The Bandcamp Friday train keeps rolling - a light in the darkness for music lovers if ever there was one! On March 20, as the COVID-19 pandemic was putting the world on pause, the indie music service waived their revenue share on all music and merch sold, allowing indie artists and labels a chance for some steadier income as concert tours began to halt. The event was a resounding success, and has been repeated on the first Fridays of May and June, with another on June 19 (a planned annual practice in honor of Juneteenth) where that revenue share went to the NAACP Legal Fund.
Once again, we're hooking you up with some Bandcamp recommendations for this special day - both venerable artists with deep catalogs and even a few new discoveries you might dig!
Arachnote: We always like to kick things off with some local faves, and one of the best I know is Arachnote, a pseudonymous singer/songwriter/guitarist from the New York area. In 2015, she dropped a powerful lo-fi collection called Criminal Mineral, which featured her resonant vocals over incisive post-punk style guitar. All these years later, Arachnote's work still demands another listen - I'm patiently waiting for a follow-up - and to celebrate Bandcamp Friday, we reached out to her to get the story behind her work.
How would you best describe Arachnote?
For me, mental illness involved a lot of self-soothing over the course of my life and when one technique or preoccupation stopped working, I'd move on to the next. So my music is a product of that. The lyrics find inspiration in psychology and philosophy, my singing is inspired by soul and pop singers, and the guitars are post-punk/classic rock.
Who inspires you as a guitar player?
The post-punk revival of the early '00s is what got me into guitar playing - all those single-note riffs. David Gilmour's guitar is emotional, like a second voice, and Mick Ronson is so versatile on The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. I'm also inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and wish more people knew how innovative and integral she was to the creation of rock and roll.
Criminal Mineral is still very potent five years later. Would you do anything differently now?
Thanks! I had severe social anxiety for a long time, so working creatively with other people really didn't come naturally to me. It felt easier for me to write and record all of the guitar, bass, drum and vocal parts myself than it was to involve others. I also mixed and mastered everything with no professional knowledge - so that's why it sounds so DIY. I was losing my hearing on one side while recording and I would shift the headphones around to get the parts right. I didn't hear the whole thing in stereo until about a year later, after I had surgery. I wouldn't change anything about that process because it was cathartic, but for future projects I look forward to working with others and leaning on their strengths.
How do you feel your voice evolved since its release?
It's probably my comfort with my voice that's evolved. A lot of people told me I buried my vocals on Criminal Mineral, and that's probably true. When I record now, I definitely leave more room for them to breathe.
Can we expect more music sometime? Have you found your artistic process changing under quarantine?
Well, the "working with others" goal certainly isn't being achieved at the moment, but that's okay! In general I find that with the daily routine gone, I'm a little more in tune with myself, and there's less second-guessing. I'm hoping to share some music before the end of the year.
mr. caine's suits: Another elusive creator - this one somewhere in Queens - the man who calls himself mr. caine's suits is sharp as they come. He's crafted multiple collections of dense instrumental hip-hop beats (sourced from incredibly forensic samples) that stand tall on their own but are screaming for a dexterous lyricist's recitations. He also drops monthly mixes on Mixcloud, entitled Of That Era. He was kind enough to take us through his work below.
Is there a good story behind the name?
I can't remember why I first started down the Michael Caine rabbit hole, but I realized one day that here was someone who doesn't seem to belong where they are, but has such supreme confidence in themselves that it doesn't matter. He doesn't look like your traditional movie star, but his talent and love for his art overshadowed that and he became successful within it. He's also played a part in a few of my favorite movies as well so it felt like something that was always there that finally caught my attention. I started to go through his filmography and while watching The Italian Job I saw the following in the opening credits:
With that image, everything just clicked and I thought my sound should be as dope as a movie star's closet filled with bespoke Savile Row garmentry. I wanted to soundtrack the adventures that characters wearing such clothing would embark on.
How would you describe your sound?
Villainous. I hope to level up to straight rap beats one day or at least have one beat that people get stabbed to - though I'm not here to promote violence.
Who are your influences?
The Alchemist (aka my dad though he's only six years older than me and refuses to take a paternity test), RZA/Wu-Tang Clan, DJ Premier, J Dilla, Madlib, MF DOOM, Timbaland, Bad Boy Records, The-Dream, Earl Sweatshirt, Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn...I'm sure there's a few more I'm forgetting.
Many of your releases are "diaries" built around a specific place. Is that meant to be taken literally?
In a way, the diaries series started when I took a trip to New Hampshire between jobs just to reset before starting the new role. I was in a group chat with some former coworkers and sent a picture of a record I found at a thrift store; one of them suggested I should pick up a stack and make a tape only from what I find in them. I had never thought to work in these restrictions before, which made it difficult for me to finish things, so I figured I'd give it a shot. It reshaped the whole trip because now I was looking for things to use as track titles and conceptualizing the album as part of the experience. I even turned my car around to get out and take a picture of a basketball court in the rain that became the cover for the plymouth diaries.
When I got back and started working within these restrictions, the project came together so much faster than anything I had attempted before. Any time I felt stuck or wanted to stray or go buy more records, I stayed within the boundaries and it actually opened up my creativity. So from then on, any time I took a trip I would scope out record stores and basketball courts for the cover image and look for track titles as an added layer of intention within the trip.
The only one that doesn't fall under that blueprint is the cedar beach diaries, which was made up of unfinished work from the past decade or so in an attempt to encapsulate the summer of 2002. The court on the cover is actually where I spent almost every night that summer.
Where do you find your samples and sounds, and how do you put them together?
I usually sample off of records, but anything with an audio output can and has been used to get sound to where I need it. I use an Akai MPC2000XL to chop samples and Maschine to do drums and fill out the track with anything else. I then dump everything into Pro Tools for sequencing. I've also mixed a few projects in Pro Tools then used LANDR to master, however neither of those things are my strong suit, so I'm always looking to make an engineer friend.
I tend to sample everything I can off of all the records I plan to use for a project, then go back through and start fleshing out the loops and narrowing down which will make the final cut. To get the room right I usually light some incense, set up my step ladder on the opposite end of the room to hear things from a different position and let Dragon Ball Z run on the TV at a low volume. This way at any point if I turn and the loop matches what's going on on-screen, I know I'm headed in the right direction. It's worked 100% of the time so far.
Who have you collaborated with?
I had a feature from Arachnote on the hopeless romantic and collaborated on the tape in black with my guy Kobra Klutch, otherwise I haven't worked with any other artists. I do keep a growing list of rappers I would love to work with someday.
Tell us about Of That Era.
Of That Era started in 2017 when I challenged myself to do a monthly mix both to learn Serato and keep exploring music in all directions of time. I think it's a skill any artist needs to have to be able to curate, introduce others to what influences them and conceptualize a way to turn it into a little journey. I successfully completed that first year and it became a bit more sporadic after that. As of now, I plan on finishing out 2020 to bring me to a nice round number and then I'll probably do it when I have a specific theme or just feel the need to share.
What's next for you?
'm currently quarantined going through the first of two compact flash cards that I've been using for at least the last five years. I have an idea for an album but it's in the very early stages at this point, though I think it's the next goal. I'll have six more Of That Era episodes, one coming each month this year, and I hope to collaborate with a friend to have her do some animations for music videos. Other than that I'll continue to dream about the tokyo diaries, which might have to be a double disc by the time I get to it.
Peter Gabriel: Arguably the most successful artist on Bandcamp, Peter Gabriel's solo discography is all there, including recent catalog ventures like the music-from-films compilation Rated PG and the digital B-sides collection Flotsam and Jetsam, plus all the studio and live albums (even the German ones!).
Nick Lowe: The legendary British singer-songwriter licenses his own works to the indie label Yep Roc, meaning you can find just about all of his solo works on Bandcamp, digitally as well as physically. From his killer first two solo albums Jesus Of Cool and Labour Of Lust (featuring Lowe's biggest hit, "Cruel To Be Kind") and the selections from his solo catalog that were remastered and expanded in 2017, all the way to recent fare like the "Cruel" Record Store Day single with Wilco and last month's Lay It On Me (recorded with frequent collaborators/tour mates Los Straitjackets), you'll find it all here. As a special treat for Bandcamp Friday, Lowe has made available four new EPs of rare archival material, including part of a 1982 live set and demos and rarities from the Nick The Knife, Cowboy Outfit and Party Of One sessions!
Charly Bliss: This Brooklyn power-pop quartet is one of my favorite current bands. They burst onto the scene in 2017 with Guppy, a quick burst of fuzzed-out rock energy that was a critical darling. The band (vocalist/guitarist Eva Hendricks, her brother Sam on drums, former actor Spencer Fox on guitar and bassist Dan Shure) took a big step with last year's Young Enough, a polished, deeply felt album of heartache, hope and angst. Picking a favorite from the album is impossible, from mood-setting opener "Blown To Bits" to yearning tracks like "Hurt Me" and the gorgeous title track, all the way to rafter-shaking singles like "Capacity" and "Hard To Believe." They're a must hear, living up to the back half of the band name in every way. (If you can't get enough of Young Enough, make sure you check out Supermoon, last fall's extended play of songs from the album sessions like live favorite "Heaven.")
Saving For a Custom Van: Adam Schlesinger's passing this year from COVID-19 was a massive blow for music fans, who've long adored him for his work in Fountains of Wayne and Ivy as well as writing killer songs for film and TV shows like That Thing You Do!, Josie and The Pussycats, Music and Lyrics and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. A host of fans and friends have come together for this must-hear collection on Father Daughter Records. It features covers by Ted Leo, Nada Surf, Motion City Soundtrack, Charly Bliss, Jeff Rosenstock, Kay Hanley, Ben Lee & Sarah Silverman and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator/star Rachel Bloom, plus previous Bandcamp favorites like Sad13, Julian Velard and Alex Dezen. All the profits go to MusiCares' COVID-19 relief efforts, which has raised over $10 million since April.
Sonic Youth: Can't get enough of one of the seminal alternative acts of the last 40 years? Earlier this year, the Sonic Youth Archive was launched, offering official digital releases of various official bootlegs across their entire career as well as the group's Sonic Youth Recordings (SYR) series of experimental releases, all issued between 1997 and 2011. More than two dozen titles are available for your perusal.
MonoNeon: It's always a treat to find someone on Bandcamp with a Prince connection, like his first bassist André Cymone. Dwayne Thomas Jr., better known as MonoNeon, has the distinction of being Prince's last bassist, part of Paisley Park jams from 2015 onward. With an idiosyncratic playing style (flipping and stringing his instrument to play with his left hand) and more than enough flair to match (his art manifesto is a must-read), you can add Thomas' name to the list of players The Purple One was right about. His most recent full-lengths, 2019's Living The Best and Worst Life At The Same Damn Tme! and this year's Toxic Wasteland 2 The Hills, make for great surreal funk; his latest single, last month's timely "Breathing While Black," packs a powerful message. And he even covers his old bandleader on a unique, microtonal arrangement of "Diamonds and Pearls."
Hum: Fans of Hum, the Illinois rockers best known for 1995's modern rock hit "Stars," received quite a surprise on June 23: Inlet, the band's first album in more than two decades. Years in the making, Inlet features eight lengthy, guitar-laden tracks that stay true to the group's progressive, metallic sound while stretching it into new directions.
Explorers Club: This Nashville-based, modern-day sunshine pop band just dropped not one but two new albums earlier this month! We've delighted at the group's growth since their 2007 debut Freedom Wind; while they still wear their Beach Boys influences on their sleeves, you'll also hear hints of your favorite '60s artists from A (Herb Alpert) to Z (The Zombies). Their new, self-titled album The Explorers Club features 12 original songs inspired by their musical heroes, while its companion To Sing and Be Born Again pays explicit homage to those artists with faithful yet inspired covers of such classics as Paul Revere & The Raiders' "Kicks," Dylan-by-way-of-Manfred Mann's "The Mighty Quinn," Herb Alpert's Bacharach & David standard "This Guy's In Love With You," and The Walker Brothers' Gaudio/Crewe hit "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." The sun definitely has been shining on The Explorers Club, whose summer sounds might be more needed than ever this year. Both albums are available from Goldstar Recordings on CD, LP, and digital formats!
Swamp Dogg: A half-century ago, soul singer Little Jerry Williams made the fateful decision to change his name to Swamp Dogg and cut a slightly more cockeyed approach to his craft (think Zappa meets Muscle Shoals). Today the Dogg is still barking - his most recent LP, Sorry You Couldn't Make It, came out in March right before lockdown started and features some of John Prine's last studio work - and you'll find just about everything from his vast catalog here on Bandcamp.
Fluorescent Half Dome: The release bonanza following The Hell Yeah Babies' excellent new single "Great Shot, Kid!" has led to some incredible discoveries courtesy of last month's vintage MTV-style Twitch livestream, featuring videos and performances from other bands (plus a bizarre cameo from yours truly). One such find was Nashville-based Fluorescent Half Dome, the band name of one Krista Glover. The puppet-centric video for the spiky, skittery song "Summer Blessing" is a good taster for Glover's latest EP, 2018's Cool Trash Magazine Has Your Diary! which bubbles with killer guitar and synths (plus a delicious mix of Glover's electronic rhythms and acoustic percussion by drummer Cliff Gray). This is a summer when we could all use some blessings; might as well make it literal this time.
KING: this beloved indie R&B female trio burst into the mainstream in 2016 when their debut album We Are KING was lauded by every major music publication from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork and even picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Progressive R&B Album. At once harkens back to a great time for electronic pop/R&B while blazing its own unique trail.
Bad Sandy: Another great find from the HYB livestream cited earlier - frontwoman Megan Simon took fans on an MTV Cribs-style tour of her apartment - this New Hampshire power-pop quintet deliver sharp hooks and sharper wit. They cite themselves as music to score a '90s high school dance, and we'd go back in time to then if it meant hearing tunes like their most recent single, last year's "Pioneer's Disease."
Bad Rabbits: a favorite from the Boston alternative scene, Bad Rabbits have had a hell of a career: evolving from the genre-bending local group The Eclectic Collective, they've done everything from play two iterations of the Warped Tour to serve as the backing band for legendary rapper Slick Rick. You'll find two releases from each end of their discography on Bandcamp: early EP Stick Up Kids (2009), featuring a guest appearance from Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes, and latter-day full-length American Nightmare (2017).
Kiefo Nilsson: You know the song - "Well in 1941 / a happy father had a son..." That son, Harry Nilsson, created one of the best songwriting/studio musician careers of the '60s and '70s, earning the ears, friendships and collaborations of The Beatles and striking it big with 1971's Nilsson Schmilsson and the Grammy-nominated Badfinger cover "Without You." In 2017, his son Kiefo, who helped complete his dad's unreleased Losst and Founnd, released last winter, tried his hand at a half dozen of Nilsson deep cuts from "Rainmaker" to "Daybreak." Worth your time if you're looking for a little extra Schmilsson in the night!
Digable Planets: Looking for some live hip-hop? Jazz rap group Digable Planets, who delivered the infectious Top 20 hit "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" in 1992, released a live album to Bandcamp in 2017, taken from two shows on a 2016 reunion tour. Some real easygoing grooves here.
And some more favorites: a couple Bandcamp friends we've spotlighted in the past have new works out today, including a new single from Nick Miller, some surprise re-recordings from Miracle Legion and a limited advance release of Julian Velard's latest album (the physical version of which includes liner notes by me!). The sprawling indie Demos For a Difference collection benefits the NAACP Legal Fund, while eclectic Brooklyn label La Reserve put out a sampler focused on singer/songwriter and contemporary jazz tracks that'll fully raise money for the Equal Justice Inititative. And as always, Bandcamp has a list of their own of various spotlighted efforts from labels and artists for today. Happy listening!