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Bandcamp Picks: September 2023

Ki Oni's A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life, Brin + Dustin Wong's Texture II, + More

Perfect Circuit · 09/01/23

It's that time again—Bandcamp Friday is here! Falling on the first Fridays of most months of the year, Bandcamp waives their share of sales on all music, meaning that all proceeds go directly to the artists and labels you love. So whether your favorite band dropped a new EP or there's been something on your long-standing "to buy" list, there's no better day to grab it than today!

Need some recommendations? This article offers a selection of what we've been listening to recently.

Ki Oni: A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life

Los Angeles-based Ki Oni has been a fixture in the city for years, whether as a DJ on the Contact Wave radio program on dublab or as an ambient band-leader for Underwater Garden Ensemble, Ki Oni, Chuck Soo-Hoo, is always a creative, engaging artist. On his latest album, A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life, we are treated to what seems to be a continuation of a story which starts with An Evening Stroll to the Garden Party (Geographic North) but also includes a preamble with 2021's Stay Indoors and Swim (sound as language). Across these albums we are presented a world that exists alongside ours in a parallel time stream adorned by glistening, mercurial energy that envelops us in a warm embrace.

We open with "An Infinite Dive" that pulls us along to the depths of our own inner world, but feels less like the haunting reality of freediving and more like an ascension—or a phasing from one reality to the next. Gentle sines bubble around us with watery field recordings that bring us the sense of reality as we know it, but swirls around us in a way that is alien. Continued through the second track, "Floating In A Stream Of Consciousness," our journey to the center of our mind is a pleasant one that, through Soo-Hoo's alchemy, has shed us from our thought-loops and self-talk to get at a gooey core that lets our emotional core ooze like lava cake.

This ego death preps us for another deep journey with "Reincarnation At The End Of The World" but this time it's an exercise in rebuilding oneself with the leftover, glowing shards we have materialized into. Coming in at 22:44 this is the longest track as it should be: an energetic rematerialization of our glowing detritus needs to be handled with care. "Grandmother Garden" continues the bubbling theme with fuzzy textures and field recordings and we end with "To Wander Beyond The Aquatic Center" which seems to ask us to take what we've learned and live it. Like any philosophical, spiritual, or therapeutic experience, the ultimate expression is invisible, impactful, and carried out through the act of existence.

Listen to A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life on Bandcamp!

Brin + Dustin Wong: Texture II

Texture II is a collaboration between Dustin Wong and Brin that is a pure expression of creation and play that showcases the creativity that can take place with classic instrumentation shaped by modern technology. Using a drum kit adorned with sensory percussion, Brin expertly weaves in samples, rhythms, and sonic events that has the feel of a percussionist, while Dustin uses voice and guitar manipulated, looped, and sampled in a melodic fashion regardless of the tonality of the source material. Texture II, however, isn't about the instruments, nor the parts that make it up, but about the unexpected and fresh sonic terrains that get traversed across five tracks.

Opening with the perfect introduction to what we are about the experience, "Texture I: Bespoke Trapeze" feels like the perfect Act I to a play or performance which is apt: the albums reads as a single arc; a story that introduces you to themes that are recurring along with events that are not. "Texture II: Slick Current" takes us right into the action with a rhythmic mood that is festooned with delicate guitar lines and percussive samples that operate in their own rhythmic worlds linked together by a shared feel.

"Texture III: Elevator" is an intermission or portal that takes us from one couplet to the next and presents us with "Texture IV: Things Changing into Other Things." On this, our longest track, we are given a reprisal of our opener, but in an entirely different zone: at times like a refraction of previous themes, distorted and recontextualized into something wholly unique, while at other times you can feel the well-honed style that these two artists have cultivated over the course of a fertile relationship. One of the most satisfying events is when Dustin's voice comes in perfectly supported by Brin's steady cornucopian rhythm to create what might be the essence of the album. Ending with "Texture V: Sunset Chime" we are gently lowered into a warm deprivation tank to be at peace with our thoughts. Guitar swirls past us as bubbling samples decorate the stereo space: this is a headphone listen for sure.

From start to finish Texture II, out on Leaving Records, is an album that is perfect for just any occasion and showcases the skills of both artists beautifully.

Listen to Texture II on Bandcamp!

Divide and Dissolve: Systemic

The sound conjured by the Narrm (aka Melbourne) duo Divide and Dissolve evokes feelings akin to coming face-to-face with a force of nature. Like the cascading waves of a great ocean, the band produces music characterized by alternating tides of earth-shattering power and fragile beauty. The sonic landscape is awe-inspiring in its vastness and tranquility. While the band's compositions are mainly instrumental and enjoyable on their own, it's impossible not to discuss the socio-political dimension that accompanies their unique sound. The duo spotlights Black and Indigenous cultures and calls for dismantling hegemonic power structures. Empowered by their ancestral heritage—Takiaya Reed, who is Black and Cherokee, and Sylvie Nehill, who is Māori—they embed their messages in song titles, buzzwordy album names, and occasional lyrical interludes. Moreover, the group commonly discusses the conceptual side of their music in talks and interviews.

Produced by Ruban Neilson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, just like its predecessor, Systemic marks Divide and Dissolve's fourth studio album and seamlessly continues the thematic and musical journey where the duo last left off. The album features a patent synthesis of intense, monolithic guitar riffs, raw streamlined percussion, delicate soprano saxophone, subtle atmospheric effects, and a touch of spoken word poetry that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

"Want," the album's ambient opener, gently ushers listeners into Divide and Dissolve's sonic realm through interwoven layers of drones, harmonious melodies, and light textures. However, the atmosphere shifts dramatically after the saxophone introduction on "Blood Quantum." From then on, Reed and Nehill lead you on an unforgettable half-hour trip through peaks, depths, and unbelievably stunning valleys.

"Kingdom of Fear," a spoken-word piece created with the duo's recurring collaborator, Venezuelan interdisciplinary artist Minori Sanchiz-Fung, establishes the thematic core of the record. Accompanied by sounds of harmonium, xylophone, and guitars, the poet's trembling yet strong voice declares, “Even in the kingdom of fear / The air murmurs its song through the streets / Joy remains wild / It has baffled the cage again / It has cut through the horror / Using only what is already there / What you did not perceive as strong or long-lasting / Thread the fine eye of time’s needle with your heart / And begin to mend…begin to mend…begin to mend.” Lastly, as if in perfect symmetry, the lush orchestral soundscape of "Desire" completes the album and makes the album feel whole.

The music on Systemic is rich in contrasts: soft and heavy, gentle and aggressive, thoughtful and visceral. Perhaps its most striking aspect, considering genre canons, is the balance between sorrow for the past and hope for the future. Elements of doom and sludge are everpresent but are infused with notes of bliss and peacefulness. Even in the record's heaviest moments, a calm, meditative composure is maintained.

All in all, Systemic serves as a powerful antidote to hate and bigotry. As the band specifies in the album description: "Systemic examines the systems that intrinsically bind us and calls for a system that facilitates life for everyone." While some may argue that music alone may not be enough to fulfill the band's ambitious intentions of dismantling existing power structures, this is powerful music, and it is created with a purpose. It spreads awareness of the issues at hand, and that, in itself, is a significant accomplishment.

Listen to Systemic on Bandcamp!

Yui Onodera: Mizuniwa

Presented by Decaying Spheres, one of the latest records from the ambient-oriented label is Mizuniwa by Yui Onodera. In line with previous releases, Mizuniwa boasts colossal yet contemplative textures thematically centering around the duality of organic and synthetic. Though they are collectively joined together by theme and common instrumentation, each track stands as its own snapshot of a sonic space—as if viewing the same object or place from different angles.

As described on the Bandcamp page, Mizuniwa was composed following Onodera's real-life journey through the Water Garden at Art Biotop, a retreat in the Tochigi prefecture of Japan. An environmental art space designed by Junya Ishigami, the garden is a meticulously arranged assortment of trees and small ponds—a paradoxical space of natural elements put into place by human hands and machinery. By extension, Onodera's layering of synthesizers, cassette tape textures, and field recordings plays into the thematic dichotomy of living and artificial elements in coexistence.

Listing an assortment of gear from electric guitars and Tascam Portastudios to murky, exploratory synthesizers like Strega and Lyra-8, the sonic palette of Mizuniwa is dark, hazy, and foreboding. The results are immense pads and drones demanding the center of your attention, while layers of field recordings peek out from the peripherals of the dense sonic space. And thanks to the carefully dialed-in mix, Mizuniwa is a record that deserves listening with intent—headphones on and eyes closed as your ears tune into the subtle movements within the massive waves of sounds.

With six tracks in the range of 5-6 minutes each, Mizuniwa is a digestible listen that doesn't deserve to be background music, but rather a deep cleanser for the mind and ears. And while the tracks don't feature unique names beyond "Mizuniwa" and a numerical designation, each feels like a step on a continuous journey—almost as if you're walking through the Water Garden yourself. If you're a fan of ambient with a darker edge, Mizuniwa is a treat to listen to.

Listen to Mizuniwa on Bandcamp!

Andrew Raffo Dewar & Marcus Wrangö: Construction No. 1

We love modular synth music—but not necessarily because of the technology itself, specifically. Sure, patch cables and blinking lights are fun...but truly excellent modular music is much more than a celebration of the technology itself. Instead, it's a celebration of what the technology enables...and how those new possibilities differ from the possibilities presented by other technologies.

Remember: the analog modular synthesizer was developed originally by artists and engineers who were seeking new ways of making music altogether. Of course, synthesizers on the whole have generally evolved toward a state of convergence with traditional musical concepts; keyboard synthesizers have provided means of exploring new sounds within traditional frameworks for decades. But in the realm of modular synthesis, there's still much of that pioneering 1960s/70s experimental mindset at work: some artists turn to these tools specifically as a means of exploring alternative approaches to sound and interaction.

Few synthesizers explore the potential of raw analog electronics for the use of sound production quite as deeply as the Serge modular system. Developed originally by Serge Tcherepnin at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 1970s, Serge modular systems present an entirely open-ended approach to synthesis, eschewing standard concepts like "sequencers" or "LFOs" or "ADSR envelopes" in favor of "patch programmable" building blocks. A single module—say, a Dual Universal Slope Generator or a Smooth and Stepped Function Generator—can be patched to behave in any number of ways: as an oscillator, a filter, a waveshaper, an envelope, a sample & hold, etc. As such, the Serge is an excellent platform for experimental musicians to approach synthesis from a completely blank slate: helping them to "unlearn" their habits and deal with the raw material of sound.

Andrew Raffo Dewar & Marcus Wrangö's recent release Construction No. 1, out now on Superpang, is a prime example of some of the alternate sonic realities that these instruments provide.

Performed live on a two-panel Random*Source Serge system and a four-panel THC 73–75 Serge system at EMS in Stockholm, this recording presents all manner of sonic structures that traditional musical terminology would struggle to describe. You'll find undulating drones, scattering hisses, frantic splashes of noise, and clouds of clicks converging and diverging. Dedicated to Serge Tcherepnin in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his earliest modular systems, this recording is a tribute to his accomplishments and all that they have made possible for artists.

Sometimes harsh, sometimes peaceful—sometimes terrifying and sometimes hilarious—this release is an incredible example of what can happen when two artists are willing to build their own sonic language from scratch. Though the circuits are old, the sounds are still fresh, and give us a strong impression of what alternative futures might exist. Here's to 50 years of the Serge system, and to the future!

Listen to Construction No. 1 on Bandcamp!