Nearly six months into the worldwide coronavirus epidemic, Bandcamp continues to be a lifeline for musicians. Since March, fans have purchased more than $75 million worth of music and merchandise there — including more than $20 million from four Bandcamp Fridays, when the website has waived its fees for artists and labels. Last week, the announcement was made that Bandcamp Fridays will continue for the rest of 2020.
So (as your pocketbook permits), what’s worth your hard-earned cash on August 7, September 4, October 2, November 6, or December 4? From my Bandcamp collection and wishlist, a few suggestions:
I Am the Manic Whale, Things Unseen: I’m blown away by the energy, humor and sheer delight these young British proggers bring to their story-songs; this third album could be their best yet, with crystal clear production by Rob Aubrey. There’s wickedly cheery satire in “Billionaire” and “Celebrity”, an atmospheric trip to Narnia in “The Deplorable Word” and unbounded joy at the gift of children in “Smile” and “Halcyon Days”. Not to mention IAtMW’s very own train song, “Valenta Scream”, challenging Big Big Train with (in my opinion) the best lyrical simile of 2020: “Making it look so very easy/Eating up the distance like a cheese sandwich.” Really.
McStine and Minnemann: left-field, shreddy art-pop to get your adrenalin flowing. Randy McStine (guitars, vocals, other stuff) and Marco Minnemann (drums, vocals, other stuff) prove steady hands on the steering wheel for wild rides like “Your Offenses” and “Activate”, as well as the stark ballad “The Closer”. Sure, the songs are short; they’re also stuffed to the gills with ethereal melodies and harmonies, woozily evocative lyrics, ear-grabbing riffs, impossible drum fills, freaky collages of sound and radical mood shifts. Don’t expect to focus on anything else while you’re listening to this — just hold on tight and have fun.
David Sancious, Eyes Wide Open: a charter member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Sancious led the critically acclaimed trio Tone before tackling wingman duties for Peter Gabriel and Sting. The focus of Eyes Wide Open (finished before lockdowns and protests swallowed news feeds whole) on today’s cultural unrest proves eerily prescient; the vocal tracks “Urban Psalm #3” and “If” and the instrumental “War in Heaven” are ambitious statements on universal human dignity that can lay claim to the moody, magnificent heights of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Sancious sings on half the tracks and plays burning guitar and keys throughout, fusing jazz, rock and gospel into winning combinations, atop unbelievably funky drumming by Vinnie Colaiuta, Will Calhoun (Living Colour) and Michael Bland (Prince).
Spiraling, Transmitter: Back in the early 2000s, Tom Brislin (now tearing up the keys in Kansas) led this obscure, wonderful power-pop band in between side gigs with Meat Loaf, Yes and Camel. On this re-release from 2002, Brislin’s sardonic, appealing vocal delivery perfectly matches the bone-dry wit of “The Girl on Top (Of the Piano)”, “The L Word III” and “(Get Your Own) Holy Grail”. And the music is built to match: irresistible hooks, propulsive rhythms and riffs that take unexpected detours, every sonic crevice crammed full of nifty synth riffs, effects and solos. This is unbelievably catchy, unbelievably sharp stuff. (Check out Brislin’s new, punky public service announcement too!)
Tiger Moth Tales, Still Alive/A Visit to Rockfield: This isn’t the Tiger Moth Tales album Peter Jones planned to release this year — but it’s definitely one that fits the moment. His gift for melody and innate hopefulness gives these six new tracks (well, five plus a reprise) an effervescence and a glow that can warm the coldest heart. There’s a beautiful, broad range of expression here, from the optimistic fortitude of the title track and the epic sweep of “The Mighty Fallen” to the rhythm box-laden goofiness of “Whistle Along.” The bonus DVD features Jones and TMT in session at the legendary Rockfield Studios. Enjoy this love letter to the world from deepest Nottinghamshire.
MoonJune Records: Soft Machine’s Live at the Baked Potato is the latest release from global impresario Leonardo Pavkovic. On this beauty, the Softs’ explorations are every bit as daring and delectable as when I heard them live in 2018. Plus, there are plenty of other face-melting instrumental jazz/rock/avant/ethno albums coming soon from Stick Men, touch guitarist Markus Reuter, guitarist Mark Wingfield and a host of other international talents! Watch for more news at the MoonJune Bandcamp page, or do what I did; subscribe and get everything MoonJune releases for a year!
— Rick Krueger