Beethoven preferred the company of trees to people. Claude Debussy penned passionate essays on the symbiosis of music and nature, declaring it the supreme source of beauty in the universe. So when Los Angeles producer Kenny Segal decided to make an instrumental album that reflected the majesty of the natural world, he was in good company.
Even though his Kenstrumentals series is three volumes deep, Segal considers the previous installments beat tapes: collections comprised of reworks, instrumentals stripped of collaborations, and gems from the vault. By contrast, happy little trees is an instrumental album, and it veers away from the steady knock of Segal’s rap beats in favor of subtle compositions built from snares, hi-hats, and sinewy basslines with plenty of ambient space in between. The album plays out like a hike: “little trees” and “big decisions” mark the trailhead, “cole’s final” is a steep climb punctuated by springy strings, anticipating the reprieve that is “debushy.” “Then everyone went home” is Kenny by the campfire—is that vinyl crackle or firewood?
Undeniably, happy little trees is earthy, even in the moments when its sound veers toward cosmic jazz. Collaborators like Aaron Carmack and Mike Parvizi, who make up the Jefferson Park Boys, alongside Segal, assist with bass and Rhodes, but the direction is entirely in Segal’s capable hands. Everything in its right place—as painter Bob Ross would say, there are no mistakes, just happy little accidents.
You Tell Me is the collaborative project between Field Music’s Peter Brewis and Sarah Hayes. The duo met at a celebration concert for Kate Bush, a shared influence you can hear in their music. Today, they announce their forthcoming self-titled debut with its lead single, “Invisible Ink.” A ceaseless piano outlines swooping synths and chant-like … More »
A quick scan of Master Boot Record’s sprawling back catalog doesn’t reveal much besides a bunch of binary code album titles and computer monitor album art, both of which will trigger a nostalgia trip in ’90s kids who know Brian Eno’s Windows 95 startup theme by heart. But Victor Love’s meticulous electronic music isn’t as mechanical as his IDM-tinged song titles suggest. It’s actually quite animated, as if the Italian producer imagined a scorched-earth scenario where Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Wendy Carlos are forced to face off in front of a live studio audience—he’s Beethoven with a robotics degree and bloodlust.
“I always use the same set of sounds, which speeds up the mixing process and lets me focus on composition,” Love explained in a Bandcamp interview last year. “It’s a bit like pixel art: low resolution; high imagination. Creation out of limitations. Expression in a minimal framework.”
That’s certainly the case on Virus.DOS, a triumphant mix of melodic thrash metal, tortured chiptunes, and widescreen synthwave that clears the cache of last spring’s Direct Memory Access LP. While the sudden appearance of singer Öxxö Xööx made that album a love-or-loathe affair, Master Boot Record’s latest effort is prickly and to-the-point, fat-free, and full of life. It’s about as captivating as a computer crash gets—what the robots wanna hear when they take over, and Terminator 2 starts looking like a documentary.
Once again taking up the mantle of the genre and social movement he calls “noirwave,” South Africa’s Yannick Ilunga finds new strength in personal expression and political engagement.
Keyboardist Brandon Coleman remembers the time he first met Quincy Jones. “You won’t be able to create a new piece of music,” he remembered the icon telling him. “His sentiment was that we took from the old and created our own new and that’s probably the only way you can do it.” While Coleman understood the essence of what Jones meant, he didn’t completely agree. “I thought it was bullshit, to tell you the truth,” Coleman says now. “I am no cook, and I don’t proclaim to be a good chef, but I can cook. I know that when combining certain ingredients, you can create something really special—and that’s jazz.”
Coleman’s debut album, Resistance, is out after six years of wondering when to release it. Although it’s been complete for that time, Coleman still felt as though he could learn more, even though he wrote for a broad host of artists—including Childish Gambino, Brian McKnight, Shuggie Otis, and Ciara. He decided to finally drop the project after witnessing a cultural and musical renaissance in his native Los Angeles. As a vital member of jazz titan Kamasi Washington’s band, Coleman has a hand in the change, but he believes now is the time to break out.
Along with Washington, Coleman frequently works with bassists Miles Mosley and Thundercat, drummer Ronald Bruner Sr., and experimental producer Flying Lotus, all of whom have played a pivotal role in revitalizing L.A.’s blooming music scene. “Anything you hold hostage will eventually break free and explode,” he says. “I feel like that’s what’s been happening in Los Angeles. The social climate has impacted the way I write music. It’s my own outcry and I feel like the music we write is the stuff that can cut through.”
Coleman attended the Colburn School of Performing Arts in L.A., on a jazz drumming scholarship, before later dropping out. “They were a very giving school, but I quit and went my own route,” Coleman says. “If I went the traditional route, we probably wouldn’t be talking right now.”
After dropping out, Coleman started listening to 1970s and ‘80s funk and L.A. hip-hop: George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Zapp, DJ Quik, and Dr. Dre. Coleman says he would’ve struggled to dive into that music at a performing arts school, no matter how renowned. “There’s absolutely been a gap in knowledge, that’s why you’re only now just hearing about us [in the L.A. scene],” he says, “but that experience taught me the fundamentals of jazz, which was incredibly important.”
One of Coleman’s first big breaks included writing alongside R&B luminary Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. “This happened all about 12 years ago, as I was on a path of making my own music,” Coleman explains. He received a random call and on the other end, it was Babyface asking him if he was in town to work on his new material. He almost missed the opportunity—he got lost on the way to the studio, and nearly turned around and went home because he couldn’t find the address. Luckily, he made it there. “The rest is history,” Coleman says today. “Working under his tutelage is what I imagine working with Quincy feels like; they still think big. With him, I learned how to write a song and tell a story and that’s part of the reason why I’m able to release an album today.”
The album’s first single, “Giant Feelings,” speaks to the journey that began over 20 years ago when he, Mosley, Thundercat, Washington, and others first formed their community of music. A mix of G-funk, gospel, and ‘80s funk, the song sounds both timely and timeless, summoning the spirit of Shuggie Otis’s “Strawberry Letter 23” in its tone and expressions of love.
“A Letter To My Buggers,” “Addiction,” and “Sexy,” arguably the smoothest three track-sequence on Resistance, combine funk, disco, electro, and jazz, partially confirming Quincy Jones’s statement and being in agreement with him now. “Essentially he’s correct,” Coleman admits. “Music has gone through this metamorphosis and come out the other end, but ultimately, it’s still the same.” On Resistance, Coleman pays rightful homage to the musical pioneers that have soundtracked his life. “With this, I’ve been blessed to have good friends and musicians who support this whole movement on the West Coast, this renaissance,” he says. Nonetheless, “I feel like the music we’re creating is making it through to the small one percent of people who wanna feel the frequency we’re on.”
Yet despite the release of this album, Coleman still wants to learn. As he puts it, he’ll always be a student. “Being a jazz musician has opened up my palate, and I can’t think about life the same way,” Coleman says. “Playing jazz is being jazz, it’s something that moves through every aspect of your life.”
Welcome to Seven Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend six new albums that were released between last Friday and this Friday, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.
Hearts & Minds
The rain has pounded New York City, off and on, all day. That might be a bummer any other time, but it’s the perfect backdrop for Electroradiance, an exquisite new shape-shifting album by Chicago trio Hearts & Minds. Despite its title, the album—which pivots between dark and bright sonic textures—feels right for this time of year. Electroradiance scans as free-jazz, yet the deeper it goes, the more industrial it becomes. The title track, for instance, is a weightless procession of glitchy synths, scattered drum cymbals, and faint clarinet chords. “Relativistic” carries the same tone, except the arrangement is rigid and more cosmic. When the trio descends from space, they compile songs like “Back and Forth” and “Future Told,” two electro-acoustic hybrids that would thrive in jazz venues like Village Vanguard and Constellation. Closing track “Slippery Slope” swings between two different sounds: straight-ahead bebop, and a driving rhythm similar to Miles Davis’s “Spanish Key.” It’s a fitting end for the record and this blurb: as I finish typing, it’s now raining again.
Predict Lando Chill’s next move at your own peril. Though he’s only three albums into a young, promising career, the rapper born Lance Washington has already mastered the art of the stylistic 180. His debut, For Mark, Your Son, was a deeply-felt batch of boom-bap hip-hop dedicated to the rapper’s late father. Its follow-up, The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind, was a stunning hard pivot, drawing inspiration from a metaphysical novel by Paulo Coehlo and trading dusty soul for warped psychedelia. On Black Ego, Lando and longtime producer the Lasso torch the blueprint yet again. This time, the production is an intoxicating mix of West Coast G-funk (Chill recently relocated to Los Angeles from Tuscon), intergalactic head trips a la Maggot Brain, and the kind of gritty dirty South hip-hop that provided the backdrop for Outkast’s Aquemini. Witness the spaced-out ricocheting rhythm that kicks off “Ego Vanish,” Lando’s voice ping-ponging frantically off the beats, then dropping back to make room for far-off, pinwheel-eyed backing vocals; “Peso,” which boasts a typically limber, potent verse from Quelle Chris, stretches its instrumentation out like taffy—guitars, keys, and bass blown-out and wobbly; and the scorching electric guitar that rips across “Fauna” would do Eddie Hazel proud. And while the album’s deep grooves make it tempting to think of this as Lando’s “pop” record, a close listen to the lyrics reveal he’s as pointed as ever. On “Facts,” he tears through a lacerating verse attacking racism, police brutality, misogyny, and corporate capitalism with a scalpel’s precision, and on the weaving “From the Hip,” he breathlessly free-associates bars that seem to reflect on the state of the music industry and his place in it. At a time when young artists across genre are doubling down on the same sound, over and over and over, Lando and Lasso have boldly chosen to rebuild the house from the ground up, every single time. It is, arguably, the path of most resistance—commercial audiences aren’t known for embracing constant change. But it’s also a decision that makes every album a surprise, in the best possible way.
On his last record, 2012’s Beams, Matthew Dear reinvented himself as a Bryan Ferry for the opium den set. There were hints of that elegant sleaze on 2010’s Black City to be sure, but on Beams, Dear plunged full-on into the darkness, emerging with a set of songs that writhed and groaned and slithered, Dear’s voice croaking and cracking and oozing a kind of shadowy perversity. At first, Bunny seems like a return to that chiaroscuro landscape. “Can You Rush Them,” which opens with one of Dear’s best lyrics to date (“I was a bad man/ Until I found God…asleep”) is built on a queasy thrum of bass and tom-heavy percussion; “Echo,” which you will never convince me is not about this Eko, takes the repetitive vocal pattern of “Iko Iko” and slows it down to the pace of a morphine drip; and the gripping “What You Don’t Know” rides a heaving, libidinous rhythm, punctuated by eerily out-of-place gospel vocals. But a funny thing happens to the record at the halfway mark: Dear rips the black velvet curtains open and sunlight floods in. “Horses” is a beautifully tender acoustic guitar ballad that cedes its closing minutes to one of the album’s two appearances by Tegan and Sara—who are so good here they threaten to upstage Dear on his own record. “Moving Man” is “Staying Alive” for IDM fans over 30, and the percussion on “Duke of Dens” is big enough to shake arena rafters. The album saves its knockout punch for the end with “Bad Ones,” the second song to feature Tegan and Sara and arguably one of the best songs Dear has ever written. Melodically, it’s pure bliss—the kind of great, subversive pop song that, in the ‘80s, would have been a duet between David Bowie and Annie Lennox. Dear handles the song’s dour verses, his dark burgundy croon bemoaning his own worst impulses before stepping aside to let Tegan and Sara rocket the song up to the sun. It’s a fitting metaphor for the album as a whole: on Bunny, Matthew Dear feels his way back into the light.
The Baltimore band Soul Cannon proudly self-identify not just as musicians, but as agents of “hip-hop destruction.” It’s a bold characterization that, in the wake of the quartet’s new, self-titled LP — their first in seven years — scans as a somewhat-ironic undersell. Even with propulsive spoken-word Eze Jackson at the helm, the aforementioned genre embodies but a mere spoke in Soul Cannon’s breaking-wheel DIY revelry; these twelve songs draw upon every last corner of the Charm City underground, from artful math-rock (“Talk Less” could) and R&B fusion (“Test Drive”) to beat-heavy funk (the aptly-titled “Hospital Records”) and heavy metal (“Wonderland”). By record’s end, Soul Cannon emerges not merely as a feat of hip-hop destruction, but rather a marvel of genre-bending alchemy — which, you know, just so happens to contain some sick bars.
The Great Depression, the latest release from Geneva art punks the Staches, fits a lot of action into an economical two tracks. The band has flirted with raucous garage rock primitivism on their past releases, but here they pare down their sound and go all in for minimal post-punk that nods to krautrock via mechanical riffs and the addition of ambient synths. It’s a good fit for a band who have grown to be formidable songwriters with musicianship to back up their genre-melding ideas. The title track is built on a stomping garage beat with a buzzy guitar line that’s almost prog-like in its construction. B-side “You Are Still a Stranger” is a deconstructed pop song with stream of consciousness lyrics that collapses into a cloudy, off-kilter chorus led by an echoing synth line and layered vocals.
Santa Ana’s Tozcos have been around for the better part of this decade, making melodic and bouncy Spanish-language hardcore; their latest 12-inch, Sueños Deceptivos, refines their style to razor-sharp. Their sound’s a bit indebted to the anarcho side of UK82 on tracks like the midtempo “Ritmo de la Muerte” and “Agusto de Miseria,” and to the raw-edged hardcore of late ‘80s Central and South American bands like Massacre 68 and Kaos on the title track and the opener, “Guerra Mundial.” Vocalist Corrina Pichardo has perfectly uncompromising delivery—every line she screams lands like a dart meeting its target, soaring over her bandmates’ fierce drumming and meaty riffs. There’s nothing about this record, from the songwriting to the recording (clean, but retaining just enough grit in a way that captures the band’s energetic performance), which feels unnecessary, an economy I really appreciate. I’ve felt really heavy this week, a little run down from a lot of different corners, and listening to Tozcos makes me feel revived, able to push through, like an audio B-vitamin shot.
Miniatures de Auto Rhythm
True to its name, the latest effort from French production Dominique Dumont embodies an inverted universe where sonic simplicity reigns supreme, and by extension, a playful subversion of musical gravity as we know it. Highlights like “Mambo Haiku” and “Quand,” however dynamically inert, are pocket-sized worlds in their own right, melding bright synths, gently-strummed guitars (and even toy instruments!) into effortlessly cozy arrangements, minimalist escapism at its fines; the summery “Le Soleil Dans La Monde,” which incorporates recordings of ocean breezes and pitter-pattering feet into a quaint, Balearic-inspired collage, provides an especially inviting escape. Catharsis and melodrama are great and all, but sometimes, it’s the littlest pleasures that bring the most joy. (Also, who doesn’t love the beach?!)
A year after headlining a night of the tragic Route 91 Harvest festival, the popular country renegade forgoes the obvious references on one of the most modest but poignant albums of his career.
Frederikke Hoffmeier’s voice is the thread that holds together her apocalyptic mood pieces, a cinematic take on noise that’s driven by dead-eyed focus.
The real best music video of the week is the scene from A Star Is Born where Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga sing “Shallow” together. Watching A Star Is Born this week, I was completely swept up and entertained in the moment. And then, on the walk to the car, I started mentally poking it … More »