Released on the Italian label Vollmer Industries in 2015, Innerworld is the 2015 debut album by the Eunice, Louisiana-based recording project Lower Level Bureau.
Recorded at Reverb Studio in Cuneo, TX, Innerworld kicks off with the massive 10+ minute track Rose’s Theme. Taking its Badalamenti influence straight, Lower Level Bureau otherwise connect the ominous link between Doom Jazz and Southern Gothic. This instrumental album is incredibly cinematic, with an impressive faux-natural drum machine sound, thick layers of synth strings, and audio samples serving as an effectively haunting human element.
Innerworld more or less exists as a Lynchian representation of the JFK-conspiracy within music. The album artwork and opening track Rose’s Theme refer to Rose Cheramie, a somewhat tangential character in the mythology surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination. The music across the album is scattered with samples of the event’s news coverage.
A younger me, deeply into anything remotely spooky and arguably ‘real’ (unlike, say, creepypasta), would have fawned over Innerworld without hesitation. But now our societal climate lacks any practical social cohesion.
Since the album’s release in 2015 we’ve seen first hand the political manipulation, the tearing of societal fabric, and its devastating toll that have become the real world baggage to an interest in conspiracy theories, something that years ago could have been considered the interest of the gumshoe’s hubris, oddity nuts (such as myself), or just plain old weirdos.
Speaking of Twin Peak’s influence and conspiracy theories, does anyone remember X-Files?
All of this said, the JFK assassination and its mythology are, to put grimly, as American as apple pie. Perhaps Innerworld is a last call for our more playful collective interest in such topics. It’s a beautiful album, and one that expands upon both Noir and Southern Gothic themes within music. Maybe one day we’ll come to find it ‘fun’ again.
For fans of: The Killmanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Angelo Badalamenti, Dale Cooper Quartet
Catastropheland, despite what its name suggests, instigates a state of dubbed out bliss. From the Cologne, Germany based trio Montel Palmer, Catastropheland is a lo-fi futuristic album full of post-apocalyptic minimal rhythms and tripped out, oil-slick synth ambience.
The album’s low fidelity recording wraps its contents in noisy warmth. Electronics percolate around bumping minimal synth bass lines while the occasional spoken vocal draws out in waves of delay. There’s a delightful degree of absurdity to it all, while still retaining an emotionally accessible tone.
Faintly reminding me of UK Hip-Hop group Strange U, Montel Palmer’s futuristic sound is simultaneously dystopian and relaxing. It’s not entirely uncommon to see people bemoaning our lack of ‘futurism’ as a sign of a dismal societal/global outlook, but perhaps what’s more telling is what we see in what little futurism we do have. It could be argued that ‘futurism’, as an artistic element or mode, could never accurately predict anything to come from the chaotic world we live in. But I believe an audience focusing on what futurism says about the future completely misses the point.
The future really is now.
For fans of: Bill Laswell, Meat Beat Manifesto, Ouxh,
Farmer’s Wake is the debut full-length album by South Carolina-based and Southern Gothic themed Alt-Country band Fonta Flora. The duo consists of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Robert A Maynor IV and lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dosher. Fonta Flora’s folksy brand of Alt-Country carries the rustic tonalities expressive of grim, glum and sometimes lonesome backwoods living. Fair enough. But aesthetics can be an empty shell, and as the album played out I found myself in familiar territory.
It all started innocently enough, but steadily as the album progresses I find an uncomfortable creeping sense of irritation. Some of the album’s more deficient aspects are covered by the duo’s songwriting abilities. But even highlights on Farmer’s Wake, such as the lead guitar melody on track Planetary Haze are shot out of focus by goofy lyrical content.
5 songs in and I think I may just be a ‘whiskey’ short of winning Southern-cliche bingo. We got a ‘I work all day’, ‘lord’ this, ‘lord’ that, ‘devil’ this and a ‘devil’ that. I stopped keeping track. Farmer’s Wake is an album that gets progressively worse with its cliches; more and more in your face, more grating with each passing minute.
Alt-Country like this is something straight out of the creative class, somewhat distanced from the ‘salt of the earth’ people the genre usually attempts to represent or pose as. That’s okay, I don’t expect Lord Worm, former vocalist of Canadian Death Metal band Cryptopsy, to have actually been “in the kitchen, with a screaming triple-amputee” who he is cannibalizing, let alone any of the other things depicted on None So Vile (1996) to be true.
But while more conservative attitudes to music try to distance themselves from the splendor of showmanship, music is and always has been a show. Music and its marginalia- album art, flyers, drama, lore and legend- have become their own theatre since recorded music (if they haven’t always been).
With the ‘theatre’ of music in mind, what’s so grating about Farmer’s Wake is that Fonta Flora’s strengths- the album’s highlights- are left as pretty ornamentation surrounding the album’s hokey celebration of what is a troubled and depressing trope of Southern identity (not to mention the obvious atrocities pervading conversations around Southern identity). Like a theatre-kid out of their league, there is an unacquired gravitas in the album’s approach to its subject matter which makes it feel lifeless (at best).
Where to go form here? I’m uncertain. But both Dosher and Maynor prove themselves to be talented and multifaceted musicians. Perhaps a shirking of established tropes will let them find something that both highlights their musicianship and resonates with a more nuanced emotional palette.
For fans of: Old Crow Medicine Show, Sons of Perdition, The Dead South
In the Resident Sound series Audio. Visual., join Lubert Das as they attempt to become a music sommelier of sorts; serving cross-medium recommendations and top-choice pairings of music and other cultural works. Will Lubert serve you up a new favorite song? Something to flesh out your viewing-party playlist? Or the worst trash you’ve ever heard?! These are, simply put, 5 songs you might enjoy if you enjoyed the TV-show Broadchurch.
Part police procedural, part grief-laden small town drama, Broadchurch was a moody British crime show which starred David Tennant, Olivia Colman, and Jodie Whittaker to name a few. Whether it was the desolate downtown strip or struggling hillside church, the fictional town of Broadchurch often acted as the most important character throughout the entire series.
Like many of the show’s characters, you too may feel stuck in the vortex that is Broadchurch. The series’ third and finale installment may have ended in 2017, but there’s no need to fear! To hold you over just a little bit longer, here’s 5 songs you might like if you love Broadchurch.
Richard Hawley – The Ocean
What is there to say about grief? A lot, probably. But sometimes it’s just better to let it wash over you. If you find yourself getting drawn into the emotional swells of this fictional sea-side town, perhaps consider checking out Richard Hawley’s song The Ocean from his 2005 album Cole’s Corner.
John Murphy – In A House – In A Heartbeat
Me? I don’t need to explain anything! It’s YOU that needs to watch the opening of the series premiere of Broadchurch, then you’ll understand!
…Okay, maybe I need to explain that Broadchurch isn’t a zombie film, as In A House – In A Heartbeat is perhaps most recognizable as part of composer John Murphy’s score to 28 Days Later, and later used in 28 Weeks Later and plethora of other outlets. It’s a great song, and whether you’re currently watching or looking back fondly, you might enjoy this classic Post-Rock track.
Susumu Yokota – Long Long Silk Bridge
Arguably most in line with the original score for Broadchurch, multiple tracks from Japanese Electronic composer Susumu Yokota’s 2005 Ambient masterpiece Symbol could easily be substituted in for the show’s original score. Maybe now is a good time to admit I didn’t care too much for composer Ólafur Arnalds’s score for Broadchurch. It came across a bit hammy, a bit expected for a European murder mystery series.
Even with the use of somewhat ‘obvious’ orchestral samples- a jab I’ve seen lobbed at Yokota and plenty of other artists, and one that I take issue with- Yokota’s work feels more emotionally dense, more emotionally nuanced. Its lush beauty and slightly off-kilter delivery feels like birds of a feather with Broadchurch’s scene-establishing shots of a gloomy, sometimes desolate seaside town.
Seemingly the exception to Christian Rock, Starflyer 59’s Shoegaze era is full of songs to set adrift to. It’s got the dense waves of guitar you’d expect from Shoegaze and an abstracted sense of forlorn longing that matches right up with the atmosphere of Broadchurch.
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Strange Dream
This might be a strange addition to this list but if I wanna do this right I’m going to need to make some bold choices. For the more restless Broadchurch fans, I wanna recommend the song Strange Dream from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s first full length record Talk About The Weather (1985). The first minute and fifteen seconds of Strange Dream sounds like something out of some darkened Euro thriller/crime show, so what more could you want?
Under pummeling drum machine rhythms, the song’s “alone he ran” mantra and its hazy layers of guitar fit Broadchurch‘s lead detective Alex Hardy (David Tennant) and the case that still haunts him (season 2, baby!).
Flame Flottante is the 2018 EP release by French instrumental duo Malakas. Based in Coulommiers, France, band members K.Yordanoff and M.Le Saux have created a charming work of Post-Exotica.
Opening track Fatigues sinks the listener into a melancholic sea. Somber surf guitar, awash in reverb and wobbling tremolo, plods along while lapping brushed drums smears across the song’s musical structure. A harpsichord-sounding keyword elicits the sensation of light beams through stained glass, breaking outwards in floral kaleidoscopic fragmentation.
Similarly, the titular second track Flamme Flottante (Floating Flame) drifts along in an eerie space-age fashion before breaking into a Bossa-Nova tinged and organ driven dash to the finish. There’s a quality reminiscent of 1970s Italian film composers Giuliano Sorgini and Armando Trovajoli that is prevalent at first. That is until the album’s break in to a more distinctly indie rock territory on its second half.
B-side tracks HOO HAA and the closing Palapappa exhibit a more energetic, somewhat silly and less despondent indie rock approach. On both HOO HAA and Palapappa, Malakas pits guitar and synth to battle it out over an occasionally Math Rock influenced Indie sound. Though still far from the ‘boss fight’ aggression of Nintendocore / Surf champs The Advantage, the final two songs on this four song EP work back into a more Rock oriented sound.
The Surf music genre is undoubtedly an influence on most artists exploring Post-Exotica themes, and it shows here. Surf has seemingly always had one foot in the cinematic and one foot in pure playfulness. I like that about Flamme Flottante. Even if the latter half doesn’t engage me in as intense of a way as the album’s more cinematic first half, that the album can balance these two at times contrasting depictions creates for a well-rounded EP.
Flamme Flottante is Post-Exotica bliss, exploring both the tropical sounds of the age of Hi-Fi’s past and more contemporary instrumental playfulness.
For fans of: The Advantage, Hospitality, Armando Trovajoli
At times jazzy and smooth, at other times speaker-smashing sneaker-squeakin’ Electro, Rahiem Supreme’s 2020 release The Treacherous Charm has a little something for everybody. Part of the Washington DC-based rapper’s prolific pandemic streak of releases, The Treacherous Charm is sometimes humorous, always passionate.
Tracks on The Treacherous Charm are short, sweet, and end abruptly (upon first hearing them, somewhat jarringly). There’s a spontaneity to all of it which makes it feel fresh, a little raw. If you’re daunted by a 17-track album (c’mon now, it’s still only 30-something minutes), some standout tracks I recommend starting with include Shroomstories Freestyle (produced by Twelveam), Mewvsmewtwo (produced by Hvyarms), and the choppy glitch jam Futuristichybridpimp5000 (produced by Al Divino).
There’s a (forgive me) James Joyce quality to Rahiem Supreme’s dense lyrical imagery. Perhaps this is what had me immediately sending links to my Kool Keith loving friends. But Rahiem Supreme- the Grandmaster Splash- is in a surreal rap world of his own.
Pulling a quote from the introduction to The Man Wears Moschino: An Interview with Rahiem Supreme by Pete Tosiello:
If anything written here piqued your interest, you’re in for a good time.
An excellently recorded album, Samara Joy’s self-titled 2021 debut album brings mellow vitality in a way that only Jazz can. Joy’s vocals are dutifully in-line with the album’s study of vocalists Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, yet it’s this display of taste and artistic values shown through cultural touchstones which is more or less ‘the point’ of many records nowadays, within and outside of Jazz. This fixation with the past, in this case Vocal Jazz greats, has many a times become a trap of banality. But the musicianship of Pasquale Grasso (guitar), Ari Roland (double bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and Samara Joy create an incredibly playful and impassioned performance across the album’s curation of material.
In recent readings of both Byung-Chul Han’s The Disappearance of Ritual and Simon Reynold’s Retromania, I found both authors touching on ideas of ‘vertical time’ and French philosopher Roland Barthes’s musings of Japan as the ‘empire of signs’. In The Disappearance of Rituals, Han explores the imbalanced modes of play and work within the “genealogy of [rituals’] disappearance”, while Reynolds’s Retromania investigates the rise of retro-fetishism and the wane of modernist Western ideals of artistic innovation and displays of emotional urgency within art.
It had all just fallen in my lap, a book I had put off for years (Retromania) and one I bought on a whim (Rituals). Completing this coincidental trifecta was that Samara Joy had finally made its way to the top of my ‘to review’ folder; an album I had never heard before, so deeply entrenched in a musical tradition, igniting vague ideas of the ritual-esque nature of ‘standards’ within various music cultures and practices.
‘Work’, Han argues, is an increasingly dominant force in our modern times. “Because of the compulsion of work and production, we are losing the capacity to play. We only rarely make playful use of language; we only put it to work. It is obliged to communicate information or produce meaning. As a result, we have no access to forms of language that shine all by themselves. Language as a medium of information has no splendor. It does not seduce.”
As an album, Samara Joy is a playful experience. Its tonality, recording quality, and study of musical touchstones is symbol-rich. It is decidedly Jazz- recognizable, in a sense historical. There is no original compositions on the album, no overt dialogue espoused. But it is within this framework which play thrives, as there is nothing to be extracted, no ‘work’ to be done. The music is there to enchant the listener and then move on.
Highlights of the album include renditions of Stardust, (It’s Easy To See) The Trouble With Me Is You, and Let’s Dream In The Moonlight. Pasquale Grasso’s magnificent guitar playing blankets the audible spectrum with vast swaths of color, reinforced by Kenny Washington’s densely textural drumming. Ari Roland’s bass playing gleams with character, refusing to be resigned solely to functionality. As a whole, the record is greatly enjoyable, perhaps magical in the right ears.
Still reading Retromania at time of writing this review, I find myself investigating (and interrogating) my own values in regards to art and culture.
Is the value of artistic innovation outmoded? Too individualistic to allow for play? I don’t believe so. I would argue there is increasingly less individuality and originality within our atomized cultural climate of work. Mining the past (our own garbology) has been a function of production, an efficient way of ‘up-cycling’ material. This stands in contrast to both structured playfulness and innovation through emotional urgency. Only ‘additive innovation’ (as in innovation for the sake of creating innovation) has a cancerous snuff effect on art- cutting off an intrinsic function (this sense of ‘play’) with excess matter. For proof, simply look at the irrelevance of contemporary self-identified Avant-Garde artists. ‘Additive innovation’ is academic exhibitionism at its most flaccid, most soulless, and forgoes the playfulness of music which enchants and enthralls the listening audience.
In contrast, Samara Joy and company commit to playfulness within a musical standard, a ‘ritual’ of sorts. Going forward, I would love to see what this line-up of musicians could achieve if egged-on outside of the comfort zone of Jazz familiarity. The album is delightful, and worth the time for any fan of Vocal Jazz.
For fans of: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae
Founded in 2008 in Oakland, Bandcamp has long been the go-to for independent musicians, bands, and small labels to sell directly to their audience as well as those looking for new music. But as many of us found out yesterday morning, Bandcamp has now been sold to Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite and Unreal Engine.
From the Epic Games’ website,“Today, we are thrilled to announce that Bandcamp will become part of Epic Games. Bandcamp is an online music store and community where fans can discover, connect with, and directly support the independent musicians they love.
Fair and open platforms are critical to the future of the creator economy. Epic and Bandcamp share a mission of building the most artist friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money. Bandcamp will play an important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.”
But what else lies in Epic’s vision?
The understandable distrust in giant companies like Epic Games is only part of the outrage and wild speculation in the current discourse surrounding Bandcamp. Surely none of us can be certain of the future to come, but if we examine the attitudes and competing narratives perhaps the bigger issues will make themselves clear.
At the root of much of the backlash to this news is the disenchantment of Bandcamp’s anti-corporate user base. Whether it’s distaste in streaming models, the predatory track records of major labels, or simply the ‘sticking it to the man’ spirit of rock’n’roll, many have lauded Bandcamp’s efforts as an ‘independent’ venture. The company has championed artistic independence, direct payment to artists, and music scene’s sense of community.
But isn’t selling out to a major private entity, especially one backed by a multinational conglomerate, somewhat contradictory?
Distrust: ‘Microtransact Your Nuts Off’
Bandcamp is a low- perhaps the lowest- cost of entry into selling one’s own music. Even the notoriously cheap cassette tape costs about 250 USD for a run of 100 cassettes, and this is just acquiring the product. With Bandcamp, the product is digital. What it costs to produce is the time you the artist put into it, and perhaps 15 minutes to upload and label all your track files (assuming your internet is slow).
But much like your local greasy spoon getting new, yuppier owners, many are starting to worry we’ll see cost of entry inflation from the nickel-and-diming at the heart of the ‘video games as service’ model adopted by Epic Games in the 2012.
Could artists be charged per track upload? Will Bandcamp and third-party revenue shares increase? There’s a thousand and one ways these microtransactions could take place.
Bandcamp Daily, the site’s daily roundup of music from all corners of the site’s marketplace (and currently staffed by some of my favorite music journalists), has proved a semi-lucrative land for any band to make- the closest to ‘front page coverage’ many of us could ever dream of.
But under a microtransactional system BCD could be targeted for payola, given a SubmitHub-esque ‘pay to play’ entry, or even require a paid subscription to read. But all of this is currently wild speculation. None of these things are known.
Regardless, none of the BCD writers or editorial staff deserve the flak and harassment they’ve received since the news first broke. It seems fairly safe to assume that their opinions in the sale of the company, whether for or against, would have had little to no effect on upper management’s decision to pursue selling off the company. And that’s assuming they even knew about it before it happened!
Wild speculation is simply that. We have absolutely no certainty of what the future will hold, but we can look at a Epic’s trajectory…
Disintegration: Bedfellows of A Metaverse
The past few years has shown Epic Games making a series of funding rounds and acquisitions, the latter of which predominantly being video game developers and digital tool makers.
From a post on the Epic Games website, April 13th, 2021, “Today Epic Games announced that it completed a $1 billion round of funding, which will allow the company to support future growth opportunities. Epic’s equity valuation is now $28.7 billion.
This round includes an additional $200M strategic investment from Sony Group Corporation, which builds on the already close relationship between the two companies and reinforces their shared mission to advance the state of the art in technology, entertainment, and socially-connected online services…”
The article goes on to state founder and CEO Tim Sweeney is still the controlling shareholder of Epic, and includes the following statement from Sweeney himself:
It’s hard to see the acquisition of Bandcamp as anything but an extension of Epic’s metaverse aspirations. But how would Bandcamp fit within a privately-owned domain such as a metaverse?
Sony Group Corporation is only one unnerving bedfellow of Epic Games. The Shenzhen, China-based multinational conglomerate Tencent Holdings Ltd has owned a 40% stake in Epic Games since 2012, and was a guiding force in Epic’s move to a ‘games as service’ business model. Putting some Bandcamp users’ xenophobia aside, in an article written by Tim Ingham for Music Business Worldwide reported that “Tencent now controls 10% of [Universal Music Group], 9% of Spotify… and Nearly 2% of Warner Music Group”.
It’s this selling out, albeit indirectly, to the very behemoths of the music industry which feels like such a betrayal. That these music industry giants are some of the main bread-winners of the currently dominant streaming model, a platform in which the artist disproportionately suffers, only brings that uneasy feeling of a death knell.
There was a strain of online discourse encouraging Bandcamp to enhance streaming function on its mobile app during the most recent Spotifallout: a debate over better pay and the ethics of streaming drowned out by a Neal Young-leveled ultimatum over vaccine misinformation on the Spotify-backed Joe Rogan podcast. But others have warned over losing focus on Bandcamp’s core-function as a direct B2C (business-to-consumer) e-commerce marketplace.
Would a corporation as big as Epic Games, backed by a multinational conglomerate and having multiple ties to streaming-platform breadwinners, stay true to their claim of “building the most artist friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money”?
The wool may not be pulled over people’s eyes, that doesn’t mean the rug won’t be pulled out from under them.
Remixed film tracks in the days of Witch House, these wonkified reworks of Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone are representative of a time, a brief moment, standing on the edge of Twin Peaks’ new-found cultural ubiquity, when the previously cult show of the early 90s was only starting to be reworked into contemporary culture. While Twin Peaks’ influence on the Doom Jazz genre cannot go understated, it’s here, at the beginning of television streaming in the early teens, that we begin to see Twin Peaks looked to en mass.
Opening track Audrey’s Trance is a warped and wistful refashioning of Badalamenti’s Audrey’s Dance from one of many iconic R&R diner scenes. The EP as a whole serves as a reminder of the early 2010s’ click-clacky percussion and penchant for side-chaining. The fledgling embrace of a purely-digital tonality may now feel primitive (or video game-esque), but delights in the eerie and off-kilter soothing quality similar to that of Twin Peaks.
I Saw Her Die, a reworking of Ennio Morricone’s theme from the Giallo film Chi L’ha Vista Morire? (1972), ramps up in intensity. Its chopped and warped choir samples fitting for the gnostic aesthetics of a genre like Witch House- the track’s energetic uptick decidedly something out of the world of video games.
At 7 minutes 49 seconds in duration, the EP’s closing track Your Melancholick Touch is a decent Dark Ambient work to close out the album. A dark drag of digital noise stretched out in all its low bit-rate glory. The song’s singular refrain repeats until entropy and eventual unceremonious cut-off. This almost depiction of ‘non-time’ remains fettered to the medium’s boundaries- with Ambient recordings of any kind we may imagine we ‘get lost’, but we’re always brought back. There is a definitive, inevitable end to this which attempts to capture the infinite. Your Melancholick Touch, like most worthwhile Dark Ambient, attempts to depict angst-undefinable.
Witch House was in a lot of ways a digital fashion trend, a commercial quicksilver in our narcissistic consumer culture. But looking back, there can still be pleasant or even worthwhile gems. I would say The Tleilaxu Music Machine (now releasing work under Pink Abduction Ray) has produced one of these gems. But what emotional urgency captured here remains relevant today? By going backward, do we find ourselves? Or do we simply find something to be mined? Perhaps that can only be self-interrogated by the individual listener.
For fans of: Pink Abduction Ray, Sidewalks and Skeletons, Blank Banshee
Released in 2021 on the Polish label Positive Regression, Warsaw-based duo Mazut’s Sarajevo is a driving industrialized Techno EP free of the Industrial genre’s tackier connotations.
Reminiscent of the early works of Front 242, Sarajevo’s Industrial framework is a maximalist fantasy built from a plethora of minimalist motifs. The 4 song EP has a clicky analog tonality- plenty of warmth, with cold electronic drafts. Go-Go percussion is pressed into the ‘4 on the floor’ mold of Techno creating driving rigidity with dance persuasion.
Mazut articulate the intrinsic beauty of mechanical function. Countless motifs interlock and counteract in dense, lengthy tracks. In this way, Sarajevo comes across as a spiritual companion to Post-Modern artist Chris Burden’s sculpture Metropolis II, in which hundreds of 1:64-scale toy cars fly around an abstract model city in traffic purgatory.
Art, as artifice, will always have shortcomings if it attempts to react and express in a literal manner (this could be said for derivative works too). It’s important to let our environment speak through us, dictated not by our literal perception of our environment but by the environment’s emotional presence within ourselves. What makes a record like Mazut’s Sarajevo or Ouxh’s Machines in Care worthwhile is their ability to channel the expression of this presence through the appropriate thematic textures and musicality. This is only one tool in the kit of craft, but what does it say about the work itself?
The cohabitation of machine and human is perhaps the definitive trait of our current age. Humanity’s identity crisis between animal and mechanical has been pondered endlessly in sci-fi and horror works, and this doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. In the case of Sarajevo, somewhere between technological and organic, Mazut presents the human identity as it sounds.
Should you choose to watch the Metropolis II documentary, consider re-watching it with the original audio muted while playing this album. It’s incredibly fitting!