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Bandcamp Picks: November 2023

Honestly Same's Hot Plate Only, Emptyset's ash, Aliens are Real, + more

Perfect Circuit · 11/03/23

It's that special day where instead of putting your money where your mouth is... you put them where your ears are! That's right, it's Bandcamp Friday once again—for today only, Bandcamp waives its fees and puts all proceeds towards independent artists and labels. 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 absolutely the day to do it.

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.

Marja Ahti: Tender Membranes

It is not often that I encounter music which seamlessly blends subtlety with intensity, an unhurried pace with conciseness, and emotive reflection with visceral impact. Yet, all of these qualities, in varying degrees, characterize the unique approach of Swedish-Finnish sound artist and composer Marja Ahti. Ahti operates in the liminal zone between found and synthesized sounds. This distinction is largely practical since these two sonic realms often intersect, blurring the lines between real-world sources and those generated through the artist’s manipulation of a modular synthesizer. We are thus presented with entirely new worlds that we can temporarily hover over as we listen.

Tender Membranes, released on Oren Ambarchi’s esteemed Black Truffle label this fall, marks Ahti’s fifth album. It embodies its name, offering a sonic blend that is both delicate and concrete. This quality is evident from the first composition, "Shrine (Aether)," which opens with the strike of a bell, its resonance fading into a persistent drone. However, Ahti’s music is far from monolithic; it is instead a beautifully arranged sequence of aural landscapes. As the initial oscillations fade, a succession of natural soundscapes and synthesized textures unfold, sometimes layered, one after another.

The four long-form compositions on the album are sonically diverse, yet they maintain a universal sense of tranquility and showcase Ahti’s extraordinary sense of spatial awareness. Some pieces, such as "Dust / Light," intertwine more familiar sounds like the chirping of birds and distant human chatter. In contrast, "In all this, there is a melody that you can sing, and to which you can dance" ushers us through a different auditory terrain, with bursts of noise, melodious high-pitched squeals, interlacing drone lines, and profound sub-frequency rumble.

Although the compositions on Tender Membranes take their time to evolve, the album’s total runtime of thirty-five minutes feels almost too brief. It compels you to revisit it repeatedly, to be captivated by its strange and alluring worlds, to uncover previously unnoticed nuances, and to dispel the fog of mental clutter through the clarity of its soundscapes. My reflection here is not on the music's potential as an escape from reality but on its ability to sonically enhance it. Ahti often advocates the inseparability of sound and its environment, asserting that they are mutually transformative, thus creating a dynamic and enveloping auditory experience. So, whatever your surroundings, put this album on, and notice the change.

Listen to Tender Membranes on Bandcamp!

Emptyset: ash

For this month's Bandcamp Friday spotlight, I'm going heavier and darker with ash, the latest release from UK-based duo Emptyset. comes four years after their prior release, the machine learning-based Blossoms, and returns to the textural-rhythmic hybrid sound of their earlier works with a fresh perspective.

Much like other entries in the Emptyset discography, ash demonstrates the simultaneous intensity and delicacy of feedback-based music. Delays running away into oscillation and accumulating noise butt heads with distortion, compression, and limiters to keep it all contained. Still, anyone who has worked with feedback knows that it's always on the edge of slipping through your fingers and running away entirely, but Emptyset demonstrates their expert ability to coax feedback into both timbral and rhythmic motifs, making ash a heavy yet nuanced and meticulously crafted collection of tracks.

ash displays a rather minimal approach to instrumentation, but musical events are densely packed with information such that each track still feels full-bodied. "flint" opens the record and leaves no doubts about what will follow: immense and saturated bass sizzling and sputtering with high-end noise punctuated by rhythmic hits. The interest comes not only from rhythmic variations, but also the subtle shifts in distortion and feedback character as decimated snares and hihats join the kicks and bass. There's only so much room to breathe in a mix this saturated and limited, but the art is in the interplay between elements caught in the swelling riptides.

While most of the release features an onward march of rhythm and beats, "cinder" opens with ominous, squealing feedback drones to offer an intermission from the rhythmic pummeling—though the sonic intensity doesn't dwindle. After this, however, you'll be greeted by the gnarliest and grungiest beats on the record. To that point, those memes about how the "stank face" is the greatest compliment one musician can give to another are undoubtedly true, as that was my face for the rest of the album following that moment. If you also share an affinity for filthy (in the best way) electronic music, I have no doubts you'll also have the satnk face while listening to ash.

Check out ash on Bandcamp!

Honestly Same: Hot Plate Only

The second album from Chicago-based ensemble Honestly Same, Hot Plate Only, is a beautifully constructed collection of explorations that is rhythmic, textural, and spacious. Across 9 tracks, the quintet manages to craft a lovely atmosphere that elegantly fuses acoustic and electronic elements. Smeared samples with bowed strings; blown reeds and modulated oscillations, this album has it all and each voice has its own place.

With a large ensemble, it can be hard to avoid the clouding effect where everyone blends into each other, but with Honestly Same, the musical landscape is treated with mindful consideration. The opening track, "Hat Dog," serves as a perfect introduction to the rest of the album giving us a taste of some of the instrumentation to come. On "Toast Door" we are treated to a lovely moment that feels like an intimate tunnel or ascending orb which nicely leads to the next track, "Friend Boat," which gives us a sparse waiting room punctuated by UI sonic artifacts.

At the center of the album is the culmination of the album's thesis: "Frog Lift" gives us a longform view into the realm these 5 have created. You can get an accurate sense as to how these presumably much longer recording sessions felt and even if just for a few minutes, you are in the room during creation. Highly recommended listening for fans of Jon Hassell, Visible Cloaks, or Ikue Mori.

Listen to Hot Plate Only on Bandcamp!

UFOm: Aliens are Real

Scanning through Bandcamp's experimental albums recently, I stumbled across the release Aliens are Real, by artist UFOm. The title alone was enough to prompt me to check it out—and then, the album description convinced me to stick around and listen.

According to the description, UFOm submitted this album to the label, Moon Glyph, along with a request to remain anonymous "due to their involvement with a low-profile religious organization." It's an interesting combination of factors: the clearly extraterrestrial-oriented theme, the implication that "higher" forms of life exist, and that they have a message for humans, and that the creator of the somehow affiliated with a religious organization? This is squarely within the realm of my personal interests.

Happily, there's much more to this album than the story and spectacle alone. The sounds themselves are atmospheric, meditative, and tranquil. With synthesizers, electric piano, lap steel, synthesized flutes, and field recordings slowly unfolding into nearly trance-inducing textures, this album plays out like a processional: a series of short pieces that gradually guide you to a state of peace.

Combining a succinct yet very clear thematic presentation along with a patiently-evolving sonic structure, this is a particularly interesting album—one that helps you tune out everything around you, and simultaneously introduces a specific idea to your newly-cleared mental space: what if we aren't alone in the universe? How would we related to the other being out there? If they're coming to us, what do they want from us? If you're looking for a peaceful contemplation about our place in the universe, or if you just want a relaxing afternoon, Aliens are Real is a highly recommended listen.

Check out Aliens are Real on Bandcamp!

Memory Bell: Broadcast Silence

Need to take your day in an even more tranquil direction? Memorybell's Broadcast Silence is a collection of four long-form recordings designed to help you work through some of life's most troubling issues.

According to the artist, the album's purpose is to "explore the process of overcoming trauma and dissociation," ultimately working toward a sense of reconnection. Beyond this simple description from the album's liner notes, I can only infer other details—but admittedly, I do feel compelled to attach my own experience to it...which is perhaps an indication that a work like this, presented in the way that it has been, is a timely occurrence.

In a time when the world generally is working past significant levels of collective trauma, and in which we are clumsily working to piece together a semblance of what life was like before the last few years, Broadcast Silence's mission feels like a beautiful and quite welcome sentiment. As I personally work toward reconnecting with the people in my life after a long time in isolation—as I personally venture back into the world—I'm finding that there are still levels of tension and discomfort that I don't recall from before. It's an evolving process, and I can find comfort in the fact that artists like Memorybell seem to have similar concerns on their mind.

Art is, of course, the product of an artist: and with that in mind, it's all too easy to attach art to the artist's mind alone. Yes, it's true that any given piece of art is a reflection of the creator's thoughts and impulses—but it's important to remember that artists themselves are the products of the conditions in which they exist. The existence of works like Broadcast Silence is comforting not only because Memorybell is concerned about overcoming trauma and reconnecting to the world. It is comforting because, if they thought to make these pieces at all, it's an indication that many others are going through a similar process.

Combine those thematic references with the material itself, and you're in for an emotional, thoughtful, and potentially healing experience. "Abandoned Dream" has a nostalgic and ultimately hopeful quality. "Pieced Together" takes a darker turn; "Fell Silent" continues these melancholy textures and introduces the occasional blast of hope from distant, murky horns; and ultimately, after a constantly evolving journey, you arrive in the album's closing track, "Untethered." There, you'll find yourself floating—gravity suspended, time slowed, everything around you moving faster and faster until it fuses into a continuous, peaceful blur. If you want an hour of contemplation that ultimately arrives at a near-ecstatic sense of peace, you'll want to check out Broadcast Silence.

Check out Broadcast Silence on Bandcamp!