Back in March, Bandcamp started waiving their fees on the first Friday of the month, putting more money into the hands of musicians at a time when touring is essentially impossible. In a corporate landscape saturated by hollow and/or cloying appeals to “these difficult times,” this was a move that makes a real financial impact on people’s lives, and by Bandcamp’s own account, it’s been a great success. The final installment of these 24 hours of generosity happens this Friday, July 3rd, so I wanted to share some new and old music with you that I’ve been listening to this summer—all worthy candidates for your collection.
Tete Mbambisa - Did You Tell Your Mother
For the last several months, I’ve been working on an episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge that uses African jazz as a jumping off point for thinking about how music has historically circulated around the world. It’s part of a collaboration with the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes designed to showcase and explore the arts and humanities on the African continent. (This will be the second in the series; the first was on cities.)
There are a lot of great things about this project, but one of them is getting to know African jazz, a subject on which I certainly not an expert. I have many, many new favorite cuts from doing this work, but I keep returning to this 1979 record by Tete Mbambisa. It’s sharp and cool and loose and was originally released on As-Shams, an incredibly important South African record label (go deep on that history here). And it features the art of Hargreaves Ntukwana, the artist responsible for several classic As-Shams jackets.
It looks like As-Shams is finally on Bandcamp and digitally re-releasing some of these gems, and that’s a project I wholly support. Buy it on Bandcamp here.
Yves Tumor - Heaven to a Tortured Mind
I first heard Yves Tumor in 2017 in a small club in Iowa City for the Witching Hour festival. Yves had already established himself as a captivating and mercurial and occasionally aggressive underground artist, especially in his live sets, but I had no idea what I was walking into. It was primarily smoke machines and glitched-out electronics and shouting and it was…glorious. (This recap from a show earlier that year is representative.)
His recorded output has always been more easily digestible, though, and this year’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind moves him as close as he has ever been to the art-rock stylings of a band like TV on the Radio. It’s part soul, part Southern hip-hop, and part about a million other things, all while retaining an experimental sensibility. I truly love this record. Buy it on Bandcamp here.
Gia Margaret - Mia Gargaret
A flat-out gorgeous ambient record from the singer/songwriter-turned-instrumental-songwriter after illness left her unable to sing for a stretch of almost a year. I follow almost everything that Owen Ashworth (formerly of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone) puts out under his Ordinal record label, but this one came out of nowhere to floor me with its beautiful drones, lively and optimistic arpeggios, well-placed samples, field recordings, things that go “beep” and “bloop” and sound vaguely detuned, a few bonafide kick drum beats—it’s everything I want in an ambient record. As a bonus—or not—the song “body” samples Alan Watts, which took me down a weird “British guru” rabbit hole. I mean, just look at this guy. Or don’t. Buy it on Bandcamp here.
Bob Ostertag - All The Rage w/ Kronos Quartet & Eric Gupton
In October of 1991, there was a riot in San Francisco after then-governor Pete Wilson vetoed a bill designed to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Sound artist Bob Ostertag was there, and he made some recordings of the event. Afterward, he composed this stunning and brutal and complex piece, which is a combination of the field recordings as tape loops, spoken word by Eric Gupton, and music by the Kronos Quartet. I first learned of this piece through a conversation with Dr. K Goldschmitt for a piece I’m working on about the sonic connections between the AIDS epidemic and COVID-19. It’s also, I think, interesting to hear this sonic portrait of rage as we, as a nation, work through so much justified anger being expressed by the Black community. I’m not sure the soundtrack of this moment has been fully written or realized yet, but I look forward to hearing it when it comes.