In March, as the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the music industry was just coming into focus, the online music platform Bandcamp came up with an innovative way to help artists in need: For one day, the site waived its revenue share on all sales, giving musicians more of the money made off of each record, tape, or T-shirt. Fans responded in huge numbers, spending more than $4 million that Friday. Those results were so encouraging that Bandcamp is now extending this sales holiday to the first Friday of the next three months, starting on May 1st.
There’s tons of amazing music to find on Bandcamp in any genre you like, and it’ll sound even better once you know your dollars are going to support the artists who made it. You might want to start by picking up a record or a piece of merch from an act you already love. Once you’ve done that, why not take a chance on something new? Here are a dozen suggestions for your next Bandcamp purchase, as chosen by Rolling Stone‘s staff.
“Won’t it be nice when it’s all a memory?” Now that you mention it, yes. Radiator Hospital, a band well-versed in the arts of singing yourself in, through, and out of emotional inertia, take on the lockdown blues in New Depression, a 4-song field report from the early weeks of the quarantine. (Remember late March?) Sam Cook-Parrott, the Jim Croce of modern indie bards, sings beautifully about the fight to keep your feelings alive, even when the feelings are rage and frustration. In “New Depression,” he tries to keep his eyes on the future (“Won’t it be nice when there’s something you want?”); in “Summer Movies” he revisits a romantic memory just to remind himself heartache is a sign of life. — Rob Sheffield
Former LVL UP guitarist Dave Benton emerges as a pop savant on his second album, Lost in the Country, which weaves blissed out War on Drugs arena rock, (Sandy) Alex G-indebted indie folk, and lo-fi bedroom pop through its ten breezy songs. Benton never could have imagined that his record, which is laced with pastoral romanticism, would be released when much of the country remained stuck inside their homes. “Waking up on a hazy afternoon,” he sings, his sweet nasal whisper feeling like a balm. “Drifting straight into a dream, with only good things.” — Jonathan Bernstein
When Bartees Strange attended a concert by the National, his favorite band, in D.C. last year, he was struck by how much he stuck out in the audience. “It hit me how few black folks were in the crowd,” he wrote of the experience, “and how this genre seems to exclude the contributions black people have made to it.” On Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, Strange reimagines five of the Brooklyn indie band’s songs in his own genre-bending style, presented beneath cover art based on the Pan-African flag. The results are inspired, and reclaim Matt Berninger’s lyrics for Strange’s own musical and personal history. The string instruments on “About Today” are replaced with pulsing synths, drum machines, and his careful crooning voice. The impassioned “Mr. November” becomes a murmured personal mantra. The explosive “Lemonworld” takes from Strange’s days in the Oklahoma emo scene, and as the son of a military father, he twists Berninger’s mannered writing into something more literal: “I gave my heart to the army/The only sentimental thing I could think of.” — Claire Shaffer
In early March, on the last weekend before live music in New York City was just a memory, the London rock band Dry Cleaning played a fantastically rowdy show at Brooklyn’s Union Pool. It was the kind of gig that made you glad you’d been there so you could brag to your friends when the band went on to bigger venues on their next tour. Who knows when that will happen now? While we wait, it’s a good time to revisit their pair of excellent EPs from 2019, which are full of acerbic ragers like “Viking Hair” and “Magic of Meghan,” where lead sneerer Florence Shaw delivers deadpan monologues about tragic beauties and royal drama over riffs that recall the 2000s hijinks of Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, and Bloc Party. It’s a refreshingly weird vibe that never fails to thrill. — Simon Vozick-Levinson
We may not be back in the pit any time soon, but at least X is out with new music. With 11 songs under three minutes, Alphabetland comes, appropriately, just in time for the 40th anniversary of X’s standout album Los Angeles — and it boasts energy and verve to match its middle-aged predecessor. Exene Cervenka and John Doe don’t sound any older than they did back when they worked with producer Ray Manzarek, and their bite hasn’t dulled. Standout tracks include “Water & Wine” and punny “Cyrano deBerger’s Back.” — Brenna Ehrlich
Sonic Youth have put up a treasure trove on Bandcamp, with live bootlegs from all over their career. It’s a trip to explore moments like the L.A. 1998 show where they groove on the Thousand Leaves material. Even better, Live in Brooklyn 2011 has their last NYC gig ever — a magic night under a full moon on the East River, the kind of show where everyone can sense that “something is happening here” rush. The Youth bust out deep cuts they hadn’t touched in decades, doing every love song in their book. It’s the only time they ever played “Psychic Hearts.” At the end of the night, Thurston Moore tells the hometown crowd, “With the power of love, anything is possible.” The high point: “Eric’s Trip,” where Lee Ranaldo exults over the guitars, “The sky is blue! The sky is the deepest, purest blue I’ve ever seen! And points on the globe are just…points on the globe!” One to cherish. — Rob Sheffield
What does jazz sound like during a pandemic? Two new solo releases from well-known saxophonist-composers, both recorded since the U.S. quarantine began, form the beginnings of a composite picture.
Fans of Steve Lehman’s work are used to hearing meticulously plotted, future-minded opuses that draw equally on post-bop, contemporary classical, hip-hop, and electronica. This time around, none of that was possible. “In the midst of homeschooling my two young children and remote teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, I set aside one hour everyday to work on solo saxophone repertoire,” Lehman writes of the origin of his new 10-track, 10-minute release, Xenakis and the Valedictorian. (A dedication to his musically omnivorous mom, whom he couldn’t be with on her 80th birthday last week, it was recorded entirely on an iPhone in the passenger seat of his car.) Pieces like “Ecstatics,” a 46-second whorl of breath, key, and reed sounds, and the harsh, staccato burst “Max” are abstract yet laser-focused: sonic evocations of what it means to make the most of a creative practice turned upside down by unforeseen events. The album is part of “This Is Now: Love In The Time of COVID,” an ad hoc release series from Lehman’s label, Pi Recordings, whose planned output is now on hold; a second release, from pianist Vijay Iyer and rapper-producer Mike Ladd, is out May 8th.
Lehman isn’t the only saxophonist who’s making the most of our surreal situation. Tim Berne, a bandleader also known for his beautifully knotty compositions — played during the last 40 years by a series of telepathic bands, including Bloodcount, Science Friction, and the currently active Snakeoil — decided to use his unexpected downtime at home in Brooklyn to finally record his first solo album, something he’d wanted to do for a while. The results are out May 1st on Berne’s new digital-only label, 9donkeys. “Last Friday I went into a room with my horn and my PJ’s and this is what happened,” he writes. While Lehman’s album feels urgent and compressed, Berne’s comes off as airy and relaxed, an almost prayerful communion with free-roaming melody and yearning tone. — Hank Shteamer
Sometimes loud noise can be the best prescription for a stressed-out world, and sometimes you need something a little more soothing. If you’re in the latter mood, try this collection of wordless pieces by English saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Alabaster DePlume, who’s got an instrumental tone as cool and otherworldly as his fanciful stage name. Most of this music originally appeared on other DePlume releases scattered across the past decade, but it all comes together to form an album to delight jazz heads, modern-classical buffs, psychedelic drifters, and casual background listeners alike. (If you’re into physical products, spring for the lovely purple vinyl edition out on the crucial Chicago label International Anthem.) — Simon Vozick-Levinson
The SoCal-via-Virginia songwriter hits a Laurel Canyon-flavored high on Mercury Girls, which has the brooding vibe of her Nineties cult fave Megiddo but with an adult edge in “Lost Cause” (men in general) or “The Chemical” (written the day Scott Weiland died). “Mercury Girls” is the stunner: a Bowie-smitten to interplanetary women trapped on earth. The Mercury Girl might pass for human, but on the inside, “She’s hiding her mind from you/She’s saving her secrets for songs.” Hoffman also does a Bandcamp remake that’s a fab acoustic duet with her 11-year-old daughter. — Rob Sheffield
Doing justice to Ornette Coleman’s music requires both great tenderness and a willingness to color outside the lines. In both respects, the Good Life are more than up to the challenge. Convened by adventurous West Coast drummer Scott Amendola, the band features a cast of virtuosos who love to blur and bend genres: John Dieterich and Nels Cline, avant-guitar wizards and respective members of Deerhoof and Wilco; Mr. Bungle and Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn; and broad-minded jazz and klezmer clarinet specialist Ben Goldberg. On The Animals Took Over, a live album recorded in 2009 and released earlier this month to benefit the Food Bank NYC, the band romps playfully through Coleman classics “Congeniality” and “The Good Life,” floats dreamily through ballads by Goldberg and his clarinet forebear Jimmy Giuffre, and lurches and stomps through a wild collective improv. The whole record feels like a celebration of what can happen onstage on a good night — and hopefully will again soon — when a whole band rallies around a common purpose. — Hank Shteamer