I think you know the drill. Every month since last March, those thoughtful devils over at Bandcamp have been waiving the fees for purchases made to artists through their platform on the first Friday of each Month. It started out as a kind of direct aid to artists during an uncertain time, but now it’s just a nice thing they do once a month. They say they’ll keep it up through May of 2021. We’ll see what happens after that. At the moment though, if you have some dough you want to stuff in an artist’s pocket, but aren’t sure what to buy, I present for your consideration, the following gems…
Virginia Wing – private LIFE (Fire)
It should really go without saying that of all the “Quarantine Releases” last year, no one actually wanted to talk about the Pandemic. Understandable, as everyone at that time was looking for an escape, some way to relieve the tension of the moment, rather than wallow in it like a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest and onto an anthill. If an artist did address why they were recording in their guest bedroom or a bedroom closet instead of in a studio, it was usually to address the politics that they believed lead the country to that particular moment in history. There was a lot of searching for explanations- whether they be capitalist greed, racialized austerity, managerial incompetence, or whatever Q People believe.
Very few seemed to accept the moment for what it was, and attempt to tap into their emotions to create an imprint of their mind while in mandatory, relative seclusion. This exercise of reflecting the mind through music is exactly what Manchester art-punks Virginia Wing accomplish on their latest album private LIFE. In many ways, the new album is the same as any album they’ve ever made, only this time, they recorded while wearing track pants. In otherways, the band leans into the hermetical ethos of the moment in which the record was created to kindle a guiding flame to a dream dimension of infante liminality. A moment of stasis where possibility and dread gestate with equal vigor, like seeds sown, respectively, in adjacent fields by Cain and Abel. There is an uncanny domesticity to the album as well, especially on tracks like on the wicked, electro-splash of “Moon Turn Tides”, where singer Alice Merida Richards embodies the subtly caustic, lingering presence of a matriarchal figure with a Laurie Anderson affect, who lectures in euphemistic terms on manners and sources of disappointment.
Opener “I’m Holding Out For Something” is significantly more welcoming, graciously extending an invitation to enter the psychic- jar of private LIFE’s domain with a tinny rattle, ricocheting beats, and bone dry strings, all of which are surprisingly soft to the touch and catch you in a hypnogogic fold. “99 North” reaches for high-minded reliefs, again in a way that manifests as Laurie Anderson in both sound and shape, while “St. Francis Fountain” snaps like a fusion jazz surveying permutation of the Cocteau Twins, and “Half Mourning” sounds like one of the motorik driven exhibitions of melody and chaos that might have hooked the ear of a 4AD A&R person back in the ’80s. There are a lot of records you could listen to in order to give context to your COVID enforced isolation, but few will leave you with as much to ponder and enjoy as Virginia Wing’s private LIFE.
Stream private LIFE below:
Wild Pink – A Billion Little Lights (Royal Mountain Records)
What began as a sprawling double album on the American West from Brooklyn-based indie band Wild Pink, has been scaled back to a modest ten tracks by their lead man John Ross, in one of his more enlightened artistic moments. Even in its svelter form, the band’s third album A Billion Little Lights is defined by its quiet ambitions.
Opener “The Wind Was Like A Train” begins with the slight bowing coo of fiddle strings caressing the bright purr of a piano-driven melody that Ross rides like a tamed wild horse, guided in part by the warming presence of vocal harmonies with Ratboys’s Julia Steiner. This delicate disposition cuts through to “Bigger Than Christmas,” a strait of soft acoustic guitars and petal-shaped chimes, sounding like Ben Gibberd’s attempt at a new American standard. “The Shining But Tropical” similarity tugs at the heartstrings, drumming up reverberations of nostalgia while sounding like the War on Drugs co-penning the score to a National Parks ad with Bruce Springsteen.
It suffices to say, that the album pretty much stays in this lane from there on. This isn’t a put down though. It is honestly spectacular how the band manages to write such simple rock compositions that continue to sound like a series of grand reveals. Each track unfurling before you like the first light at dawn, light stretching forth from the horizon and pulling back the curtain of darkness that had shrouded the majesty of the sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, or the banded, red rock rim of the Grande Canyon from your awestruck view.
Saccharine? Sure. But I think you’ll still find A Billion Little Lights to be quite the treat despite its overt sweetness.
Stream A Billion Little Lights below:
Stinkhole – Mold Encrusted Egg (Mangel Records)
Rotten, worm-brained, dead-toothed, hippy crust out of Berlin, Stinkhole’s EP Mold Encrusted Egg does not mislead with its cover or title. The vocals convey the impression that you’re being accosted by someone who has not slept indoors in several months and who is presently having a very bad mental health day. The guitar and drum work is sparse and spastic, with the instruments sounding like they are disintegrating in the player’s hands, almost faster than the melody of each track can unspoil into a drooling fit of belching disquiet and self-inflicted injuries.
Mold Encrusted Egg will make you feel like you’re witnessing the end of the ’60s as a seven-part, syphilitic fever that is slowly deep drying the last remnants of rock and roll’s dignity into pebble-sized nodules of indigestible grot. You’d have to do a fair amount of dumpster diving to find a hardcore record more delightfully tasteless than this. So can keep your white gloves on and enjoy your filthy cake, and leave the hard work of digging junk like this up to the professionals. Just be careful while you chew; there may be a few rotten eggshells in the batter.
Listen to Stinkhol’s Mold Encrusted Egg below:
The Last Poet – A Page from My Book (self-released)
Queens DIY rapper The Last Poet has cleaned out her hard-drive in order to start 2021 off with a fresh start. This cleans has taken the form of an album of sorts, A Page from My Book. While the release may be an exorcism of old and partially unfinished mixes, released as a compilation on Bandcamp, it stands out as a powerful example of restless creative energy funneled into aggressively autobiographical bars and ambitious compositions, centered on the topics of crushing it for all the haters, while crushing on every cute little honey in her zipcode.
A Page from My Book is far from a purely solitary effort though. The Last Poet has seen fit to collaborate with numerous producers who help to draw out different characters for her to embody with her flow for each track. “I Gotcha” produced by Yung N’ Icy has more of a spiritual soul vibe, illuminating her ’90s R’nB influences. Next, she demonstrates a deft bounce, jab and pivot, with an uncanny resemblance to the body-checking rush of Killer Mike on “Check It,” and later on “X.” Both containing playful, ’80s synth-infused, trap mixes contributed by Penny Diamond and Hitman Hunna, respectively.
The Shee produced “Broke Nigga Shit” sees The Last Poet clowning on the style and pretensions of the previous generation of Soundcloud rappers, while the soulful Mickey P. Boomin’ number “Closure” allows her to relax into a vulnerable, stream of consciousness progression of thoughts and rhymes. Even though it’s clear that The Last Poet is still searching for a sound and style that suits her dynamic skill set, it’s awesome to see her morph through all of the different forms she manages to phase through on this release. Thankfully, this is far from the final chapter in her hip-hop career. Keep an eye on this girl.
Check out A Page from My Book below:
Tenebro – Liberaci Dal Male (Dismal Fate Records)
Gnarly death metal out of Italy. Appropriately gore obsessed, they sound like Undergang might look if they threw up on themselves during a tour of a poultry slaughtering plant. Liberaci Dal Male (which translates to “Deliver Us From Evil”) is the band’s follow to their aggressively lo-fi demo from 2019.
It’s always cool to see death metal bands embrace that mid-tempo crawl favored by British metal bands and utilize the more meandering pace to detour in disconcerting directions, such as the fill splashed break on opener “Cannibalismo Sanguinario,” that is accompanied by a soundbite of a truly ludicrous sounding cackle as well as the brutal cracking and ripping sounds of a barbaric feast. Another example of their maligned digressions is the menagerie of horrors visited on the wheezing, miasmic choaked swirl of “Il Lamento Dei Malati.” This band is still very early in their career and they’re definitely ones to watch as they pick up steam towards a full-length LP.
Stream Tenebro’s Liberaci Dal Male below:
Luke Sick & Wolfagram – Yegg War (Iron Lung Records)
Despite being described as one of West Bay’s finest rappers by their label Iron Lung, I could not track down even a bad aftertaste of MC Luke Sick online. Same for his collaborator, Toronto producer Wolfagram. That’s ok though, because who makes the music isn’t nearly as important as how it sounds, and their debut collaboration Yegg War sounds dope, so case closed! The bars are ugly and deranged, sounding like the product of a damaged mind, and the beats are ruthless and brooding, plundered from the graveyard of noir film scores and canceled cop dramas.
As filthy and filmy as the production and subject matter of this Yegg War is, it’s also confoundingly elegant in the same way that Tommy Wiseau is apparently very charismatic in person. It’s hard to describe until you experience it first hand, but once you do, you’re like, “Ok, you still seem fucked up to me, but I guess we’re cool.” The way that Luke’s rhymes about stabbing people for change, resisting the powers of secret reptilian overlords, and self-medicating with street-level pharmaceuticals combine with Wolfagram’s badly bent beats, seemingly warped by sitting on a car dashboard in the sun for hours, will leave you with a dubious sense of lo-key terror. The whole thing feels precarious and evil, and that’s DEFINITELY the point.
For anyone who still thinks punk and hip hop don’t have a convergence point, Luke Sick and Wolfagram have drawn a line in the sand with Yegg War.
Stream all of Yegg War below:
Emily Brown – A Fish Of Earth (Song Club Records)
There is a study out there (don’t ask me where, but it’s out there, trust me) that demonstrates that people rarely listen to the actual lyrics of a song. Instead, they look to context clues like album art, vocal intonation, the mood of the instrumentation, and the temperature of the production to get a sense of what the song is about. But if you ask them about its actual contents, they’ll probably just repeat some version of the title back to you (“‘Stairway to Heaven’ is about a staircase that goes all the way to god’s house!”).
What’s remarkable is that people intuitively know this about theirs and other’s listening habits, and yet lyrics are still treated as incredibly important to the success of a song. Nashville songwriting is based entirely on this premise alone, and some of the greats like Joni Mitchell, who don’t owe their livelihood to Tennesse, have built nearly their entire career on their ability to turn a phrase. Emily Brown is one such artist who believes that what she says matters when the words she sings reach by her audience. To this end, she has consciously worked to streamline her compositions to keep them simple and unobtrusive on her latest album, A Fish of Earth, allowing for her observations on life and aspirations to ring clear as a bell through the unfurling bloom of modern orchestral appurtenances.
Invasive thoughts of dread while watching children’s films, the weight of want for a child, and the conscious choice to love another are all topics that are fully explored, in all their vulnerability and embarrassment, with you invited to a front-row seat to each remuneration and mood. Of the personal topics tackled, “Game Show” offers a pantomime of a frank discourse with a lover about Emily and their future, examined in defiance of family expectations and religious obligations, and in an embrace of spontaneous feelings and cherished commitments, set to refreshingly sober, chamber-folk movements. Moments like these are exemplary of the entire album, which is absolutely lovely, from start to finish.
I’m not the first to say this, and I hopefully won’t be the last, but Emily Brown’s A Fish of Earth is quite the catch.
Stream A Fish of Earth below:
Swampbeast – Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads (Translation Loss Records)
Los Angeles-based death metal trio Swampbeast evaporates expectations on their debut record, Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads. When they dropped the advanced track “The Blind God” back in February, vocalist Marecov Mena stated that their goal “from the beginning has been to create the darkest music possible.” And did they ever succeed!
Beyond the band’s own comments about their music, they were sold to the metal buying public as a particularly vicious death-grind band… which is comparable to saying that an alligator is just a larger than average iguana. Swampbeast has grind parts for sure, but this isn’t even the most defining or brutal aspect of their sound. What really makes their particular brand of death metal hit like a morning star to the temple is their low-end, doomy churn, and the soul-sucking, flesh-withering yawn of Marecov’s all-consuming vocals. Combine this blacked death-doom with a floor-punching, hardcore punk attitude a la Fuming Mouth and you have the sound of human kinds final hour. They’re like Spectral Voice if they had mastered Hatebreed’s floor punching grooves and integrated them into their aural armory, and delivered them with the dexterity of Portal.
Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads has made my head feel like it was going to spin off its axis. I can’t recommend it enough!
Stream Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads below:
Zig Zag – It Gets Worse (11PM Records)
Not to be confused with the Zig-Zags out of LA (but from the sounds of motorcycles cruising in the opening track, you’d be forgiven for conflating the two), Zig Zag are a smart-talking pack of shrewd little scamps from Southern Florida. They play a barely restrained version of hardcore, similar to the strains which the Germs helped to spread in the early ’80s, amplified with the wiggly, free-spirit tantrums of bratty Berkeley punks Blatz.
It Gets Worse is Zig Zag’s follow-up to their demo and is a pretty perfect encapsulation of a variety of free-wheeling punk that is all but lost to time at this point in the 21st Century. “More or Less” is a slipper game of red light-green light that ends with a weaving groove that acts like it wants to charm you, but is actually just holding your attention while someone behind you nips your wallet. “Cry For Help” has a very Germs-esque, imploding groove that ends with an ascending chord progression that rises only to dramatically collapse from exhaustion at its zenith. Lastly, the eponymous “Zig Zag” is a snot-dribbling, revenge of the reject style anthem, that sounds like Crimpshrine trying to tackle some basic Thin Lizzy chords with both befuddlement and admirable resolve. You’d never believe imperfection could be done so perfectly.
As a final note, It Gets Worse album contains the last recordings of Zig Zag guitarist Austin, who died sometime between their final recording session and the album’s release.
Stream It Gets Worse below:
Far Away From All Of This – Outward Bound (self-released)
You probably looked at the cover of Far Away From All Of This’s Outward Bound and figured you knew what was on it, right? Just look at that mustard-colored Martain landscape with its implausible, lysergic geography. Must be a stoner doom album, right? Not the case as it turns out.
This Swiss group plays a blend of space rock, emo, and experimental shoegaze, with no direct sonic parallels in my experience. A little Hum, a dash of Failure, some Ride, and a smatter of Braid, with a full tank of cosmic post-rock loaded on back to help give it that extra boost it needs to break into orbit. These guys are literally (thematically… literally, thematically) out of this world!
A great place to start with this one is just the opener, “Haven” it has an excellent popping groove and a fat backbeat that will immediately satisfy the demands of your inner rocker, and its downshifting hooks will key you into what to expect on the more somber follow-up “Reality Check.” This is not a long album and things start to get weird fast. “Last Call” ends with a purgation of full-throated screams over a sheer cacophony, that eventually cools down into the synth charted star voyage “Stellar Stream” before reaching its final destination with the sprawling, droney meditation “NGC 4603.” Outward Bound truly lives up to the title that was bestowed to it by its maker.
Stream Outward Bound below: