Despite the challenges facing the music business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some bright spots. On March 20, indie music service Bandcamp waived their share of revenue on all sales for 24 hours, allowing artists and labels to support themselves even more robustly. Thanks to impressive results ($4.3 million spent on music and merch, 15 times an average Friday's revenue), Bandcamp repeated the strategy not once, but thrice: the first Fridays of each month (May 1, which raised $7.1 million; today, June 5 and July 3). In light of the senseless, racist killings of black men and women, including the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery, many artists and labels are also earmarking donations to community aid organizations, bail funds and advocacy groups.
To share some of the goodwill and giving spirit with our treasured readers, we're taking today to share some of our catalog and independent favorites. Buy any of these before midnight PST tonight, and you'll be helping make a difference to these musicians and the causes they support while filling your collection with great tunes.
The Hell Yeah Babies - It's impossible to be neutral about New York's self-proclaimed "dumbest band," The Hell Yeah Babies. Members Mike Pfeiffer (vocals/rhythm guitar), Dylan Roth (vocals/bass), Sam Paxton (vocals/guitar) and Julian Ames (drums) are close personal friends and avid supporters of The Second Disc. (Dylan, whose father owns New Jersey record store Vintage Vinyl and wrote lyrics for power-pop group The Modulators, was crucial in getting a recent reissue of their album Tomorrow's Coming on our radar.) I donated to the crowdfunded recording of their debut album, 2018's All The Things That You Believe, and frequently attend their shows. But you must know this: even if I didn't know a single one of them, I'd be telling you their new single "Great Shot, Kid!" - now out through Telegraph Hill Records - is one of the year's best.
Among the last public outings I was at were several concerts by the group. The quartet wear matching pink tuxedo jackets and play loud, hook-filled rock that nods to everything from Cheap Trick and Bruce Springsteen to Blink-182 and Pup. "We sound like somebody put the entire Stiff Records lineup into a food processor and then let that gelatin cool in a series of Creepy Crawlers molds," Pfeiffer jokes. "It's your basic two-guitar power pop setup that is meant to start blasting the moment you groggily reach for your alarm, real feel-good stuff with sarcastic lyrics that are too clever by half." Pfeiffer often does enthusiastic crowd work, demanding his crowds to scream "Hell Yeah Baby!" if they are having a good time - which they always are.
"Great Shot, Kid!" knocked me on my ass when I heard it in concert. When I discovered they put it to tape and earmarked it as their newest single after positive reactions from fans, I cried when I heard the rough mix. The group's soaring vocals and tight arrangements snugly fit a song looking millennial adulthood in the eye. "We never got in any trouble / so we never learned what trouble was," they sing, lamenting "that dull suburban sickness / the craving for a comfortable couch." It's a chillingly fitting song for our time, as we wonder when we'll be able to hug our loved ones safely, take our shots at greatness and press on through the game of life.
Roth, the driving force behind the lyrics, knows that feeling all too well, pandemic or not. "I grew up really sheltered and comfortable and developed a lot of habits as a suburbanite that I still struggle to break today," he said. "I can look back and see I spent a big chunk of my life dreaming big and then wimping out. It's hard not to hate my younger self for wasting so much time, and sometimes I just wanna punch him in the mouth. Take risks! Go on adventures! Stand for things! 'Great Shot, Kid!' is a song about growing out of that phase of my life."
The band have road tested many songs for a potential second album, all of which show a deepening musical and personal maturity (despite Pfeiffer's adulation for the carbonated alcoholic drink Four Loko). "Generation Shark" tackles an uncertain future under capitalism and semi-fascism with razor-sharp wit and JAWS references, while "Mexican Coke," written by Paxton (whose solo demos as boy classic were covered last month), is a Weezer-esque "post-modern fairytale"-cum-slacker breakup song. "The new stuff tends to be more aggressive, more emotional, more contemporary," Roth said. "When we made our first album, I think The Hell Yeah Babies were an escape from our rage and anxiety about the world outside, but now it's more of a release."
Of course, the idea of "release" takes on a new meaning under lockdown. "I don't know what to tell fans to expect next," Pfeiffer reflected. "One of our last shows was February 22, we were celebrating Bernie Sanders winning Nevada and had an afterparty, everybody kissed after sweating all over each other. The world today is unrecognizable, in some ways. It feels like we're in a car driving faster than its headlights - but whatever we do next is going to make 'Great Shot, Kid!' look like a GarageBand demo."
For now, the band will donate half the profits of "Great Shot, Kid!" to bail funds across the country in support of protestors fighting police brutality head-on. On June 12, they'll unleash a livestream on Twitch that will capture the spirit of vintage MTV with a block of videos from them and other bands they love. And they're champing at the bit for the next time they can play a show to a room of adoring fans and potential new ones.
"The next time you get to see a Hell Yeah Babies show, pay close attention to every time Dylan and I ham it up while Sam is playing a solo, every time we all gang up on the mics in lock step, and every time Julian and Sam start a song to keep me from talking," Pfeiffer joked. "I will never take those moments for granted again. The first time we're onstage and get to watch the crowd grow into a frenzy when they grok a call-and-response will probably make me cry, and 'Great Shot, Kid!' has a perfect one. Keep your 'Never Want it Badly Enough!' chambered, folks."
DJ Spinna - You might know him for DJing tribute parties to Stevie Wonder, Prince and Michael Jackson - he even remixed The Jackson 5's holiday song "Up On The Housetop" as a bonus track on a reissue of the group's Christmas album - but Spinna's original hip-hop and downtempo work is not to be missed. A fun place to start and vibe out to are his unissued "beat tapes" from 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Flochango & The Moneyshots - Not a whole lot is known about this New York City-based act, beyond their app-based music and a signer of a petition from the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers pushing for better unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis. That combination of sound action and sound sounds is great in our book. Flochango is one of a few artists who's offering a new track based on current events: "For George Floyd," created on an iPad's Minimoog app, is a solemn tribute to the man killed by a Minneapolis police officer last week. All of Flochango's tracks are pay-what-you-want, with proceeds earmarked for various good causes; in the case of "For George Floyd," funds will be raised for the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Double Double Whammy - There are some killer acts on this label based in Brooklyn - and that label will donate all its proceeds today to The Movement for Black Lives and The Loveland Foundation, a charity which brings "opportunity and healing" to communities of color, with a special focus on black women and girls. Must-hear acts include Australian dream-pop act Hatchie (one of my favorite current artists), indie folk-rocker Frankie Cosmos (daughter of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), and Great Grandpa (a Seattle rock group making all their releases pay-what-you-want, with the band's own proceeds split between Black Visions Collective and Northwest Community Bail Fund).
Lianne La Havas - Raised in London to Greek and Jamaican parents, La Havas got a huge break as a background vocalist for Paloma Faith and collaborated with Prince on his Art Official Age album in 2014. Though she's signed to Warner and will release her first album in five years in July, Bandcamp has some remixes of early tracks like "Ghost" and "Lost & Found."
Sacred Bones Records - Another beloved Brooklyn-based indie, Sacred Bones will donate its digital sales fully and evenly between The Loveland Foundation and "a nationwide bail fund that splits donations among community bail funds." Sacred Bones artists include David Lynch, who's released his own music as well as the soundtrack to Eraserhead; electronic pioneer Mort Garson, whose Mother Earth's Plantasia (1976) became a must-hear for ambient fans when it was reissued last year; some releases by the late Genesis P-Orridge's Psychic TV collective; and horror master John Carpenter, who revisited his score to Halloween for the 2018 sequel and expanded it last year.
Moodymann - This Detroit techno stalwart's elusive persona (he eschews many interviews) is offset by his thrilling, gritty DJ sets and mixes that seek to remind audiences of techno's black origins. An owner of the Mahogani Music label, fans of dance music need to check him out if they haven't already.
Sad13 - Speedy Ortiz lead singer Sadie Dupuis released the solo album Slugger under the name Sad13 in 2016. Since then, she's released additional singles, including some commissioned for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late-night block. She's donating all profits today to various bail funds.
Meet Me @ The Altar - This trio - singer Edith Johnson, guitarist Téa Campbell and drummer Ada Juarez - combines riffy pop-punk with eye-opening lyrics reflecting their backgrounds as black women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Check out their brand new single "Garden" or their latest EP, 2019's Bigger Than Me.
Don Giovanni Records - The outspoken indie from New Brunswick, NJ - not far from Second Disc HQ's home base! - has stated that "the overwhelming majority" of its artists will donate their proceeds to ActBlue Bail Funds for Protestors, which splits donations between more than 70 bail funds, mutual aid funds and activist organizations. Don Giovanni's artists include NJ punk trio Screaming Females, Houston rapper Fat Tony, former Ergs drummer Mikey Erg, recent singles from legendary rockers L7, early albums from singer-songwriter Waxahatchee and even the comedy of Chris Gethard.
DJ Corey - Ask any fans of "footwork" - the Chicago house subgenre so named for its quick-tempo dance battles - and they'll tell you DJ Corey is at its cutting edge. The son of footwork pioneer DJ Clent is colloquially known as "the youngest in charge," after his 2019 mix of the same name and the fact that Corey turned 15 earlier this year. Support an up-and-comer and check his work out.
Kill Rock Stars - The Portland, Oregon-based label will contribute 20% of its proceeds to ActBlue Bail Funds for Protestors. This includes physical and digital releases like the deluxe edition of Elliott Smith's self-titled 1995 album we reported on yesterday, stand-up sets by comedians W. Kamau Bell and Nathan Brannon, punk icon Jim Carroll's Runaway EP (his final solo work before his death in 2009) and In Flight, the "lost" solo album by songwriter/producer Linda Perry.
Rough Trade - the complete discography by New York post-punk act Parquet Courts makes its Bandcamp debut today thanks to the legendary British indie. Rough Trade will also make a donation to Black Lives Matter.
Renee Jarreau - Under the moniker Reverend Dollars, this Seattle-based DJ and activist formed the collective Darqness, which focused on booking black and POC queer and trans artists. More recently, she connected with vocalist Jazz Goldman for a 2019 single as Jazz/Rev, featuring the original track "Urban Decay" plus an arresting cover of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff."
Bob Mould - Finally, the former member of Hüsker Dü and Sugar has announced a new solo album, Blue Hearts, due September 25 on Merge Records. Described by Mould as "the catchiest batch of protest songs I've ever written in one sitting," proceeds from sales of lead single "American Crisis" through Sunday will be donated to OutFront Minnesota and Black Visions Collective. Mould's last three albums, Beauty & Ruin (2014), Patch The Sky (2016) and the superb Sunshine Rock (2019), are also available through Bandcamp.