Bandcamp Picks - May 2022

Synth Jams, ASMR Textures, and Humanitarian Aid

Perfect Circuit · 05/06/22

The first friday of the month is again upon us, and you know what that means: it's Bandcamp Friday, when Bandcamp waives its revenue share in favor of giving all proceeds to its artists and labels. As such, we're going to take a quick look at some of the music we've been digging into lately...but be sure to head over to Bandcamp today and do some browsing of your own, as well.

This month we're taking a look at a number of albums, from tongue-in-cheek synth jams to ASMR-ridden pop textures. We're also featuring two albums by Ukrainian artist-turned-soldier John Object, and taking a close look at Colorado Modular Synth Society's Drones for Peace, a compilation series which benefits organizations providing humanitarian relief in Ukraine. That in mind, let's dive in!

Warm, Warbly Wash: Andrew CS and Glia's Nimi is a small intermedia label run by Matthew Sage, based in Colorado, and has been releasing small batches of CDs and other physical media since 2020. Instead of a constant output of material, focuses on a few objects grouped together—and on May 5th, "Season 2 Bundle" was released. It features three great releases…one of which, Nimi by Andrew CS and Glia, we'll look at. As a fan of Glia, I was happy to see that a very fresh release was queued up just in time for this month's Bandcamp Friday review, and with Andrew CS on baord—most notable for authoring Norns scripts wrms and orgn—this album does not fail to deliver soft, warbly synths and samples.

Straight from the onset with "Roshd," you know what you're getting yourself into: organ-like FM synth sounds weave in and out, pitch up and down, and plays out like a public broadcasting documentary title scene—in the best possible way. "Wind For Weighted Keys" brings us to a bubbling, dry granular field that provides excellent support for a gentle flute tone that tucks us in as it softly fades. Many of the tracks feel like soft washes of manipulated samples, but on several tracks elements of percussion sneak in. "Dia Cellar (oatmice)" is just such a track which serves as a nice reminder of the acoustic space that these tracks inhabit.

What is striking about this whole collection is that you know that most of the sounds are generated electronically or manipulated as such, but none of the tracks comes off as feeling too cold or sterile. There's an appropriate amount of human error, imperfection, and space that leaves you feeling like you walked into a room, hearing the music affected by the acoustic properties of the space. "Each of Our Tails" exemplifies this and has to do with the tasteful use of spatial reverb that doesn't wash out the sound, but adds depth.

A sense of play is found throughout this album, as well, you can hear it in tracks like "Dom Nayofti": a gentle glide or portamento on speed shifts breaks up the looping textures and lets you hear the artists manipulating the sounds, hiding nothing and revealing the human touch. This transparency is what gives Nimi such a firm grasp on the ears and keeps you coming back for more. With each track falling well-below the 3 minute mark, it makes repeat listens a breeze, and you can find yourself easily leaving this on repeat for an afternoon.

Twisted Guitar Vernacular: Seabuckthorn's Through a Vulnerable Occur

Sitting at a junction of experimentalism, ambient tendencies, and twisted guitar vernacular, Through a Vulnerable Occur is a sonic journey which subverts the typical ideas of what a guitar should sound like. Through bowing, generous usage of effects, and other means of extending a guitar's tonal palette, Seabuckthorn, an alias for English guitarist Andy Cartwright, this record is an exploration of space, texture, and sonic places that are sometimes foreign to the guitar. In addition to guitar, Cartwright is credited as playing the Saz and Charango, traditional stringed instruments respectively originating from Eastern Europe/Western Asia and the Andean regions of South America.

A particular strength of Seabuckthorn's music is the vivid imagery that it creates while listening, and it's a skill on strong display throughout Through a Vulnerable Occur. "While There By The Woods" in particular evokes scenes of a dark forest—cinematic in the reverberant swells of fingerpicked passages and haunting as finger slides are occasionally caught in the effects. This track is also one of the rare instances where the guitar is fairly unmasked—much of the record buries and disguises the instrument into drones, pseudo-granular waves, and generally ethereal textures.

Two tracks also feature contributions by clarinetist Gareth Davis, though it isn't until nearly five minutes into "Place Memory" that the pure character of the clarinet is heard clearly, for like Cartwright, Davis' playing is smeared and transformed by grit and effects. Later tracks like "Sunken Room" and "Copper & Indigo" veer closer to dark ambient territories, complete with eerie sounds which don't totally seem like they could have come from a stringed instrument. Though in the closing track "Or A Morning Blue In The East," the album concludes with a gentle return to the sparse spaces created earlier—a fitting conclusion with a satisfactory resolution for the listener.

In its truest form, Through A Vulnerable Occur is a collaborative work meant to be listened to while viewing a collection of photos and imagery by photographer Sophie Gabrielle, with the darker side of Cartwright's playing as it's heard here serving as the perfect aural accompaniment. But even when listened to alone, closing your eyes and immersing yourself in the sonic space while giving your mind permission to wander will create all kinds of mental scenes served by the music.

Brain Go BRRRRR: galen tipton's nymph tones

I should make it clear that I actually find ASMR in its popular form of mic'd up, high gain, high noise floor sound recording to be a painful experience. However, galen tipton, also known for her hyperpop productions and remixes under the alias recovery girl, has produced one of the best "ASMR" experiences I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. Flowing with sputtery blips and blistering bubbles, nymph tones is a collection of aquatic creatures, ambiences, and complementary noodlings of melodic and harmonic magic, creating elegant and stimulating experiences sonically and spatially. The closest form that nymph tones approaches in a structural sense is call and response, holding no true linearity or predictable path. Rather, this album expresses feelings through the introduction and evolution of pointillistic supporting sounds, winding moans and wails, and intimate sonic settings—all of which uplift the beautiful chords and melodies that lie as the main focus.

galen expresses pure delight even in the most moody of progressions through articulate and chirpy sound design, filling each track with mind-tingling bliss. What makes these fizzy and gurgling textures so amazing as a structural element lies in the not only their sporadic nature, but also in the textural change of noisy to tonal, light to dark, abundant to sparse, etc. One of my favorite uses is in the track "underwater fireflies", where galen starts you in a flow of water and almost vinyl-like crackle and noise, further transforming into this heavenly pad that pulls you down into the depths. All the while, these granular like chirps are crawling across your brain utilizing the stereo spectrum in addition to transforming from a more pokey and poppy sound into this chaotic and shimmering flutter.

One of my favorite tricks galen uses throughout involves altering organisms as a vessel for passing melodic content over time. In her track "snow elves", we already are given a beautiful swell of chimes and bell-like timbres laying out a tonal center for a harmonica to come in, as if we've come by a more peaceful and rural town of beings. This then begins to pull out this more talkative monosynth line that doesn't quite gain its footing until hitting a beautiful high note with vibrato, almost as if it was trying to join in on the fun with the harmonica. Another fantastic example of this can be found in "water fairy moon", where there is a wonderful collection of blown melodic and harmonic instruments that find a jovial and irregular voice find its footing through means of trial and error until landing upon a soft and synthetic blown timbre to best match the previous mentioned sounds.

The more "acoustic" tracks, if you will, like "sleepy turtle" and "night in the sea cave" showcase similar strange creatures but heavily focus on the playing of a more traditional instrument like piano. These tracks not only capture instruments in their stereo spectrum but amplify their nature much like in ASMR through means of overexaggerating the mechanics of the instruments through literal gain staging or through quirky and deceptive sonic placement of these creatures. I want to leave on what made me truly fall for this album and allowed me to process it fully with warmth in my heart—I could go on and on about the intricacies of nymph tones— and that lies in the first track "brain crease". This track not only introduced and eased me into the idea of nymph tones, but also gave me a new understanding, respect, and compassion for the enjoyment of delicate and meticulous sounds that can build from a minimal start to extraordinary heights of exuberance.

Keep Your Grubby Paws Off of My Stash: Ross Fish's Stasis

"This Album Made with Expensive Synthesizers" claims Ross Fish, on the cassette jacket of Stasis.

Ross Fish is an eclectic character in the synth industry, to say the least. You might be familiar with his work as the head of Moffenzeef Modular, a synthesizer company well known for its experimental pedals, Eurorack percussion modules, utilities, and noise tools like the Jarmageddon and Shtick. Alternatively, you might be familiar with Ross’s pull-no-punches social media presence, which causes uproarious laughter at the office on a regular basis.

Stasis—the sixth release on Moffentapes, Moffenzeef Modular's personal tape label—sees Fish exploring Detroit-inspired grooves, lush synth pads, and bouncy basslines reminiscent of James Stinson's work in Cybotron and Drexciya. A definite departure from previous tapes which showcased grittier, experimental sounds that harkened the likes of Autechre and IDM-esque tones of the '90s, Stasis is an incredibly focused work, each composition confidently standing on its own while adding a unique flavor to the smorgasbord of sound Fish has served up.

Tracks like "Sticky Fingers" and "Drugs and Sex" showcase Fish’s distinct comedic flare for lyrics alongside glassy leads, stuttering arpeggios and greasy basslines. If you told me that "Function Override" or "One" were ARPANET B-Sides I wouldn't even blink before telling you to turn the volume dial to 11.

Stasis is available only through Moffentapes Bandcamp or the Moffenzeef website, Fish stating that these tracks will never see the likes of Spotify or streaming services. So grab yourself a tape! Long-time Fish fans will be sure to appreciate the cassette's unmistakably unique shade of yellow ;)

Chaos and Order: John Object's Life and Sweat

It is impossible to talk about John Object’s music without mentioning the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started now more than two months ago. John Object is the stage name of Ukrainian artist Timur Dzhafarov, who explores in his music the outer edges of post-club aesthetics. Since the war began, Timur has been drafted into the Ukrainian army, transforming overnight from an imaginative artist to a soldier. This fact alone brings up several important questions. What happens to artistic communities in places devastated by military invasion? What is the role of artists, and the arts in general during the times of war?

Although I will not attempt to provide simplistic answers to these questions, I do believe that being an artist in itself entails taking up an active position in society, and once that society faces challenges and risks the output of an artist may change, but the participatory spirit remains. History is rich with examples of this. In particular, the case of Else Marie Pade comes to mind—a Danish electronic music pioneer who was an active member of the Danish Resistance movement during WWII. Pade’s involvement ranged from illegally distributing clandestine newspapers to sabotaging German communication lines as a member of a partisan all-female explosives group. Pade was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944, and even while in prison, she managed to compose music by scribbling notes on the walls.

Shortly after the war in Ukraine began, numerous artists from the country began voicing their positions and reporting on the current state of things via personal social media channels. Their Instagram feeds quickly transformed from posts of live show excerpts and music release announcements to videos of explosions and stills of devastated cities. Some, including John Object, shared images of themselves outfitted in a military uniform. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found seeing this forced transition quite disturbing.

Right on the day of the invasion, February 26, John Object published a new album optimistically titled Life, with an all-white front cover. The album consists of 48 tracks which, as the artist describes in the notes, collectively form a catalog of unreleased tracks recorded in the period between 2010 and 2019. John Object explicitly says that the tracks on the album do not necessarily reflect his current artistic vision, however, they represent a big chunk of his life and artistic growth. Therefore, guided by the uncertainty of the future, the artist felt the impulse to document, and archive his works. The mostly chronological sequencing of the record makes the listening experience especially rewarding by clearly outlining the artist's creative development. From track to track it is possible to witness how Timur's sonic aesthetics changed, and what influenced him at a given time.

Sweat was released a few days before the end of 2021, and according to John Object, the album most accurately embodies his current ideas and vision for music. The album opens with a sentimental detuned solo piano track, "Forever Forgive (Live 2021)," which sets you on a somewhat nostalgic pathway. It doesn't reveal, though, that what is coming ahead will be a roller coaster of abrasive basslines, eclectic samples, memorable hooks, continuously morphing rhythms, and floating tempos. In the true spirit of post-modern electronic,a John Object blends Autechre-ish complex rhythmic structures ("Puke Emoji [Live 2021]") with hip-hop grooves ("Drake/Future [Live 2021]"), jungle, and breakcore beats. He then layers them with abstracted field-recordings, and occasionally pull you further down the memory lane of not so distant past with acapella samples of nu-metal icons ("RPG [Live 2021]" and "RPG [Live 2020]").

There is a constant interplay between chaos and order here, a sort of fusion of experimental approaches with pop sentiments that from different angles evoke the adventurous pursuits of cross-genre synthesis done by John Zorn's Naked City, and as a more current example , the works of Oneohtrix Point Never. As a whole, the album is simultaneously touching, engaging, and to a great level absurd. And it is the absurdity of it in particular that makes the record even more resonant with the vibrations of current times, and the situation in which the artist unwillingly found himself.

Colorado Modular Synth Society's Drones for Peace Vol. 2

Now with the very human effects of the war in mind, I want to bring your attention to a very special project: Colorado Modular Synth Society's Drones for Peace. Sales of this compilation will be donated to Project C.U.R.E., a humanitarian organization currently providing medical supplies to the people of Ukraine (and across the world).

Co-produced by Sine Mountain (David Soto) and Memorybell (Grant Outerbridge), Drones for Peace is a live stream and two-part compilation album series specifically showcasing drone music made with modular synthesizers. Each of the two volumes of music features twenty tracks by twenty artists, all five minutes long or shorter. As such, despite the notoriously long-form style of drone music, these albums play out quite quickly—giving you a glimpse to twenty distinct sound worlds each: twenty ways in which individual artists are processing the goings-on in the current war between Russia and Ukraine. This plays out like a montage of deeply personal soundscapes: some bleak and brooding, others bright, serene, and even optimistic.

The first volume of Drones for Peace was released in early April 2022. Co-producer Memorybell describes Volume 1 as being "introspective and soul-searching," while Volume 2 instead plays out as "a caffeinated call-to-protest." For the most part, I agree with that characterization: Volume 2 ventures into some deeply noisy, abrasive, and anxiety-ridden textures...perhaps mirroring a general increase in tension as our general disbelief in the happenings of the war fades, and we better understand what's actually happening.

So, how can we help? As stated above, Colorado Modular Synth Society is donating proceeds from both volumes of Drones for Peace to Project C.U.R.E., so if you're looking for some new drones to space out to, that's an excellent way to contribute. Beyond that, Colorado Modular Synth Society recommends contributing to other modular synth companies who are donating a portion of sales to humanitarian relief (including Noise Engineering, 4MS, BASTL Instruments, Erica Synths, and Xaoc Devices.

Beyond that, they also recommend supporting a number of further humanitarian organizations, including UNICEF, Voices of Children, CARE, and more—be sure to check out the Drones for Peace bandcamp page for more details and to offer your support.