Bandcamping #8: Alex G, Hella Better Dancer

We’re all big fans of the more established acts out there, but some of the most exciting music being made today is produced by DIY artists and offered up for free listening on distant corners of the internet. In Bandcamping, we dig up a couple of gems, old or new, released and streaming for free on the online platform.

Alex G – TRICK

Alex G - TRICK

Artist: Alex G
Album: TRICK
Released: November 2012
Free To Download?: Yes
Style: Downer Indie Rock
For Fans Of: Built To Spill, Coma Cinema, Pinback

For going on three years now, Alex Giannascoli has used his Bandcamp page as a forum to dish out tortured pop songs. And that’s about it. There’s no cabins, no cults, just a kid from suburban Philadelphia and a handful of run-of-the-mill rock and roll instruments. Recorded under his first name and last initial, Giannascoli’s work skews toward the sprawling and malleable arrangements of bands like Built to Spill and Pinback, but his latest effort Trick makes clear his already developed songwriting voice. He opens “Advice” with a reminder not to get “hung up on petty things” before descending into lyrical abstractions that nevertheless recall vivid imagery. He has this way of eschewing structural meaning in favor of emotional truth. Such impressionism is often attempted by songwriters without much to say, but Giannascoli manages much in the way of Lockett Pundt or a more self-serious Stephen Malkmus. Album opener “Memory” pairs Giannascoli’s upper register whine with the droning acoustic guitars and tales of picking up things in baggies from “a buddy he grew up with.” Explicit enough, but that’s about as clear as he gets through the course of the album. He’s the consummate musician, taking these often vague phrases and imbuing with emotional specificity through the dizzying contrast of his tinny vocals and ride-cymbal induced openness of the instrumental parts. Trick’s best moments call to mind the similarly precocious constructions of Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg’s Sub Pop debut as Avi Buffalo. Alex G has that similar knack for instantly memorable melodies and evocative lyrics, but Giannascoli never falls into the overwrought gooeyness that sometimes dragged that record down. With Trick, Giannascoli continues his streak of albums chock full of point-of-the-needle downer indie rock. We can only hope that everyone starts paying attention.

Choice Cuts: “Memory,” “Advice,” “Kute”

–Colin Joyce

Hella Better Dancer – Living Room

Hella Better Dancer - Living Room

Artist: Hella Better Dancer
Album: Living Room
Released: February 2012
Free To Download?: Yes
Style: Space Folk, Lo-fi Dream Pop
For Fans Of: Late-period Slowdive, Memoryhouse

“Containing four tracks, collectively clocking in at just over ten minutes,” reads Living Room‘s brief description on Hella Better Dancer’s bandcamp, “Living Room was home-recorded and self-produced through a laptop’s internal mic without any studio equipment.” It’s hard to tell at first whether a self-description like that is meant as a point of pride or a half-shrugged write-off, as if to sheepishly explain to the prospective listener that, well, we did the best we could under the circumstances. Sure, it isn’t one of your fancy, big-budget, studio polished indie rock records, but gosh darn it we made this with nothing but our blood, sweat, tears, and our laptop’s internal mic! Doesn’t that count for something?!

But, while Living Room is accurately described as a reverb-soaked dream pop EP — hardly the most remarkable profile for a Bandcamp EP released in 2012 — it can readily stand on its own two feet without making excuses for itself. While their palette on Living Room is primarily restricted to clean (acoustic?) guitars, girly vocals, and vast swaths of digital reverb, Hella Better Dancer manages to end up with something vivid by painting with each of these elements in broad, thick strokes. The results are often surprising — take “Brother” for example, which carries its modest melody into a big climax with nothing but stacked-up vocal layers and an enormous reverb tail in a cool minute and a half. Here and throughout the rest of the tracks, there’s an unexpected chunkiness to the guitars that helps to fill out the low-end in a way that you normally wouldn’t hear in music of this kind. The patient, atmospheric leads on “After School” and “Last Song”, meanwhile, remind heavily of Slowdive’s underappreciated Pygmalion and space the listener out enough to be pleasantly surprised by the gradual introduction of percussive low-end elements — these guys know how to make a lot from a little. If Living Room‘s homespun quality is a point of pride — and, believe me, I’m sure it is — then Hella Better Dancer have a good deal to be proud of.

Choice Cuts: “Brother”, “Last Song”

(P.S.: Listen to Hella Better Dancer’s also-great, unavailable-on-Bandcamp Swimming EP via Spotify by clicking here.)

–Ryan Stanley

Previous installments of Bandcamping:
Bandcamping #7: Weatherbox, Mutual Benefit
Bandcamping #6: Carbon Records
Bandcamping #5: The Tuts, Soda Bomb
Bandcamping #4: Niechec, Infinity Crush

Bandcamping #3: XXYYXX, Quiet Evenings
Bandcamping #2: Big Wave, Pill Friends
Bandcamping #1: Attic Abasement, Michael Parallax