDOG 1–7: the combined, single-release version of what otherwise exists as seven separate releases (hence, 1–7). You can purchase and listen to any of the TECHDOG albums individually, but interestingly, Taxxon also gives us the option to listen straight through the whole series: by my count, an over-12-hour-long series where, on average, each track gets longer and longer as it goes. The tracks on TECHDOG 1, for instance, hover around the two-to-two-and-a-half-minute-long range, whereas the tracks on TECHDOG7 start at ~14 minutes in length, going all the way up the series's closing track, which closes out at 41 minutes and 42 seconds in length. Likewise, the track names become longer and more obscured with each release: in the first album of the series, all track names are permutations of the letters in "TECHDOG"—with each successive release adding one extra iteration of scrambled "TECHDOG" into its track names. On first sight, you're set up with an expectation of gradual intensification...which, in some abstract sense, this epic journey does seem to deliver.

Likewise, the musical content of each section of the series gradually changes. We start with rhythm-forward, upbeat, hyperpop-esque playful rhythms—and as the releases progress, the sound materials diverge in several directions. There are excursions into walls of heavy low-frequency noise—frenetic, ever-shifting breaks—field-recording like synthetic digital soundscapes—extended periods of nearly-vacant radio airwaves—and expansive ambient soundscapes. As such, it's difficult to succinctly characterize the album's "sound." And while it does have a certain feeling of thematic unity, the sheer scale and breadth is difficult to comprehend. What we're hearing is the incomprehensibly deep inner world of the deeply creative Taxxon: a world that, ultimately, is full of surprise and incredible detail.

What do liner notes tell us about the TECHDOG series? Very little. All we have are six cartoon portraits detailing the feelings of a (quite cute) human/dog creature, the Bandcamp tags (experimental, idm, furry, glitch, Santa Cruz), the full series description, and per-album descriptions, which we'll share in full here, in Taxxon's own words.

"TECHDOG is a portrait of the strange and beautiful puppy that I lost in the storm, and the long process of regaining an affection for that part of myself which I can never get back. It's an album about not knowing what of myself remains. It's an album about me."

TECHDOG 1: Feeling excitement.

TECHDOG 2: Feeling curiosity.

TECHDOG 3: Feeling at ease.

TECHDOG 4: Feeling like myself.

TECHDOG 5: Feeling fear.

TECHDOG 6: Feeling pain.

TECHDOG 7: Feeling nothing.

Check out TECHDOG 1–7 on Bandcamp!

Various Artists / Nyahh Records: Under the Island: Experimental Music in Ireland 1960—1994

While exploring the release catalog of Nyahh Records, a record label I recently discovered, I encountered the compilation Under the Island: Experimental Music in Ireland 1960–1994. This title immediately caught my attention due to its resonance with another project by an artist I greatly admire, Jennifer Walshe, called Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde. Walshe identified a gap in the historical documentation of Ireland's experimental music traditions and set out to construct a speculative narrative of what an Irish avant-garde tradition might have encompassed. This endeavor resulted in the creation of a compelling alternative history, courtesy of the also spurious Aisteach Foundation, featuring imagined composers, their personal tales, compositions, and unique stylistic innovations. Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde represents the sonic pinnacle of this project, showcasing collaborations between Walshe and several musicians to animate a suite of these fictitious compositions.

Nyahh's Under the Island: Experimental Music in Ireland 1960–1994 arises from a quest similar in spirit but distinct in execution. This compilation is a meticulously curated anthology of archival recordings that capture the elusive experimental music movements that indeed transpired in Ireland over three decades. Nyahh delved into Ireland's modest yet significant underground historical reserves, uncovering the works of pioneering musicians who experimented with tape and self-constructed instruments. Featuring fourteen tracks from various artists and bands, the compilation presents a richly diverse collection of experimental compositions, all previously unreleased, making this record an invaluable historical artifact.

The tracks are thoughtfully arranged in chronological order, beginning with "Esoteric Sound Poem" (1960), an eerily beautiful and dynamic concrete music piece by Desmond Leslie, a composer whose manifold compositions have occasionally appeared in early science fiction television programs, such as Doctor Who. It is succeeded by Roger Doyle's proto-plunderphonics tape collage "Tape Piece One" (1971). Among my personal highlights is "Lake Waters of Sorrow" (1979) by Nigel Rolfe, an evocatively meditative piece by the Irish multimedia artist. The ninth track features Danny McCarthy experimenting with a traditional Irish hurling stick transformed into an electronic string instrument. The early '90s are represented by "Little Geography" (1992), a whimsical synth interlude by The Shit. The compilation concludes with "Evening Echoes" (1993-1995) by John Carson & Conor Kelly, a seven-minute field recording milieu of a cityscape frozen-in-time place, with people literally "echoing" each other.

Collectively, Under the Island: Experimental Music in Ireland 1960–1994, presented by Nyahh Records, stands as an essential auditory journey for anyone interested in the international history of experimental and avant-garde music. This compilation not only pays tribute to the unsung heroes of the Irish avant-garde but also serves as a beacon for contemporary and future generations of artists and enthusiasts. By weaving together lost sounds and unearthing hidden musical gems, Nyahh Records has crafted a compilation that transcends mere listening pleasure to become a pivotal documentary resource.

Check out Under the Island on Bandcamp!

Two Releases from fendoap

It's a joy when artists you admire release new music, but it's a blessing to get multiple releases within one month! The month of February left us swimming in new music from fendoap, with plenty of sounds to digest across a collective total of 68(!) tracks.

Plain Music: Exploring Methods and Concepts is a collection of 64 tracks ranging from just nine seconds to over 10 minutes in length. As described on fendoap's Bandcamp page, "Plain Music" can emerge from intentional compositional techniques or limitations imposed by chosen tools. As such, many of these tracks are intentionally left in simplistic and minimal states. But of course, much as how solo instrumental music may be profoundly expressive without accompaniment, the sometimes basic sounds heard in Plain Music lean into fendoap's artistic expression and musical voice to hold meaning and interest.

Given the nature of Plain Music, track titles are quite literal and don't leave much to the imagination when trying to figure out how they were made. From utilizing simple DIY electronic circuits to various software environments like VCV Rack, Plain Music embraces the processes and results from exploring different ways to make electronic music. Tracks like "sample_midi_m" go hard and traverse broad musical spaces, while others such as "analog_square_osc_fx_m" are effect-laden drones of ambient bliss. That's not to say that additional elements aren't added where it makes sense—"ground_recording_fx_m" adds a layer of drum grooves on top of ground noise fed through resonators and other effects.

Within the broad musical stylings on display, one of the most interesting things about Plain Music is the occasional subversion of how you'd expect a track to sound based on what it was made with. For example, I hold strong associations between the Csound programming language and experimental computer music. However, I was delightfully surprised to hear the diatonic chord progression and approachable groove in the track "Csound_2_m". Besides, running with the results without preconception and pretension is key to the classification of "Plain Music"—it's okay to allow things that simply sound good to speak for themselves!

Released right at the end of the month, secluded comprises of four ambient tracks composed for an exhibition at Tokyo's gallery hydrangea. Composing for any environment often leads to specific musical choices, thus the expansive pads, gentle melodies, and generous use of effects fit the vibe of a contemporary art gallery to a T. Of course, listening to this music out of its intended context might not offer a complete picture, but regardless we feel that ambient connoisseurs will find a lot to dive into here.

Each track on secluded exists within a distinct sonic space. "promontory" is a gentle opener, accenting its simple melody with reverse delay. "reminisce" is characterized by its immense pads and distant percussion, evoking a sort of deep ambient spin on David Wise-esque music. "nave" employs piano and strings adorned with faint looping and reverb, slowly building throughout the track. Finally, "waft" imparts feelings of suspended animation in its overlapping, sustained pads and shimmering granular textures. All tracks are somewhere between eight and twelve minutes in length, but immersing yourself in the music might lead you to away from any perception of time, existing purely in the moment.

Find both of these releases on fendoap's Bandcamp page: Plain Music: Exploring Methods and Concepts and secluded.