April 01, 2022
All kinds of experimental music can be found on Bandcamp: free jazz, avant-rock, dense noise, outer-limits electronics, deconstructed folk, abstract spoken word, and so much more. If an artist is trying something new with an established form or inventing a new one completely, there’s a good chance they’re doing it on Bandcamp. Each month, Marc Masters picks some of the best releases from across this wide, exploratory spectrum. March’s selection includes long-distance collaboration, near-silent soundscapes, dizzying stylistic turns, and self-described “noncommittal music.”
andPlay & Victoria Cheah
A Butterfly On Your Shoulder Into Years And Years To Come
For their latest album, the New York-based duo andPlay commissioned a piece by Victoria Cheah, who writes in her notes to A Butterfly On Your Shoulder Into Years And Years To Come that “clarity and noise aren’t opposites; both exist within the other and provide context for the work of intentional attention.” That’s certainly true of the way that violinist Maya Bennardo and viola player Hanna Levinson interpret Cheah’s composition, navigating their way through both precise textures and brash detonations with equal aplomb. “Part II,” which takes up the tape’s second side, is particularly stunning in the way andPlay maintains control of their piercing sonics, sawing out an interweaving dialogue that could rightfully be called a mind-meld.
There are few artists whose work fits the description “ineffable” as well as that of Chicago’s Havadine Stone. Her music exists in between spaces, sometimes even in a constant state of retreat. Take “Tree Duet,” the closer on her new album Old Young, which isn’t that far from complete silence. Little bits of wind and unidentified rumbles drift in and out of the airy track as if she’s lying down in the grass of an empty field, staring at a cloudless sky. Other pieces have more legible sound sources: during “Slow Bath,” she even sings a stirring bit of a cappella, and opener “Dream A Little Dream Of Me (Me On Me On Me On Me)” is full of voices echoing around like memories in someone’s skull. But the main impression that Old Young makes is that of an artist fascinated by space and distance and interested in expanding what those terms mean.
Brooklyn’s Hypersurface has only played together since 2018, and this self-titled album, recorded a year later, is just their first. But the five tracks here sound like the work of a band with a longer history, as guitarist Drew Wesely, cellist Lester St. Louis, and percussionist Carlo Costa weave their conversations carefully and assuredly, cognizant of sonic detail. On “The Binding Problem,” string scrapes, snare drum pricks, and unidentifiable clicks coalesce into a miniature solar system. The bouncing “Scribbles of the Sky at Night” uses the rubbery action of plucked strings to create kinetic energy, while the 19-minute “Hard Gold to Love” demonstrates Hypersurface’s considerable powers of concentration.
David Wesley’s work as LXV has always been enigmatic, his intentions tantalizingly elusive. So the fact that he calls his latest release noncommittal music seems almost like an admission, a way to say that if we hope to crack the code of his mysterious methods, we’re going to be disappointed. But even though the four tracks here are drenched in murky sonic fog, none of them are noncommittal in a pejorative sense. Wesley’s slow progressions and reverent atmospheres are moving targets, blurry canvases that can shift based on whatever mood you bring to it. But pieces this good take actual commitment, the kind that has made LXV a project worth chasing.
John Melillo & Ryan Wade Ruehlen
Where Tremble Heart
For Nova Scotia’s John Melillo and Tucson’s Ryan Wade Ruehlen, collaboration has meant either sharing sounds from afar or traveling a long distance. On the double CD, 150-minute Where Tremble Heart, they did both. The first two pieces are 20-minute soundscapes in which Melillo and Ruehlen exchange ideas back and forth, creating varied sonic journeys that feel both impulsive and sculpted. A third piece is a live performance in Tucson, 45 minutes of constantly-evolving atmospheres that veer into pulse-quickening noise. On CD Two, each participant contributes two field recordings, an aural tour from the waves of Cape Breton to the monsoon rains of Tucson. Those are fascinating, but the intersections on CD One make Where Tremble Heart a work worthy of multiple listens.
Richard Hoffman’s previous musical forays—particularly noise-rock trio Sightings—echo through his first release under the name Organs Obsolete. The rolling punch that his bass playing provided in that vital 2000’s group is as distinctive as ever in these nine instrumental pieces, forming the rumbling spine of pretty much every track. But there are new ideas to be heard on Organs Obsolete. Hoffman has never been one to settle for a retread, but he does like repetition, and throughout the album, persistent loops dig mind grooves. Perhaps most intriguing are Hoffman’s cloudier, less earth-bound tracks, like the humming “Twin Dawns” and the dark rattle of “Sick Betrayal,” a song that manages to be both hypnotically soothing and oddly terrifying.
Musical elegies are challenging; conveying internal sentiments about something as complicated and inexplicable as mourning seems nearly impossible. Whettman Chelmets’s latest release, Joan, accomplishes that task by focusing on a specific time period: the last few days of his grandmother’s life when he played some of her favorite gospel music for her. He then used that music as material for a meditation on her final journey, sampling and reworking it into stirring atmospheres that fit such track titles as “This Realization of Impermanence is Terrifying” and “A Lifetime Condensed into a Small Stone and Considered.” You can feel loss and despair in these 13 reverential, nearly-hymnal tracks, but the sense of hopefulness is even greater. Chelmets transforms the finality of his grandmother’s life into something regenerative.
On the surface, Worst Spills appear to be a jazz group, but their self-titled debut album is so all over the place that applying any label to them seems like a joke. It opens with an ambient electronic track that shifts between drone, samples, and noise, followed by an unruly swamp-jazz jam, then mathematical improv that lands somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Hal Russell. The rest of the album continues on that jagged path as guitarist Joel Nelson, sax player Jacquie Cotillard, bassist Ryan Brown, and drummer James Elliot drive each other in all directions without ever losing step with each other (unless, of course, they mean to). The results are a roller coaster in which humor plays a big role. Only a truly funny band could make a track called “Real Eyes Realize The Gelatin of My Dull Cow Eyes” sound like its title.