With festivals, tours, and concerts canceled, and no end in sight, bands are feeling financially strapped. For a musician, touring is their largest source of income, and in some cases, that includes the salaries of guitar techs, tour managers, sound engineers, and more. So, what can we do to support our favorite bands during this tumultuous time? Aside from generous virtual tips during an artist's live streaming concert, you can also treat yourself to some of their merchandise.
And this Friday, May 1st, online music retailer and streaming service Bandcamp will yet again waive their revenue share on all purchases for 24 hours, in a gesture of support to all the artists who've been impacted by the coronavirus lockdowns. From midnight to midnight Pacific Time, you can purchase any digital or physical merchandise on an artist's Bandcamp page, and they'll get more of the money. (In fact, many labels are also participating and giving 100% of revenue to the artist.)
KEXP's Digital Content Team has rounded up some of the things we'll be adding to our carts today to help inspire your own shopping sprees. Check out our suggestions below, and then head over to Bandcamp. (And don't forget: many Bandcamp merchandise is priced with an "or more" next to it. Don't hesitate to use it.)
(Also, just for reassurance, the Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance maintain there is no evidence the coronavirus is spreading through the mail.)
Did any band have a better 2019 than Big Thief? After releasing two excellent albums to immediate acclaim, UFOF and Two Hands, the Brooklyn group has shared a short collection of demos from the Topanga Canyon sessions leading up to those records. While none of these songs ended up making it on either record, fans will recognize “Blue and Red Horses” and “Abysskiss” from vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s 2018 amazing solo album Abysskiss.
All proceeds from this Bandcamp exclusive will go to the band’s road crew who are feeling the strain on income with ubiquitous tour cancellations – the band refers to their crew as “the lifeblood of Big Thief shows” in the Bandcamp description. It’s a great way to give back for a great cause and get a peek into the band’s process.
Demos are a dicey business – sometimes they’re just curiosities for obsessive music collectors (hey, that’s me!) and occasionally they’re transcendent. These recordings fall into the ladder category. Even without polish, these songs sound as visceral and affecting as any official Big Thief release and offers a sneak peek into a band operating at their prime. — Dusty Henry
Black people having a productive focus for our anger has been a major component of American art since our ancestors were ferried to this land on ships and treated as property for white men. Musically, that anger courses through the spiritual fatigue of early blues, the rebellious swagger of early rock 'n roll (before Elvis swiped it and Caucasian folk whitewashed it in their image), and the righteous fury of the best hip-hop. In the legacy of such tradition, Birmingham, AL-born rapper/singer/producer Pink Siifu channels his rage into a masterwork of an LP, conjuring acid jazz, hardcore punk, and warped soul samples in what is officially (but not exactly) his second full-length project NEGRO.
Inspired by musicians, poets, activists, and almost a century of police brutality (including run-ins of his own), Siifu originally titled this exceptional work To Be Angry; capturing the dismay of his people being marginalized and ground into dust by the abusive hand of white supremacy. There are hints of those influences throughout every groove of the album, of proto-punk legends DEATH, of free-jazz demigod Sun Ra, of the calls to action of Malcolm X.
There are tributes to fallen friends, to slain black men just minding their business, to the god-like, indomitable spirit of black people as a whole. Dissonance coexists with tuneful grace, war is waged with police — who, by and large, militantly upholding the tenets of white supremacy — twenty tracks barnstorm the surrounding vicinity for almost 40 minutes. The title of this outstanding full-length is spelled in all caps; partly as a statement of power, partly as a dare to those who want to crush our legacy. — Martin Douglas
If you haven't downloaded the new Mountain Goats album yet, Friday is an excellent time to do so, as Merge Records are one of many labels giving 100% of revenue to their artists, which just means even more money to line the pockets of John Darnielle's corduroy blazer. (See a list of participating labels here.)
The album is a perfect document of this pandemic: over ten days, during this stay-at-home mandate, Darnielle wrote a song every day, inspired by Pierre Chuvin’s 1990 book A Chronicle of the Last Pagans. In a very long (and beautifully-written, natch) statement on Bandcamp, he explained his process: "read until something jumps out at me; play guitar and ad-lib out loud until I get a phrase I like; write the lyrics, get the song together, record immediately." (He took a similar approach on his 1993 LP Transmissions to Horace, which was originally released on Sonic Enemy, label of long-time bassist Peter Hughes.)
Not only is the album perfect, but you have to appreciate the thinking behind it. Again, as he writes: "The four members of the band split up our touring income equally, nightly pay & sales of merchandise; before we split up that income, we pay several people from gross receipts: Brandon, our soundman and tour manager of over a decade; Trudy, who works the merch table with style and flair; and Avel, who manages the stage no matter how unmanageable I become. I can’t do what I do without these people and I take great pleasure in trying to make their job a fun place to work. All seven of us rely on the Mountain Goats for our paycheck."
So, drop a Hamilton on this one and help fund the team behind the Mountain Goats. A final quote from Darnielle: "I dedicate this tape to everybody who’s waited a long time for the wheels to sound their joyous grind: may they grind us into a safe future where we gather once again in rooms to sing songs about pagan priests & hidden shelters, and where we see each other face to face." — Janice Headley
Consider this an investment in your mental health. Noel Brass, Jr. has had Seattle swooning with his “soulgazer” musical styling. Part ambient, part soul, and part jazz, Brass’ music feels equivalent to the relief of deep breathing. His instrumental music feels vast and soothing. And thankfully, there’s a lot of it.
Like many musicians on Bandcamp, Brass offers up a subscription service to his entire digital discography. This includes his excellent 2017 LP Broken Cloud Orchestra but also nearly 40 different one-off tracks. With a starting price at $5 (you can opt to pay more), it’s a hard deal to beat. And there’s more yet to come! Periodically, Brass will release a new single out of the blue – occasionally with collaborators like Andy Sells. Finding these singles in your inbox feels like a gift and sometimes a moment of respite when you didn’t even realize you need it.
These are deeply stressful, anxious times living in quarantine. It can be hard to find space when you’re cooped up at home. Yet Brass’ music feels transportive. Glide away from your worries or use the serene sounds to process your emotions or just marvel at his musical prowess. I’ve had some of my best reflective moments with this music and hope that you will too. — DH
There’s been a lot of talk about how music venues will fair after COVID-19, with most of the predictions looking more than bleak. Steven Severin, co-owner of Neumos and Barboza, has been particularly vocal about the issues he’s facing and has been straightforwardly distraught over having to let go of the majority of his staff. Luckily, people like local band Reader are pitching in to help. Last month, the quartet unveiled two new songs on Bandcamp, with the promise that 100% of the proceeds would go to the hourly staff of Neumos, Barboza, and adjacent bar the Runaway.
“All the money Reader receives from your purchase will go to the charming bartenders, barbacks, production, and security folk who ensure you have a great time at one of Seattle's coolest venues,” the band proclaims. “They’ve been good to us, and it's time we did right by them. We’ve set a low baseline price of $2, but we encourage you to give more. Let’s help these good people put food in their bodies and live decently during this challenging time. Enjoy the songs, give what you can, and stay safe.”
Titled “Behind the Empty House” and “Two Pines” the duo of songs follow Engrams, 2019’s debut full-length of propulsive mathy meets melodic tunes. The blustering former track barrels in without hesitation while vocalist Mike Sparks Jr. rings out a line that hits a bit too close to home right now, “Please don’t hurt yourself, just be careful.” Meanwhile, “Two Pines” keys in on the angular instrumentation for a solid two and a half minutes before Sparks Jr. enters with a honeyed timbre to point out, “Strange, the whispers when we’re alone.” It’s much stranger what we could accomplish by band(camp)ing together. — Jasmine Albertson
If, like me, you missed out on buying the Children of Hoof Music Library box set (a limited edition 25th anniversary cassette-only release; don't Google it, it's so beautiful it's painful to look at), you'll be delighted to know the band is reissuing the rarities and b-sides album as a special Bandcamp exclusive for Friday's 24-hour revenue waiver.
Surprise Symphonies is a 59-minute collection, culled from the first 25 years of Deerhoof. And I haven't actually heard it yet, to be fair, just the teaser single below. But, if you like the experimental, erratic, eclectic sound of Deerhoof, I'm sure you (and I) won't be disappointed. After all, b-sides are where you can really let your freak flag fly! — JH
(And stay tuned for new music from the band: their next LP Future Teenage Cave Artists is due out May 29 via Joyful Noise.)
There’s nothing to lift your mood better than a great power-pop record and there’s no one in the Northwest doing it better right now than Mo Troper. The Portland singer-songwriter recently released another great collection of infectious, jangly bangers with Natural Beauty.
Troper is funny, witty, clever, candid, and charismatic throughout the 12-track LP. As someone who’s inclination is often to pick up the saddest record I can when things are rough, Natural Beauty has been a needed antidote. Even as he’s wrestling with awful feelings, the boisterous and thriving melodies on this record can pull me out of my funk for a brief moment. If you love Guided By Voices and The Kinks, I say just add this one to your cart and thank me later. — DH
I'll also be purchasing this 24-track COVID-19 benefit compilation, featuring B-sides, demos, and unreleased songs from artists like Mount Eerie, Downtown Boys, Hand Habits, and a bunch of artists I don't even know, which is half the fun of comps. Proceeds are being donated to Groundswell’s Rapid Response Fund, an organization working to address the deep problems and injustices that underlie our economy, political system, and our communities.
As the organizers write: "We are supporting Groundswell because this is a way for us to invest in organizations working to address some of the severe inequities in our society that this pandemic is highlighting. Victims of COVID-19 are disproportionately people of color, and the crisis has already been used as an excuse by lawmakers to deny abortion access. We feel that issues like these have been unreported relative to the general media conversation surrounding COVID-19, and as a result, they are likely to be underrepresented in charitable efforts." — JH
Long-running Portland duo the Helio Sequence are kicking May off in a big way by digging into the vault to digitally release a couple of interesting goodies today. The “lost” record, 2015’s breezy, verging on shoegazey, Sunrise Demos, was previously only available in an extremely limited quantity with pre-orders and on tour and now includes 4 unreleased tracks for the remastered digital edition of the album.
As the story goes, it all began with the “20-Song Game” in which Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel engaged in a game with friends where everyone had one day to record 20 songs. In the evening, they’d get together, listen to the results, and talk about the process. “The goal is to give up the overthinking that can stifle creativity, to break free of inhibitions and run with momentum,” explains Summers in a statement about the record.
“Starting in May of 2014, we gave ourselves one month to write as many songs as we could,” Summers continues. “We set out making keyboard loops, guitar passages, ambient sketches: anything and everything that was inspired in the moment. We worked separately at times, alone in the studio sketching ideas only to pass them off to each other. We also recorded a series of live jams together, playing to keyboard loops without any premeditation while improvising and keeping only first takes.”
After the month had passed, the band emerged with 26 songs, 10 of which became their sixth record, 2015’s The Helio Sequence, while 11 of the remaining were put together as the Sunrise Demos. Now with four extra previously unreleased tracks, the album is an interesting peek into a band progressing and experimenting with new sounds and textures.
Speaking of “experimental,” alongside the Sunrise Demos, the Helio Sequence are digitally releasing for the first time the limited edition bonus disc to 2012’s CD release of Negotiations. Titled ACES, the innovative quadraphonic companion record is meant to “create an enhanced spatial experience” while simultaneously listening to Negotiations.
The directions are particular, which you can find in full here, but essentially you play records at the same time on two different stereo systems placed in front and behind you. The “Original” Negotiations should be in front of you and the “Companion” (ACES) should be behind you. Experimenting with volume and delay can create a variety of different experiences.
When attempting the experience myself, I wasn’t sure whether playing Negotiations from Spotify via a Bose speaker and ACES through downloaded files on my laptop would have the same effect as two CDs on stereo systems and I guess I still don’t. The first track seemed to line up perfectly but as the records went on they got slightly off track which probably has something to do with differentiating break times between songs.
They warn that “delay times of longer than 100ms will create more psychedelic and chaotic effects” and I can attest to that. When re-synced though, the effect is like being in a grand empty theatre, listening to the Helio Sequence play a lush but intimate show just for you. Which feels like heaven right about now. — JA
It's like shooting fish in a barrel. KEXP continues our series spotlighting stuff you should buy to help support your favorite bands during the quarantine.
KEXP presents a series rounding up some of the most interesting band merch we can find, helping you support your favorite bands during this time of staying home.