Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated in the United States in recognition of the official end of slavery. It takes its name from a historic statement made on June 19, 1865, by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, when he declared as part of General Order No. 3., and in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, that “all slaves are free.” As of yesterday, June 17, 2021, Juneteenth is an official federal holiday, meaning that public schools and government offices will close in observance, and employers are encouraged to give their employees time off as well.
Before Juneteenth was officially recognized by the US government as a holiday, Bandcamp had begun donating their share of the proceeds they would normally collect for purchases through their platform to the NAACP on June 18th. Their Juneteenth Fundraiser began last year in the wake of the protests over the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as “the long-standing structural oppression, state-sanctioned violence, and daily racism faced by black people and people of color…” In continuing their commitment to support efforts towards achieving racial justice in this Country, Bandcamp will again be donating their share of sales made on the platform today (June 18th) to the NAACP to support their legal work and attempts to build a more just society. Declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday is small accomplishment when compared to the work that lies ahead in addressing racial inequality in the United States, but it’s a hopeful step in the right direction, as is any support that is offered to the NAACP at this time.
While a portion of every sale made via Bandcamp today will go to support the NAACP, the rest of those sales will go directly to the artists themselves. Therefore, we’ve compiled a shortlist of fantastic new rock albums from black rock (and rock adjacent) artists and black lead bands for you to consider while contemplating a purchase through Bandcamp today. If you like what you hear, and the artist sounds like they might be of interest to you, you’ll be able to purchase the spotlighted album via the media player provided below each write-up.
We hope you will enjoy our recommendations and that you have a safe and happy Juneteenth.
UnityTX – Hellway (Pure Noise Records)
UnityTX is one of those fortunate bands whose style is both incredibly natural given their influences, while still remaining unique, and seldom imitated. By which I mean, they’re a hardcore punk band that can roll bars to a beat, and a hip-hop band with a love of hard-driving punk guitars. Frankly, you could describe them either way, to two separate people, at two different times, and you’d be 100% accurate in both instances. It’s weird to me that more hardcore bands are not willing to try something like what UnityTX is doing on for size, as I know very few hardcore heads who lack an affinity for hip hop culture. I think at least part of the reason is that very few bands have a frontman as versatile as Jay Webster. This is nowhere more evident than on UnityTX’s new EP, Hellway. On this record, Jay demonstrates that he is a man who can shout and be heard over the roar of Hatebreed a rankling guitar churn on a track like opener “Agony,” and then spin around to slap you up on a track like “Blear,” where broadside bars clap and jostle atop a glue trap textured beat. Forget the 4th, UnityTX is bringing the fireworks today!
Orisun – This is Orisun (Self-Released)
Chicago duo Orisun play an incredibly smooth variety of punk rock that they infuse with funk and progressive traditions lifted from everywhere, including soul and spiritual jazz. Their debut EP This is Orisun is a captivating introduction to the band that begins with the grungey funk-beat of “Miserable,” cools off with a swing through the Stereolab dollop and space-jazz jaunt of “Funhaus,” then waltzes through the bitter winds of the RnB-piano and boney bass lead chamber-pop chafe of “Five Years,” before it ducks into the shoegazey singe of “6/8,” and finally breaks through the floor of its enclosure to find its escape in the boom-bap chiseled surf rock spin and angle pop plea of “Everything’s OK.” If this is how they’re going to kick things off as a band then there really is no ceiling on their potential. If you’re smart, you’ll keep tabs on these two. All eyes on Orisun.
Georgia Anne Muldrow – VWETO III (Foreseen)
Georgia Anne Muldrow is a singer, songwriter and producer from Los Angeles, presently residing in Law Vegas, and who has dropped over 20 releases since her debut in 2006 with Olesi: Fragments of an Earth. Her most recent LP continues her series VWETO with a third installment. Inspired by the textures and tactile qualities of the work of Isaac Hayes, VWETO III feels like an old-school R’nB record complete with a warm vinyl feel. These tracks resemble living things, whose flesh has grown up to cover golden skeletons. Every groove has a heartbeat and every beat has a warm-blooded pulse, exemplified by the shimmery, flat-footed, side-walk slap of “Passin Ouuut!” and the flowing uplift of the soul-blues revelation “Slow Drag.” Most of these tracks are without lyrics, but Georgia Anne Muldrow’s don’t always need words to tell you what’s on her mind.
Abdu Ali – FIYAH!!! (Self-Released)
On FIYAH!!!, Abdu Ali really comes into their own, synthesizing the musical traditions of their native Baltimore, combining punk and free jazz with Baltimore club music, to form an original thesis statement that acknowledges how their identity is both a product of these histories and simultaneously a thing that cannot be tamed by them or contained within a single prism. The resulting exhibition is both profane and liberating, feeling like a pride parade has erupted from your speakers- lifting you up, hauling you through a damp and smokey drag bar, and out through the fire exit before heaving you into a dumpster outback. And what’s more, you’ll probably want to thank Abdu for the pleasure afterward. Starting with the sass and slash of punk rap opener “F.U.F.M.,” and continuing through the future funk house of “Free Body” and on through to the fusion fissure release of “Chastity,” FIYAH!!! is a lot of things, but most of all, it is Abdu Ali at their most irrepressible.
Obnox – Savage Raygun (Ever/Never Records)
It’s hard to quantify just how genuinely unique Obnox’s sound in the world of punk and noise rock. I always think I’m ready to hop in to one his records, then get about halfway through only to realize and how totally lost I am. Like I neglected some required reading or needed to have studied a map before I embarking on the journey that Obnox has planed for his listeners. Obnox most recent record Savage Raygun is a double album that vaporizes even appropriately lofty expectations with flash-thunder bursts of ‘blasting 90s boom-bap, gilded buzzing p-funk grooves, and slightly-toasted psychedelic R’nB. You’ll get to hear Obnox grip the mic as a full-fledged MC a couple of times on Savage Raygun, specifically on the funky, fire-crackle and pop of “How to Build a Bum” and the sticky, downstroke punctuated, back-talker stitch-up of “Cut Me A Switch.” If this all sounds unusual for a punk album, then you may be a little startled by the ’70s keyboard jazz on “Blessed Black Soldier” and the trippy, melodramatic, shadow trap of “Misery.” It’s not Obnox’s normal vibe, but it definitely works for him here. Anyway, who wants normal when you can have zap from Savage Raygun?
Dua Saleh – Rosetta (Against Giants)
25-year-old songwriter and poet Dua Saleh was born in Sudan, but is presently local to Minneapolis. They got their start writing dark poetry as a teenager and eventually migrated to music after they found that the right score could add some extra teeth to the bit of their debauched, lyrical storytelling. They now have two EPs out with the artist’s group Against Giants. Both were produced by labelmate and Twin Cities resident Psymun. Her most recent EP, Rosetta is named for Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the legendary guitarist, whose techniques were highly influential in the development of early rock and roll (a legacy towards which she was famously dismissive). Like the woman it is named for, Rosetta is a complicated album, brimming with hard truths and complex sentiments. It blends whimsical pop, brooding R’nB, and hints of noise to dress the sets for scenes of intense humanistic drama, where desire reduces people to rag dolls, tossed about between the clenched teeth of a neglected animal chained to the fence in neighbors adjoining yard. Looming over head are lust and avarice, which fan each like a potent wind breathing fury in a forest fire. But through all this misery, as Dua takes pains to tell us, people keep on living. Sometimes out of spite. Sometimes out of love. And sometimes despite the best efforts of angels and devils to drag them to an early grave. What ever they are living for, or in the face of, they keep on living, and that’s what matters. Let Rosetta be your gateway into Dua’s world of tragedy and triumph, as well as those spaces in between, that don’t yet have a name.
The Younger Lovers – The San Pedro Sessions (JABS)
The Younger Lovers is mainly Brontez Purnell. He moved from Alabama to Oakland, CA to become a dancer, but somehow found his way into music, specifically punk rock! Brontez also plays in the electro-clash group Gravy Train!!!! and it is following a wild night with this group in 2006 that The San Pedro Sessions were manifest. After the rest of the GT!!!! crew had turned in for the night, Brontez met up with some friends in San Pedro to record some material he had written for his solo project. After teaching his friends the songs they proceeded to track them in a single burst of adrenaline and emotion, finishing up just after dawn. The four songs that makeup The San Pedro Sessions are certainly in keeping with the very gay, puppy-love pop-punk and Ramones-core romp that makes up the rest of The Younger Lover’s discography, but performed in a much rawer fashion, that serves to heighten the heartache and idealism of the whole endeavor. These recordings are so real and deliberately underproduced that they feel as close to a live album without actually being on. We’ve all been missing shows this year, but maybe The San Pedro Sessions will help tide you over until you can go house show hopping again.
Ebony Tusks – Heal_Thyself (High Dive Records)
Ebony Tusks is a noise rap and punk rock project that started out as the sole endeavor of Martinez Hillard, but has since expanded into a trio that includes Daniel B. Smith and Geese Giesecke. If you read “noise rap” and thought clipping. then you’re in the right headspace to appreciate their sound. Heal_Thyself is the debut album from this troop of truth dealing desperados from the wild prairies of Lawrence, Kansas. While there are definitely other groups in the same lane as Ebony Tusks (we already mentioned clipping.) their is a discernable edge to what the band is doing here that cuts deeper and exposes more than sometimes I think the band intended to. In this way, their sound can also be compared to the club-fisted, open heart surgery and beat mangling pulse of Youth Code and other, similarly depressive, electro-punk and bands. It may take more than a spa weekend to recover from the emotional thrashing that Ebony Tusks will give you on Heal_Thyself.
Danny Denial – fuck danny denial (Cruisin Records)
The title of Danny Denial’s third LP fuck danny denial says a lot about the album from the outset. However, the title isn’t a comment on the quality of the album, or whether or not you should listen to it (because you definitely should) but more a warning about its content. As Danny themself describes it on their Bandcamp page, the album is a “10-song mood ring charting highs and lows, mania and depression, euphoria and dysphoria…” If anything, the title undersells the experience. This a dark album. Opener “Mercer summit block party/Brand new skirt” contrasts shimmering, sparkling synth samples with lyrics about becoming so lonely you literally make yourself sick, before emerging into a gothic set piece about the dysphoria that simple wardrobe choices can cause to erupt in one’s minds with the same level of acute pain and embarrassment as a patch of shingles breaking out on skin of one’s cheeks and forearms. Struggles with self-worth permeate the album, giving the industrial RnB of “I’m not your type” a pernicious pinch while adding extra emotional weight to the rib-cage imploding post-punk sputter of “CCCHOKEMEE.” If you want to see someone bare their soul, without the benefit of so much as an Instagram filter to shield their pain from your view, then this is worth checking out. Even than, fuck danny denial will probably throw more at you than you’ve bargained for. Trigger warnings. Seriously.
Highnoon – Divers (Self-Released)
Philadelphia-based dream pop band Highnoon is lead by Kennedy Freeman. While they are usually joined by a full band, on their new EP Drive, things are pared back to just Kennedy and their guitar. Thankfully they can write a compelling song, one that will consistently nip at your earlobes and demand your attention, even without the benefit of a backing band or a full pedal board. Drive is bedroom pop in its most lovely and inviting form. An opportunity for meditation. A moment of reflection in which to simply appreciate the subtleness of Kennedy’s songwriting, the softness and settling nature of their guitar playing, and intimacy that can bring to the gap between an artist and their audience, a tenderness that transcends the gulf of time and space that a sound recording is necessarily subject to. Allow yourself a moment of peace today with Drive whispering in your ears like the sigh of a house cat sleeping on your shoulder.
Guitar Gabby – Musicology (Self-Release)
Who’s that lady with the green guitar? There is only one right answer: Gabriella Logan, or as she is known to friends and foes alike, Guitar Gabby. Gabby is best known for her work with the Atlanta-based, all-black woman rock group Txlips, but last year, during the height of the pandemic and the street uprisings in response to racial injustice, she released a solo album, Musicology. The title of the album is both a reference to her approach to music-making as well as the music itself. As a student of music theory and a licensed attorney, her methodical approach to life filters into her music in the form of tightly wound performances that leap between rock traditions like a frog skirting across a patch of lily pads. The combination of influences often solidifies into a satisfying neo-folk turn reminiscent of Ani Difranco when that particular songstress manages to slip into a composed and comfortable mood. However, the album has its share of rockers as well, all of which manage to turn up the heat. These harder jams come at you in the form of the swamp fire, country rumble of “The Gunslinger,” the headhunting alt-rock of “The Dead Pool,” and the grime happy, grunge gospel of “Another Tear.” Class is in session on Musicology, and you best be taking notes.
Kaonashi – Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (Equal Vision Records)
Philadelphia-based math-emo and metalcore band Kaonashi continue the story of their previous album, 2018’s Why Did You Do It?, on Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year. The new LP keeps the focus of the narrative on the luckless protagonist Jamie. The events of the album are set into motion when Jamie is assaulted by their classmates on a school bus while they attempt to keep to themselves and find some peace of mind while listening to Lorna Shore on an old iPod. The attack serves as the inciting incident for a tale of revenge and that hurtles through a fateful series of events like a rollercoaster car barreling towards a missing section of track. Forget about digging two graves, by the time the album is over, there might not be anyone left in town to dig a hole deep enough to drop a cherry tree in. Like all of Kaonashi albums, an exploration of mental health and personal crisis are front and center, but despite the power of their guitars, the daring quality of their combined performances, the slicing shriek of vocalist Peter Rono’s full-throated holler, and the violence portrayed in their lyrics, Dear Lemon House… is an album about the necessity human compassion and connect, and above all, extolling the virtue of listening. Not talking. Not hearing. But really listening. If you’ve taken the message of Kaonashi’s Dear Lemon House… to heart, the next thing that should grace your ear once it’s finished playing is the voice of a friend in need. A sympathetic ear can be like a life preserver to someone awash in a sea of troubles.
Cover image by Gabriella Logan.