From Pale Spring’s skeletal sophisti-pop to DJ Nate’s signature footwork
We’re now officially half-way through 2019, and the second quarter of the year has seen Holly Herndon push the fusion of music and AI to new levels, and Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, and their many cowpoke-loving peers take us down the “Old Town Road” one more time. Elsewhere, Madonna reinvented herself as Madame X, Flying Lotus returned with Flamagra, and slowthai said what needed to be said.
As always, though, in the world of underground music, new and under-discussed talents are finding a way. Following our last quarterly roundup, in April, we’re continuing to acknowledge the lower-profile musicians, artists, and producers with strong communities, real visions and important statements to make. Here are ten essential Q2 releases, all available on Bandcamp.
AMAZONDOTCOM, MIRROR RIVER
WHO: The nature-loving Los Angeles producer and DJ bringing shamanistic ritual to deconstructed club music.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: With Mirror River, her debut release as Amazondotcom, and the first release on Subreal, the label she co-founded with electro cumbia fusionist Siete Catorce, music maker and shamanism practitioner Stella Ahn looks to animate the sonic potential of the world around her. Digitally manipulating an array of natural and urban field recordings, she accompanies them with colorful synthesisers, meditative sub bass, and ritualistic drum programming and percussion, intuitively crafting a take deconstructed club music that eschews overly technical sound design for time-altering grooves and vivid techno-naturalism. The result is four staggeringly physical tracks that suggest a bright future for Ahn.
FOR FANS OF: Bok Bok, Equiknoxx, NAAFI
DJ NATE, TAKEOFF MODE
WHO: A Chicago footwork veteran re-enters the dance circle after spending some time working in hip hop and R&B.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: A decade on, Takeoff Mode is a stunning return to the breakneck abstract rhythms and furiously psychedelic sample manipulation that powered DJ Nate’s debut album Da Trak Genious. While it was signature-form footwork, Da Trak Genious also had something in common with the lush atmospherics of mid 90s jungle, and it helped open the door for Planet Mu to help expose Chicago’s long-incubated local scene to a broader global audience. After shifting to rap/R&B, where he landed the regional hit “Gucci Goggles” before battling injuries, the footwork powers of a refocused Nate is a wonder to witness.
FOR FANS OF: Aphex Twin, DJ Rashad, Steve Reich
JESS RIBIERO, LOVE HATE
WHO: A warmhearted Australian singer-songwriter with banter, ballads, and an effortlessly cool voice.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Since releasing My Little River in 2012, Melbourne’s Jess Ribiero has built a reputation for crafting equally intimate and expansive accounts of human connection and distance, as expressed through her soaring voice and mercurial backing instrumentation. Along the way, she’s worked with Nick Cave collaborator Mick Harvey on her gothic 2015 effort Kill It Yourself, and now New Zealand producer Ben Edwards, the man behind early records from neo-country/folk luminaries Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding. Across Love Hate, Ribiero shifts from druggy ambience to barefaced post-punk with effortless ease, stopping off for the odd giggle along the way.
FOR FANS OF: PJ Harvey, The Ronettes, 70s Krautrock
WHO: The gritty Indian sound explorer with one foot on either side of the psychedelic new Atlantic.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Although his roots lie in Assam, northeast India, Jitwam developed his skills as an unconventional singer-songwriter, beatmaker, multi-instrumentalist, and DJ over a rambling journey around the world that eventually took him to London and now New York. Along the way, he befriended musicians-turned-collaborators like Henry Wu (of Kamaal Williams) and Natureboy Flako, who produced Honeycomb, while obsessively exploring the worlds of beats, soul, house, and jazz. Building on the broken microphone psychedelica of his 2017 debut, ज़ितम सिहँ, Honeycomb sees him honing in on life’s mundane moments, reconstructing them as a vibrant homage to the beauty of quiet times.
FOR FANS OF: Kamaal Williams, Madlib, Natureboy Flako
LADY LYKEZ, MUHAMMAD ALI
WHO: One of the fiercest, most open-eared MCs tearing up stages around the UK right now.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: To listen to Lady Lykez’s four-song Muhammad Ali EP is to hear the shifting strands of dancehall ragga, grime, and the emergent UK take on gqom spiral together with a distinctly London pulse. Supported by perfectly-pitched production from her longtime friend Scratchclart (AKA Scratcha DVA) and afrobeats producer D’Lux, Lykez rides the Muhammad Ali EP’s marching riddims and crushing bassweight with furious lyrical fire, calling on her friend Lioness for an equally spectacular guest rap on “Muhammad Ali (Remix)”. Whenever you get this level of MCing running in concert with top-flight beats, it’s a special thing, and should always be celebrated.
FOR FANS OF: DJ Lag, Lioness, Warrior Queen
MOURNING [A] BLKSTAR, RECKONING
WHO: An irresistibly soulful and intriguing Afrofuturist collective from Cleveland, Ohio.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: I knew that Reckoning was special from the scorching soul of opening cut “Anti Anthem Remix”, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the depths of emotion that Mourning [A] BLKstar mine across their magnificent third album. Formed in 2015 by beatmaker RA Washington in response to a personal tragedy, Mourning [A] BLKstar describe their music as “genre non-conforming (and) gender non-conforming.” On Reckoning, they draw from funk, soul, punk rock, jazz, beats, and beyond for songs exploring the injustice of racism, gentrification, systematic oppression, and police violence in America, and the resilience required to keep going.
FOR FANS OF: Aretha Franklin, Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program, THEEsatisfaction
PALE SPRING, CYGNUS
WHO: The spirit of 80s sophisti-pop reborn within the spare, skeletal electronica of today.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Hailing from Baltimore, Emily Harper Scott AKA Pale Spring grew up in a family of jazz and classical musicians before finding her musical voice through exploring the region’s punk, hip hop and IDM scenes. Two EPs, collaborations with JPEGMAFIA and Joy Postell, shows with Eartheater, Sam Herring, and Soccer Mommy, and time spent in trauma therapy cleared the way for her lush new album. Now located in Los Angeles, Cygnus locates her within a dusky trip-hop meets quiet storm interzone where she renders her songs as ghostly, hypnotic dreams, a touch of Nite Jewel there, a dash of Portishead there.
FOR FANS OF: Beach House, Leslie Winer, Sade
WHO: A charming British vocalist and producer with pop-ready melodies and an undeniable bounce.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: After the emotional insularity of his first album PAGAN, a record that offered us a glimpse inside Benjy Keating AKA Palmistry’s inner world, Afterlife sees him opening himself up collaborations with the likes of SOPHIE, Benny Blanco, Klu, Cashmere Cat, and Mechatok. Between records, Keating travelled the world through his music and scored background writing credits within the commercial hip hop and R&B landscape. As with PAGAN, Afterlife sees Keating blending melancholic folk melodies with off-set post-dancehall grooves, but now, these aesthetics have filtered into the upper echelons of pop. That said, no one does it like he does.
FOR FANS OF: Tirzah, The xx, Triad God
PIXX, SMALL MERCIES
WHO: The fearless Chipstead singer-songwriter figuring out how new wave, grunge, and synth-pop might sit together.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: In 2019, seeing a musician described as an “idiosyncratic singer/songwriter inspired by Aphex Twin and Bob Dylan” isn’t as shocking as it was 15 years ago, but it’s still rare to hear someone reinterpret influences this divergent in a meaningful manner. Hannah Rodgers, better known as Pixx, has been letting us know she’s this kind of artist since she released her debut album The Age of Anxiety in 2017. Set to a backdrop that blends drum machines, fuzzy guitars, squelchy synths, Small Mercies sees Rodgers using her majestic voice to examine love as a greater force that lives beyond romance.
FOR FANS OF: XTC, Du Blonde, 90s grunge
WHO: The New York-based multihyphenate exploring suffering and empathy through music and multimedia art.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Qualiatik’s Discarnate EP and the biomechanical music video for her single “Mother Tongue” are syrupy fever dreams riddled with Giger-esque creatures, Lynchian imagery chopped and screwed pop motifs, and abstract electronic noise; all crafted from the perspective of an academic with interests in neuroscience, psychology and metaphysics. Qualiatik created Discarnate in an attempt to understand and process her personal traumas through a radical artistic attack on the psyche, while also pushing herself to the limits of human capacity as a sound engineer, performer, producer, and multimedia artist. As such, listening to – or viewing – her artistic work makes for a powerful and disarming experience.
FOR FANS OF: Doon Kanda, Puce Mary, Tri Angle Records