Here Are The Best Releases On Bandcamp Right Now
Laurent Fintoni wades into the sea of Bandcamp releases to offer this month's best.
There is such a thing as the tyranny of choice, the point at which an abundance of options leaves you feeling miserable. In the world of music, choice now rules with a draconian fist. Fans daunted by the vastness of available catalogues can opt to let Apple Music or Spotify guide them through playlists. In turn, artists must decide where to make their music available so it is heard and, perhaps, bought. Amid the giants of the new music industry, one daring independent has become the preferred destination for many outside the commercial mainstream: Bandcamp. Founded in 2007 as an all-in-one shop solution, Bandcamp has grown into a blossoming independent music ecosystem of its own, an iTunes of the people, a place where fans know they’re supporting artists directly and where creators know who their fans are and control what they release, and how. But as Bandcamp grows by the month, adding new artists and labels to its vast network, listeners must still make a choice. As an early adopter of Bandcamp, I’ve become adept at navigating its musical pathways. Every month, I’ll select releases and artists whose work represents the dazzling variety Bandcamp offers, free of genre or popularity restrictions. From the accomplished to the unknown, the classic to the bizarre. A world of music to choose from, at your own pace.
Oddisee, the alias of DC native Amir Abdelmonem Abdelwahob Elkhalifa Mohamed, has been a quiet force in hip-hop for over a decade. From beginnings as a rapper/producer within the Low Budget Crew, Mohamed evolved into a confident artist with a palette of practices: instrumental releases, studio productions, rap albums, and blistering live shows with his six-piece band, The Good Compny. The Odd Tape is Mohamed’s latest instrumental album, 12 cuts meant to evoke the span of 24 hours: the coffee rush of ‘No Sugar No Cream’, a gentle stroll down ‘Brea’, looking up at the stars while ‘Out At Night’.
Betraying the simplicity of a beat tape, The Odd Tape shows off Mohamed’s growth as a composer with tracks weaving in and out of styles with ease — classic rap neck snap, uplifting chord changes, bubbling bass lines, club friendly 808 booms. “I’ve been lucky to understand why people like what they like,” Mohamed told me in late Spring this year at his Brooklyn home. “Which is why I have instrumental records, why I tour with a live band, and why I have rap records. I don’t want everyone to like everything.” Still, it’s hard not to.
Los Angeles has been enjoying a moment in the spotlight in recent years, from rap (Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, YG) to beats (Low End Theory, Flying Lotus) and jazz (Kamasi Washington). More telling than individual successes are the links between these artists and scenes, links made evident in the work of someone like Terrace Martin, the Grammy Award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist who has helped Lamar, YG, Snoop Dogg, and Washington realize a new sonic vision of their city.
Velvet Portraits is Martin’s sixth solo studio album. It taps into similar energies as Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Washington’s The Epic — weaving together funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop — to show a city bursting with creative energy. Backed by an all-star cast — Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Tiffany Gouche, Marlon Williams — the 14 tracks are all killer and no filler: soulful daydreaming on ‘Never Enough’, joyous celebrating on ‘Valdez Off Crenshaw’, and sweaty boogieing on ‘Turkey Taco’. At the end of it all is a spine-tingling 11-minute orchestral version of Lamar’s ‘Mortal Man’. “[What] I want to do, musically, [is] soothing music to soothe the times of what’s going on,” Martin told NPR.
Chicago’s International Anthem label got on my radar in early 2015 with the release of Makaya McCraven’s excellent In The Moment, a celebration of the power of live improvisation. Among McCraven’s cast for the album was guitarist Jeff Parker, a longstanding member of Chicago’s experimental scenes as part of Tortoise and Isotope 217. The New Breed is Parker’s latest album as a lead artist, born of a move from Chicago to Los Angeles two years ago and the rediscovery of long dormant sketches and ideas informed by hip-hop sampling and composition.
“It’s a record I couldn’t have made had I not relocated to L.A.,” Parker told me over email. While the ideas were first laid down 10 years ago, Parker says his move to a city in the grip of a beat renaissance “felt like the right time to do it.” Blending jazz composition and improvisation rooted in hip-hop sketches, Parker and his band have created an old sound with current repercussions. “Hip-hop has long embraced the timbral palette of jazz, just as contemporary jazz has embraced the dynamics of hip-hop and electronic music,” he says. “I have tried to bridge the two contraries in my own music.”
The Kondi Band is a project bringing together two generation of Sierra Leonean musicians, five cities, and three continents. It all began in 2007 when Chief Boima, an American DJ and producer of Sierra Leonean descent, remixed a track by Sorie Kondi, a blind maestro from Freetown who sings and plays the kondi (thumb piano). The pair met when Boima helped bring Kondi to America in 2012, where The Kondi Band was birthed. Over the past four years they have worked together in America, Sierra Leone, and England to create an album that fuses Loko traditions and American dance music sensibilities to engage a global audience.
Rooted in Sierra Leone’s gumbe rhythms and the 1970s Afropop of local groups like Super Combo and Afro-National, The Kondi Band creates a hypnotic sound that reflects the rhythmic DNA of Freetown, a city that has been at the crossroads of people and cultures for centuries. “[Sorie] has full compositions in his mind,” Boima says from his current home in Rio de Janeiro. “He is engaged with electronic music and I’m translating his compositions by pulling on UK bass sound, Caribbean styles, and contemporary African electronic music.”
A few weeks ago, as I walked onto the Q subway platform at Lexington Avenue, I heard music drifting in over my headphones. I pressed the stop button on my phone and looked for the source, finding a duo sat in front of the stairs. Their improvised jam was so riveting I had to stop and listen as my train kept pulling in and leaving next to me. The drummer, Elijah Matthew Moses, was playing with a headband over his eyes (his way to block out the bad vibes he tells me later), while Ryan Albert’s hands darted across the keyboard summoning lush harmonies and vibrant chords. The interplay between their instruments created a sound bigger than you’d imagine was possible, a sound that says “stop, look around, and breathe.”
As they took a break, we struck up a conversation. They’re Queens natives, now based in Brooklyn, and they busk on the subway regularly. Moses spoke of wanting to leave NYC for a while, of seeking inspiration on the road. They pointed me to a Bandcamp page and by the time I made it home I’d bought their album, seven tracks of self-described psychedelic-fusion, all improvised. I sat down on my sofa, pressed play, and just breathed for a while.
San Diego’s Joyce Wrice began her career as YouTube cover singer before a chance meeting introduced her to the world of recording studios. After graduating from college with a degree in Liberal Arts, she moved to L.A and decided to strike it out as a singer, this time with her own material. Last year, she released a first commercial single, ‘Ain’t No Need’, produced by Mndsgn and DJ Harrison, which caught the ears of Questlove. Stay Around is her debut EP, written with SiR, an Inglewood artist with credits for Jill Scott, Tyrese, and Bilal whom she befriended via his collaborator DK The Punisher.
Tapping into the timelessness of soul, Stay Around shows how the music easily wraps itself around any current incarnation, allowing the artist a way to best express themselves. Wrice displays great potential, a youthful energy tamed by the more trained ears of SiR and producers like Mndsgn, whose productions bridge soul’s past and future. “I got to learn so much [in the process],” Wrice says over email. “For example, SiR taught me to leave some space in the lyrics. It was a great challenge to get out of my comfort zone.”
For a little while in the late 90s and early 00s, Miami was the beating heart of an American experimental electronic scene, inspired by the so-called IDM sound pioneered by Warp artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre. But where the Brits had repurposed a decade of American musical exports into an awkward dance music, American artists injected some funk back into the cold machine calculations.
1999’s Odd Jobs is a compilation of remixes by American artists (and Autechre) of Phoenecia’s ‘Odd Job’ single. The duo of Romulo Del Castillo and Joshua Kay, previously Soul Oddity, founders of the Schematic label, Phoenecia took Miami Bass further into the future, keeping the music’s bass rooting but replacing sexy robots with faceless technocrats. On Odd Jobs their groovy original, whose ‘Rhythm Box’ version remains a slept-on classic, gets mutated by a who’s who of the times: Atlanta tech wizard Richard Devine, Chicago’s DJ Godfather versus Detroit’s Ectomorph, hip-hop innovator Prefuse 73, San Francisco ambient-meets-IDM duo Matmos, and local Miami legend Push Button Objects.
Still sounding fresh 17 years later, Odd Jobs is a transmission from an era where possibilities felt endless.