Now Hear This: December edition

Ambient metal, spaced-out hip-hop, Holiday and Young covers, and a Nigerian comp

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes ambient metal, spaced-out hip-hop, Holiday and Young covers, a Nigerian comp, and plenty more–just in time for Bandcamp’s last Fee Free First Friday of 2020.

Cosmic Surveillance: Volume 1

The cover of this new cassette by Joel Shanahan’s project Cosmic Surveillance looks to be a photo of people milling about on the seaside. But when paired with the luscious ambient music on this album, it begins to feel more like a mass exodus into the unknown. A willing departure from this mortal coil into a soft haze where body and soul are nourished and kept warm by the sound of billowing synth melodies and massaging drones.

M. Ward: Think of Spring

Although you won’t be able to hear the full album for another week, that shouldn’t stop you from plunking down some cash early for this new collection by local troubadour M. Ward–especially when you find out that the whole record is Ward’s minimalist renditions of songs once recorded by the great Billie Holiday. Often using nothing more than a Tascam four-track tape machine to capture these performances, Ward homes in on the intimacy that has been so much a part of his many folk-pop recordings. 

We Like Chops: V5: Nigeria

The combination of great music with a great cause is a wonderful thing. We Like Chops is a collective of producers, including lo-tek and Trill Walton, who have been releasing compilations of amazing hip-hop beats on a monthly basis since July, each one celebrating a different country, with the money they make from each collection donated to nonprofits supporting the nation in question. This time around it’s Nigeria, with proceeds going to the #EndSARS Relief Fund

Scott The Hoople: Neil (Vol. 1)

Young Fresh Fellows/Minus 5/Filthy Friends member Scott McCaughey has been spending his quarantine self-producing low-key home recordings where he plays covers of some of his favorite songs. As he says in the notes for this one, after suffering a stroke three years ago that temporarily cost him the ability to talk and make music, he turned to his favorite songs to help find his way back to full strength. This new release finds McCaughey celebrating the work of Neil Young with 13 covers pulled from throughout that artist’s legendary career. The special surprise is the appearance of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready on a handful of tracks. 

North East Neef & Mike Mo: No Sympathy

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The latest release from rapper HANIF, working with producer Mike Mo, is sneaky. The smoothed out delivery and beats, inspired by the laidback grooves of the G-Funk era, make bitter pills of Neef’s lyrics exploring the deep racial divisions still rippling through our country. There are flickers of hope and a little goofy energy to help the medicine go down, but this EP works best when it is trying to gently shake you awake.

Rich Halley: The Shape of Things

Saxophonist Rich Halley has been quietly amassing a weighty catalog of albums that explore the outer reaches of the jazz universe—the zone where atonality, raucous rhythms, and blasts of pure noise are encouraged and amplified. This latest release finds Halley in Brooklyn, working with a mighty rhythm section that includes pianist Matthew Shipp, drummer Newman Taylor Baker, and bassist Michael Bisio for an explosive batch of songs that are as slippery and strangely beautiful as mercury. 

Adam Selzer: Slow Decay

You may know Adam Selzer from his work producing albums by The Decemberists and Fleet Foxes, or may recognize him from his time serving as M. Ward’s touring guitarist. But his work in bands like Norfolk & Western and the Alialujah Choir are where Selzer has truly shined, thanks to his achingly lovely voice and songwriting that pulls from the deep waters of folk and Americana. His solo debut Slow Decay has the same comfort and ease of his band work, coupled with a feeling of his guard being let down and his eyes being more open to the world around him. 

Old Grape God: CATHARTRITIS

Multi-disciplinary artist Old Grape God already blew some minds earlier this year with his trippy album isoulazn, and he has returned months later with an album that is even more zonked and wondrous. The production has been stripped to the studs, often leaving only the barest of beats to support his Vocoder-ed voice and blasted-out visions. And throughout, OGG threads in the work of other local rhymers, such as Illmac and Maze Koroma, who adapt to the psychedelic backdrop with their own appropriately spaced-out visions. 

Aarktica & Black Tape For A Blue Girl: Eating Rose Petals

Sam Rosenthal, owner of Projekt Records and the musician behind Black Tape For A Blue Girl, fell in love with the song “Eating Rose Petals” from his friend Jon DeRosa, aka Aarktica, and decided to use it as the anchor for a collaboration. This gorgeous EP is the result, with the first track finding the pair reworking the tune as a melting Dali clock of reversed melodies and wordless vocals, and the final piece using that song’s opening moments to create a boundless ambient soundscape.

MIZMOR & Andrew Black: Dialetheia

A good number of metal artists have a side hustle in the world of ambient music, so the idea of a collaboration between doom dynamo MIZMOR and experimental musician Andrew Black isn’t a tremendous leap for either man; that Black plays in MIZMOR’s touring band only adds to the inevitability of this collaboration. The two tracks on this release are a perfect meeting of aesthetics, with the weight of some particularly heavy guitar riffs shouldered comfortably on a floating bed of synth shimmers and hazy field recordings.

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About the author

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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